Sunday, June 18, 2006

New Re-evangelization

Coming into this weekend's USCCB's June meeting in LA, one of, if not the largest, topic on the bishops' minds was the new translation of the Order of the Mass. I have read and heard repeatedly how the change from the Tridentine Rite to the common use of the Novus Ordo in the vernacular resulted in a "loss" for the Church, namely because of the "beauty" of the Latin, but for other reasons, as well. In general, by looking at my father's old Roman Missal, I can concede that point. Much the same can be said for the facing English translation in the Missal. However, and this will probably put me at odds with a few out there, I'd rather the ultimate, Vatican-approved translation be not simply a slavish conversion from the Latin, including one of the most obviously changed phrases. I appreciate the Pauline parallel of replacing the response when the priest says "The Lord be with you," from "And also with you" to "And with your spirit," which is one of the changes the bishops have already approved, but the benefit of this particular change is not obvious to me.

First, "and with your spirit" strikes me as less "poetic" than the current response, in contrast to the Latin "et cum spiritu tuo," which is clearly poetic. Second, does the English response, "and with your spirit," really represent what we mean? The root, spiritus, literally the "breath," which gives life to the body, is largely a lost meaning to the 21st-century American (and Anglo?) ear that hears the word "spirit" and conjures images of "ghost," or even "morale" or "mood." If we inform this further with the teaching of John Paul the Great's Theology of the Body on the importance of the body to the person and this "shared characteristic" of body and spirit between the priest and the congregation, then it seems rational to ask whether "and also with you," or perhaps "and with your person," is not the better way to go. Third, with the lost meaning of spirit as a shared breath in English, the asymmetry kills it. While a priest making the sacrifice is "someone close to God who has God’s spirit" and we are called together by God's spirit, the linguistic difference in the response can as easily undercut, as it does promote, the community it is meant to reflect, again particularly to an American ear.

To give another example, Karl Keating highlights another admittedly rare, occasion where a literal translation of the Latin is not superior:
In the third Eucharist prayer the priest says, "From age to age you gather a people to yourself so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name." The central words are a revision of what used to be "from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof."

The older translation certainly seems more evocative, but I suspect in most people it evoked the wrong idea. The underlying Latin text is talking about a sacrifice that is made everywhere throughout the world. "From east to west" covers that. "From the rising of the sun to the setting thereof" also covers it--if you understand that the phrase is referring to geographical extent and not to the time of day.

But most Catholics, not thinking things through or not being blessed with a good literary background, likely understood "from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof" to be a synonym for "from morning until night." After all, that is what the phrase means in everyday language.

"I work hard from sunrise to sunset" implies that at night, at least, I do not work. It does not mean that I work from one end of the world to the other. The older translation, pretty as it was, gave many people a bum steer, and the [ICEL] translation gets the point across better.
That said, I am in fact not that much concerned with what becomes the new translation; the bishop leads, I follow. Because the Eucharist is the source, center, and summit of the Faith, once the Church decided to allow the vernacular, it is good (and necessary) that the translation of the Liturgy be revisited on occasion; the "test everything" rule of 1 Thessolonians applies. What I think is critical (and still largely lacking), however, is fidelity to the Liturgy as it is. I have heard it said and agree that no Catholic can walk away from the Faith who has an understanding of the Eucharist, the Real Presence in particular. It is not clear to me that a new translation, even if it is an old one, helps much in this regard toward reducing Liturgical abuse.

This ties into another topic (making a theme?) on the bishops' plate this weekend, i.e., including in the new evangelization the need to re-evangelize to the fallen away, or unformed, Catholic. As an example, my personal experience is that those who most bought into Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code were formerly practicing Catholics. I had read the book a couple of years ago, at the leading edge of its popularity boom. And these were the people who most wanted to discuss the book then, although the conversation usually fizzled after I asked for specifics when they almost without exception said that the real value of the book is that it made them think about religion in a new way. Most of my non-practicing Catholic interactions occur at work where I'm dealing with technical types, so I found it dumbfounding when they didn't want to consider things like evidence and historical accuracy and logical consequences. The bishops' response, among others, to the development of the movie (I would have liked to have seen it begin with the book) was effective, I think, because now the line we hear is how it is just a story, including from many of those I know who originally saw justification for their heterodoxy in the "the world's greatest secret," when their rejection of the Church has more to do with still being ticked off that they had their knuckles rapped, or behinds paddled, while going to Catholic school. Of course, it is also telling of our popular culture's shortcomings that people do not seem to be able to recognize that Mr. Brown's writing is horrid (Combox Sue is spot on here.) Or perhaps they can, and just buy into the buzz because of what it attacks. Anyway, that there has been a television special debunking Dan Brown's (or his wife's) shoddy research and a website we can link and forward from the bishops is to the good. The real question is whether the bishops can build on their response and use similar tactics to get ahead of the culture and lead it.

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