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Michele Somerville

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The Truth Behind the Godawful New (Old) Roman Catholic Missal

Posted: 11/29/11 04:22 PM ET

On the first Sunday in Advent, a new English translation of the Roman Catholic masses was implemented (by mandate) in Catholic churches throughout United States. These changes of the are small, dramatic and disruptive -- especially for the priests celebrating the masses.

Why have these changes been written into the mass?

The Vatican claims that a translation more faithful to the original Latin is needed. Is this the real reason for this disruption? I don't think so.

The nostalgia for the more Latin-faithful mass is an outgrowth of a desire for the church that used the Latin mass. This is nostalgia for the church in which less preaching took place, the priest presided with his back toward the congregation, only the hands of the priest touched the Eucharist, and wherein women -- who were prohibited from setting foot on the altar -- were required to cover their heads.

The Second Vatican Council did not merely change the mass from Latin to vernacular in 1963; it rendered the Latin mass (depending upon whom one asks) improper or forbidden entirely. Between 1962 and 1988 Latin masses were often celebrated under the radar -- somewhat in the "upper room" manner and spirit, ironically enough, of Dignity's masses and those said by woman priests.

I happen to find the the Latin mass beautiful, and at first I seemed to object less to the new changes than most Catholics I know. I attend Spanish language mass in from time to time. In that liturgy, we already use phrasing similar to that the New Old Missal introduces. The Vatican is not nearly so interested, however, in the accuracy of the translation of the mass as it is in dragging today's vernacular mass back in time. They want the 1962 mass with all the trimmings. This new translation business is a tasty treat for the lockstep sheep and papist throwbacks.

Though I seem to be alone in it, I don't mind having to use (the new) "consubstantial" in the Nicene Creed. "Consubstantial" -- it's so, so Latin, I almost like it. There is, however, good reason not to like this kind of change. Daunting Latinate terms like "consubstantial" are tools in the grift. When the boys in the Vatican want our money, they remind us that all are welcome -- no theology knowledge needed. But when people in the pews challenge man-made doctrine, the men in miters are all too quick to remind us that our lack of advanced degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University might leave us less than qualified to challenge the Holy See on any Catholic matter.

The average Catholic is too busy living a life to familiarize him or herself with the specifics of each papal encyclical, each tenet of dogma and the many voluminous, seminal Roman Catholic theological texts -- and the Magisterium likes it that way. Ecclesiastical jargon makes the bishops look like they have the inside line on God. Hence the current pope's fervor for evangelization in the developing world: Hungry, illiterate people make good converts.

The New Old Missal matter works well as a diversionary tactic. Its well-timed fanfare shifts attention away from a pontificate mired in perversion. It is easier to sit at the long table in a gown parsing the Filioque than it is to sit at that same table and discuss the ordination of women, the Vatican's culpability in spreading HIV and AIDS in the developing world, and its own spiritual cancer in the form of bishop-facilitated child rape.

Reminding Catholics that salvation does not extend to all is one of the chief aims of these changes in the text of the mass.

The Eucharistic Prayer, the most solemn and critical prayer in the mass, through which the bread and wine are transubstantiated, has undergone radical change.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlastingcovenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.

has become this:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

In this prayer "cup" has become "chalice." While "chalice" may more accurately render a strict construction translation of the Latin, it is hard to imagine that "chalice" best describes the vessel Jesus might have called some version of His "Kiddush cup." Somehow, imperial "chalice" seems benign when seen alongside the following godawful change: "It will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."

If the language is to be believed, last Sunday the blood of Christ saved everyone. This week, not so much.

Thus the English-speaking United States is reminded that the universal, transcendent, Catholic savior now pours out his blood for some and not others. This stipulation may appear in the original Latin, but even if it's a technically accurate translation of the original phrase, it's inconsistent with what Catholics have been expressing in our Creed for 50 years. Now, we are asked to pray to the Christ who saves many of us and not all of us. The focus of the prayer shifts onto the excluded. Who are they? Atheists, agnostics, non-Catholic believers and -- the real targets -- Roman Catholic self-excommunicants.

This Christ who saves many is the Christ Joseph Ratzinger wants (perhaps as his second in command) in his smaller, darker, more ancient church made up of that new "many."

It was interesting to watch, at the Saturday night vigil, my exemplary priest muddle through these changes with his usual open heart, and it was interesting to see the highly sophisticated reader, homilist and teacher struggle through the stiff and unwieldy and language of "corrected" sections of the mass.

