Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Vatican II - a Work in Progress

For many Catholics the Second Vatican Council is ancient history. 

They may acknowledge that it was important, momentous, decisive.  And even if they were not alive when the Council  met (1962-65) and did not personally experience the changes and challenges it brought about, they can agree that it was a critical moment in the life of the Church. But it happened a long time ago, and it may appear to them to be dated and irrelevant for the Church of today.

The truth is: though it ended in 1965, the work of the Council is still underway. Vatican II is not over; in many ways it has just begun.

Vatican II set the direction for the Church as she ended the 20th and entered the 21st century. The 16 documents developed by the bishops and approved by the pope provide goals and strategies for implementation. 

More than 50 years later Pope Francis urges the people of God to follow that direction.

Dozens of subsequent documents, such as instructions on proper implementation, have been issued by the pope and Vatican offices over the years to insure correct understanding of the Council’s pronouncements and to encourage their appropriate application to a variety of pastoral situations and circumstances not necessarily addressed by the Council documents themselves.

The Church can be compared to an ocean liner; it cannot change course on a dime. It takes time, and returning it to its proper course and destination is still underway.

One example of the changes to be implemented is respect for “competent territorial ecclesiastical authority.” Among the decisions articulated in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium, approved on December 4, 1963) is recognition that regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs to various kinds of bishops’ conferences, legitimately established, with competence in given territories (22.2).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, therefore, has a right to regulate, with approval of the Apostolic See (the pope), certain aspects of the celebration of the sacraments. Translation from Latin for use in the liturgy is one of those aspects which must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority (36.4).

The recognition of this local input flows from the Council’s acknowledgement that the Church does not want to impose rigid uniformity, but rather respects and fosters the qualities and talents of various races and nations (37).

With this in mind the Council agreed that competent territorial ecclesiastical authorities may specify adaptations for administering the sacraments, for processions, liturgical language, sacred music and the arts (39).

In 2001, Liturgiam authenticam, a directive from a Vatican office, insisted that translations from the Latin  “in so far as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet."

In effect the translation now used for the prayers at Mass so follows the word order and structure of the Latin phrasing that the English version is often awkward and sometimes a challenge to understand.

The “poster-child” of such challenging prayers is the collect for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Almighty ever-living God, whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, we dare to call our Father, bring, we pray, to perfection within our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

In pre-Vatican II days priests often before Mass translated the Latin into English so they could understand what they were saying. Today many priests before Mass translate the “English” into English.

In September, 2017, a directive from Vatican II-minded Pope Francis affirmed for bishops conferences that it is their responsibility faithfully to prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.

It remains to be seen whether the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other English-speaking Episcopal conferences will re-visit the translation of the Roman Missal we are currently using. Such a re-assessment and the development of a truly vernacular translation would be an example of the spirit and letter of Vatican II  —a worthy project for 2018 (as the current copies of the Roman missal are showing wear and need repair).

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Motive Behind the Las Vegas Shooting?

We may never know why Stephen Paddock fired on the concert crowd outside the Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel that horrific night, October 1, 2017, leaving  58 dead and  547 injured.  Authorities have searched for his motive in his politics, religious beliefs, marital failure, loss of money, medical history, and drug use but can find no satisfactory link or answer. 

   In a way we could deal more successfully with this appalling slaughter and further the healing process if we knew why he did it. The cloud of unknowing hangs over the victims, the city, the nation at large.

   I do not pretend to know his motive, but I wonder if Paddock simply fell into the dark hole of despair. Perhaps, despite his money and seemingly care-free lifestyle, he came face to face with a meaningless existence, finding nothing of value in his own life and feeling jealousy and anger that others had something that he did not.

   If, in his mind, life had treated him badly, he would get revenge by bringing misery and death into the lives of those around him.

   Psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s experience in a concentration camp during World War II convinced him that “the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle” of  Freudian psychoanalysis or “in contrast to the will to power stressed by Adlerian psychology.”

   He recalled the decision of a fellow prisoner who had made “a pact with Heaven that his suffering and death should save the human being he loved from a painful end. For this man, suffering and death were meaningful.”

   Frankl concluded that “Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners.”

   Perhaps despairing Paddock became killer Paddock because he decided, “I’m not OK –You’re not OK” either. Without meaning in his life Paddock gave into a meaningless massacre.

   Something was missing in Paddock’s life and the emptiness became unbearable. He gave in to misery rather than continue his search for meaning.

