The essay “All In? Salvation & the Language of the Liturgy,” by Rev. Toan Joseph Do (December 19, 2008), took me back to discussions of biblical and liturgical topics following Vatican II. The late biblical scholar Barnabas Ahern surprised me when he said most bishops at the council did not know that the words of Eucharistic consecration in the Roman Catholic Mass are not the exact words of Jesus in the New Testament. Do’s excellent article makes that clear.
It is disconcerting to see the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments trying to substitute the literal translation “for many,” which comes from Scripture and the Latin Missal, for the current translation “for all.” Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, seventy-six, has been replaced as head of the Vatican liturgical office by the Spaniard Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, sixty-three. But the die is cast. The question is whether English-speaking Catholics will understand “for many” to mean “for all.”
Joachim Jeremias’s books The Servant of God and The Eucharistic Words of Jesus show that the “for all/for many” Eucharistic words in the New Testament come from the fourth servant song of Isaiah 53:11–12. Jeremias thought that Jesus understood his own mission in terms of the servant of God. In Isaiah, the servant bore the sins of “many” (Hebrew Rabbim, Greek polloi, Latin multis). In Jesus’ day, that term included Jews and Gentiles—so it was equivalent to saying, “for all people.”
The church takes a step backward if it opts to replace “for all” in the Eucharistic Prayer with the more archaic “for many.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
In his article “All In?” Rev. Toan Joseph Do gives a full airing to both sides of the pro multis controversy, and reveals his sympathies with the current “for all” in the Eucharistic Prayer. What will it take for everyone at Mass to open his or her ears and to take seriously our ancient Roman heritage with its insistence on the common prayer of all?
Recently I asked a professor at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy whether that faculty worked in collaboration with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The professor said that no consultative relationship existed between the two institutions. The pro multis decree is further proof of this.
Even junior students of Scripture are aware of the Hebraisms embedded throughout the New Testament. In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the commentator on Mark writes that the Greek phrase hyper pollon “is based on the Hebrew of Isaiah 53:12; it means for all, not just for one or a few.” As a catechist, I am a strong supporter of keeping things simple. That catechesis is good enough for me!
Paul Lakeland begins his review of Peter Gay’s Modernism ("Make It New," December 19, 2008) by stating that Edmund Wilson “memorably characterized the later novels of Henry James as ‘large, loose, baggy monsters.’”
If that attribution can be verified, it should, indeed, be fairly memorable. What certainly can be verified is that Henry James, in his preface to The Tragic Muse, used just that phrase. It was in reference to the lack of “composition” in some works of Thackeray, Dumas, and Tolstoy: “There may in its absence be life, incontestably, as The Newcomes has life, as Les Trois Mousquetaires, as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, have it; but what do such large, loose, baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary, artistically mean?”
A CATHOLIC WAY
While reading Paul Elie’s article on Flannery O’Connor and Catholic culture (“What Flannery Knew,” November 21, 2008), I was reminded of my days as a student at St. Louis University in my late thirties (I’m eighty now). John Knoepfle—our resident writer at the time and now poet laureate of Illinois—had me wondering what made Flannery’s stories Catholic even though she never mentioned any familiar Catholic practices. He argued that Catholicism could be characterized by a willingness to live in doubt.
The title of Knoepfle’s first book of poems, Rivers into Islands, alludes to his childhood spent on the Ohio River, a time when he assumed that as he matured his doubts would vanish. Instead, his doubts became like “rivers silting into islands.”
Perhaps the willingness to doubt is not particularly Catholic. Maybe being Catholic is closer to Thomas Aquinas’s faith in God as transcendental truth. That faith let him follow through on any search for truth, knowing it would lead to God.
(REV.) TOM SULLIVAN
FAITHFUL, CATHOLIC & GAY
Ned O’Gorman’s “Untouchable” (December 5, 2008) was heart-rending to read. Knowing several of gay and lesbian Catholics, I find their predicament unjust and antithetical to the core message of the gospel.
Homosexual Catholics face the question of how to remain faithful to a church that denies their sexual orientation—which is not a matter of choice—and how to have a faith life that thrives on the sacraments and is not reduced to lies and evasions.
I believe that, even though it is not easy, it is possible for a homosexual person to remain a faithful Catholic, participate in sacramental life, and still have an erotic and faithful union with another without violating the core truths of the gospel.
Regrettably, sometimes one has to make a distinction between gospel teachings and church teachings. As many have pointed out, Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. Could it be that he did not consider it important? Could his teachings on responding compassionately to the poor be far more important than peoples’ fears of “the other” who seems different but in truth is not?
My only words of comfort to homosexual Catholics are: Don’t give up. Don’t abandon your rightful place within the church. Don’t wait for the church to change, for it is a bark that takes centuries to turn around. I hope that some day—though probably not in my lifetime or yours—the church will welcome its gay and lesbian members with warmth, saying, “We’re so glad you’re here.”