Friday, October 28, 2011

Why change the translation of the Mass? part 2

(Letter to Verne A. Kiular, continued)

Back in the glorious sixties, those heady days after the Second Vatican Council when, at last everything was going to be just wonderful now that the Catholic Church had come to its senses and shaken off the torpor of almost 2,000 years of unbroken tradition, translators of the liturgical and Biblical texts were, in general, students of the Dynamic Equivalence School of language translation. I spent many years at Bathsheba Bible College teaching dead languages to comatose seminarians, and my students were all followers of the Dynamic Equivalence School of language translation because most of them were incapable of translating their way out of a paper bag.

Dynamic equivalence tries to translate the thought of a text, not necessarily its literal meaning. After all, we want to bring the thoughts of the ancients to life, and since they were just folks like us, we should translate their words into modern words and phrases that express their true meaning. Thus, a Latin phrase like “bene optime” (literally, well best) should be translated as “groovy.” Oh wait, no one says groovy anymore. The dynamically equivalent translation of “bene optime” as groovy would have been dynamic and equivalent for about three hours sometime in the autumn of 1967. Now it just sounds ridiculous.

My favorite translation silliness involves the use of the word “to” instead of “at” as in the phrase “to hand” instead of “at hand.” “To hand” was all the rage for a while because it sounded vaguely British and thus sophisticated. The problem is that “to” transforms the noun “hand,” something with fingers, into a verb, having to do with useful things like duct tape, “Have you any duct tape at hand? Is quite different from “Do you have any duct tape to hand?” The second example leads you to stand there waiting for the person in need of duct tape to finish the sentence. You may well ask. “To hand to whom?” as in “Hand duh’ @#$#!@ duct tape to me, you jetrool, so’s I can shut up ‘dis stool pigeon poimenantly!” as one might say in Chicago. (“Jetrool” is a colorful local dialect word implying that someone has the brains of a cucumber.)

Herein lies the first problem with dynamic equivalence. Language changes, and American language changes faster than Liz Taylor changed husbands. (Seven husbands, eight marriages. Richard Burton, ever the optimist, married her twice.) What was “groovy” then is totally lame now. And I have the feeling that “totally lame” is soon to be totally lame. Another fine example of the tendency of American English to change faster than a two-year-old’s britches is found in that beloved old Christmas carol that bids us. “don we now our (festive) apparel... Fa-la-la-la-lah, and mind your own business.” You see, words change meaning. Dynamic equivalence is a useful translation method for about two weeks.

When you are trying to translate a document that is universal and meant to be read for more than two weeks (like the Bible or the Mass), it is necessary to translate what the words actually mean. It may take people a little work to find out what words actually mean, words like “forbear” and “deign.” Scholars thinks that the unwashed multitude has the brains of a cucumber (c.f. above “jetrool”) and cannot look anything up.

So herein lies the second and greater problem with dynamic equivalence. Because they think you are as stupid as a vegetable, scholars will tell you what the text means. And surprise, it means what they want it to mean! That’s why dynamic equivalence was so popular with my students. When one of them would present me a translation of Cicero’s oration against Cataline that involved three clowns and a mule, they would say that it was a “loose” translation and that they were going for what Cicero actually meant. I am sure that some of my students ended up as liturgical translators.

A whole lot of theological revisionism went on under the guise of dynamic equivalence. A glaring example is found in the Gloria: “You take away the SIN of the world: have mercy on us.” The text should read “You take away the SINS of the world, have mercy on us.” You will notice, not being cucumbers, that the correct translation is SINS (plural) not SIN (singular). Plural, shmural? What’s the difference? Oh, the difference is huge.

I can remember some theologians waxing eloquent in the glorious sixties about the Cosmic Christ as elucidated (look it up, jetrool) by Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Chardin held that humanity is converging toward an Omega point, a “Christ-consciousness" which will result in the Cosmic Christ.” Allow me to quote Fr. Chardin, “The world (its value, its infallibility and its goodness) - that, when all is said and done, is the first, the last, and the only thing in which I believe.” He believed in that and apparently believed in the Piltdown Man an anthropological hoax that tried to prove the bones of the missing link had been found in England. Fr. Chardin was rather heavily involved in that particular hoax. I hope things worked out for him.