   For Christians, Jesus’ revelation “I am the way and the truth and the life” ( cf Jn 14:6) is an invitation to find meaning not in material possessions, nor in power, nor in sexual perversion, nor in escape from reality by drugs, nor in self-inflicted harm, but rather in a person, in Jesus himself, Son of Man, Son of God.

   Anyone without a sense of meaning in his life soon feels he is worthless. The Judaeo-Christian tradition counters such a conclusion with the assurance that human beings are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), that humans are “crowned with glory and honor” (Ps 8:6), that God so loved the world (human beings included) that He gave his only Son (Jn 3:16), that “what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me” (Mt 25:40).

   The search for meaning, for motivation, leads many of us to Christ.

   We may never know Paddock’s motive, but we can be sure that protecting the sacredness of human life, of proposing the truth of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, and promoting the dignity of and respect for others can be an antidote to the malaise of despair and the disease of revenge.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Measure of Perfection

I have long been troubled by Jesus’ command in Mt 5:48, “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine translation, 1941).

The Greek term translated  “perfect”  is teleios.  Most English translations choose to render teleios as “perfect” (so NJB, NAB, NIV, NRSV) though it could be understood as complete, adult,  mature.  The Greek adjective is related to teleō which means “bring to an end,” and connotes “ not merely to terminate a thing but to carry out a thing to the full.”

When I put this command back in its context in the sermon on the mount, I see it is a command to be loving even to one’s enemies. That is the modus operandi of our heavenly Father, and that’s the way the followers of Christ are to live as well.

The perfection Jesus demands is imitation of the Father’s love. As Scripture scholars note, of all four Gospel writers only Matthew uses the word teleios (5:48 and 19:21).  In a parallel passage  Luke 6:36 renders Jesus’ saying  with “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.”

St Thomas Aquinas quotes the sixth century bishop of Reims St Remigius (aka, St Remy) who commented that “the utmost perfection of love cannot go beyond  the love of enemies” but he adds that human beings must be aided by the Omnipotent One, and so Jesus is directing his followers to be “like” their Father: “be perfect as your Father is perfect.”

We are to love like the Father, and it is the Father's love working within us, enabling our weak human love, which brings that love to perfection.

My concern about this perfection business stems from two things: 1)  my early and naïve interpretation of the  insistence of spiritual directors and writers that we must seek perfection (I didn’t understand the distinctions of perfection simpliciter, perfection secundum quid, and instrumental perfection); and 2) my older and I trust wiser realization that most of my heroes fell short of “perfection” on one or more occasions in their lives.

The imperfections of my heroes give me comfort and courage. The Bible is full of examples of heroes and saints who stumbled and fell: Jacob’s deception in stealing his brother’s blessing, David’s sin with Bathsheba, the fictional Jonah who tried to escape God’s plan, Peter who denied Jesus, Thomas who doubted.

The faults of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr, and of many others suggest that even in the effort to do what is right and good, we may fall easily into what is wrong and evil.

In a sermon he preached on several occasions, King advised his congregation that “each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. There is something of a civil war going on within all our lives…Within the best of us there is some evil, and within the worst of us there is some good.”

Merton acknowledged an inner turmoil. He prayed, “Why do I mistrust Your goodness, mistrust everyone but myself, meet every new event on the defensive, squared off against everybody? Dear Lord, I am not living like a monk, like a contemplative. The first essential is missing. I only say I trust You. My actions prove that the one I trust is myself –and that I am still afraid of You.”

On a bus trip Day was thinking about the sins and shortcomings of others and suddenly it occurred to her “to remember my own offenses, just as heinous as those of others. If I concern myself with my own sins and lament them, if I remember my own failures and lapses, I will not be resentful of others. This was most cheering and lifted the load of gloom from my mind. It makes one unhappy to judge people and happy to love them.”

It is consoling to accept the notion that God does not love me because I am good; God loves me because God is good. It is a comfort to hear Pope Francis’s response to the question, “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” (He replied, “I am a sinner.”)  It is encouraging to realize that the saints in heaven include a lot of people who failed time and  time again while on earth.

I think I shall continue to link Jesus’ command to be perfect with Mother Teresa’s insight that God does not expect us to be successful, only faithful.

The devotion we call “The Way of the Cross” has Jesus’ falling three times (not what you would expect from the savior of the world) but each time he fell he got up again. And he wasn’t so prideful that he would refuse help in carrying his cross. 

Perfection isn’t measured in sins avoided but in love shown --and accepted. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

AUSCP Assembly 2017 in Atlanta

Just back from the AUSCP assembly held in Atlanta, GA, June 19-22, 2017.

