Saturday, January 28, 2012

Arrogance and humility...

Many ultra-pious accuse those who question or disobey church hierarchical leaders as being “arrogant” or lacking “humility.”  For example, I have been accused of both due to asking questions in this blog.  So, let’s reflect upon these two concepts. 

The definition of “arrogant” is, “Having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities”, “Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance”, or ,” Marked by or arising from a feeling or assumption of one's superiority toward others.”

Which is more arrogant: asking questions to better understand or assuming one already knows?  Which is more arrogant: believing the organization to which one belongs is imperfect or insisting that the organization to which one belongs is perfect?  Which is more arrogant: believing you are equal to others or insisting that you are hierarchically above others? 

Our Lord made an interesting directive to the early apostles regarding false airs, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you (Mark 10:42-43 and MT 20:25-26).”  Is it “so” or “not so” amongst church leaders today?     

“Humility” is, “A lack of false pride, a state of being humble.”  And the word “humble” means, “Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful”, or, “Showing deferential or submissive respect”, or, “Low in rank, quality, or station; unpretentious or lowly.”  Is it possible for hierarchy to be humble when they assert that they are superior?  Can they be of low rank or station at the same time they insist that they are above all laity? 

Our Lord gave example and instructions about humility to the Twelve at the Last Supper when he took the form of the lowliest slave to wash their feet,

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:12-16).

Do today’s church leaders realize what Jesus did in this action?  Do they imitate Jesus’ humble service?  Somehow this explicit instruction seems to have morphed into most clergy “serving” the people at appointed times and in manners of the clergy’s choosing.  Wouldn’t more genuine humble service be to walk amongst the lowly as one of the lowly?  Then, from the perspective of the lowly and based upon the criteria of the lowly, they would understand what is helpful – and they would do it without fanfare and without feeling like a martyr.

One statement in this passage from the Gospel of John particularly strikes me.  Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16).” 

Church leaders state that they know the mind of Jesus especially when it comes to ordaining women, though Jesus never explicitly stated anything about “ordination”, or gender of apostles.  Indeed, Jesus sent (the definition of “apostle”) Mary Magdalene to the Twelve with the most important news in Christian history, the good news of his resurrection.  Yet church leaders don’t permit women to proclaim this very gospel (good news) at Mass. 

Jesus did appoint a female apostle and church leaders actually recognize Mary Magdalene as some non-descript, junior-grade apostle calling her in dogma, “apostle to the apostles”.  Yet, church leaders are so confident about the words they put in Jesus’ mouth regarding barring women priests (that he never said) and the intentions they declared in his head (that he never expressed), that they say they “lack authority” to remove their words and thoughts from Jesus’ mouth and mind.  They say they have infallibly determined the mind of Jesus.  Thus, it seems to many people that these church leaders have declared themselves greater than their master and the one who sent them. 

Is it arrogant or humble to put your words and thoughts in Jesus’ mouth and mind and then refuse to consider that you might be mistaken?  Is it arrogant or humble to belittle others who seek God by asking sincere questions because they acknowledge God is beyond humans’ full comprehension?  Is it arrogant or humble to insist “we are right” rather than consider, “maybe we are wrong?”  

Monday, January 16, 2012

More Reactions to the New Missal Translation

The new Mass translation inspired me to revitalize my Latin skills and examine the source Latin text.  Using literal translation techniques (the approach used by translators in rendering this new translation), I translated the Mass to see what it actually says and make my own assessment as to its accuracy.  The net is, it contains many inaccuracies.  I was going to include the full source Latin and my translation compared to the new translation at the end of this but it's about 12 pages long.  So, instead, if you want a copy, please send me an email and I will send you a copy. But here are a few things I noticed that I thought worth pondering.  

Sometimes the new translation merely opts for a different synonym though any synonym should be considered a faithful accurate translation.  Those cases may have resulted in increased domineering but not necessarily in increased accuracy. 

Yet, in some cases the nuance of the new synonym disturbs me.  For example, the Latin word for “cup” and “chalice” is calix; either is an accurate literal translation.  However, placing Jesus in his environment – an impoverished man in a borrowed room, I think “cup” is far more accurate.  The translators changing “cup” to “chalice” in the Eucharistic Prayer yields a mental image very incongruous with Jesus’ humble lifestyle and circumstances.  Since the clergy use opulent chalices rather than simple cups, are they perhaps forming Jesus in their image to justify their divergence from his humble poverty?

In the Nicene Creed visibilium omnium et invisibilium used to be translated as “seen and unseen” but now uses a synonymous translation, “visible and invisible.”  Though “visible” and “seen” are pretty much interchangeable, “unseen” and “invisible” are not.  Some things are not visible (not seen) but yet are not invisible (transparent or see-through).  An unborn child is an example.  Unless a woman has an ultrasound, her child is not visible but it is not invisible.  The creed’s new wording doesn’t include that unborn child as God’s creation.  That seems very wrong and incomplete.  Many of the world’s greatest wonders are things that typically are not seen/not visible but not invisible: microscopic matter, sub-atomic particles, the internal workings of living organisms or electronics, the stars, the galaxies.  The new translation omits them all from being God’s creation.     