When I first started to study Latin in college, I began to try to translate the lyric poems of Catullus. Catullus was a contemporary of Caesar Augustine, so the Latin vernacular in which he wrote would have been about the same as that used by Romans during the time Jesus lived on earth. The grammar and Latin in many of Catullus's poems are straightforward, and often the verse is bawdy, so young poets who can manage a little Latin are often drawn to translating it. It was through translating Catullus that I learned the little Latin I know, and through reading bad translations of Catullus that I first began to observe that a good translation of any text finesses a compromise between sense and literal meaning. In the case of a poem, some measure of "melopoeia" (Ezra Pound's word for the melodious aspect of verse) must enter in and infuse the text in question.

The Eucharistic Prayer may not be a poem in a technical sense, but it functions as one. Besides its obvious purpose -- to catalyze the consecration -- its rhythms reach into the heart like a song with its "word made flesh" message pertaining to hope.

Those who don't care about poems probably think it does not matter that the Eucharistic Prayer, as of last night, is no longer a poem (in English), but poetry is powerful and one of its strengths is its ability to sneak up and evoke strong response from the unsuspecting. The pope didn't do himself any favors when he had the scholars siphon the poetry out of the English Eucharistic prayer, and the translation team's failure to achieve a compromise between certain of the larger truths of our faith and the literal meaning of the words reflects the Vatican's readiness (nothing new) to sacrifice the glory for the power. People will feel the power of the lost poem through its absence.

I came away from mass last night feeling that these new changes are designed to stick it to priests at the parish level. The implementation of the new procedures makes marionettes of priests. It has every Catholic in the U.S. dutifully holding "pew cards" (in my parish they took the form of laminated "cheat sheets") so that all could follow the new, old, unwieldy script. It has congregations doing an obedience dance.

I attended a meeting about a year ago in which these changes in the liturgy were introduced. At one point in the discussion, a friend seated behind me tapped my shoulder. "Psst," he said, pointing to the new translation of the Nicene Creed, "looks like they missed something." He pointed to this:

 "For us men / and our salvation..."

As Vatican scholars in search of a more faithful translation of this prayer labored over every syllable seeking to bring each into line with the original Latin and the true message of the mass, they failed to make some significant corrections.

Maybe the boys in lace and their scholars were absent the day the Latin class learned that "homines" is a form of the noun "homo, hominis," which means "man" as in "human being" or "person." (There's an alternative word for "man" that would have been used to refer to those with Y chromosomes.)

Or maybe the boys in lace just forgot that women are included in the salvation.

The Vatican's choice to revisit the text of the Nicene Creed with the aim of perfecting the English translation from Latin is understandable. When it comes to translating our unified profession of faith (which, in going from "we believe" back to "I believe," would seem to make the prayer less unified.) precision should matter. What is less easy to understand is why the painstaking revision did not include a second look at "for us men / and our salvation." Every Magisterium-sanctioned text we have tells us that women are included in salvation, yet the translators of the "New" (old) Missal thought it unnecessary to pause, in the course their painstaking parsing, to notice what is essentially erroneous about "for us men and our salvation."

This non-oversight says all one needs to know about the spirit of this translation. One should expect nothing better from this pontificate. Why did they not correct this inaccurate language when the Vatican experts were in there fixing everything else? Why does the Credo retain this inaccurate and misogynist language?

You know why. The He-man Woman Haters are sending a message. Swinging their censers. This show of power is Ratzinger's billet doux to lockstep Catholics. He's tossing the sheep a bone. Even the smallest evidence of devolution thrills them. So, why did they boys in lace change the words to the mass?

Because they can.

But do we have to say those words? No. One doesn't get kicked out of mass for not saying the words right. Not yet, at least. I have always love the words of the mass, but I've been tweaking my whole life, correcting sexist language in my own prayers at will.

I'll say some of those new old words when they make sense and decline to say others. Catholics don't need no stinking "pew card." Roman Catholics don't an imprimatur to pray.

While Joseph Ratzinger longs for an older, darker, smaller church, he seems yet to wish for even those whom his old new mass excludes (and whom salvation eludes!) to continue to drop greenbacks into the basket on a stick on Sunday.

The Vatican message as it pertains to women and girls is clear. Perhaps it is time that those Catholics who are, by whatever defect (whether it be gender or excommunication-worthy offense) excluded from Christ's salvation, respond in a language the hierarchs do understand.

Ave legal tender.

What if all the women in the church were to redirect their Advent weekly collection dollars to purchasing gifts for the needy, provisions for food pantries, charitable organizations or Catholic groups which challenge the tyranny of the Ratzinger pontificate? It would be interesting to see what would happen if every Catholic whom the New Old Missal now freshly excludes from salvation, were to boycott the collection basket for the duration of the season of Advent.

I know I'd rather help to put a meal on the table for the ladies and gentleman at my local soup kitchen than a $300 bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape for Bernard Law's table for Christmas dinner.

 

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