The overthrow of ICEL
The new Mass language produces more than a few ripples of indignation, but only in people who know what took place. Ordinary people in the pews, unaware of the history preceding this change and oblivious to the implications of language, accept it without question. All Catholics who attend Mass, however, will be affected negatively, especially those unaware of what happened.
A reader asked me to comment on the new translation, and I am happy to comply, but first I expose the conspiracy. Yes, conspiracy.
An International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) produced its first Vatican II-mandated English translation of the liturgy in 1973 and continued its work to improve the first hastily-wrought translation. Liturgical, biblical, and linguistic experts—even poets—from around the world contributed to a new translation, finished in 1998, that focused on beauty of phrase while accurately translating the sense of the original Latin. All English language conferences of bishops approved it.
But not the Vatican. There a small group secretly made another translation now imposed on the world. The perpetrators, still not known, obviously had the cooperation of Benedict XVI.
Word-sensitive persons react negatively to the imposed liturgy:
Clumsy . . . wordy . . . very stilted . . . awkward and convoluted . . . abstract . . . word-for word literal . . . gobbledygook . . .Anthony Ruff, of the St. John’s, Collegeville, Benedictine community, resigned his chairmanship of ICEL’s music committee and wrote:
There are traps for the unwary . . . [It] ends up suggesting that the Blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit are instrumental in scattering God’s children.
The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church.His widely-quoted words explain the outrage from the perspectives of authority and linguistic inadequacy. I object for another reason.
When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity . . . I weep.
Over the course of centuries, Catholics have grown up; they’ve become less like sheep, more educated and less dependent on the word of clergy. Eastern spirituality and secular humanism have contributed to an evolution in recognizing the worth of each individual human person—a trend appearing not only in religion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. in 1948 also signals this trend toward recognizing the dignity of the human person in all its forms.
The words Catholics will now say buck this trend. I’ll explain next time.
December 16, 2011
I’m annoyed by the obsequious compliance of Catholics with the Mass language changes. I said Catholics have grown up, but many grown up Catholics give up on Christianity, even on Jesus, and leave. Of those who remain in Catholicism, most go along with hierarchical commands because it’s easier or because they would lose too much if they stood up for their convictions.
Yes, some language changes are “piddly,” as one person observed, but taken together, they seek to widen the distance between us and sacred divinity. I think the perpetrators had a deep motive, one not acknowledged and perhaps not even consciously recognized by them—reinforcing hierarchical control.
The changes do this in two ways—by beating out the theme of human unworthiness and using Latin expressions to make God seem unreachable except through the power of ordained clerics. This creates a chasm between divinity and humanity in direct opposition to the ascending theme of divinity within all. In the last half of the twentieth century an ascending chorus of voices has sung the song of an animating power we call God dwelling within physical reality. The imposed translation tries to reverse this growing realization.
To me, the proclamation, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” celebrates ongoing, universal expressions of divinity, because Christ represents the divine spark within all, ever nudging us to become better persons. Thus, Christ is constantly dying, rising, and being reborn.
But this proclamation has been replaced by the words, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.” The interjection of “Lord” vetoes the universal interpretation and directs us to believe literally in the myth of a god who died for us and will come again at an end of the world.
Worse and glaringly obvious is the interjection of guilt-inducing words in a confession that used to read simply, “I have sinned through my own fault.” Now they want people to say “I have greatly sinned . . . through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” It would be laughable if it didn’t do so much harm.
The mostly-women congregations left in Catholic churches definitely do not need to hear how unworthy they are, given the tendency of women to grovel in self-criticism and the rates of violence against women. I repeat the accusation I flung out in my Sermon to Catholic priests:
What you don’t realize is that you contribute to sex abuse every time you say Mass.Provocative? Yes. I hope to provoke change. An indictment of Catholic priests? No. The vast majority are innocent, good, and doing good, while oblivious to the wickedness wrought by the words they say. My Sermon explains adequately; here I have another task.
The second way the imposed translation induces a feeling of remoteness from divinity is by slavish devotion to Latin. As Rita Ferrone states in Commonweal, the imposed translation doesn't sing because it exactly renders
each word and expression of the Latin, [using] sacral vocabulary remote from ordinary speech . . .Some changes are hilarious.
It has resulted in prayers that are long-winded, pointlessly complex, hard to proclaim, and difficult to understand. . . .
