Thursday, March 31, 2011

Controversy and the New Missal

I am feeling a bit unsettled this afternoon. I was in the book center just in time for a kind of debate on the new missal. The gentleman (who has clearly been reading the wrong magazines!) expressed his dissatisfaction with the upcoming translation says he has heard only negative things from priests, some of whom have even said that they would not want to celebrate Mass in public once the new Missal is in use (a sad statement, to be sure)...  Obviously, it's a matter of the circles one travels in; I have mostly come across priests who are glad that the richer texts are going to be implemented soon, even though it's going to be quite a challenge for the celebrant, since most of the changes affect them directly. Our visitor's main issue is with the way the new translation will affect the words of consecration.

It's true. The consecration itself has been retranslated. And not for the first time, given that we are talking about words that Jesus originally said in Aramaic, and that have come to us in two slightly different versions. Starting this Advent, we will hear that the "chalice" contains "the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins..."
What gives? Didn't Jesus die for everyone? Are we being exclusive here?

Actually, in my talks on the Mass, this is one of the crucial areas that I look at, and it is the poster child for Sister Anne's Liturgical Language Postulate: "When a word or phrase in the liturgy makes one look up and scratch one's head in puzzlement, one can take this as an indication of the biblical or otherwise ancient provenance of said word or phrase." In other words, unexpected phrases are probably from the Bible (or at least the Fathers of the Church). That we look up in puzzlement is a sign of how little we really know the Scriptures and how they guide the way we pray.

So, "the many."

We know Jesus died for everyone; that's a dogma of faith, so it's certainly not being challenged in any way. Where does this "many" come from?

Actually, Pope Benedict's new book looks at just this phrase. He notes that it comes to us most directly from the Gospel itself: Jesus, at the Last Supper, probably used the Aramaic term. But in doing so, Jesus was himself quoting the Bible! The famous Suffering Servant of Isaiah would "give his life as an offering for many and win pardon for their offenses."  In the context, Pope Benedict tells us, that "many" most likely meant "all Israel," "the whole people Israel." Only as the Gospel began to be received by "all the nations" did the early Church recognize a fuller meaning to that "many."

But wait, there's more! Pope Benedict also refers in passing (but with a nod of approval) to a contemporary scholar's suggestion that there is a "sacramental" angle to the term; that the words in the consecration most directly refer to the blood of the Covenant, which will be "poured out" from the Chalice for the "many" who will drink from it in Holy Communion. Clearly, here we do have a restricted meaning: Christ died for all, but "all" do not receive him in Holy Communion, though "many" truly do. 

And as we are sent out from that Holy Communion to share the Gospel with the world, it is for us to do our part that more and more of that "all" join the "many" at the altar. That's what evangelization is.


J.T. said...

Excellent points, Sister Anne. What we can overlook is that Christ did die for all, but not all choose Christ. Choice is a critical element to God's love. We freely choose it and accept it, it is not and should not be forced upon us. the "many who will drink from it" are those who have chosen God...a choice that is available to all.

K T Cat said...

It's so sad that people are upset by this. When you step back, the change just isn't that big of a deal. Whether it's right or wrong, it doesn't have much of an effect on how we try to live our lives like Christ.

Cody Maynus said...

I think that the biggest complaint that people have is the process that brought about the new changes. For all intents and purposes, lay people were not involved. As I understand it, the few lay members of the various committees were hand-chosen by a select group of bishops and clerics. The entire process has been very top-down with very little room for the Holy Spirit to move.

That said, I agree that the present translation is too dull. It's not reflective of good, solid English. What the English-speaking Church needs is not a transliteration of an ancient Latin text. We need a solid translation of the texts that uses good, unique American English (diction and syntax.) The new translation is far too flowery and confusing for the average pew-sitter (and, perhaps, even the average cleric) to understand.

Interesting conversation is happening at the Pray Tell Blog--the liturgy blog of St. John's School of Theology-Seminary.

Anthony Ruff OSB, the PrayTell founder and former editor, was very active in the new missal committees. His conscience, however, prompted him to back out of the process due to his opposition to the process (and the overly flowery language.) He's received a lot of flack over this, but I say "Thank God for people--for priests--like Anthony Ruff." It was truly a stirring up of the Holy Spirit.

Peace, Sister, and thanks for sharing this. I hope that you weren't physically concerned due to this angry guy. We all need to realize that love is our call first and foremost.

Jim said...

If you need a full blog entry to explain one phrase, maybe it's the wrong phrase to use?
It's like those exclusionary Christmas song lyrics, "to kids from 1 to 92"... What if I'm 93?!?!?

On the other hand... if it's raising questions among adults, it will also (probably) raise questions from our youth, and will provide an excellent opportunity to explain exactly what this means.

I was raised Catholic, and there were many things in church that I wanted to question- or because I didn't hear correctly (Peabody of Christ? Huh? Of course the priest was saying THEE body...) We didn't dare ask, however. I think this (again) provides a great opportunity for parents to teach their children on exactly what they're saying, and why they're saying it.

Sr Anne said...

It seems to me that when we are talking about the Liturgy (or the Bible), the reality is so far beyond us that we will never run out of insights, no matter how many blog posts we write!
The formal ("flowery") language is going to be a challenge. Too bad the first translators didn't follow the Anglicans' example back in 1969; then this wouldn't be an issue! But even the language tells us that we are not praying only in our name, or for our own time, but are in "communicantes et memoriam" with all those who ever joined in this liturgy (and still do). In that, I kind of like it. (Yesterday's gentleman also expressed resentment over the translation of "Credo" to "I believe," indicating that the liturgy should be, in some way, all about us. It's so not about us.)

Carl said...

@Cody: Why should lay people have been involved? The Catholic Church, as instituted by Christ, is not congregational in structure. It is not our vocation to take part in such matters, but to be a picture of Christ to the world. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we will see true renewal in the Church. Lay over-involvement has resulted in inappropriate music at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and liturgical dance.

wheat4paradise said...

Great post, Sr. Anne. I'm following your blog with renewed interest these days. It's providence, I think. I've added your blog to my links; if you'd be willing to link to my blog under "Friends", I'd be humbly grateful. Thanks and God bless!

In Jesu XPI Passio,