Not with my Spirit!
The challenge of mission is to work deeply within a culture, allowing oneself to be immersed deeply in the language and idiom of that place and avoiding a literal translation which stultifies the creativity which reflects the creative spirit of God.
Author: Patrick McMullan is a Columban missionary from Oamaru working in South Korea since 1984. Presently he serves people with special needs and is chaplain to English speaking community at Seoul National University.
Bishop Colin Campbell’s recent article on the new translation of the Order of the Mass, “Did the ‘first cab off the rank’ go into top gear?” (TM, October 11), is a fascinating read. The Bishop raises significant issues including the use of appropriate, inclusive and dynamic liturgical language, private versus communal faith and, indirectly, the dis-empowerment of local churches.
The understanding of God
As a missionary, however, I thought Bishop Colin’s most challenging comments came when he addressed deeper theological concerns, “the understanding of how God was being presented and perceived.” These words capture an intrinsic dimension of mission, especially when couched in the context of engaging with the self-presentation of God in the world. One would struggle to find a more apt, everyday, job description of mission.
I had my initial experience of the new translation while home on holidays at the beginning of 2011. Frankly, the experience was disheartening, leaving me not wanting to participate in the Eucharist. How, I wonder, am I supposed to function as a priest and lead others in worship if I can neither give assent to the changes nor find them liturgically appealing? The thought of becoming a liturgical robot is most unsatisfying. However, what options are there if one wants to function as a priest with integrity? I struggle for an answer and suspect I am not alone. I tip my hat to those who, unlike me normally working in Korean, struggle daily with this translation.
I suspect that the liturgical changes, especially when coupled with the abuse scandals, are destroying the soul of the English-speaking churches. Sadly, at the very time the Church is becoming acutely aware that its structures are dysfunctional, the voices of the faithful are being suppressed at a profound level, namely in their ability freely and naturally to worship God.
My early missionary years were lived under military dictatorship in South Korea (1984-1987). One feature of those times was the strict control of artistic expression, the banning of live music, the arrest of poets, writers and musicians, and the excessive focus on the reproduction of classical art forms. The reason totalitarian regimes act in this way is simple: the true vocation of artists and musicians is to give expression to the deepest hopes, aspirations, and desires of people. In theological terms, art is a meditation on the dream of God for the world?—?dangerous stuff for any institution of power.
Liturgy opens us to mystery
Liturgy is artistic expression in a most refined and communal sense. Our words and music simultaneously engage us with each other and open us up to the mystery of God. I wonder if the emotional and cognitive dissonance experienced by many good people, as they mouth the new translation, comes from an imposed alienation rather than any lack of faith? Is it any wonder that many Catholic communities seem dispirited?
A missed opportunity
The introduction of the new translation could have been a missionary opportunity, par excellence: a chance really to think about the God we are presenting and perceiving. Through words and music the new translation could have facilitated a resonance with the Spirit of God speaking in our world today, rather than flirting with a romanticised vision of the past.
The common experience of Columban missionaries is that of learning another language and working in-depth in a cross-cultural context. Everyday mission experience teaches that literal translation is unsatisfying communication. Successful missionaries involve themselves in the dynamic process of being immersed in the idiom and syntax of the host culture. That is, they have to learn to think and express themselves in another’s language. Liturgical language, I suggest, must follow a similar process.
What image of god?
This immersion engages the question of the image of God being presented and perceived. More importantly, the process is a challenge to discover the self-revelation of God in the host culture. It is the same lesson that St Peter had to learn in the house of Cornelius nearly 2000 years ago (Acts 10). This formative experience runs counter to the project of creating a literal translation of the Latin liturgy. Unfortunately, the traditionalists seem not to have embraced the Church’s experience of mission in order to inform their translation process. Little wonder we now have such clumsy phrases as “and with your spirit” and “come under my roof”.
Need for uniformity?
The new translation would seem to presume the need for uniformity across the English-speaking world. Linguistics, however, makes a useful distinction between language as a vernacular (the Vatican II option) and language as a lingua franca. The former refers to a language specific to a population, a mother tongue such as Korean, while the latter refers to a functional, ‘bridge’ or universal language such as Chinese Characters in East Asian academia. In this respect, English is in a complicated position. Nevertheless, it strikes me that part of the problem with the new translation is a desire for its language to be an expression of an ecclesial lingua franca, i.e. Latin in drag.
There are, in fact, a multiplicity of English languages, shaped by different historical narratives, cultures and classes. This linguistic diversity is something to be welcomed and celebrated by our artists, musicians and poets. However, the opposite seems to have happened. I suspect that the malaise in which we now struggle is caused by institutional hubris and the attempt to build a modern tower of Babel. Uniformity and rigidity are the presenting symptoms.
Crossing cultural boundaries
Sin is an experience that missionaries know something about. The deliberate act of crossing cultural barriers makes missionaries very conscious of their personal failings, limited world-views and the reality of structural sin. Sometimes painfully and sometimes with joy, missionaries learn that there is no such thing as a perfect culture —?no matter how good the rugby team is! Theologically, we interpret these limitations as original sin; the reality that our world, good but not complete, is an on-going project.