Combine the Cosmic Christ with Karl Rahner’s Anonymous Christian and you stop believing in the reality of sins. (Rahner’s concept of the Anonymous Christian hinted that everybody is a Christian, at least all the nice people. They just don’t know it. I suspect that a few Jews Muslims and Buddhists might take issue with that)

Thus we were led to believe that there is clearly sin, but there are no sins. That was the spin put on things by some of my educators. We are all saved because “In Adam all die, and in Christ all are made alive”(1 Corinthians 15:22 ) There is no personal sin or personal responsibility. (Well, maybe Hitler and Stalin and all bank vice presidents.)

Quite a few theological axes were ground under the banner of dynamic equivalence and what we are doing now is making sure that the text is genuinely universal and says what the writers said, not what they supposedly “intended” to say. How do I know what they intended to say? Have I a crystal ball? When someone declares, “ that’s what the author meant to say.” I want to ask said translator, “Oh, did you know him?”

Politically correct language finds a happy home among the followers of the dynamic equivalence school of translation. The assumption is that no good person in the past was a racist or a sexist or any other kind of -ist and definitely not any kind of -phobe. It is always fun to watch people try to explain away the fact that St. George Washington owned 316 persons of African descent at the time of his death and that St. Abraham Lincoln actually said “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”( Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas)

A more modern, and to my lights, humorous, example of the idiocy of political correctness is to be found in a very beautiful church in the better part of the Diocese of Frostbite Falls. It was built just when ecumenism was in its first flower and it was important to make our Separated Brethren feel comfortable in a Catholic “worship space.”

To make things easier for Protestants to swallow and to make Catholicism more “biblical” the role of Our Blessed Mother had to be de-emphasized. She needed to discreetly disappear, like some member of the Russian politburo who was suddenly absent among the dignitaries atop Lenin’s tomb, waving at the Mayday parade. In the sanctuary of the Church there is Christ crucified, Christ, the Sacred Heart, and St. Joseph the Carpenter. Our Blessed Mother was relegated to a hidden side altar, and the rather discouraged looking, small beige image, was hung to one side of the altar, to emphasize the unimportance of Catholic devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. She was demoted from Mother of Church to crazy old aunt who lives in the attic.

That was the political correctness of the times. Thank god, that Marian devotion has come roaring back in the 21st century. Now I look at the sanctuary and, guess what? No women in the sanctuary. This is, of course, a horrendous violation of the political correctitude of our the present era. Who knows what the next course correction the church will have to take in the never ending quest of theologians to prove that we really are nice people? We are a universal church in both time and space. A universal language, whether it be Latin or Greek or Standard English is important symbolically, though it may sound a bit quaint in its vocabulary and phrasing. The liturgy is more than who we are. It is also who we were and who we will become, because “He is the same yesterday today and tomorrow.” (Hebrews 3:18)

Next week: More fun with specific phrases in the “new” text.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why change the translation of the Mass?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Why must we endure more monkeying around with the Mass? Isn’t this just another attempt to roll back the great advances made during the times of the Second Vatican Council? Why can’t we just have the Mass in plain ordinary English?


Verne A. Kiular

Dear Verne,

Perhaps a look back in History might help, a look far back, before the Second Vatican Council, back before the First Vatican Council, back to one of the least known and most misunderstood of Church Councils: Vatican Zero.

Vatican Zero is not accepted as a true Church council because we know so little about it. We have only fragmentary evidence and this is gathered from the remnants of a treatise by St. Euflimsius the Stylite, titled “What are These Goofballs Up to Now?” (In Latin, “Quaecumque Facient Hi Stulti Nunc?”) Another problem is that this particular gathering was held under no known Church auspices.

