The New Translation of the Catholic Mass doesn't exactly appear to be firing great enthusiasm around the world except from the predictable minority. In this second-part of his essay, Dr Anthony Lowes offers a general comment on the role of liturgy; takes a more detailed look at two elements of the new language; and ends with a criticism on the seeming intention of the entire exercise to say "up yours" to the liberals, feminists and progressives in the Church.
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At a loss: the dumbing [up] of the new English liturgy...
An exploration of the etymology of the word liturgy in itself leads to a justified suspicion about the new English translation. Who is any liturgical language primarily for? The word liturgy would suggest that any liturgical language is fundamentally a vehicle through which the Holy Spirit speaks to the people assembled and through which the whole people of God, represented by those assembled, give voice to their worship in the Spirit.
It is true that various representatives may be deputed to undertake specific roles within the action of the liturgy, and pivotally the priest as the president of the assembly, but it is essentially the action of the people, of the people of God. Liturgy derives from two Greek words: laos and ergon, meaning work of the people. Developing a liturgical language that is removed from the parlance of even well-educated laity, in this context seems the project of and for an ecclesial elite. As such, it essentially contradicts the liturgy's fundamental nature and purpose.
Lord, I am not worthy...
"While [the old] translation may not have been without flaw, it was a very serviceable translation. It was, it must be said, at least a translation; not a transliteration—which is what we have in the new English version."
Take one of the avowed aims of the new 'translation': to reinsert more clearly stated biblical and theological allusions and terminology in an effort to re-enrich the liturgical vernacular. It will be sufficient to illustrate the point I wish to make about this aim by examining the revised verse prior to communion:
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, say but the word and my soul shall be healed.
In the first place, it is true that it underlines the biblical reference more overtly by confirming more precisely to the centurion's modest deferral. But who, with even basic familiarity with the New Testament, would fail to make the connection with the centurion's profession as they prayed, Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed? Making the allusion more overt is, I would have thought, a greater dumbing down than the inclusion of a more refined, more subtly oblique but still evident, allusion.
What the more overt allusion also does is to make the first half of the utterance less personal from the communicant's point of view, when liturgical prayer should be at its most personal and most intimate. As to the second half: the replacement of 'I' with 'my soul' is, yes, a more literal translation of the Latin, but what is lost? Patently a wealth of incarnational and integrative theology and spirituality. 'My soul' constitutes a return to a Gnostic and a Jansenistic disregard, if not contempt, for the body and a return to a body/soul dualism that harks back to the philosophy of Plato, which by theological consensus is no longer accepted.
At the very least, the soul/body relationship is now viewed as mutually reciprocal and interdependent in the fashion of Aristotle's form and matter. To think of a palpable sacrament like the bodily consumption of consecrated bread and wine, which is the risen embodied Christ, as healing only the soul seems a gross distortion to say the least. The soul is never a separately existing entity in the whole of its history, according to current theology; it expresses the body in its earthly mode until death and, immediately, as a risen whole body-person, in and beyond death.
This unfortunate recidivism through the choice of 'soul' could have easily been avoided, even in the new translation with its close mimicking of the centurion's words. If the centurion's 'my servant' were rendered 'your servant', the desired direct scriptural allusiveness would be even more powerful and at the same time the point of focus of the prayer would become the whole human being, the communicant, not simply their unsatisfactorily dubious 'soul'.
For all, for many...
But what alarms and frustrates me perhaps more than anything else is the substitution of 'for many' in place of 'for all' in the phrase 'which will be poured out for you and for many', at the point of the consecration. The rationale first provided was that 'for many' binds the new 'translation' more tightly to the Latin, but almost shamefacedly it was hastily explained that it really meant 'for all'.
Subsequently, some liturgists, sensing the linguistic awkwardness of such a claim, began to intimate darkly that 'many' inferred the reality of free will and the possibility, even probability, that not all would actually be saved, with some refusing to cooperate with Christ's grace duly offered. This seems to be the position of Pope Benedict in his motu proprio to the German hierarchy, enforcing the inclusion of 'for many' in the German liturgy, and more recently, the express position of the otherwise esteemed systematic theologian and bishop, Bruno Forte.
The problem with this insinuation is that, in reality, it could never be claimed that Christ's grace would be insufficient to support the will of even one sinner. Adequate grace for everyone implies that Christ's death reached out to all, even though not all may have availed themselves of it. To aver in any sense that Christ's sacrifice only empowered a selective multitude is to accuse God at the bar of distributive justice in an essentially Calvinistic fashion.
And to think that such an impasse could so easily have been avoided. Even the most mechanically minded of transliterators would have been aware that in Latin there is neither a definite or an indefinite article, neither an 'a' nor a 'the'. Either could have been inserted in English (as the French have done and the Italians are [or were?] inclining to do) without violating the most pinched principles of transliteration. To have transformed 'pro multis' into 'for the many' implies, with precision, 'for an indeterminate multitude', including 'for all'. Why such a stratagem was not opted for, indicates, it seems to me, more than a blindly principled stand; instead, something approaching a stubborn perverseness.
And while the refusal to accommodate the very legitimate push for non-sexist language might be understandable in terms of a transliterative rather than a translational program, suspicion like a bad odour clings to the whole process here too. The refusal lends weight to the assumption that here we have an instance of a rather contemptuous cocking a snook at all who might be of a feminist persuasion and all liberals hoping against hope that the canons and spirit of Vatican II might yet be fully implemented.
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Dr Anthony (Tony) Lowes did a wide-ranging study on the Trinity and human communion, supervised by Denis Edwards and Duncan Reid at the Adelaide College of Divinity for his doctorate in 2003. Now retired in Adelaide, Tony spent nine years in the priesthood, beween 63 and 72, 30 years in education — 28 of them in in leadership positions in Catholic Education. He is married to Mary, has twin daughters who are married and four grandchildren.
©2012Dr Anthony Lowes
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