Does the Catholic Mass belong to the church or the people?

DAVID BUNDY AP A new translation of the Roman Missal sits on the altar after the Catholic Mass Sunday, Nov. … Continued

DAVID BUNDY

AP

A new translation of the Roman Missal sits on the altar after the Catholic Mass Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Montgomery, Ala. Catholics nationwide began using a new translation of the Roman Missal on Nov. 27, 2011.

Latin has the word for “a man” = vir. It has a word for “a woman” = mulier. It has a word for both of them together = homines, which may be translated in Brooklynese as “youse guys.” It is very sad that English texts – both old and “new” — mandated by the Vatican bureaucracy mistranslate the Latin and make everyone — including women — profess belief that Jesus came down from Heaven “for us men and our salvation.” If you speak the English language of today, this wording leaves out women. I know some say that “women” are automatically included whenever you say “men,” but I wouldn’t advise following that logic and have a female enter a public “Men’s Room.” It is shameful that the pastoral sensitivity to time and place called for by the new evangelization has been ignored by using gender exclusive terms at Mass.

I don’t suggest praying, “Youse guys:” I am using it here only as an example of language evolution. There was a time when “guys” was only used for males; “gals” or (even) “dolls” was the way you referred to females. The church recognizes that “thou” and “thee” are no longer part of everyday English, even if found in the famous King James Bible. Catholics make new translations because when languages change over time, the original meanings may be obscured. Moreover, the wrong word can affect your prayer.

English is not the only language with problems. For instance, the verse from Isaiah (7:14) about the virgin birth uses a Hebrew word meaning “a woman who has not yet given birth.” (There is a different Hebrew word for “virgin.”) Yet, when translating this text into Greek for the Septuagint Bible, the Greek word for “a woman who has not yet had relations” was used. As a result, the original Hebrew text does not as clearly refer to Jesus as the imperfect translation. There is no Dan Brown conspiracy here: it’s just that translators often cannot find a word’s exact equivalent.

Gender also figures in grammar. One priest who had learned Spanish, meant to say “Viva el papa.” (Long live the Pope!) but instead said “viva la papa.” (Long live the potato!). That kind of mistake is forgivable, as is a gender-wrong word or two. The larger problem is clerical gender insensitivity. Bishop Roger Foys has forbidden the laity to extend their hands in prayer during the Our Father on grounds that this instruction is not in the Novus Ordo. But we Catholics have the very ancient tradition of the orantes where lay people – even women – are pictured on the walls of the catacombs with outstretched hands. It is sad that nearly two-thousand years of Catholic tradition are erased because it isn’t written down in a book published in 2011.

Holding hands at Mass is another gender sensitive issue. I remember old Westerns (Shane, for instance) where Protestants joined hands around the table in prayer. Catholic America practices this tradition when husband and wife, often including their children, hold hands at Mass before the kiss of peace. I personally feel that holding my wife’s hand after the tugs and tensions of the week works like a sacramental renewal of matrimony. What better place to show unity in Christ and family love than at Mass!

However, not all clerics share this gender sensibility. The since-dispatched Bishop of Scranton interrupted the liturgy of his inauguration to scold the congregation for holding hands. Let’s sidestep a psychological explanation for why a middle-aged celibate male was so upset that married people were happy. I can pardon his inability to understand the importance of liturgical closeness for husband, wife and children: I cannot pardon the suppression of it.

Don’t forget that the sacred liturgy is the church’s prayer of worship, not the personal property of the clergy. Any translation or rule that distracts a believer from praying at Mass has failed to serve its higher purpose. My advice: If the faulty translation of the Creed is gender-wrong, then simply omit the word and pray “for us ___ and our salvation.” No need to say “men” and cloud the meaning of “us.”

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • dragonrose10

    Very nice article that provides some insight to the affects of various translations and even the dialects and accents of both written and spoken language. All of this has been something that I found very interesting in all my anthropological studies. Also the differences in translations and cultural traditions was something that the Roman Catholic educations and the teachers focused on. I was lucky in that the area of the USA that I grew up had a wide range of cultural background (italian, irish, greek, polish, etc. etc.) I was in 5th grade when we learned mass in Latin and then English and learned abouthe other languages that it would be said in. The changes this time are not nearly as much CHANGE as that was. Thank you again.

  • NeilAllen1

    The same priests and bishops that made these changes raped children, moved pedophiles, lied about it, and still ignore the victims.

    They don’t speak for God, despite their riches.

  • usapdx

    The spot light of the mass is on the priest, then the want to be priest, and on down the line to finally the people. Who is kidding who? It is like a rerun of the same old with the bottom line of control.

  • amelia45

    Well done article. There is a problem in returning to language that excludes women, that makes them invisible – again.

    Have you ever caught a burr under the edge of your jeans, placed just so that every step forward it brushes the skin, scratching and slightly painful? With enough distraction, you will keep on walking and ignore it – it is not a sharp pain, you are not bleeding. It is just Irritating and, after a while, it becomes irritating enough that you stop, find the burr, and pick it off your clothing .

    Do you wonder why so many have left the Catholic faith?

  • ccnl1

    Why have so many Catholics have left the faith? It is not because of the liturgy of the Mass. It is because of what is noted below in a prayer:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

  • tony55398

    Christ told Peter to feed my sheep, not rule over them with an iron fisted my way or the highway.

  • tony55398

    The sacrifice of Christ was infinite in value and power and was for all people, men, women, and children, Christian and non Christian, Jew and Gentile.

  • thebump

    With all due respect, what idiotic claptrap. Just when you think all the mindless politically correct head-tripping might finally have given way to a little sanity and common sense, along comes the author with another trip through the loony bin.