It is to be remembered that at the time the Vatican was not the home of the Holy Father. It was the Emperor Nero’s favorite race track. Those who question the importance of the council remind us that there seem to have more bookies present at it than theologians. When asked if he planned to send representative to the meeting, Pope Clement responded Mercules! Congregare deliris istis? Nunquam!” (Good heavens! Meet with those loons? Never!)

The Treatise begins with “Introivit anas in tabernam....” this seems to be an attempt at humor which loses more than a little in translation. St. Euflimsius goes on to decry the replacing of the noble Greek language with barbaric Latin tongue. However, Euflimsius comes out solidly in opposition to any return to Aramaic at all as a surrender to the hard core reactionaries of the Jerusalem and Damascus Churches.

Remember that Latin was allowed in the Mass because it was the NEW vernacular. The universal language of commerce was Greek. Greek was used from Germany in the north to Egypt in the south, from Spain and England in the west to India in the east. East of the Jordan, Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and still spoken by modern Assyrians, was better known. It was the vernacular until Christianity caught on in Alexandra, Egypt and in Rome which were Greek speaking cities.

There were more people in Rome who spoke Greek than Latin at the time of Christ. It was an international city whose immigrant population, if one includes slaves, probably exceeded its native population. Antioch in Syria and Alexandra in Egypt were also thoroughly Greek cities. The Church used Aramaic in the east and Greek in the west.

As the second and third centuries unfolded, Christianity slowly caught on in the wild west, in Carthage (Tunisia) and Spain, Germany, Italy and Northern France. Southern France around Marseilles was largely Greek speaking. As the empire started to split along a sort of cultural fault line stretching down the coast of the former Yugoslavia, the west including Rome began to speak Latin more commonly and the use of Greek died out in the far west. The Christian East from Syria to India spoke Aramaic, and the Christian heartland, Northern Egypt, Turkey, the Holy Land and Greece continued to speak Greek.

The Islamic conquest of the Christian heartland changed all that. By 750, after beginning in about 630 AD, the missionaries of Islam had conquered the Christian world from Spain to Pakistan leaving only Greece, France and Italy as major Christian lands. The Aramaic speaking Church in the east was eclipsed by the Muslim conquest and even the Greek and Latin speaking areas of North Africa and Syria slowly started speaking Arabic, the language of the conquerors. It was not such a stretch for the Christians of the east, because Arabic like Hebrew and Aramaic, is a Semitic language, but the Latin and Greek culture of Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia were wiped out.

The Greek speaking heartland of Christianity slowly fell to the Muslims beginning with the gradual conquest of Turkey beginning around 1000 AD. That meant that the center of the Christian world moved to what had been the far west of the classical world. It was practiced mostly by hulking, unwashed, illiterate barbarians, from whom I happen to be descended.

They didn’t get out much, except for the occasional crusade. Most people in Europe of the dark ages never got more than five miles away from home. Each little village had its own dialect. It was unwritten and incomprehensible to those from the next town over. You still see traces of it in Europe. My mother’s cousins in Lower Upper Hessia (Yes there really is such a place) get into heated discussions with my father’s cousins from about seven miles down the road as to which village speaks a better form of German dialect. To me, both dialects sound like the Swedish chef on a bender. (Note to the humor impaired; the Swedish chef is a puppet character who talks with a vaguely Scandinavian accent) And don’t get me started on the Bavarians. No one can understand them. Probably just as well.

Where was I? Oh yes, Latin was the only possible common language in the West. It was spoken by anyone who could read, and by many who couldn’t until about 1750! Sir Isaac Newton wrote his best stuff in Latin. It was the only way it could be read by scholars worldwide.

So you see, dear reader, language has it’s problems. It is always creating incomprehensible dialects. Let’s look at simple liturgical phrase, “the Lord be with you”. In some places it would be perfectly acceptable to translate this as “Yo, What up dog?”

