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A Reader Argues Against the New Mass Translation

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 1/9/12 at 2:00 AM

 

Fr. Robert Barron notes (and I agree) that the new Mass translation deliberately uses a more courtly language:

A reader argues that this is not a good thing.  He writes:

When the Magi went in search for the new born king of the Jews they ended up in a court—but he was not there. They found him in humility and poverty and simplicity. He is a King but his throne and crown were not gold. His crown was thorns, his throne the wood of the cross. In the mystery of the incarnation God not only becomes man he becomes man among the poor, the common, the least. He spoke the language of the common people. What was important to him was his relationship with people, with people rejected by the religious leaders. In Matt. 25 he tells us that his identification with the least is so complete that when we serve the least it is him we serve. Those who did this translation chose to serve Latin (not even a person) and chose words that serve the professional theologian and the educated. The language they use does not serve the needs of the least, the common, the humble.

The language is courtly not humble or common. Whom do we choose to serve? They can take away my daily word—the word I speak every day—but not my daily bread—the bread and wine, the common food of the people at the time of Jesus, not courtly food, that is his body and blood. His presence in the common food gives me hope in the midst of the sadness with the uncommon, words, rhythm, and structure of the translation.

Pray for me and pray for the Church that it may some day serve the needs of the least in the liturgy (better than we did in the recent
past) as it does in so many other areas of life.

I appreciate my reader’s desire to remind us that Christ has humbled himself and that we are to humble ourselves too.  However, I think he makes a fundamental mistake in misreading Scripture to say that there is therefore no place for the exalted, the resplendent, the magnificent and the glorious (which is what the Mass is intended to lift our hearts and minds to contemplate).  The paradox of the Christian tradition is that the humble love to contemplate the immensely glorious and beautiful.  It is a sensation available to anybody who has stood out under the stars on a summer night and looked up, anybody who has stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or looked out over creation from Mt. Rainier.  indeed, precisely the wonder that the Magi came to contemplate was not merely a baby, but a baby who was God.

In fact, it takes a highly selective reading of Scripture to edit out all the exalted and (even for its original audience, archaic) language it presents to us.  The apostles used Koine Greek, but they used it in a highly stylized and liturgical form right from the beginning.  People don’t go around saying things like “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” as they chat at the grocery store.  It is not ordinary chat say, “In Him, all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily” or to suddenly burst out with, “O the riches of the wisdom of God!” or to casually quote lengthy passages from the Psalms.  So the myth that the apostles just chatted in ordinary speech as they proclaimed the gospel and that “the Church” somehow encrusted their simple folk patois with “religious” language is simply not so.  In fact, Hebrew is a thickly liturgical language and the Old Testament dominated the minds of the apostles and formed so much of the New Testament.  All the Mass does is remind us of that fact.  The Church is not “taking away your daily word”.  You are free to talk to your barber and accountant in our ordinary speech.  But precisely what happens in the Mass is that we are entering into the precincts of the sacred and being reminded of all those things that Scripture tells us things like “The Lord is on his holy throne, dwelling in unapproachable light”—and yet also tells we are welcome in his presence.

My reader’s objection to the Mass reminds me of something that once happened to Dorothy Day.  Somebody once complained to her that churches were too gorgeous and that they should all be stripped, the money given to the poor, and replaced with little bare rooms.  Day very sensibly said that churches are the only places where poor people can go, free of charge, and experience immense beauty that lifts their minds and hearts to heaven.  The net effect of stripping the Church’s of their glorious beauty is not to exalt the poor, but to sentence them to an unrelievedly grey world.  The net effect of stripping the Mass of beautiful language is to render it extremely difficult to lift our hearts and minds to the Beautiful One.