Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sic transit gloria linguarum...

UPDATE [24 May 2006]: Turns out the letter is legit. So, my complaints are justified. Rocco has Bishop Trautman's response. And Diogenes has pictures. I have champaigne!

Original post follows.

Well, an alleged letter from Cardinal Arinze to Bishop Skylstad has been making waves in the blogosphere for a number of days. I've been waiting to comment on the letter, pending confirmation of its authenticity from some reputable source. God knows the USCCB would never publish the thing, but since Bishop Skylstad is instructed to "pass it on" in the text, it seems that there would be some surfacing of it by now (the letter is dated May 2.) Notably, VIS and Zenit have been silent on it as well. So, I am a little inclined to say that the letter is a hoax, as much as I would love to believe it is true. However, the content of the letter, even if it is fake, gives me pause to reflect on a number of issues regarding the ICEL/BCL runaround. The letter brings to the fore a couple of points that have been irking me for some time.

Before I begin, for those scratching their heads and wondering "What the devil is Joe talking about?", click here. This month's ADOREMUS Bulletin has a couple of good articles on the upcoming vote in the USCCB.

Now, to the letter...

I quote at length from the author, be it the good Cardinal Arinze, or merely a bored blogger:
The attention of your Bishops’ Conference was also recalled to the fact that Liturgiam authenticam was issued at the directive of the Holy Father at the time, Pope John Paul II, to guide new translations as well as the revision of all translations done in the last forty years, to bring them into greater fidelity to the original-language official liturgical texts. For this reason it is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past thirty or forty years, and therefore that it is pastorally advisable to make no changes. Where there are good and strong reasons for a change, as has been determined by this Dicastery in regard to the entire translation of the Missale Romanum as well as other important texts, then the revised text should make the needed changes. The attitudes of Bishops and Priests will certainly influence the acceptance of the texts by the lay faithful as well. [Emphasis mine]
Now, the author of this letter is onto something. The author, one infers by the first bolded statement, is responding to an objection. It is an objection commonly used in our country. It's called the "pastoral difficulty" argument. It's a vague, cover-all tautology employed in a way similar to a mental insanity plea in legal procedures. When all else fails, plead "pastoral difficulty," and no one will convict. In fact, lack of conviction is exactly what the perpetrators of this argument hope to achieve.

It is an argument that has been used throughout the ICEL debate by, among others, Bishop Trautman. And I, for one, am tired of it. Now, I bear all deference and respect to the bishops of this country: their job is not easy, and I do not envy them. But, I can't help thinking that this argument a red herring, an excuse for weak will or laziness. "Pastorally difficult" should refer to a difficulty that will be felt by the sheep, a legitimate difficulty from which the pastor is seeking to defend them - metaphorically, a particularly difficult movement to new grazing territory, in the case of Parish restructuring. And there are cases in which the trauma that the flock will experience is not justified by the expected good of the outcome. But it is always the pastor's job to come up with a more amiable, but practical, solution. In this case, however, the "pastoral difficulty" seems to reflect more the difficulty that will be encountered by the shepherds, not the sheep. The current translation of the Missal is one to which the flock has become accustomed. It is a "habit," that they have come to wear rather complacently. "We agree that the sheep need shearing," the shepherds say, "but gosh, it's a difficult job. How they will complain! Yes, we went through this a few years ago with the new GIRM and again with Redemptionis Sacramentum, and they got used to it quickly enough... But is it really worth all that trouble for us? We're busy, you see... there's so much else to attend to. We're seeking unity in our own ways - through diversity, you see. If we sheer the sheep... why, won't they just molt if they need to?" I know I may sound flippant and umsympathetic. But, perception is large part of truth. And when the bishops are perceived as whiny and complaining by members of their flock, well, isn't that a problem? Even supposing that such bishops were right about the pastoral implications of the Missal translation (I believe, however, that they are not), their method of argument is unsettling. It seems as though they're always trying to "sneak one past" Rome.

A second annoyance with this argument is that it is insulting. It is insulting to me, and it should be insulting to every other Catholic in this country. Again, this might only be the perception - it might not reflect what the bishops actually think about the laity of this country - but one would think, based on the objections raised, that our bishops suppose us to be extraordinarily stupid folk.

Now, the reason that this perception exists is part of a whole vicious circle. Vatican II, in its writing on the liturgy, ordered full and active participation and intentionality in the celebration of the Mass and the Sacraments. A new Missal was developed. This latin document, itself, drew not a few criticisms. But its use was mandated, and the various translations were developed. In the great majority of these, a simple idiomatic translation was employed. The goal of most commitees was simply to say in the vernacular what was being said in Latin. But, not for ICEL.

The cavalier linguists of this noble body prepared a special translation for English speaking Catholics, carefully adapted to the unique pastoral needs of the apparently stupid flocks to which it was being sent, along with some hymns and architecture borrowed from the Episcopal Dollar Store. Now, whether ICEL really thought English-speaking Catholics too stupid to handle the Latin Novus Ordo, none can really tell. But the product of their translation is grossly dumbed down, and also unsatisfactory to Rome, hence the current retranslation project.