Americans, especially those from the Bridgeport area of Chicago, talk funny. I remember a rather tedious Englishman who lectured me every time I asked him to pass the butter. I, having been raised to speak Prince Richard’s English don’t say “butter.” I say “Budder”, all the while thinking I am saying “Butter.” He would remonstrate with me endlessly saying “but-t-t-t-er.” To which I would respond, “That’s what I’m saying, you English twit! Now please pass the @$#%! budder!” Surely if you are a native of the People’s Republic of Chicago you have caught yourself using those colorful dialectical phrases, such as “Jeet yet?” (Did you eat yet?) “No, d’jew?” (No, did you?)

Language changes as fast as a pair dice on an Indiana craps table. This is why universal languages appear. It’s the only way people who live more than five miles apart can talk to each other. English is the new Latin. It is spoken by about 1.8 billion people world wide. Airplane Pilots have to speak English lest there be chaos in the skies. There are more people in China who speak English than there are in the United States. They may not speak it well, but they manage. Especially if you are in a souvenir shop in Shanghai.

If you only speak an obscure language like Flemish or high-middle Bridgeport and, having been shanghaied, find yourself in Shanghai, you are going to have problems. But, if you come from Belgium where the eponymous Flemish language is spoken, you probably speak English better than this author does. So, English is the new Latin.

Now to insult everyone! The die hards who can’t stand the Vernacular Mass need to remember that Latin was once the controversial new vernacular. Those who don’t want to return to a more precise and universal translation of the Vernacular Mass need to admit that American is increasingly different from English. And Sout’ Side English bears little resemblance to either. Stop being so narrow and provincial and learn to speak English, not just American.

So Verne, to answer your question, we are going to translate the Missal into modern English. Finally!

Peace wit’ all yous guys,

Rev. Know it all

(Next week we’ll look at the actual text and have fun mocking the “dynamic equivalence” school of language translation.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

RKIA's Guide to behavior in a Catholic Church... part 7

CAUTION! These are easily the most insulting series of Articles the Rev. Know it all has yet written.

The Rev. Know it all’s guide to how to behave in Church Part 7

Still more complaints..... There are a few more things that are crazy making that I would just like to mention.

Genuflecting! It is customary to genuflect upon entering a pew. The word genuflect is a Latin word meaning “to bend the knee” by this gesture we fulfill what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians (2:10) that “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Parents, teach your children to genuflect. Let them know who lives in that little box behind the altar (or in some churches hidden behind the potted palms). If one is old, dignified, and not petite, like the present writer, a simple bow of the head will suffice. The point is to honor the Lord who is truly present in the tabernacle. I have seen people fall to their knees and prostrate themselves as the people immediately behind them trip on the sudden speed bump that has magically appeared in their path. All our gestures should draw attention to the Lord, not to ourselves.

One can under-reverence or over-reverence. The two extremes are the same. If I bop into the pew with my baseball cap jauntily set backwards on my head, and plop into the bench and start texting while waiting for the show to start, or if I am the show, demonstrating my great piety by exaggerated gestures, the motive is the same: ME and how I feel! Remember it’s the sacrifice of the Mass and it’s about the Lord and His bride, the Church.

If you are in one of those nice modern churches where the Blessed Sacrament has been given His own room near the broom closet, where the congregation won’t bother Him too much, it is customary to bow toward the altar, which, though not the REAL presence of our Lord, is still a symbol of Christ. Speaking of genuflecting....

Kneelers! I have two complaints. First of all, try to let the kneelers down gently when it is time to kneel. The sound of a hundred or so kneelers hitting the floor is a bit distracting as we enter the most sacred moments of the Mass. Second, if you are among those irritated by the sound of kneelers hitting the ground, stop telling me, your pastor, to do something about it. It makes me crazy too! I have mentioned it and now am writing about it. I might as well tell the wind to stop blowing.