Also, “seen and unseen” seems to humbly acknowledge blindness from seeing God’s involvement making things that might be visible but just disliked. For example, God made the person you consider your “enemy” whether you can see that or not.  God also made all those things in society to which you object, because according to Church teaching “the evil one” is not capable of creating anything – only distorting things.  

The new translation also failed to correct some very simple inaccuracies.  For example, the Lamb of God in Latin says, Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccàta mundi.  In the previous and new English translation we say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.”  However, that omits literally translating the word qui, meaning, “who.”   A more accurate literal translation might be, “Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world” or, “Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world.”  Why didn’t translators fix that?

Another uncorrected inaccuracy occurs at the end of the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.”  The source Latin, Quia tuum est regnum, et potèstas, et glòria in sàecula, literally translates into, “For (or because) yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, in all ages (or for ever).”  Almost all Christian denominations except Roman Catholics end the Lord’s Prayer this way.  Why didn’t translators fix this inaccuracy and form another connection with other Christians?  By the way, the Latin for what we say would be Quia regnum, potestas, et gloria tua sunt nunc et semper (or nunc et in saecula).

I also am confused about the ado regarding “consubstantiation” in the Nicene Creed rather than “one in being.”  The Greek word used in the original Nicene Creed stated Jesus was homoousios with the Father, which literally means “one in being “.  When the Creed was translated from Greek to Latin, it was changed to consubstantio.  If accuracy is the aim, then we should be saying “one in being” rather than insert a minor inaccuracy due to having an intermediate translation step from Greek to Latin.   

Translating the Confiteor’s first sentence was very insightful also.  The current official Latin text says Confìteor Deo omnipotènti et vobis, fratres, quia peccàvi nimis cogitatiòne, verbo, òpere et omissiòne, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa which literally translates into, “I confess to Almighty God and you, brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, deed, and omission, my fault, my fault, my greatest fault.”  This differs from the pre-Vatican II Latin, Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper virgini, beato Michaeli archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistae, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo,  omnibus Sanctis, et tibi, Pater, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, et opere:  mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, which literally translates into “I confess to almighty God, the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, Father, because I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed: my fault, my fault, my greatest fault .

The text and punctuation changed between the two Latin versions rendering a different sentiment due to adding the word “omission” and using a comma rather than a colon.  A colon usually indicates an exemplary list follows whereas a comma either separates thoughts or sets off a modifying clause.  The difference in meaning might best be explained using a few tables.

In the pre-Vatican II version of the Confiteor you confess to sin in “thought, word, and deed: my fault my fault, my greatest fault.”  One way to interpret that is:

Sin Source
my fault
my fault
my greatest fault

In the current version of the Confiteor you have confession of “thought, word, deed, and omission, my fault, my fault, my greatest fault” which could be interpreted as:

Sin Source

My fault, my fault, my greatest fault

This would seem that far and away “my greatest fault” is the sin of omission - which makes sense as I reflect on Jesus’ example giving dignity to society’s overlooked.  The new translation fails to express this because it is not an accurate literal translation. 

However, the words introducing the Sign of Peace are what sparked my effort to translate the Mass myself.  The new wording says, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.”  The “in accordance with your will” statement seemed odd; I assumed we would ask God to grant the Church full peace and unity. 

The new translation is not an exact literal translation.  A closer one might be, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles: peace I leave you, my peace I give you; Look not upon our sins, but on the faith of your church; deign/vouchsafe to bring it according to your will to be pacified and gathered together.”  However, the two translations render a similar sentiment that leapt off the page at me.  In our liturgy, we acknowledge that the will of God can include disunity in the Church!  Why then do church leaders rail against those who disagree, question or dissent?  Why do they try to force unity through uniformity when perhaps God wills that there be disunity and non-conformity?  Why do they cling to concepts like “ecclesial communion” and “episcopal communion” as reasons to be intolerant of differing views?  Such intolerance is evident in the forced march to adopt this sub-par translation. 

More importantly, I don’t understand why on the one hand we’re being told to make the changes because it shouldn’t be a big deal to say some different words, but then make a big deal about the different words and ensuring people make the changes.   If it isn’t a big deal, why do it?  If it is a big deal, why do such an inferior job?  

Perhaps most importantly, why the fixation on saying the “proper” words when it gets down to splitting hairs?  Prayer is talking to God; it’s not magic.  Magic spells worry about exact wording lest you accidentally turn a toad into a turnip rather than a prince.  Please don’t reduce the faithful and God to sitcom characters as though if the priest says “cup” instead of “chalice” God’s going to turn the wine into motor oil rather than the Precious Blood.   

I don’t think the new changes matter an iota to God other than possibly being saddened by misdirected energies from misplaced priorities.  I know the new changes don’t enhance my understanding of the Mass or theology.  I guess the one thing I value about the new translation will likely be overlooked by church leaders; we acknowledge at every Mass that God’s will includes dissent.  Could the piety patrol please stand-down?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reactions to the New Roman Missal Translation

Vatican officials forced the new Roman Missal English translation claiming it will increase reverence during Mass.  Much like townspeople admiring the Emperor’s new clothes in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, predictably some very orthodox Catholics already eagerly agree.  However, though most people seem to comply with the new translation, enthusiastic belief that it increases reverence seems to be a minority reaction of those I’ve witnessed.