Like so many of the newly translated prayers, it will come across as theo-babble, holy nonsense.
“Not worthy that you should enter under my roof” replaces “not worthy to receive.”
“He took the precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands” replaces “he took the cup.” This theo-babble is especially amusing—the Latin word, calix, simply means cup.
“Consubstantial” replaces “one in being.”
He descended into hell” replaces “he descended to the dead.” This science-defying phrase reflects the first-century belief in a 3-tiered universe with earth sandwiched between heaven and hell where the dead lived. Among other deities, the goddess Persephone traveled up and down between the three levels, preparing the way for the god Jesus to ascend and descend.
The great spiritual master Jesus of Nazareth turned into a male idol! As one of my readers lamented,
Jesus has been polluted and contaminated beyond all recognition.The foolish changes in liturgical language magnify problems already there—creating a male idol, reinforcing the feeling of human unworthiness, and reinforcing the damage to women. They not only debase the liturgy; they debase humanity.
Lords, Fathers, He’s & Him’s, January 2, 2012
The new imposed Mass translation is even more sexist than the one it replaced; it’s loaded with “Lords,” “Father’s,” “He’s” & “Him’s.” One passage in the Nicene Creed illustrates what appears to be deliberate patriarchal propaganda.
The former text read, “he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became flesh.”
The imposed one reads, “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
It foolishly substitutes the Latin-sounding “incarnate” for “born” a few lines below the silly “consubstantial.” So we should expect its literal translations from the Latin to continue. But then it mistranslates from the Latin with the phrase “became man” instead of accurately translating the Latin caro and the Greek sarx as “flesh.” (Thanks to my scripture consultant Vincent Smiles for supplying the Latin and Greek.)
I can’t help thinking that the conspirators imposing this translation had in mind something very different from accuracy.
Richard McBrien weighed in on the new Mass translation. He corrected the
seriously mistaken impression abroad that the new translation of the missal was inspired and promoted by liturgists. Nothing could be further from the truth.Well said. For background on the imposed language changes and why they invite outrage, scroll down.
I've heard Catholics say that their pastors, though not conservative, have praised the new translations. Either their pastors are not being honest because they don't want to be reported to their bishop or they are deep-down right-wing in their thinking.
McBrien identifies 3 strengths of Catholicism —its openness to other religions, its openness to scientific findings, and Catholic social teaching. I heartily concur—these elements make me proud to be Catholic. But I would list them in reverse order—Catholic social teaching, openness to science, and the Catholic attitude toward other religions, which is far from consistently open.
I could also have been proud of my church if, instead of wasting money and energy to impose the bungling translation, it had accepted a translation that international language experts perfected in decades of painstaking, cooperative labor. That Catholic institutions, instead, comply with meek docility to foolish Vatican directives disappoints me. One of these years Vatican tyranny will be too much and it will get the pushback it deserves.
I understand the reluctance to revolt. I can write acerbic criticisms of hierarchy because I’m not in the position of religious leaders who risk losing their jobs for taking a conscience stand or who have to protect their whole religious communities. How admirable those who speak out despite their vulnerability!
Increasingly, we see instances of conscience revolts among Catholics. There is the whole sex abuse scandal moving in on hierarchs who covered up the crimes and perpetuated the abuse by moving offenders around. I feel for church leaders who now have to clean up after the guilty ones.
There were the brave sisters in the Catholic Health Association who corrected U.S. bishops when they opposed the health care bill. The legislation passed because of the sisters’ stand and, as a result, health care is being extended to more people.
There are the Roman Catholic Womenpriests whom the Vatican declares self-excommunicated, along with religious leaders like Roy Bourgeois who openly support them.
There are the theologians ignited into a firestorm of protest against the U.S. bishops’ ill-advised condemnation of Elizabeth Johnson’s award-winning book, Quest for the Living God. Understandably, theologians fear that theology subject to Rome and confined to pushing traditional dogma will be ridiculed. Theologians who dare to challenge literal interpretations of doctrine excite me, but that’s too large a topic for this post.
I rejoice over every protest against hierarchical tyranny and eagerly await more because, only when religious abuse of power is thoroughly discredited, can deeper spiritual awareness flourish. The imposed translation illustrates the truth of Carl Jung’s words:
Religion is a defense against the experience of God.Authentic spiritual experience in today’s Catholic Church happens in spite of the institution, not because of it.