Dear Donagh,

I know youve already responded to a couple of questions about the new missal in English, but I can't keep quiet about it.  Our parish priest said we should be patient and we’ll get used to it as time goes on, but I find it getting worse instead of better.  I find myself fuming and that's no way to attend Mass.  I know from your answers to the other questions who was responsible, but I keep asking people why why why?  Why was it done?  What was going on in their minds?  Is there any hope that it will be dropped soon or is it there for good?  Maurice

Dear Maurice,

I remember a conversation I had, years ago, with an Italian who corrected my pronunciation of Shakespeare’s name.  “No, no,” he said, “his name is pronounced ‘Shakka-spay-ah-ray’ – Guglielmo Shakka-spay-ah-ray.”  He refused to believe that he had it wrong, even when I reminded him that my first language was English. 

This didn’t surprise me greatly, because I had been living in Italy for a number of years, and I knew that Italians generally don’t believe in the existence of other languages.  Their own language is so clear, its vowel-sounds so pure, that nothing could be simpler, they think.  So, for example, if you fail to understand something they say they just repeat it at higher volume.  Without pausing for an instant they will translate signs, notices, even books, into the most appalling English; and they do the same with other languages.  It would never occur to them to ask a native speaker to do it for them. They don’t really believe in the independent existence of other languages.  Their own language's descent from Latin, I think, makes them feel that it is the original language and that all others are just clumsy approximations. They are quite isolated from the English, French and even the Spanish-speaking worlds, with the rich cultural diversity that these bring. They have a false sense of being at the centre of the world.  This is often amusing to witness, as with Shakka-spay-ah-ray, but equally often alarming - especially when you see its effects in Roman theology and liturgy.   

I can't resist giving you another example.  Carlo Pavia wrote a book entitled Roma Mitraica. It is a sumptuous production with full plate photographs of various Mithraic temples in Rome.  The photos are accompanied by an Italian text, and below it a ‘translation’ into something that was intended to be English.  In one place the Italian text says that the followers of Mithraism were dedicated students (accaniti studiosi) of astrology.  But in the English version these ‘dedicated students’ turned into 'dogged studious.'  The translator had spotted the word ‘cane’ (a dog) in accaniti, and why bother to take it any further?  That was the style throughout the book – outright gibberish. 

That, my friend, is the background to the new missal.  A professional translator wrote, “I would have lost my work as a translator if I had translated half as badly as those who gave us the current Missal.”  I'm afraid I can't believe that it will be replaced soon.  For one thing, the expense would be massive.  To see how ideologically driven it is, just look at the threadbare arguments some people make in its favour: there is no sensitivity to people in their diverse cultures, no real pastoral awareness.  It is an emblem of what the Church has become.  When people’s voices are no longer heard, when their language is replaced by abstraction, when local custom and usage are excluded, we are left with a lifeless bloodless body, twisted in rigor mortis. 

But now the breath is returning, the Spirit is moving; it is a time of convalescence and hope; many are feeling stirred again after deep weariness.  That moment of silence on the balcony when the new pope bowed his head and the whole Church prayed as one: history turns on such moments.  This is the meaning of a poem by W.B. Yeats, where the last line of each stanza is: “his mind moves upon silence.”

I have noticed over the years that the Liturgy is like a sponge, absorbing everything that has been going on just before.  Liturgies during a retreat absorb and then express the spirit of the retreat, even when nothing special is added.  Equally if nothing much is happening in a parish, the Liturgy expresses that too.  The new missal was an attempt to float above the world of experience, but instead it expresses only the rigor mortis that had settled on the Church.  But now that hope and goodwill are being reborn (and how easy it was to evoke them!), the Liturgy will come to express this too – how, we do not know.  The frustration felt throughout the English-speaking world with this new missal is a wound in the Body of Christ.  There perhaps lies our hope.  A wound in the Body of Christ, however inflicted, cannot leave us without hope.  There has to be redemption and healing even for this self-inflicted wound.  What can I offer you, Maurice?  Perhaps this: at Mass why not keep this word ‘wound’ with you?  The English language is paraded there in a seriously wounded condition, disfigured and humiliated.  Let it be an emblem of Christ for you!  In a single line of his letter St Paul left us three words that speak vividly to us now: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).


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