Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mendacious Banality — and Hope

The secular mood and tone of the English we use in worship carry [the 1960s] into our times. Perhaps it sustains those who are still locked into its ideals, categories, and agenda. Some of these people are the loudest in decrying the work of Vox Clara and the new ICEL, perhaps because they sense that the existing language of ICEL is an echo of the mood of their era.

When liturgical language no longer speaks with dignity, reverence, and graciousness, we risk losing an essentially Catholic way of how we relate to God, how we understand God and ourselves as persons. The fathers at the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005 were concerned about this desacralized mood which undermines the praxis of liturgy today. In the Anglophone world, for nearly forty years, the banal ICEL language has gradually insinuated a kind of neutrality into the minds of millions of Catholics, dulling their Catholic sense of public worship and prayer, failing to nourish holiness or to promote sound spirituality. Partly through inadequate language, a desacralized atmosphere has been created in many of our churches, and it is less than Catholic. The loss of sacral language may be seen as a betrayal of the Second Vatican Council’s radiant vision of the liturgy. It can only serve the interests of what Pope Benedict XVI has identified as the false hermeneutic of the council.

That false hermeneutic is not restricted to theological faculties, rectories, or religious houses. Recently I discussed this dimension of truthfulness and the imminent translations with a wise friend who pointed out that some middle-aged and elderly laity will probably resent the new Vox Clara and ICEL texts, not because they are new, but because they will seem to be “a reversion to the past.” That will remind them that they are not living up to the doctrinal and moral norms of the Church, norms they want to consider locked in a past they never wish to see again. So we may also expect to hear the cry “archaisms!” or something similar from some lay people. Others accustomed to fast food may not wish to savor what is more substantial, subtle, and refined. Even if we find it hard to articulate exactly what happened, something went wrong in the language of Catholic worship, and that has caused harm among Christ’s faithful. . . .

Lying is a sin. Then, we may well ask, has our worship in the English language involved telling lies for nearly forty years? I regret to say that to a certain extent it has. This is evident, first, in many demonstrable instances at the obvious level of mistranslation through omission, distortion, or the blurring of language that bears doctrinal truth. Secondly, it may be discerned in more subtle ways – as the undermining of the truth of the mystery and above all as the creation of a dull mood that drains away the truth of Christian worship. This is why it is important to redefine the debate between the two contrasting ICEL translations in ethical terms.

Those running a rearguard action to salvage as much of the old ICEL as possible should face some ethical challenges. It is all very well now to take up the rhetoric about being ‘pastorally sensitive’ to the people. There was not a word of that over thirty years ago when a hastily mistranslated liturgy robbed the people of much of their Catholic cultural and spiritual heritage. Here the ethic of strategic mistranslation enters a domain closely related to lying: stealing. Much is rightly made of robbing people of their ethnic, indigenous, or spiritual cultures, but something like this has been going on quietly among English-speaking Catholics for years, through the banal, but calculated, ICEL translations.

— Peter J. Elliott, Liturgical Translation:A Question of Truth, Antiphon, 10:3 (2006)

But Msgr. (and Bishop-elect) Elliott concludes hopefully:

Now is the time to look forward and “wait in joyful hope,” if I may use one of the old ICEL’s more felicitous phrases. Something better is emerging in this area of English liturgical language, a significant development that may also make it possible to face the wider challenges of an inevitable reform of the reform. Through the new
translations, we hope to see something of the glory of the liturgy shine once more. May we recover the divine splendor of the truth, on the lips, in the minds, and in the hearts of a people worshipping the triune God “in spirit and in truth.”

Yet the lie was and is a great evil, for as Romano Amerio wrote:

The Church is only in danger of perishing if she loses the truth, not if she fails to live up to it.
— Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, Paragraph 14.


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