I know we’ve seen a lot of bad media coverage of the changes to the wording of the Roman Catholic liturgy in recent weeks. But could we pause for a moment to just note how awesome it is that we’re seeing coverage of this in the first place?
I know, I know, one shouldn’t be excited when reporters are simply doing their jobs. But for my house, the Lutheran liturgy is a topic of daily conversation. My children’s favorite book right now is “My First Hymnal,” which features psalms, portions of the liturgy, selected hymns and pictures that apparently provoke a thousand questions.
When Lutherans got our new hymnal about five years ago, it was a huge deal! While it involved relatively little debate, it was an adjustment for folks. In many ways, though, it brought us closer to the hymnal we used from the 1940s to the early 1980s. Bring up these three hymnals in Lutheran company and you might settle in for a healthy discussion. But near as I can tell, it received no media coverage.
You seek, liturgy is one of the things that most affects the day-to-day worship life of traditional Christian and yet this topic receives almost no coverage. I wonder how much many reporters even know about the liturgy.
For instance, in a weekend comment thread, reader Hector wrote:
Significantly, the traditional-language liturgies done by Anglicans (which were what most Anglicans were using before the 1970s) are a lot similar to the language of the ‘new’ translation. This isn’t really ‘new’ at all, it’s faithful to the tradition of English liturgy.
And reader Jon in the Nati responded:
Yeah. Across town, the Episco-Anglo-Caths are wondering what the big deal is with the new translation.
Of course, as someone part of a tradition that moved to English fairly recently, there are good theological reasons why a group might not adopt another’s translation wholesale. But one gets the feeling that this entire world of liturgy and translation is not well understood by many reporters.
In any case, a reader submitted this article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer with the note “I get the feeling the reporter is slightly disappointed there were no riots with the parishioners burning the new missal.” But the last time I analyzed a piece by Michael O’Malley and the Catholic Church, I began by writing “I don’t know what the Roman Catholic Church did to anger Michael O’Malley and the editors of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer but I am curious.” So by those standards, this piece is downright friendly. Of course, by those standards, the editors shouldn’t let O’Malley write about religion. (And just for example, I didn’t even bother analyzing a by-the-
cliche-book womenpriests piece. It was just that bad. But not even in an original way.)
If you go to the front page of Cleveland.org, the top story after the Browns’ loss to the Bengals is the wording change:
Cleveland Catholics struggle with new, more formal words at Mass
New words for various liturgical services include “consubstantial,” “ineffable,” “incarnate” and “ignominy.” Archaic words like “shall,” wrought” and “thwart” are also employed in the new translation.
No! Oh the humanity! Oh the humanity! I can’t be the only one that gets a kick out of the idea that no one understands the words “shall,” “wrought” and “thwart.” I mean, I was going to make a joke about how maybe the words are too difficult for newspapers to use but a quick Google search shows that even that’s not true within the last day or so! See: shall, wrought, thwart. Even the sports pages use these! (Hey, how about my Broncos? Sorry, tmatt.)
Anyway, the breathless reportage continues.
The new English translation of the Roman missal — closer to the original Latin version written centuries ago — went into effect this past weekend, the beginning of Advent.
It is the first major change in Mass prayers since the 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council ordered a loose translation of the Latin into common tongues.
So after nearly a half-century of sacred praise in the vernacular, Catholics are now trying to adjust to a loftier lexicon that’s meant to inspire a greater reverence for the Mass.
I assume the reporter is trying to articulate that the changes are “more faithful” or something like that rather than “closer” to the original Latin. But there’s just a general lack of precision in these lines. The mass is still in the vernacular, even if it uses words that fancy newspapers such as the Palm Beach Post use, you know?
Side note, I was wondering if anyone had seen a report that explained why the changes were happening on the first Sunday of the church year. I have been a bit behind in my reading so perhaps we’ve even covered that here, but it seems interesting that these stories don’t mention that the beginning of Advent is also the beginning of the church year.
“My brain was going back to the old words,” said John Sheridan, 61, of Cleveland Heights, following Mass on Sunday at Communion of Saints. “It’s habit.”
Sheridan said he liked the new changes because he studied Latin in high school. He remembers “Et cum spiritu tuo,” which, in English, is “And with your spirit.”
Sandy Pierre, 65, of Cleveland, was one of those at St. Ignatius on Saturday who uttered the old, “And also with you.” But, she said after Mass, she did it intentionally because she doesn’t like the word “spirit,” believing it conjures a dead person. The old response, “also with you,” she said, speaks to the living.
“I’m not going to say, ‘And with your spirit,’ ” she said. “I’m a stubborn Hungarian, and I refuse to say ‘spirit.’ ”
Pierre’s husband, Fred, 67, said he was not pleased with the missal changes because the words are too formal. “When Jesus walked the Earth, he talked in simple language,” he said. “You don’t need $3 words to pray.”
New words for various liturgical services include “consubstantial,” “ineffable,” “incarnate” and “ignominy.”
Archaic words like “shall,” wrought” (sic) and “thwart” are also employed in the new translation.
Isn’t it kind of comforting to know that there are stubborn Hungarians in every congregation? In any case, I still just get such a kick out of the attempt to make “shall,” “wrought” and “thwart” into a controversy.
Having said this, and I noted this in a comment thread to a previous wording change story, but my 4-year-old knows — along with everyone else in her class — hymns with words like the ones mentioned above as well as a Kyrie hymn with words such as “mediator” and “supplication.” My 2-year-old already knows a good portion of the prayers and liturgy we use regularly in our Divine Services.
This whole media narrative of “Catholics can’t figure out these tough words” is part of a larger media template, one that paints many Christians as yokels and idiots. I wonder if this particular approach to the wording changes doesn’t just perfectly showcase how silly that template is. Or maybe it shows how stupid journalists think all of their readers and viewers are. I don’t know, but I do find the whole thing fascinating.
I will say that I came across a couple of very well done articles that managed to avoid this overdone template. I’ll highlight them later if another GetReligionista doesn’t get to them first.