The sign of peace! The sign of peace is an ancient gesture that was shared as a preparation for Holy Communion. In the earliest days of the Church it seemed to precede the offertory. In the Latin Rite it is exchanged after the Our Father. In the sharing of a gesture of peace, the person next to you symbolically represents the whole Church and the whole of humanity. That person answers the lawyers question to Christ, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

It is sufficient to greet the person next to you. In greeting them you have greeted all believers. You needn’t climb over the pew to hug some perfect stranger in the back row. In some churches this ancient and beautiful custom has come to resemble the pep rally before a high school basketball game. I particularly enjoy the wave of peace done at smaller Masses. The small congregation is dispersed through the entire church and, being unable to physically greet those in distant pews, everyone begins to wave and rotate. It looks pretty funny from up at the altar, something like the Disney World ride “It’s a small world after all...” Everyone waving and rotating and smiling. At larger Masses, people hug and smooch and stretch as far as they can reach, so as not to offend anyone by leaving them out.

Remember, it’s a symbolic gesture, not a cocktail party! Just greet the people on either side of you. That will do. You can kiss them all at the coffee hour after Mass. Trying to get the congregational focus back on the Lord is near impossible after the festivities break out. I have seen visiting non-Catholics put on their coats and prepare to leave when this happens. They assume now that pandemonium has broken out the church service must be over. Sometimes they are correct. It’s like half time at the football game and people are about to go to the concession stand for a beer, except Holy Communion substitutes for a beer and a hot dog. I’ve seen celebrants go down into the congregation and kiss all the babies and hug all the parishioners from the first row to the last as if they were running for county treasurer. I have seen the sanctuary mobbed as the whole congregation comes up to kiss the bride at the wedding. It’s all about as sacred as a beer bash.

Sometimes the festivities begin at the Our Father, when someone grabs your hand and holds it, sometimes raising it over his head and yours, ending with a sudden upward lunge at “the kingdom the power and the glory...” You have been holding hands with a perfect stranger for a few minutes, and then, when you are about to be set free, the priest invites the congregation to exchange some sign of peace. Then the perfect stranger squeezes you in a bear hug and you are praying that his or her intentions are honorable.

There are some people who actually don’t enjoy holding hands with strangers or being hugged by people to whom they have never been introduced. One man’s expression of love for all humanity can be another man’s signal to contact the proper authorities. If a person doesn’t want to hold your hand or embrace you like a long lost cousin, then respect that. Don’t force anyone to participate in your personal expression of Christian bonhomie (That’s French for “Won’t you be my neighbor?” I, for one, always found that song a little creepy.)

Now, for those of you who don’t like hand holding and bear hugs. No one is forcing you to hug back. If you are adverse to even a hand shake, my advice is nod and smile. You don’t have to raise your had if you don’t want to. If a person insists on hugging you, you are free to discreetly whisper, “I’d rather not, please.” Try to smile when you are saying it. If they then glare at you as if you were Attila the Hun, that’s their problem. The normal gesture in this part of the world is a simple handshake, not a bear hug nor a threat to call a lawyer if someone so much as touches you. Once again I repeat the words of the great American philosopher Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Oh, two more things: If you have a crying or chattering child, quietly go to the vestibule. If there is a cry-room don’t sit there unless you have a crying or chattering child. If you are behind a beleaguered mother (or father) of the crying or chattering child, don’t glare at them as they wrestle with their little dear, offer to help them! Remember, you were probably a pretty awful child yourself. One of my earliest memories was banging my little white baby shoes on the back on the wooden pew in church. The noise was glorious and the look of panicked distress on my parents’ faces was wonderful. I was a horrible child. Or so they tell me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RKIA's Guide to behavior in a Catholic Church... part 6

CAUTION! These are easily the most insulting series of Articles the Rev. Know-it-all has yet written.)

The Rev. Know-it-all’s guide to how to behave in Church Part 6

And a few more issues.....
“Worship the Lord in holy attire. Tremble before Him, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:9)

This doesn’t mean clothes that are full of holes, even designer ripped blue jeans. Clothing is important. It says something. I am reminded of the story of a man, who, long after the current binge of informality was in full swing, always wore a suit and tie to church, even in the dog days of August. His children tried to get him to loosen up reminding him that nobody got dressed up for church any more.

