In Plain English
After reading Fr. Nonomen’s column “Missal Defense” (November 4), I encountered the following example of defending the indefensible. At Mass the following Sunday, I heard an explanation of the new translation of the Roman Missal from a preacher who began by talking about change. While I know that we deal with change every day, it occurred to me that there is a difference between change for the better and change for the worse. As the preacher went on, I thought: This is change for the worse.
The principal justification for the change of translation, according to the preacher, seemed to be the desire to capture the nuances of the Latin text. This led to a discussion of the importance of using the word “ineffable” to emphasize the “unspeakable” or “unutterable” mystery of God. In the Creed, God the Father is described as the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” The new translation, however, insists that the Latinate forms “visible and invisible” are preferable to the plain English “seen and unseen.” The Latinate word “incarnate” will replace the current “born” of the Virgin Mary because “incarnate” seems to mean something more than just being born. The Latin incarnatus, from which we get “incarnate,” means to take flesh or to be enfleshed. Is that different from being born? Currently the Creed says that the Son is “one in being with the Father.” The new translation scraps that for the Latinate “consubstantial with the Father.” The original Greek version of the Creed used the word homoousios, meaning “of the same being.” “One in being” expresses that idea quite well and makes more sense to English-speakers.
The English language is shot through with words derived from Latin, but when there are perfectly good English words, derived from Anglo-Saxon, words that people use every day, it would seem wiser to use them instead of words that few people will understand.
Perhaps every parishioner should be asked to spell “ineffable,” “incarnate,” and “consubstantial,” to write a definition of each word, and to use it in a sentence without reference to the liturgy.
The speaker concluded his explanation of the new translation by remarking: “It’s not as bad as it’s been made out to be.” What a recommendation! I thought of my mother telling me, when I was a kid, to open my mouth and swallow a spoonful of castor oil, saying, “You won’t like this and you will probably gag on it, but you’ll get used to it.”
Joseph F. O’Callaghan
Just Say No
Fr. Nonomen is provocative as always. Who knows how this issue will play out in the coming months and years? Will there be some isolated outcries but mostly the somnolent acceptance that he predicts? Anthony Ruff, OSB, an original member of the commission who later withdrew from speaking in favor of the new Missal, has expressed a similar sentiment: that it’s not right, in substance or in process, but that we must go on.
I know that not all are called to, or capable of, Berrigan-esque resistance, but what is it that inhibits even the many wonderful clergymen from an active resistance to this reclericalization and mystification of language? We need priests who help us to speak out against, rather than merely lament, Vaticanization.
George Orwell’s appendix to 1984 was at its most disturbing in describing the principles of “newspeak.” As language is controlled, it is much easier to manipulate thought. Although that’s a dramatic claim, I believe this is what is at stake, and I hope that we have clergy who simply will say no.