Saturday, October 29, 2011

Words, Words, Words

Just before Mass one morning I handed the server the key and said, "Put this in the tabernacle for me." She left the sacristy immediately to do so.

As I approached the altar for Mass I glanced at the tabernacle, but I could not see the key in the door. "Perhaps," I thought, "she laid it in front of the tabernacle."

When I went to the tabernacle to retrieve the ciborium, I saw no key --not in the lock, not in front of the tabernacle, not anywhere.

I tried pulling the small door open anyway, and it moved. Then I saw it --the server had done just as requested. She put the key in the tabernacle! She had unlocked the door, carefully laid the key inside, and closed the door. I remembered how I worded my request. I didn't say, "Put the key in the lock." I said, "Put the key in the tabernacle." She did as I had asked.

Language can be tricky. My friends from Pittsburgh still talk about gum bands and tubes, and say, "Yuns." I have to translate: rubber bands, tunnels, and y'all!

When we communicate with people of other languages and cultures, we have to be aware that our figures of speech may be misleading or incomprehensible to them. If I say, "He kicked the bucket" or "He bought the farm," most Americans understand these expressions as metaphors for death. In another language or culture our expression may be taken "literally" (word for word), and my affirmation of death is misunderstood.

Failure to understand language and culture can muddy our interpretation of Sacred Scripture. When scholars study the Jewishness of biblical expressions, they often discover new interpretations of the biblical accounts.

For example, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom (cf. Matthew 19:24). The New Testament uses the Greek word kamÄ“lon, which undoubtedly means "camel." But, if we translate that expression back into Aramaic (the language Jesus was likely using when he made that statement), Jesus may have said  the Aramaic word gamla which can mean either camel or rope. "Camel" strengthens the incongruity, but "rope" makes more sense.

When Jesus advises the crowd that if the eye causes one to sin, he should tear it out (cf Mt. 5:29), he is using a figure of speech. It was not a command that we should maim ourselves, even though the great second century theologian Origen took the passage literally and mutilated himself. The imagery means take appropriate steps to avoid sin.

Again in the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks of a good eye and a bad eye (cf Mt 6:22-23). It is possible that Jesus was using a first century Jewish idiom in which "good eye" (aiyin tovah in Hebrew) meant generous, and bad eye (aiyin ra'ah) meant stingy. That passage in Matthew takes on a different tone when read in the light of that imagery.

Our ability to communicate, to understand another's words, is one of the best gifts God has given humanity. Words are so powerful that the Bible uses that very term, logos, to describe the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).

The importance of words and communication are obvious in today's culture (text messaging is one minor example) and in our economy (I wonder how many satellites we can put up there). Yet for all our technology, for all our iPads, Bluetooths (or is it Blueteeth?), lap tops, etc., we have to ask whether we really are communicating.

Given how easy it is to mis-communicate, to misinterpret, to jump to conclusions, we are well advised to slow down and give thought to what we hear and say.

Happily for President John Kennedy, the people gathered in Berlin for his visit knew what he meant when he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner," even though many knew that a Berliner was a type of donut.
Whether communicating with a server in the sacristy or trying to interpret a passage from sacred Scripture, I recognize the need to pay attention to the meaning of the words and the expressions in which they are used.

I like knowing that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." I like the proximity and the challenge.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rescinding Vatican II

Even as I look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, I am concerned that over the past five decades we have seen the slow dissolution of the effects of the aggiornomento we welcomed so cheerfully.

On the Council's opening day (October 11, 1962) Pope John XXIII told the assembly gathered in St. Peter's in Rome that it was imperative that the Church "bring herself up to date where required" and that "nowadays the bride of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than of severity."

It seems to me that “being up to date” and “using the medicine of mercy” were such revolutionary ideas that some of the Church’s leadership feared the consequences of implementation. Within a few years of the Council’s conclusion the aggiornamento express was considerably slowed by Vatican warnings, fears, and control.

Rescissions and curbs have occurred in several areas, such as in the exercise of the authority of bishops' conferences, but perhaps the most obvious examples are in the area of sacred liturgy.
The first major focus of the Council was the Church's liturgy. At the close of the second session the Council definitively approved its first major document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, with 2147 votes in favor, 4 against, and 1 abstention.