Thus, it is a sad irony that the Church, which places such a strong emphasis on sin, would seek to canonise an historically and culturally particular expression of worship. Good as that expression may be, there is, by definition, room for development, refinement, and even new ideas. The creative challenge is to remain faithful to the sound tradition but open to legitimate progress. In this sense, inclusive language is an obvious example. Mission challenges the Church to avoid both the absolutising of a particular culture and the presumption of a uniform English language.
Perhaps nowhere is my disappointment more acute than in the changes to the words of the Consecration: from “you and for all” to “you and for many”. Seemingly innocuous, this change reflects the long running battle of traditionalists against the Mass of Pope Paul VI. If only this issue was a battle of words. Disturbingly, what is really at stake is the contemporary theological understanding of mission.
The Vatican II concept of salvation for all is demanding, (Nostra Aetate, 2) The world, and not just the Church, is the domain of God’s salvific dance. Theology articulates this renewed, humble and positive engagement with the world through concepts such as dialogue with other religions, ecological integrity, social justice and the option for the poor. My own experience of mission in Korea has constantly surprised me as I have discovered the actions of God in ways, and places, that my own cultural background could never have presented or perceived. I am thinking of the freshness that comes to the very experience of God when the Gospel is preached in a society not shaped by the remnants of Christendom.
I cannot help but interpret the change to “you and for many” as a creeping return to extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Maybe there are some who are beyond salvation but that is a judgement for God alone to make. The Church, on the other hand, is tasked with feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25). Incidentally, it is a brilliant counter strategy to the exigencies of contemporary political economics. Salvation for all demands trust in a generous God. Salvation for many, on the other hand, opens us up to being self-referencing and self-justifying. That is, we begin to think we deserve to be saved because we follow those rules, customs and rituals that we rationalise are from God but are, in fact, human constructs.
Vernacular the signature act
My missionary mentor, the late Fr Cyril Hally, frequently reminded us seminarians that the choice for the vernacular in the liturgy, while not the most decisive decision, was the signature act of Vatican II. Pope Paul VI gave direction to the Council’s decision when he exhorted that “the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigour to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963) What we can see with the new English Missal is a rewinding of the Council’s desire to engage the world. It seems that the traditionalists have won for now, but at what cost?
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF NEW ZEALAND
John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington; Colin Campbell, Bishop of Dunedin; Pat Dunn, Bishop of Auckland; Denis Browne, Bishop of Hamilton; Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North and Barry Jones, Bishop of Christchurch.
John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington
1 MAY 2012
As a Catholic of 81 years, and an active member of the parish of St Patrick’s, Paraparaumu, I feel the need to express my concern and bewilderment - and I believe that of many others - at the present emphasis in the Church on returning to pre-Vatican 11 wordings in our prayers and liturgy. We have now returned to the old wording of the Lord’s Prayer, and are currently spending a considerable amount of money reprinting altar missals. I wonder what other changes to pre-Vatican 11 days are envisaged, and why. I note that the Pope has appointed 22 new Cardinals known to be conservatives like himself. I wonder will this be the precursor to further reversions to a use of Latin, meatless Fridays, the Eucharistic fast?
Rather than looking backward, I believe this is a time when our leaders should be moving forward to meet the pressing challenges facing the Western world today. I feel there are more important issues - the selfish demands of the “me” culture... the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. ... a need on the part of the Church to appreciate the changing role of women in society and in the church... the growing disregard of the sanctity of human life with the acceptance of abortion and euthanasia...
Looking around us at all the grey heads at Mass with women predominating, together with the decline in vocations and the walk-out by the younger generation, it seems obvious that the Church should be concentrating its efforts meeting the needs of a rapidly changing society and underlining its essential teachings on issues of faith and morals. It might appear that the Pentecostal Christian churches are making a better job of appealing to all ages than we are.
The introductory brochure, published to announce the initial changes in the liturgy wording, was titled “New Words. Deeper Meaning. Same Mass. An aid to the introduction of the new words of the Mass ”. This is confusing - to put it kindly - because we know these are not new words but a return to the liturgy of fifty years ago. Reinstatement of the word “consubstantiation” has no deeper meaning to the average Catholic. Changing the Our Father back to “trespasses” instead of “sins” invokes a vision of “Keep out” signs to most people.
There can be only one standard by which to judge the policies and actions of the Church - whether or not it is guided and motivated by the spirit of the gospels. The present emphasis on the wording of the liturgy and our prayers would appear more reminiscent of the scribes and pharisees with their concern for the letter of the Law.
To get things in sharper focus, I feel we must recognise the Catholic Church is not the Pope or the Curia. The Church is us - the billion Catholics throughout the world. Closer to home for us the Church is St Patrick’s and our neighboring congregation Our Lady of Fatima, our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for each other.
To put it bluntly, the changes to the former liturgy are fiddling while Rome burns. I would be very relieved if you could allay my concerns.
With my deepest respect, I remain yours in Jesus Christ,
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