About 175 members of the Association of US Catholic Priests met for their organization’s sixth annual assembly to focus on “Peacemaking In Our Fractured Society.”

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM, of Savannah led an optional retreat day prior to the opening of the assembly. Also included in the schedule was a  prayer service led by members of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.

Speakers for the assembly included Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta (“Peace Not As The World Gives”), Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith Ministries (“Pope Francis and a New Paradigm for Parishes’), and Father Bryan Massingale, professor of theology at Fordham University (“To Redeem the Soul of America”).

Assembly attendees  prioritized goals and resolutions for the association’s focus in the coming year.  The top three goals were: 1) Immigration (promotion of  immigration  reform and urging members to lead parishioners, deanery groups and diocesan agencies in study and prayer about this issue in the United States).

2)  Seminary Formation (establishing  a study group to contribute to the US Catholic Bishops’ current project of reviewing priestly formation, especially in the light of Pope Francis’ challenging priests to revitalize their ministry, e.g., to experience the “smell of the sheep,” to see “the church as a field hospital”).

3) Ordaining Married Men to Priesthood (encouraging our bishops and the USCCB to engage in open discussion about ordination of married men,  viri probati,  to insure adequate response to the needs of our country’s 17,000 parishes regarding  priestly pastors and the Eucharist).

Among other issues under discussion by assembly members were: 1)  a resolution asking US Bishops to develop a national plan for the pastoral care of “priestless parishes,” 2) a request to the USCCB to petition the Holy See for authorization of deacons to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

AUSCP has already established working groups focusing on promoting reformation of the Roman Missal and promotion of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si  initiative, “caring for our common home.”

Members were also asked to pray for the canonizations of : 1) Sister Dorothy Stang, SND de Namur, murdered in Brazil in February of 2005; 2) Father Stanley Rother, first diocesan priest from the United States to be honored as a martyr (assassinated in July of 1981 in Guatemala); 3) Father Augustus Tolton, born in 1854 to enslaved parents in Missouri, and later the first Black man to be publicly recognized as a Roman Catholic priest ordained in the United States; 4) Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., known in Detroit for  great faith and spiritual counseling and as a worker of miracles, who died in July of 1957.

Assembly members visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, where  Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s grandfather and father were pastors, and the site of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral. Nearby is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes his boyhood home, surrounding neighborhood, burial site, and a museum. Also in the area is the first Black Catholic Parish in Atlanta, Our Lady of Lourdes, established in 1912, where the assembly members gathered with Archbishop Wilton Gregory as presider for Mass.

Members were introduced to Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, who has agreed to be episcopal moderator for the AUSCP.

Next year’s assembly is set for Albuquerque, June 25-28, 2018, with key-note speakers Father Richard Rohr, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, and Archbishop Wester of Santa Fe.

Founded in 2011, the AUSCP’s mission is  “To be an association of U.S. Catholic priests offering mutual support and a collegial voice through dialogue, contemplation and prophetic action on issues affecting Church and society.”  The AUSCP’s vision is  “To be a Priests’ Voice of Hope and Joy within our Pilgrim Church. .”

Further information about AUSCP is available at http://www.uscatholicpriests.org.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Personal Sacrifice vs Government Dole

In the Preamble to the Constitution the Founding Fathers listed the general purposes for which the government of the United States was founded, namely “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

It is highly unlikely that any of those founders would have expected the government of the United States to grow to its present size and to assume control and responsibility over as many issues and elements of public life as it has.

Periodically the citizens of the United States debate whether the government has taken on responsibilities that are beyond the promotion of the General Welfare.

During the time between the publication of this “Frame of Government”  in 1787 and its ratification by eleven states in 1788, there were public and private debates about its various proposals and the ramifications of accepting them.

For example, Robert Yates, aka “Brutus,” an author of anti-Federalist writings, questioned the government’s power to lay and collect taxes…to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. (article 1, section 8).

“Brutus” asked what is implied in this authority and where are the limits on this power. He did not question what is included in “general welfare,” but we can safely presume  that  today  this expression includes a great deal more than he would have imagined in 1787.

Many citizens see the widening of “general welfare” to be a necessary development of the government’s  responsibility. New times, they say, call for new measures.

The founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, often spoke of the need for a personalism which recognizes the sacredness of every human being.  No one can be discounted since all are made in the image of God.

Although there are several descriptions and definitions applied to the term “personalism,” for Maurin and Day it was radical, active application of love to all people, all creation.