He glared at them and said, “I‘m not Nobody. I’m Somebody and I will continue to dress like somebody.”

When we fail to dress appropriately for a gathering of people who deserve our respect, we are not just saying I’m nobody, we are saying that they are nobody. Still worse we are saying that God is nobody. If it’s true that every Mass is the heavenly wedding feast of Christ and His Church, why should we pay more attention to how we dress for a wedding party in this passing world?

It is a biblical principle that what is covered is sacred. The Ark of the Covenant was veiled. The Holy of Holies was veiled. Even the face of Moses was veiled. That is why we always used to veil the chalice and it is still recommended that we do so. That is why women used to wear a veil or head covering in church. We had the silly, archaic notion that women and feminine beauty was sacred. (Again, note to the humor impaired; this is sarcasm.) Now of course we know that the beauty of women is just an advertising gimmick, to be flashed at the super bowl. There’s nothing special about women now and their ability to be, like the holy ark, unique vessels for the creative presence of God. If, in this modern age, you still think that you are special in the sight of God and that the human body is sacred, please wear something a little less revealing. This applies to men and women, young and old alike.

There are two ways to dress inappropriately for Mass. One can overdress and one can under dress. Overdressing usually happens at Easter, at weddings or at funerals. Perhaps it is imprecise to call it overdressing because, in certain instances, it seems to involve very little actual cloth. It is amazing to see people dress seductively for Easter or for a wedding, but to see someone dressed seductively at a funeral borders on the morbid! One should be thinking of the brevity of life, not the brevity of the lector’s skirt. The other extreme is when a man or a woman comes in dressed like a parade float at Mardi Gras. At least they are covered I suppose, but the whole spectacle is a little intimidating.

One is reminded of the conversation between Mae West and a young starlet. Ms. West descends a spiral staircase wearing a diamond necklace that could blind the incautious onlooker. The starlet gasps, “Goodness!” Ms. West shoots her a look and says, “Goodness had nothin’ to do with it!”

Well, there are those who dress very formally for Mass for whom goodness has nothing to do with it either. Mass is Calvary and the Resurrection all at once. In a sense, it is both funeral and wedding. You shouldn’t outshine the bride, nor for that matter the deceased. Weddings, funerals and Masses are not about you and who you are trying to impress, or, for that matter to seduce. A person should dress at Mass in a way that honors the Lord and His Bride, the Church, and not in a way that draws attention away from the Lord or the Church. Mass is about God and not about me or you!

In our times it is not usually overdressing, but under-dressing that is the problem. Heaven forefend that we should be uncomfortable. Many of us come dressed for the beach, not for the wedding of the Lamb that is attended by untold numbers of saints and angels. When we go to Mass we are taken to the heavenly throne of God whether we know it or not. Christ is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. For God all times are now, all places are here.

There is only one Mass in all of history. The upper room, Calvary the inn on the road to Emmaus, the early weekday Mass and the 5PM Vigil Mass on Saturday evening are all the same thing. You aren’t just lounging in the 3rd row from the back near the closest door to the parking lot. You are standing before God’s throne in the presence of untold billions of saints and angels. Perhaps you can’t see them, but they can see you, and I think I hear some giggling among the smaller cherubs.

There you stand at the most exalted gathering in all of human and angelic history, wearing old plaid gym shorts a ripped T-shirt and flip flops. I suggest wear something a little more presentable. The seraphim and the patriarchs don’t think your knobby knees are quite as attractive as you do. It’s all about being comfortable, isn’t it? It’s a big enough bother to have to go to Mass anyway, God should be grateful just to see me there! And now you want me to wear actual clothing?

If the president were to invite you to the white House for dinner, would you wear flip flops and a T-shirt? The White House is small potatoes compared to Mass.

“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

All the powers of Heaven and all the saints of Earth are there even if you can’t see them. And they are looking at you. And they think that outfit you’re wearing is ridiculous.