    In the English language, men sometimes means people, and whether it means people or males is perfectly clear from the context. And masculine personal pronouns can mean a person of either sex. Anybody who’s such a crackpot hypervigilant wymynist as to quibble over this either has too much time on his (meaning his or her) hands, and/or too little of substance on the brain. Go pound sand!

  • thebump

    Do you wonder why so many have left the Catholic faith?

    Because Satan never rests.

  • Elohist

    So criticizing the bishop for being “offensive, inappropriate and immature” is wrong?

    You just don’t get it do you? The world has changed and the Church has called us to evangelize it, not retreat into the passive …”we need only to proclaim the beauty already present.”

    Aquinas wrote, citing Aristotle, to the effect that the transcendent category of “beauty” is subjective. Why should anyone prefer your babble to that of the Doctor of the Church?

  • tonyvincent

    I don’t think that using the pronoun “men” to refer to people as a whole is offensive. I’m only saying that our minds are in the wrong place if that is our concern in relation to the liturgy.

    Yes we do need to evangelize. I do not at all recommend that we be passive in our Christianity. But criticizing the Church’s use of this word is not true evangelization. As I suggest above to communicate the meaning behind the liturgical practices itself communicates some of the core truths of our faith in a way that is beautiful and therefore appealing to all men (inclusive of women).

    I respect your use of Aquinas citing Aristotle, as I have read both and understand the reference. First of all, even Doctor’s of the Church can have outdated and wrong beliefs and positions. Augustine, for example, believed in Limbo, a belief falling rapidly out of popular opinion. However, you are right, in a sense, beauty is subjective. On a personal level, we find different things beautiful. However, many are now contending that there are things that we can say are objectively beautiful. Take, for example, the dignity of women (since that is essentially the topic here). The Church speaks in mulieris dignitatem on the beauty present in the role of women in society, family, and God’s plan for salvation. At the end of the day I believe that the Church takes pains to proclaim and defend this dignity and is not attacking or demeaning it by the use of the pronoun “men”

    If we are to correct things within the Church to make this more evident, it should be Catechesis. We should be teaching with great fervor and conviction that women have a profound dignity to be protected by all of us at all times.

    And indeed, our evangelization and defense of this dignity should extend outside the Church building a catholic classrooms. But all should be done with love though dialogue not criticism and tension over something petty and silly like this.

    Thank you for your reply. I always am appreciative when my “babble”

  • tonyvincent

    As a Catholic I am heartily sorry if you have been affected by an instance like this and I will pray for you either way. However, I think it would be a tragedy to write off an entire culture and faith simply on account of the grave mistakes of a few. Indeed these men speak on behalf of the Church but it is my hope that these situation be handled better and cease altogether.

    However, I cannot help but say that those guilty of these crimes are few and far between. Especially compared to any other population. Indeed it is even more asonishing and unacceptable when coming from a man to be bringing prayers to God from his people and offering them comfort. Instead he causes more pain, and yes, in the past they have not been handled well.

    But I implore you not to use this to turn your ear away from two thousand years of faith and tradition. We should pray for these priests as well, for the conversion of their souls and that they may see the wrong that they do. We should punish, yes, but also seek to rehabilitate, not seek vengeance and hold resentment. that is not in keeping with your profound dignity. Again, I am sorry and hope God gives you healing as well as all the victims of these crimes.

  • Elohist

    Yes. the issue at hand is whether or not saying Christ died “for us and our salvation” is the current English language meaning of “pro homines” rather than “for us men and our salvation” which in current language excludes women, just like “Men’s Room” excludes women. Everything you say about beauty and education is fine, but you say that Doctors of the Church can be wrong, despite their sanctity and learning, but don’t seem to notice that bishops == some of whom are neither saints nor learned == can not be wrong about how people pray and what is the meaning of a pronoun. A bit too much deference to the hierarchy and not to the People of God.

  • tonyvincent

    I can very much appreciate the practical application here, “men” meaning males in today’s language but what I am getting at with this particular issue is twofold. 1. that it is not that grave an issue, that is, I don’t think the Church loses people from this particular semantic and 2. That if the people of God, or the lay people in the Church are to take on a larger role to correct these things it should be to counter it with the presentation of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of women and so invalidating the opinion that She is violating it here.

    I do believe that the hierarchy is fallible. However, there is something to be said for Sacred Tradition. The way the Church outlines liturgical celebration is not without careful thought and prayer and is a part of our heritage just as much as the teachings of the ancient Doctors. Should they go uncriticized? No, truly not. But at the end of the day I really don’t think this arguement/ concern holds that much weight. Yes, men is used to mean males but I don’t think its usage to mean all peoples is that far outdated or pointed toward excluding women.

    I can appreciate the author holding the Church accountable and posing these questions but I just feel the heart is not in the right place, which is my larger issue. If it were I don’t think the article would have the tone it does. That being one of attack on the clergy as is evident in the bringing up of the incidents of hand holding during the sign of peace (another hot liturgical topic).

    I appreciate the reply. Please let me know if you take issue with anything I’ve said. Even if a respectful disagreement merits respect.

  • Elohist

    To argue that the translation doesn’t stop the people in church from coming to church is a circular argument. Your criteria for whether or not the current form of prayer alienates worshipers must include those who DON’T go to mass anymore.

    I can’t answer for the writer’s heart: but he praises the pope and bishops sometimes and criticizes them at others. It seems to depend on the issue. His major beef seems to be that they don’t always listen to lay people or understand the pressures we are subjected to in a pluralistic world. He has a right to his opinion in my book.

  • tonyvincent

    I can appreciate his right to his opinion but only criticize how one goes about addressing the problems he raises. I feel a petty article like this makes absolutely no difference in the scheme of things other than to maybe harbor resentment toward the clergy which I think is clearly more of a deterrent than anything else, at least that is what I gather from the people I have spoken to.

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