Letters | Dead Language, Gender Handicaps

Readers Write

Bad Language

Rita Ferrone’s excellent column on “cup” vs. “chalice” (“Take This Chalice—Please,” July 11) will make little impression on the tin-eared members of the Vox Clara commission, largely responsible for the new translation of the Roman Missal. They “have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.” The problem is Latin. Everything must sound like Latin. English must be “pinched in, and swelled out, and got up, and strapped down” like Dickens’s Mr. Turveydrop, who “had everything but any touch of nature.” The church adopted Rome’s imperialism, its legalism, and its language. Latin eventually ossified into a tradition and has now mutated into a fetish. Whether they understand it or not, some people really believe that Latin is the language of God, that it alone can express the deepest mysteries of liturgy and theology. Maybe it makes them feel more learned as well as pious. “Consubstantial” (actually a Latin word) sounds more impressive than “one in being” (mere English). Maybe it’s nostalgia, even for a past they never had. I fear it is futile to expect to break the stranglehold that Latin has on the Roman church, but stranger things have happened. I did not expect Pope Francis.

Peter Farley

Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

Precious To Whom?

Regarding “Take This Chalice—Please”: My family was once invited to the home of Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher for the celebration of Mass. The monsignor used an earthenware cup, and I recall thinking that it was probably very like the cup Jesus used.

Conchita Ryan Collins

Teaneck, N.J.

 

Gender Neutral?

Kudos to Commonweal for the impressive June 13 issue, filled as it was with Derek Jeffreys’s excellent article on solitary confinement (“Cruel but Not Unusual”), plus a number of equally good shorter items on topics as disparate as the U.S. women religious and the Vatican, “Tea Party Catholics,” and the fallout in the U.S. church from anti-Modernism. But it’s something from the interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper (“Merciful God, Merciful Church”) that moves me to send you more than simply a laudatory comment.

In what I think is one of the most revealing passages from the interview, Kasper says: “I’m not in favor of women’s ordination,” an unsurprising admission that he immediately follows by noting—perhaps for the sake of disheartened females—that “there are offices in the Vatican that do not require ordination.”

It’s what Kasper says in the succeeding paragraph, however, that is especially delectable. Citing his episcopal experience of having “appointed one woman to the bishop’s advisory council,” he reports: “From that day on the whole atmosphere changed in our dialogue.” “Women,” the cardinal adds, “bring a richness of vision and experience that men lack.”

On reading that pronouncement, I couldn’t help thinking of the observation Virginia Woolf made concerning a 1936 Anglican commission’s rationale for not ordaining women. Christian men, the commissioners decided, would be “unduly conscious of [a woman minister’s] sex” because they were less spiritually minded than Christian women.

It was an idea (about women’s spiritual disposition) to which Woolf responded: “a remarkable, but no doubt, adequate, reason for excluding them from the priesthood.”

Barbara Parsons

Platteville, Wis.

Published in the August 15, 2014 issue: 
Tags
Also by this author
Remembering John T. Noonan

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Culture
Books