Neither the Constitution on the Liturgy nor the Council Fathers spelled out the details of the proposed renewal of the liturgy, but this document provided the principles for its renewal by subsequent commissions and committees.

The bishops agreed on such matters as:
1) the rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity, within the people's powers of comprehension, not requiring much explanation (#34);

2) rigid uniformity should be avoided in matters that do not involve faith or the good of the whole community (#37);

3) territorial ecclesiastical authority, such as bishops' conferences, shall specify adaptations, especially regarding administration of the sacraments, the liturgical language, and sacred music (#39);

4) one of the prime guiding norms was to be the promotion of full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful (#14).

The work on renewal of the liturgy was quickly set in motion, and a major thrust of the renewal of the liturgy was inspired by decades of research into early Church liturgy. Looking back to the past, to how things used to be in the first centuries, gave permission and impetus to how the renewal could take shape.

In subtle ways, however, over the past twenty years, the changes prompted by the liturgical renewal have been revoked or undermined. For example, communion by intinction (the communicant could dip the sacred host into the precious blood) and the purification of sacred vessels by lay men and women are now verboten. And then, out of the blue, we were told we could no longer vocalize at Mass God's name (Yahweh). We can still say Jesus but we can’t say Yahweh!

Next Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree allowing the use of the old Tridentine Liturgy, the very rites the Council had revised. One of the Vatican Bureau has instriucted seminaries to offer an optional course for seminarians and priests who wish to use this extraordinary form, the Tridentine Mass

And now the Vatican has over-ridden the English translation of the Roman Missal formulated by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and insists on a more literal translation of the Latin which smacks of rigid uniformity and is clearly a severe challenge to the comprehension of the priest-presider as well as the people. This new Roman translation is to be used beginning November 27, 2011.

And most recently, on September 21, 2011, the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, notified its Catholic faithful that communion from the cup would be restricted to special feasts and occasions. (Note that  on November 7, 2011, Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead rescinded this restriction and apologized for any "pastoral problems, hurt and confusion caused by mishandling the dialogue and communication about the norms.")

For many Catholics the Second Vatican Council is ancient history –it was held from 1962 to 1965. To me it seems like yesterday.

It is the most significant event in Church history in my lifetime. It released a spirit and put into writing a pattern for how the Church should fulfill its mission in the 21st century. Church law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church confirm that "the college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council" (Canon 337; CCC 884).
To ignore it, to try to reverse it, is in my humble opinion counter-productive and a stifling of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Join the revolution. Support Vatican II. Read the documents and celebrate its 50th anniversary!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The New Roman Missal

I just received a copy of the third edition of The Roman Missal, the book of Mass prayers we formerly called The Sacramentary.

The new translation, in my humble opinion, is going to be more difficult for priests to proclaim and pray than the former one.

When I compare the new with the old I see the difference.

The old translation of the opening prayer for the First Sunday of Advent was:

All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The new translation of the opening prayer for the First Sunday of Advent is:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The priest-presider must not only pray the prayer he must proclaim it, or say it aloud.

The presider will have to make a special effort to clarify that the personal pronoun "they" refers back to "your faithful" (the antecedent is at the start of the prayer) and not to "righteous deeds" which is closer to the pronoun.

I do not think the congregation will have much difficulty with the "peoples' responses" to the prayers.
Within a few weeks "And with your spirit" will come as easily to mind as "And also with you." The burden is going to be on the priests.

Those who have been praying the Mass prayers for 40 years are likely to stumble when the familiar "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer..." becomes "Blessed are you Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you..."

Even more troublesome will be the change from "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven."

The new version, "Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins," changes the wording but also unnecessarily raises the theological problem of what "for many" means.

The wording changes from "for all" to "for many," but we have to clarify that the meaning is the same, that "for many" means "for all."

Most of the preparatory programs and presentations have assured us that implementation of the new translation provides us with an excellent opportunity for reflecting on the Mass and renewing our commitment to this central act of worship.

The United States Catholic Bishops website explains that "the entire Church in the United States has been blessed with this opportunity to deepen its understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance in our lives." The revised translation is touted as "New words: a deeper meaning but the same Mass."

The saving grace of implementing the new Roman Missal will surely be the revised emphasis on the liturgy and its significance for the Catholic faithful. The problem that will linger after the initial enthusiasm is the translation itself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Errors & Holy Indifference

There is a virtue in the spiritual life called "holy indifference."

