Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Roman Persecution

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 27, 2011

I admit it. It did not improve my mood when I saw the news of Maryknoller William Grimm accusing the Vatican of persecution of the Japanese. And why? Well, it seems Fr. Grimm doesn’t like the new requirement that the Japanese liturgical texts be a faithful translation of the Latin.

Fr. Grimm wrote a long column decrying what he sees as the re-Italianization of the Vatican after a period of greater openness in the last century. He alleges many instances of this, among them being the inappropriateness for Japanese Christians of some Latin expressions in the Mass. For example, Fr. Grimm says there is no Japanese word for “spirit” that can be used to translate “et cum spiritu tuo”; moreover, in Japanese culture, he says it is considered a sign of insincerity to apologize three times. So “how will evangelization be served,” demands Fr. Grimm, “when Japanese who encounter the Church’s liturgy for the first time hear meaningless words or the apology mea culpa (through my fault) three times?”

Now the problem with Fr. Grimm’s diatribe is not that there may be trade-offs in the new translation requirements. There are sixteen dioceses in Japan, and the Japanese bishops can certainly raise these and other similar questions in Rome should they so desire. There are frequently compromises to be made between the desirability of respecting local cultural patterns and the desirability of ensuring that the universal Church celebrates one and the same Mass.

But when a particular decision does not go the way Fr. Grimm prefers, it betrays no great love of the Church for him to start ranting against Roman persecution (yes, persecution) of the Church in Japan by the Church in Rome. Now that those unfeeling Romans have turned away from the promise of the late 20th century, Fr. Grimm wonders, “How many centuries will it be this time before Roman persecution ends and we can openly express our Christianity through, with and in Asia?”

Though I worship in the United States, I’d like to go on record saying that I do not express my Christianity through, with and in America. One expects that Japanese Christians, even as various liturgical and administrative questions are discussed and debated, will think it well worth some mild cultural discomfort to be able to openly express, in any approved form, our common Christianity through, with and in Christ. Or does Fr. Grimm think that part of the Mass is just “meaningless words”, too?

Again, it is possible that Fr. Grimm has a point that could have been expressed in a more felicitous manner. But it does not help his cause that the particular things he dislikes about the new Japanese translation match exactly, text for text, what certain kinds of Modernist clerics so vehemently dislike about the new English translation: A renewed emphasis on the spiritual, and a heartfelt sorrow for offending God. Firmly believing that there is no such thing as a coincidence, I would suggest that Fr. William Grimm say a big mea culpa of his own.

He needs to say it three times. And he needs to mean it every time he says it.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: self - Sep. 28, 2011 12:23 PM ET USA

    I am wondering what the Japanese reaction to the same wording was when up until recent times the Mass was in Latin and the mea culpas were in the liturgy for many years? Surely they had the Latin translated into Japanese in their missals, etc.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 28, 2011 2:22 AM ET USA

    So..Catholics in Japan will suffer some insensitivity over saying "Mea culpa" three times? Weeellll....when I was a teen, I remember thinking that "age appropriate" language for teen Masses..quite patronizing. I'd begun serving at adult Mass three years before, so I had no interest in learning something for "my age group". I'd like to see the Church worry more about being more universal and less regional.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Sep. 27, 2011 4:37 PM ET USA

    Back in the mmmph's we read The Aeneid in World Lit class. One of Vergil's major themes was the eternal nature of the destiny of Rome to lead the world. We have since pondered the nature of that prophecy, and we cannot dismss it. Just as our religion takes the cast of Jewish practice, it takes on that of Rome as well.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 27, 2011 3:48 PM ET USA

    Yes, I found the Father's screed to be somewhat . . . grim.

  • Posted by: Defender - Sep. 27, 2011 12:44 PM ET USA

    You touch on a most salient point, we are not an American Catholic Church or is there a Japanese Catholic Church, etc, we are all Roman Catholic.