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Upcoming Roman missal: a lay perspective.

In our June issue, Father Stephen Somerville addressed an open letter to one or all Canadian bishops on the new missal under preparation by the National Office of Liturgy in Ottawa. The draft now being circulated, he complained, is vastly expanded from the official Latin edition; the latter contains exactly a thousand pages, whereas this version has 811 pages for the Sundays alone. We may in fact be witnessing the subversion of the official liturgy in favour of a Canadian one--"a ballooning Canadian rite where the Roman prayers are lost in the shuffle." Moreover, a giant liturgical book is implicitly excluded from the hands of the faithful; instead of the beautifully bound daily missal which people used to bring to church, they are going to be faced with something heavy, expensive, and complex, so that they will have to rely on missalettes which are far from satisfactory. Father Somerville asked whether the bishops could not arrange instead for a literal and reverent translation of the Roman liturgical books.

Father Somerville has good reason to say that the missalettes we use are unsatisfactory. A major reason is that the scriptural passages in them are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible; and there is no indication that the liturgical office in Ottawa is prepared to adopt a more suitable text. So the laity will have to put up with all the mistakes and infelicities to be found in the NRSV, including the sixty-four substitutes for the word "man." (See our insightful article, Thaddeus Pruss, "64 shadows of men," Oct. '95) We will have to blanch at the substitution of "manager" for "steward" in the parable of the unjust steward, of "emperor" for "Caesar" in "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," and "two copper coins" for the widow's mite. We will have to endure the ridiculousness of a slave, of all people, somehow being in a position to owe ten thousand talents. Most importantly, we will see want replacing will in "Not my will, but thy will, be done"--in which the setting of the human will against the divine will is the most significant thing.

The notes in the Sacramentary make it clear that this is a work of scholarship, for which knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew is essential. Lacking such linguistic competence, I will have to confine myself to the impression which the English version makes. It is legitimate to complain about some of the jargon used by the liturgists. For example, they like to refer to the "presider" at Mass, as though the priest were simply the chairman of a political or social gathering. Similarly, they wrongly feel that the term pulpit is too closely identified with the Protestant reformers to be used in Catholic churches; the suggested alternative, ambo, is completely unknown to most of us. I still think that the version of the Confiteor now is use is too banal, too pedestrian, to give honour to Our Lord (I also understand that some now would like to abolish this request for forgiveness at the beginning of the Mass altogether).

Similarly in both the Gloria and the Agnus Dei the personal pronoun you is used instead of the proper English equivalent of the Latin qui, who, a relative pronoun to introduce a subordinate clause. Nevertheless I do differ with Father Somerville about his preference for the "closest possible" translation of Latin expressions. Latin (and French) likes sentence fragments; English doesn't. Latin is satisfied to let "Mysterium fidei" stand by itself; English renders this as "This is the mystery of faith." Similarly, to my mind, "Verbum Domini" after the Scripture readings ought to be "This is the word of the Lord" instead of simply "The word of the Lord."

I share the concern about the number of alternatives proposed. To take one example, for the introductory litany of praise following the pattern of "Lord Jesus, . . ., Christ Jesus, . . ., Lord Jesus, . . .," there are nineteen variants, far more than are necessary or desirable.

My main concern, however, remains infelicities of language. These are particularly apparent in the "Overview of the Celebration" in a separate volume of Pastoral Notes. Here we are told that "the paschal mystery is Jesus' passover through death to resurrected and glorious life and the world's passage through, with and in him. . . ." Does "the world's passage through, with and in him" have any meaning at all?

The next paragraph says that "The eucharist is the paschal feast that draws the world into the saving passage of Jesus Christ." What is "the saving passage of Jesus Christ" and how is the world drawn into it? The following paragraph adds that "By participating in the paschal meal, the People of God makes passage in Christ to the kingdom of God and the life of glory." Whatever meaning is intended by this sentence, "makes passage" is not intelligible English.

On the next page we are told that the eucharist is "the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, the fulfillment of the world in the cosmic Christ. . . ." This sentence, with its echo of Teilhard de Chardin and of New Age thinking, makes no sense; Christ is not cosmic--he transcends the cosmos. Such language gives the impression that the writer is using words for their impressiveness, not for the meaning they are supposed to convey.

Inclusive language

Unfortunately the editors reprint as an appendix to the Introduction and Guide the CCCB's 1989 statement of policy on inclusive language, "To speak as a Christian Community." After all the controversy over the translation of the Catholic Catechism and the new Lectionary produced by the Canadian bishops, they ought to have quietly dropped this declaration. It describes inclusive language as a simple but effective way of promoting the fundamental equality of all people, saying that we have "a special duty to listen to what women are saying about the need for inclusive language." What women? Are the CCCB bureaucrats not aware of the fact that many women do not want to see familiar prayers bastardized to suit the whims of feminists? Recently an extensive poll on this question in the U.S. showed three out of four women do not desire this language.

There are good reasons, therefore, for supporting Father Somerville's campaign for a translation of the Roman missal without the proliferation and novelty which this edition contains. Let us hope the bishops will listen.
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Author:Dooley, David
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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