Maurin saw the danger for a citizenry to rely solely upon the government to meet the needs of its people. Many Americans know first-hand the delays, waste, and failed opportunities resulting from governmental red-tape and mismanagement.

Without denying the need for government’s intervention in providing assistance in some cases of poverty (destitution), health, and child-care, Maurin was concerned that people in general, and Christians in particular, have lost the Gospel’s mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, provide shelter for the homeless.

Maurin’s philosophy on this matter appeared in one of  his so-called “Easy Essays” in an early issue of  The Catholic Worker newspaper:

In the first centuries
of  Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at  personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
“See how they love each other.”
In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice
but at the expense
of  the taxpayers.
And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
“See how they pass the buck.”

Has the Church turned over to secular authorities one of its primary responsibilities? Without denying the value of many Church-related organizations serving the poor, the issue can still be raised on a personalist level to all Christians facing judgment day: “When I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat; when I was thirsty, you gave me nothing…”

Defending our inaction by pointing to the government dole may be  a rather flimsy excuse.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What Does It Mean To Be Clean Of Heart?

Is it permissible to disagree with a pope who is also a saint?

I have for some time been uneasy with some of the points in Pope John Paul’s  “Theology of the Body.” Don’t get me wrong –there is much good here, but….

One of those points is interpretation of the sixth beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart…”

In his General Audience of April 2, 1980, Pope John Paul interpreted Mt 5:8 (“Blessed are the pure of heart...”) as reference to human sexuality. He related that beatitude to “the possibilities of the human heart with respect to concupiscence of the body” (Man and Woman He Created Them, 23.6).

In the Sacra Pagina series, Daniel J. Harrington’s The Gospel of Matthew sees Ps 24:3-4 (“Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?...The clean of hand and the pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain”) as the background for the beatitude. Harrington says, “Neither a reference to sexual-ritual purity nor to single-heartedness, ‘pure of heart’ characterizes people of integrity whose moral righteousness extends to their inmost being and whose actions and intentions correspond” (p. 79).

In the Anchor Bible series on Matthew (commentary by W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann), the beatitude is interpreted as a purity of heart which focuses on the Divine. They wrote, “The Aramaic word would here be dakhin, ‘broken, humble, contrite’” (p. 47).  It is about a single-mindedness  as a pre-requisite for the vision of God as emphasized by Philo in his On The Contemplative Life (ii 473).

Catechism of the Catholic Church interprets the beatitude rather broadly, as reference “to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (2518). The Catechism refers the reader to 1 Tim 4:3-9 and to 2 Tim 2:22 in footnotes to the area of “charity” (let the reader judge whether exegesis of these two passages supports the area of charity).

The Catechism refers the reader to 1Thess 4:7, Col 3:5, and Eph 4:19 in footnotes to the area of “chastity and moral rectitude” (let the reader judge whether the references are of necessity implied in the beatitude’s expression “pure of heart”).

The Catechism refers the reader to Titus 1:15, 1 Tim 1:3-4, and 2 Tim 2:23-26 in footnotes to the area of "love of truth and orthodoxy of faith" (let the reader decide whether these footnotes are necessarily an exegesis of the beatitude).

The footnotes promote behavior appropriate to the Gospel and to the Kingdom but the reader must ask whether the Catechism’s application necessarily explains what is meant by the expression “pure of heart.”

There is to be sure a history of interpreting the beatitude in terms of chastity, but today’s scholarship questions that exegesis.

Church father Chrysostom gave this  interpretation: “By the pure are here meant those who possess a perfect goodness, conscious to themselves of no evil thoughts…” and then adds, “For as there are many merciful, yet unchaste, to show that mercy alone is not enough, he (Jesus) adds this concerning purity.”

Augustine interpreted the beatitude in terms of  Wisdom 1:1 (…"seek him in integrity of heart…"), explaining that the fool seeks to see God with a bodily eye while in truth He is seen only by the heart (Catena Aurea, Thomas Aquinas).

Trappist monk Fr Simeon (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis ) of St Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts , explains: “’Purity of heart’ is a quality that restores to a person the state of full grace and joy that Adam and Eve had before their sin. The Greek term katharos alludes to the Jewish rituals of purification, so that ‘clean’ here means not only ‘morally upright,’ ‘free of base thoughts and actions,’ but especially refers to a heart that has been removed from the realm of the profane and consecrated to the service of God, a heart in some sense made into a vessel to receive the presence of God” (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Ignatius  Press, 1996, vol.  1, p. 199).