It is the ability to allow things to unfold without getting flustered by disappointments or unexpected happenings. One of the areas where I need "holy indifference" is in the internet.

I have tried to change notices on this blog but the web browser refuses to let me in. I feel fortunate that I have been able to type this post.

The message I keep getting is as clear as mud to me: Error: possible problem with your *.gwt.xml module file. The compile time user.agent value (ie9) does not match the runtime user.agent value (ie8). Expect more errors.

If by some chance I do not have new posts or cannot update the mass schedule for awhile, know that I am still trying to figure out why the ie9 does not match the ie8.

In our ever-expanding universe, with its countless problems, my inability to connect and update is minor, very minor. But it does give me reason to practice "holy indifference."

It is hard for most of us to say, "Your will be done" and mean it. It is my impression that Jesus had to work himself up to it during his agony in the garden. I shouldn't be surprised if I find it difficult too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Info For Catholic Voters

An article in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR, 9/16/11) provided polling data to show that U. S. Catholics pay little attention to their Bishops' statements on how Church teaching ought to influence political issues.

The U. S. Bishops update every four years a document they call "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

The 2007 version included sections on why the Church speaks on public policy and on the policy positions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The NCR article noted a new poll which indicates that only 16 per cent of U. S. Catholics are aware of the bishops' document, and just 3 percent say they have read it.

For some reason U. S. Catholics pay little attention to what their bishops are teaching regarding politics and social issues. The same poll shows that only 4 per cent of adult U. S. Catholics think the bishops' statement was or would be a major influence in how they would vote.

The wall of separation between Church and State is a major concern to many Americans. Some think that this wall is a guarantee of freedom of religion, while others think it a guarantee of freedom from.

The term "wall of separation" is found in President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut who were concerned that the new president's policies might infringe on freedom of religion. Jefferson wrote to assure them that there was a wall of separation between the two, and he would respect that wall.

In the present political climate Jefferson's analogy has been used by courts across the land to enforce complete and total separation of religious sentiment from the secular and civic world around us.

It may come as a surprise to some, however, that at the beginning, our nation and our national leaders embraced the notion that religion was an essential support for the new government. They did not propose one religious tradition over another, but they did recognize the value, indeed necessity, of having a God-fearing citizenry if the democratic/republican form of government was to endure.

In his farewell address to Congress on September 17, 1796, outgoing President George Washington was clear, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

Washington went on to descibe religion and morality as the great pillars of human happiness, the firmest props of the duties of citizens. "The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them," he said, noting further that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

From the beginning of the great experiment we call the United States, there was the recognition, indeed expectation, that religion would inform public opinion and form the laws of our republic. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution was a guarantee of freedom of religion not freedom from.

Religion has a role to play in the formation of the citizenry, and the U. S. Catholic Bishops have an obligation to teach the principles, precepts and policies that characterize the Catholic faith.

Further, Catholics have an obligation to study those teachings and form their consciences in the light of the demands of their faith.

What is not demanded, however, what is not good for the country or the Church, is thoughtless application of the bishops' teachings to the politics of the country.

The U. S. Bishops' statement is deliberately titled "Forming Consciences."

The demand for forming one's conscience is essential. The bishops teach, for example, that "care for the earth is a duty of our faith." This statement requires thoughtful consideration and leads to decisions about how best to implement the conclusion. Individual persons, however, may not always agree on its implementation.

The bishops provide the principle; the populace must determine its application. Some will fight against use of fossil fuels; others will conclude that there is no such thing as man-made global warming.

I don't know why few Catholics look to the bishops' statement for direction. Are Catholics fearful that they would be crossing the wall of separation? Are the bishops confusing moral principles and practical application of them? Do Catholics think the bishops' opinions irrelevant? Are Catholics simply unaware of the bishops' statement? Do Catholics think they already know what is right and wrong? Is the statement too lengthy? too academic? too predictable? too ivory-tower?

In November the U. S. Bishops will meet and find on their agenda a discussion about whether their document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" needs revision in anticipation of the elections coming in 2012.

What will they decide? Since about one out of four U. S. voters is Catholic, their statement could have significant influence --if they can get Catholics to read it.