There is one final entry I want to post on the subject of the liturgical developments of the past several years and the question of whether or not the Second Vatican Council is slowly being undone. And perhaps not all that slowly! Then I hope to return to some entries on the History of the Church in America, particularly several blogs on the development of anti-Catholicism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But before we look at anti-Catholicism with the rise of the Klan and some dirty American politics, let’s deal with one more entry on the subject of the new translation of the Roman Missal that will come into effect this autumn.
I have seen large sections of the new Missal and I honestly think several aspects of it are an improvement over the current translations. I also think for various reasons that much of it is a step backward. Several weeks ago I was doing a workshop at a monastery of Episcopalian nuns and was present for the Service of Holy Communion according to the current Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Last Sunday, visiting friends out of town I attended their Lutheran Church for the Sunday Eucharist according to the Lutheran Book of Worship. Both Sundays I had no problem reciting much of the liturgy from memory as the translations used in their various rites are the ICEL translations, or at least close enough to our current translation that there is no barrier to ecumenical participation. This feature will be lost or greatly reduced as we unilaterally introduce a new translation. It is a step backward ecumenically. In many ways this is a small issue as most of the prayers affected—e.g. the particular Eucharistic Prayers (canons), prefaces, prayers at the Presentation of the Gifts, and the invitation to Communion are unique to the Roman Rite, but the changes in the Creed, Gloria, and Sanctus give witness to an unnecessary division—not of the substance of our common faith but of an arbitrary expression of that substance.
The second objection is that this new “translation” is not always as faithful a translation as it toots itself to be and can, in several instances, lead to false doctrine (aka heresy). The two most serious examples are the Words of Institution and the response to the presider’s greeting.
In the Words of Institution for the Cup, the Latin phrase “pro multis” is translated “for many.” Now anyone who has two years of high school Latin would ask: what is the problem with that? Well there are two problems. The first is the translation itself; the second is the doctrine expressed. While “for many” would normally be a good translation of the phrase pro multis in this case it is a distortion. The Latin itself is a translation of the Greek in which the New Testament is written and from which these words find their role in the consecration of the wine. Today few priests know Latin anymore (which doesn’t stop some of them from “saying mass” in it) and virtually none know Greek. But the Latin pro multis is itself a translation of the Greek ‘oi polloi which means “the many” or “the multitude.” These terms are inclusive; they affirm the doctrine that Christ’s blood was shed for the multitude of humanity, for all. If it can be restricted in any way, it would mean that Christ’s blood was shed for the common sort of people, the “great unwashed” as it were. ‘oi polloi has a sense vulgar or low class sort of people. The problem is that Latin doesn’t have the word “the” (nor “a”) and thus “for the many” becomes in literal Latin, pro multis “for many.” I have already mentioned the second objection that this translation produces, the doctrinal danger, of people coming to believe that Christ died for some, not for all. This Jansenist proposition—that Christ did not die for all—was condemned by Innocent X in the Bull cum occasione in 1653. It is Catholic doctrine that Christ died for all. It is no coincidence that the agitation against the current translation has been in great part from Catholic sources in the United States and in Great Britain that have expressed other Jansenist tendencies. With the principle lex orandi; lex credendi (literally “the law of prayer is the law of doctrine” meaning that the formulae by which we pray shapes the formulae by which we express our faith) we run the risk of Catholics coming to believe that Christ died for many but not for all—that are those for whom Christ did not die—and thus falling into the condemned doctrine of the Jansenists.
The second problem with the translation is the translation of the response “et cum spiritu tuo” –“and with your spirit.” I will grant that the translation is faithful on a literal level, but it misses accuracy because it does not take into account the shift of anthropology between the ancient Roman world and our world today. A more accurate translation, awkward as it may be, can be rendered Dominus vobiscum: The (peace of the) Lord dwell within you. Though “the Lord dwell within you” by itself is by no means bad, there is the implication of something even deeper, richer. The same meaning might be conveyed as “the grace of the Lord” or some similar such phrase that implies an indwelling of God by grace.” Similarly, taking into account the original understanding of the human person from the second- or third-century classical world, the response “et cum spiritu tuo” would better be rendered “and (his peace, or indwelling) within your deepest heart. The problem is that the translation “and with your spirit” while literal, to the modern mind presents a two tiered world of a material or physical self and a higher “spiritual” self while the classical understanding saw spirit not so much as “soul” in the sense of the immortal or heavenly component of the human person, but as their truest and most authentic, most real, part. This spiritus dwells within the person, where we would say today—metaphorically of course—in their heart. It is dangerous to create a two-tiered world of “spiritual” and “earthly” realities as it leads quite quickly to a certain Gnosticism that disdains all but the “spiritual” and this ultimately leads to a denial of both the Incarnation and the Redemption.
And this leads to the final problem I see with the new translation—not that others may not see other problems of which I am unaware. But the entire translation effort was intended to create a two-tiered language separating the language in which we talk to God from a fundamentally different language in which we speak to our neighbor. We should, of course, speak as well as we can to both God and neighbor but the separation of “God language” from “neighbor language” can lead to huge doctrinal problems regarding the sanctity of the world in which we live and the relationships which we have in this world—again, problems affecting doctrines of the Incarnation and Redemption. I will be the first to say that the current translation needed a lot of work, for style as well as for precision of doctrine but the new translation is highly problematic and reveals a crisis in the modern Church where there is a cultural split that indicates a far more serious doctrinal division beneath. As a person of faith, I am confident that all works itself out in time; as a historian I think this signals some stormy seas ahead for the Bark of Peter.