Luke Timothy Johnson critiques John Paul’s use of “pure of heart” for leaving the impression that Matthew 5:8 refers to chastity “when he knows full well that the beatitude does not have so restricted a sense” (The Revelatory Body, William B. Eerdman’s, Publishing Co., 2015, p. 5).

There is much good in John Paul’s theology of the body, though it is on occasion difficult for me to understand, but application of the sixth beatitude as pointedly a matter of sexuality may well be judged as an escape into “proof texting” and such exegesis questionable.

There is more to “purity of heart” than sex.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prejudice Divides Church, Country, Families

By definition prejudice is prejudgment.

Human beings are endowed by God with intellect and will. The intellect is the spiritual power by which  we know; the will is the spiritual power by which we choose. By nature the intellect is geared toward truth; by nature the will is geared toward good.  We have, however, the ability to ignore truth and choose evil.

Thinking things through and trying to determine what is true can be challenging. Both require significant effort and time. Often we will by-pass the effort and jump to a conclusion. It is the reason why we have to respond,  “No, not necessarily,” to people who say that they are entitled to their own opinion

An opinion results from thinking things through. One is entitled to his own opinion only if he or she has put forth the effort to arrive at the truth. The chief distinguishing characteristic of the human animal is the ability to think. Entitlement to opinion depends on using intellect and will to determine what is true and good.  Refusal to seek truth and good undermines that characteristic which makes a human being “homo  sapiens.”

Prejudice or prejudgment can be helpful or harmful. Prejudgments based on wisdom or experience can safeguard life. Prejudgments that are arbitrarily applied to life, people, or experience can be harmful and fall far from the truth.

Wisdom requires a person to submit his or her prejudgment to rational assessment. Prejudgments that are prejudicial are generally understood to be pre-conceived opinions which are not based on reason or actual experience. 

Prejudice can undermine race relations, religious affiliation, political policy. Prejudice can promote sexual discrimination, nationalism, intellectual and linguistic bias.

Many of the divisions in the Catholic Church, in the United States, or in family relationships are founded upon prejudgments.

Prejudice leads to a “them versus us” attitude. The “out group” must be wrong because they do not see things as the “in group” sees them. It is found in the attitudes of conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, in-laws versus the nuclear family.

Pope Francis has been decried as an anti-pope, and no matter what Gospel he preaches, he will be dismissed or condemned by some members of his own Church. President Trump has heard calls for his impeachment, and no matter what  leadership he provides, he will be rejected or proscribed by some citizens of his own country. “Uncle Joe” has been rejected, and no matter what good he may do, he will be disowned and damned by some of the family.

If the enemies of Pope Francis or President Trump or Uncle Joe base their assessment on prejudgment without assessing the possibility of good in their adversaries they have failed to submit their attitude to a search for truth and good. They demean their own humanity.

Such a search may confirm the original conviction, but such a search is likely to come closer to an honest and open evaluation of the “out group.”  Such was the lesson of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or of Harper Lee’s To Killing A Mockingbird.

Spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle has said, “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.”

One way to heal the divisions in the Church, in our country, in family relations is to acknowledge our tendency toward prejudice and come together with civility and patience to meet the enemy and discuss the differences. If our country is polarized to the point that partisan-politics sabotages the good of the nation, then the words of Scripture and Abraham Lincoln ("House divided cannot stand") serve as a sobering cry for remedy. Re-assessment of individual and communal prejudice is a healing balm for the sores of society.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council resulted from 2500 bishops’ coming together and discussing their differences.  Born of heated debates, of political maneuvering, and intense compromise, the Constitutions and Decrees of Vatican II set the direction for the Church to follow for decades to come. The experience of differing people and differing ways of being Church came together and helped heal in a large way centuries of misunderstanding, conflict, and short-sightedness.

The US Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights are further evidence of the benefits which come from using reason, debate, and compromise to defuse fiercely held prejudgments "in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

Dorothy Day's mentor Peter Maurin urged people to work for a "common unity," which he further explained can become "community." Whether the goal is promoting the Gospel or preserving the nation or protecting family life, participants in any of these endeavors must acknowledge what is true and good even in the midst of their differences.

What is presented as "news" on major cable networks is often prejudice passed off as "expert" opinion. Ridicule, insult, disrespect, contempt, slander, dishonesty are symptoms of prejudice. It might be that Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social communication promote immediate, emotional reaction, and retard honest assessment.  The pressure to respond instantly takes precedence over reason. Even the left-leaning political critic Alexander Cockburn acknowledged that the first law of journalism is to confirm prejudice rather than contradict it.