As mentioned in a previous blog article, the word order reminds some people of Yoda’s disjointed speech patterns but without Yoda’s coherent and profound wisdom.  For example, the priest now asks, “Be pleased, O God, to bless, we pray…” rather than simply, “God, please bless…”, and the congregation prays, “…on earth peace to people…” rather than “…peace to people on earth.”  These word order choices cause involuntary smiles, rolled eyes, groans and chuckles.  Maybe in some cultures those are signs of reverence.

I think church leaders do believe those are forms of reverence because as people stumble and fumble through the new translation, church leaders tell us to laugh, keep our sense of humor, and not take our participation in the Mass too seriously.  Oh…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault).

The Yoda-like speech patterns are not the only source of “reverent” comedy in the new translation.  The new language also reminds some people of Mr. Collins, the comical obsequious Anglican priest character in Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice”.  Mr. Collins perpetually sucks-up to his haughty, self-important benefactress, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, kowtowing to the point of buffoonery.  Priests now utter statements befitting Mr. Collins such as this, “Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.”   I can almost hear David Bamber, who played Mr. Collins in the BBC’s rendition of the story, reciting such a line.  Do church leaders truly think God who humbly became a poor homeless man has character and tastes similar to Lady Catherine?  Do they think the faithful are stupid toadies like Mr. Collins?   

In seeking condescension through flattery and flowery speech, the translation adds an extra comedic effect by misusing words.  The priest now prays, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall” rather than “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy.”  However, “dewfall” is actually a time of day not a thing.  Specifically it is the time of evening when dew forms.  Thus rather than pray that the Spirit romantically cover and soak our offering with holiness like dew covers the grass, the priest asks the Spirit to send night upon it.  What does that mean? 

According to the new translation, humble, impoverished Jesus now celebrates his Last Supper using a regal “chalice” rather than a simple “cup.”  This word choice launches still other people into “reverent” parodied versions of the “Chalice from the Palace” scene in “The Court Jester” movie.  This scene involves a pre-joust toast between Hawkins (played by comedian Danny Kaye) and the opposing knight.  Griselda, an ally of Hawkins, poisoned one of the drinks and they have this comical exchange clarifying which cup he should take.

Hawkins: I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!  Right?
Griselda: Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the palace!
Hawkins: They broke the chalice from the palace?
Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
Hawkins: A flagon...?
Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
Griselda: Right.
Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
Griselda: No!!! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!
Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
Griselda: Just remember that.

Maybe since Jesus in the sacramental precious blood is “the brew that is true”, translators believe he belongs in the “chalice from the palace.”  However, since the “chalice from the palace” broke, perhaps we should instead have Jesus using the “vessel with the pestle.”  On New Year’s Day the priest did call Mary a vessel that carried Jesus.  So, the “vessel with the pestle” did also carry, “the brew that is true.”  Nonetheless, this too inspires that rare form of “reverent” comedy that our church leaders seem to encourage these days.

People well schooled in Catholic teaching can only “reverently” laugh when the priest repeatedly refers to Jesus’ “holy and venerable hands”.  Since in Catholicism “venerable” is a term ascribed to people in their first step towards canonization, these people chuckle wondering why the translators demoted Jesus from being divine to being merely on his first step towards canonization.  They hope someday church leaders grant Jesus full canonization; he has after all performed numerous miracles – far more than blessed John Paul II who is on his next-to-last step towards canonization.

Others delight in “reverent” humor as the preface to the Sanctus now includes language reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons.   For these people when the priest proclaims, “And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven”, it is difficult not to hear the narrator’s voice from  the “Super Friends” cartoon show adding, “…and with Batman, Robin, Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Wonder Twins and the entire Hall of Justice League”.

Yet others enjoy “reverent” hilarity as people now say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” as reference to the “roof” conjures up the famous lyric, “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire”, a lyric that should not in any way be associated with the Eucharist.

Perhaps all this “reverent” comedy built into the new translation is why a respected friend wondered if Monty Python could possibly parody the Mass any better than the farce we now have in the new translation.

I have fielded inquiries if the translators were on crack when they undertook the effort.  I think the narcotic of choice for the translators is actually power not crack. 

I do wonder why translators saw fit to turn the Mass into a “divine comedy” reminiscent of a bawdy theatrical troupe production.  And I do wonder how this seems more reverent to some people, but I appreciate that the Spirit validly and genuinely touches people in different ways.  However, why must we all be subjected to the spirituality of people like Mr. Collins?

In kindergarten I acted as a townsperson in a play of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  As a five-year-old tiny bit actress, I went along with the script admiring the emperor’s non-existent new clothes.  Now, I am a critical thinking adult who acts upon my conscience.  I decided I prefer genuine reverence rather than “reverent” comedy during Mass, regardless of how great church leaders say it is.  Therefore, I continue to say aloud the old responses and silently read from an old copy of the missal during the consecration. 

Do you find your participation in Mass more reverent with the new translation?  If not, what are you doing to address that?