Francis’ decentralisation of authority: a realignment with the council’s intent

THE most recent papal pronouncement giving more control to national bishops’ conferences over the translation of liturgical texts had the quality of another of the jolts we’ve become accustomed to during the Francis papacy.

As his tenure advances, however, those moments increasingly feel less like jolts and more like a series of coherent adjustments, long overdue, for a community that had become top-heavy and overly dependent on rigid legalism in an attempt to maintain order.Correcting that imbalance won’t occur without

Correcting that imbalance won’t occur without struggle. The varied interests in the church who have already spent inordinate time and influence debating everything from the manner of translation to the material composition of eucharistic vessels are no doubt gearing up once again to join the fight. That may seem like a most malignant way to refer to liturgy, but the reality is that discussion of our public worship and changes to it can evoke deep emotions and the zero-sum passions of a political contest.

It is perhaps not persuasive to those who deeply oppose the direction of the Francis papacy, but intended or not, the sermon the pope gave in Medellín, Colombia, was a fitting companion piece to the liturgy announcement. Christianity, said Pope Francis, is not an exercise in how perfectly one follows laws and dogma. More important is the life of faith.

“Jesus teaches that being in relationship with God cannot be a cold attachment to norms and laws nor the observance of some outward actions that do not lead to a real change of life,” he said.

The tensions, of course, are as old as the community. They are as evident today as they were when the original community’s leaders argued over who could join and what they could eat. And aren’t we fortunate that the visions they saw and the hearts they were developing answered: everyone and everything. All are blessed and good in God’s sight.

Francis seems to be conveying two basic ideas in the document issued on his own initiative (motu proprio). Titled Magnum Principium, it diminishes the authority of the Vatican from “authorising” all translations to a simple “review” of such documents. First, that mature leadership of national bishops’ conferences can be trusted to maintain fidelity to the essence of liturgical worship while tailoring language to particular circumstances, and, second, that universality and unity are not synonymous with sameness.By extension, one might add that it also acknowledges that a rigid adherence to some narrow conception of translation from Latin is not a measure of fidelity.

By extension, one might add that it also acknowledges that a rigid adherence to some narrow conception of translation from Latin is not a measure of fidelity.

It is a Pauline gesture of sorts that acknowledges that not all cultures are the same, that not all believers need to take on the effects of an ancient, mostly European, expression of the faith. The Latin Mass, still a glorious and inspiring liturgy for some, need not be the norm for everyone, nor the benchmark against which all other worship forms are measured.

So Francis’ rollback of that authority is actually a realignment with the council’s intent. It is, in political terms, a return to centre, to moderation and to a trust of the community’s local leaders. Francis has restored their adulthood and given them again a latitude to discern, which mature spiritual leaders should possess.

As was the case for Jesus and “for the first community,” Francis said in Medellín, “it is of greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus,” whose “freedom contrasts with the lack of freedom seen in the doctors of the law of that time, who were paralysed by a rigorous interpretation and practice of that law.”

On several fronts, then, Francis has asked us to walk away from that paralysis and to take new steps in freedom. – Full text @ ncronline

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