The Gospel calls us to respond with love in every situation and setting, and the love which Jesus taught is ultimately the choice for good. It is the result of repentance (re-thinking) and then choosing what is good. It is the application of those two spiritual powers of intellect and will which characterize and specify our human nature.

You can hear the song from South Pacific:  “You’ve got to be taught to hate and to fear…to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Prejudice is the great divider. It may be the reason for Jesus’ prayer, “That they all may be one…”


Monday, January 30, 2017

Re-assessing Liturgiam Authenticam and English at Mass

How I welcome the news that Pope Francis has formed a commission to re-assess Liturgiam Authenticam, the instruction issued in 2001 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

It was this directive which caused translators to change from using the so-called “:dynamic equivalence” in translating to  the so-called “formal equivalence.”

In effect dynamic equivalence is the effort to translate into terms and expressions which convey the intent and meaning of the original language. Formal equivalence is translation of the words and grammatical structure of the original., even if the result be somewhat awkward.

To use a home-spun (some may say “extreme”) example, imagine how best to translate from English into German the expression, “The old man kicked the bucket.”  If I render it “Der alte Mann trat den Eimer,” will the German-speaking person understand what the English expression intends? It would be clearer, less likely to be misinterpreted, if I translate it simply as “Der alte Mann starb”--the old man died.

Liturgiam Authenticam instructed translators, “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.”

While the Vatican Congregation which issued the document included many wise instructions and appropriate cautions, and did insist on the responsibility of local Episcopal Conferences to oversee the translation work, the Congregation nevertheless insisted that the translation be submitted to the Vatican for approval before the translation could be printed and authorized for use.

In 2011 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the new translation of the Mass (labeled “the third typical edition”) as “The Roman Missal.” Most Catholics will recall some of the changes, such as,  “And with your spirit” instead of “And with you.” Or “…begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” replacing “begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”

Some (not all) priests have struggled with the new translation. Some of the presidential prayers (collect, prayer over the offerings, prayer after communion) are convoluted, awkward, tongue-twisting, and a challenge to interpretation.

The structure of the Latin language differs from that of English, especially to the ear of US citizens. The collect for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time challenges interpretation: “Almighty ever-living God, whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, we dare to call our Father, bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters, that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised. Through our Lord…”

That modifying clause “taught by the Holy Spirit” logically (theologically) refers to “we,” but in this sentence construction sounds as if it is attached to “whom” who it turns out is "God.”

Another common complaint is the frequent and rather gratuitous use of the word “merit.” Good theology suggests that we can do nothing to “merit” God’s inheritance. The Letter to the Ephesians (2:8-9) clarifies, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

Many priests who studied Latin and remember the days of the Latin Mass have confirmed that it was easier to understand the Latin than it is to understand the English as it is translated according to the mode of formal equivalence.

ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the committee set up in 1963 by English-speaking Episcopal conferences to translate liturgical texts of the Roman rite) prepared a new translation of the Roman Missal in 1998, but the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship rejected the new version, likely in part because they already had plans in progress for Liturgiam Authenticam, which was published in 2001.

Pope Francis’ call for a commission to re-assess Liturgiam Authenticam and the probability that responsibility for translations will be more fully restored to Episcopal Conferences provide hope that the Roman Missal as we know it will be revised and the translations of our prayers will come more from our culture and our hearts than from a slavish word-for-word rendering of a foreign text.

Little has been revealed about the new commission, but Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, is reported to be the commission president. Roche is an English-speaking prelate, a former president of ICEL,  and is thought by many to be more open to such a re-assessment of Liturgiam Authenticam than perhaps Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation.

The decision to re-visit the translation and Liturgiam Authenticam does not imply the document had no value. It does reflect, however, Pope Francis’ recognition of the need to respect the responsibility and authority of  Episcopal Conferences.

Of course, there will be backlash. Some have already warned that the words said over the chalice of Jesus’ blood “which will be poured out for you and for many” must not be rendered (as previously) “for you and for all.” They said that “for all” causes confusion. It might be said that “for many” is far more confusing. Did Jesus shed his blood for all or for a restricted many? A truly formal equivalent translation of the phrase should be “for the many,” an expression which means “for everyone.”

I welcome the news and the new commission. Now we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Though it will be years before the work of the commission is implemented, we see some light at the end of an otherwise dark tunnel. If  lex orandi, lex credendi (“how we pray displays what we believe”) is a valid theological, liturgical, dogmatic principle, then we will have taken a decisive step in saying what we believe and believing what we say.