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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.”