Pax Vobiscum

missalI belong to a declining group of people who attend mass on Sundays. That may be a bit strange considering I’m a Dutch protestant, the son of a vicar – and one would expect to find me in the pews of the Church of Ireland or something similar. But that’s precisely the point – there is nothing similar to the Calvinist church of my youth to be found in Ireland, at least not in the mainstream. When in Rome, do as the Romans do; and so I became a practising non-Catholic in a country with increasing numbers of non-practising Catholics.

The first mass I ever attended was the Final Profession of a nun, the sister of one of my friends. I guess I didn’t start of with the Light version of the mass. It was all very bizarre — and I’m not just talking about the nuns lying prostrate before the altar. To a simple Calvinist like me, the pomp and ceremony of incense and multiple celebrants were as alien as the standard elements of bell ringing, kneeling, and of course the transubstantiation.

By now, I could be considered a veteran mass-goer and the routines of the mass hold few surprises. Nevertheless, it still amazes me how Catholic congregations mumble their communal prayers without any attempt at keeping time with each other. It took me years to work out the words to some of the basic prayers that every real Catholic can say in their sleep and are deemed so well-known that they are not even printed in misalettes — until recently, that is.

In their wisdom, the powers that be in the English speaking Catholic Church have decided that those familiar prayers and recitations now need to be changed. When the priest says “Peace be with you”, we are no longer to respond with “And also with you”. Instead, we should say “And with your spirit”, apparently because this is a more accurate translation of the original Latin, “et cum spiritu tuo”. And that’s just for starters.

Explanations on some Catholic websites attempt to justify the new English text from a theological point of view. “Of one being with the Father” becomes “Consubstantial with the Father”, supposedly because the English language is incapable of capturing the true meaning of the original Latin.

I would have thought that revised translations of religious texts reflect the language of the time in which they were published. The often used parody of “bible-speak” is based on archaic translations with sentences such as “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” (Luke 18:19.) Apart from the obviously outdated English vocabulary, the problem with this type of translation is the literal word-for-word interpretation of the ancient Greek text, resulting in strangely constructed sentences. It’s a bit like translating “qu’est-ce que c’est” with “what is it that it is”.

So maybe the new missal is theologically more correct. In my opinion however, the choice of wording is a step backwards, alienating even more people from a church that could surely do with some modernisation. This would have been an opportunity to weed out some of the male-centered language in favour of more gender neutral wording, but alas.

Looking through the text of the new missal, things are looking good when we see that the publishers have accepted the current liberal translation of “et vobis fratres” in the Confiteor into “and you, my brothers and sisters”. Apparently there is no theological objection to asking forgiveness from both male and female members of the congregation.

However, when we get to the Creed, it seems that these same sisters are not deemed worthy of salvation. The generally accepted phrase in the familiar version of the Creed, “for us and for our salvation”, has been replaced with “for us men and for our salvation”. Sure, that’s what it says in the Latin original — but can our sisters not be saved as much as they can be forgiven?

The new missal does not tell us what to say when the priest tells us good morning at the beginning — so I take it our response does not need to involve his spirit. Thanks be to God.