Controversy over new missal
Madam, – Permit me to comment on the “grave concern” expressed by the Association of Catholic Priests with regard to the new translation of the Roman Missal (Home News, February 4th).
The new translation, the association claims, is “sexist, archaic, elitist and obscure.” What a strange statement! In every religion, the language used in sacred rituals is, of its nature, archaic, elitist and obscure, since religion deals with what is beyond immediate comprehension. To call the language used “sexist” is to display mere political correctness, which is transitory. Ritual cannot be the prisoner of passing fashion, which in this case can be quite grotesque. Only three days ago, a PC priest in a semi-rural parish in Co Cork opened a Requiem Mass with the words; “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier”. The association may not advocate such changes, but the logic of its position leads in that direction.
The representatives of the association complain also about individual changes, which in fact are either more theologically accurate or more faithful to the original Latin and Greek texts, such as the words of institution, which will now read: “For you and for the many” (instead of “for you and for all”). Fr Dermot Lane claims that this shift implies that Christ died for some, not for all. Fr Lane, it appears, still feels threatened by Jansenism, even though the church has long put paid to that heresy, in fact over three centuries ago! This and other changes mentioned were evidently made for significant theological considerations, but then serious theology seems not to be of “grave concern” to the association.
We are informed that Fr Pádraig McCarthy made a “readability” study and came to the conclusion that an average 14-year-old can read the Missal in use at present, whereas the new version would require the equivalent of third-level educational competence. This is a fascinating conclusion.
Does this mean that the association of Catholic Priests would prefer to (continue to) treat its congregation as though they were 14-year-olds? Fr Lane calls on the Irish hierarchy to follow the example of the German hierarchy who, he claims, rejected a new German translation. But German bishops did not reject the text; they simply have not yet approved the final text. They submitted objections and suggestions to Rome, as did the other English-speaking hierarchies before the English text was finalised.
I don’t expect the new translation to be perfect.
It can only be an improvement on the translation at present in use. What is of “grave concern” to the association is what gives me hope: namely a language that is not conversational but formal, elevated, and theologically dense – if you wish, arcane. It may help to restore some semblance of the sacred to the celebration of the Mystery. At present it seems to turn even 14-year-olds off; around that time they begin to drift from what has become for them boring and banal.
A final comment: the pompous language used by the representatives of the association reminds me of language used by Irish bishops in the 1950s in their moral condemnations. Language is very revealing. Their language tells us a lot about this association of PC priests. – Yours, etc,
Madam, – Kieron Wood (February 5th) criticises comments I made at a press conference (Home News, February 4th), even though he was not present at the conference. The issues raised by Mr Wood are far more complex than his letter allows.
Many will know that the words used by Jesus (quoting Isaiah. 53) at the Last Supper “for you and for many” have been translated in the English- speaking Mass as “for you and for all”.
They have been translated in Spanish, Italian and German speaking liturgical texts also as “for you and for all”.
To move from “for all” to “for many” is a significant shift and should not go unnoticed. “For many” as understood in the usage of the English language is a restrictive designation in comparison to the inclusive “for all”.
In Semitic use “for many” is expansive, not restrictive.
While the Bible uses the expression “for many”, it is clear that in the Semitic mind it is in contrast with its opposite “for few”; the underlying meaning of this phrase is “for all” and this is borne out in for example in the interpretations of the words of Jesus in 1 Cor.15/22 and 1 Tim.2/6.
Mr Wood and the proposed new English translation would have us go back to a literal meaning of “for many”, even though “for all” has been in use for some 40 years.
Such a move loses the inclusive and universal meaning of the work of Jesus.
The issue in question here is one of translation: Do you adhere rigidly to a literal translation and run the risk of distortion, or do you seek to find a dynamic equivalence in translation, informed by context, tradition and contemporary usage? A word whose meaning is self-evident is surely preferable to a word which needs explanation.
The point of my comments at the press conference and the concern of the Association of Priests is that the replacement of “for all” by “for many” will cause pastoral, liturgical and theological confusion.– Yours, etc,