And the new translation did anything but facilitate "full and active partipation" and "intentionality". Rather, the Church in America, newly possessed of their grossly inaccurate Missal, began celebrating a Novus Ordo whose sights and sounds, writ large, were drab and pedestrian. Consequently, the laity responded in kind. With Cheerios for the kids and a bulletin to read during the homily, families packed the crying-rooms of American Church-Gyms dressed in jeans and tee-shirts. After a rousing Marty Haugen tune, accompanied by a raucus procession of the children of the parish carrying stuffed animals to place on the altar for the reading of the Noah account, these families sat complacenty down and zoned out until communion. There was nothing to engage them, sensually or intellectually, any more intensely than what they encountered in daily life. The language of their translation had hardly the pomp or circumstance of the Saturday Morning Funnies, nothing to awaken their minds to the transcendant reality in which they had been recently called by an Echumenical Council to participate more fully.

And, the more mundane the celebration of the Mass became, the more robotic and automatic the responses of the people. Hence, on the rare occasions that the Roman Canon would be used for the Eucharistic Prayer, the fourth concelebrant would be interrupted after the words "Through Christ Our Lord," by those congregants responding "Amen," evidently mistaken that this formula phrase is simply a cue that the prayer is over. In this sight of this, and other such inattentiveness, surely pastors must've thought their parishoners rather stupid. So much for intentionality... these dolts hadn't even the attention span to listen to the simplified words of the Eucharistic Prayer. Imagine if they had to listen to a real translation! But, in point of fact, the reason for their inattentiveness is that their intellect has been underestimated. In this cycle, the American worshiper has become like a savant held back in school, supposed to be too dumb for material which is actually too watery thin to provide any sustinance for his hungry mind.

Now, granted, I've oversimplified many a complicated issue in order to illustrate a particular facet of the problem of the Church in America. But, hopefully the illustration brings to light how translational concerns are at least a part of the larger picture of unintentional liturgy and lukewarm worship in our country.

A third annoyance fueled by the article relates to the second bolded statement in the above quote. The author refers to the "attitudes of priests and bishops..." Here is perhaps my greatest frustration with the current debate. Whatever the pastoral concerns may be, the chief concern in all worship should be with what we are rendering unto God. Are we giving Him the best we have, which even so falls ever short of what is His due? Thanks be to God we have the Eucharist to make our meagre efforts acceptible to the Father... but are we uniting our best efforts to that sacrifice? Or are we giving Him what is cheap, timely, and easy to mass produce? (No pun intended.)

The attitude of bishops, as an example to the people of God, should demonstrate that the Lord is worthy of our very best. God deserves all the good that we can give. Even if I were to accept the premise that the exalted language of the Missale Romanum will be tough for Americans to digest - so what!? I disagree with the conclusion that we should give them dumbed-down language. Even if they are simpletons, which I do not think them, they can be taught and instructed to participate fully in a Mass whose language is over their heads. In fact, it would be ideal that the Mass were over most of our heads. That would means we were giving God more than most of us could individually achieve. It would be true liturgy.

Liturgy should be an effort. Our participation should involve striving and come of loving labor. Otherwise, we are not earnestly endeavoring to render due worship unto God. If given the chance to perform Shakespeare before the Lord, would we change "But soft what light from yonder window breaks..." to "Wow, look at that moon!" simply because it is harder for us to relate to the former expression? The very otherness of Shakespeare's language is a large part of its beauty. And our effort in understanding him is greatest enjoyment. And, if done for the Lord, it is a more pleasing offering. And so with the Missal...

And finally...

Roma locuta est, causa finita est.

The Missal doesn't need rewriting. Liturgiam Authenticam defines that it needs translating. Just translate the thing! Hell, give me enough Starbucks and a copy of Cassel's and I'll do it!

I'm no Latin scholar... but et cum spiritu tuo doesn't mean "and also with you." Ut intres sub tectum meum is not the infinitive expression "to recieve you." (In fact, intres signifies verbal action being done by the Second Person (Domine) in this expression, not the first person (ego understood) of the former clause... interesting what person seems to be the focus, isn't it?) And Accepiens et hunc praeclarum calicem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas, is alot different than simply "taking the cup."

I know there's a lot of issues. We don't have any Enlish-language Glorias that will work in translation anymore. (God forbid, we'll have to teach the Mass of the Angels to the people...) I know it won't be easy. Maybe I'm even wrong about the pastoral concerns. Or about the readiness of the people.

But, the bottom line, past all debate, is this: when we pray the Mass, we're not saying what Rome says. And, Rome says that we have no right not to say what Rome says. And, for Pete's sake (or here, literally, for Peter's sake - ut unum simus), I want to say what Rome says! Most of us want to say what Rome says! So, please... let us say what Rome says!

Roma locuta est... fiat!



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