Words Have Meaning
Many Catholics ask if the words and translations of the scriptures used in the Catholic Church can be restored to clear and accurate English texts. Some of the choices used in the ICEL scripture texts are laughably bad, others are just plain wrong. The answer is that even local Bishops cannot do this because the USCCB firmly retains the misguided, erroneous, and outdated ICEL english for Liturgical use.
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or clashing cymbal”I Cor. 13:1
What a dismal sentence, especially for those of us who heard this Reading before the 1970 New American Bible arrived in our churches. These words of St. Paul make up one of the most beautiful – in fact, motivating – pieces ever written, but only in older translations which we who lived prior to the post-Vatican II “scholars,” heard in our churches and read in our homes.
Now, the words fall flat. Love, so generic a term. People love their dogs, they love pizza, they love football. That is not what Paul had in mind. How do I know? Because the Latin uses the word caritas, charity. Charity means a special love for one another, an overwhelming choice to love others as God loves – Mother Teresa love, agape. It is a rich concept hardly taught over the last decades.
Because I am the designated Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for a senior home (Lutheran with a few Catholics), I found myself faced with this blah reading for the weekly Communion Service, so I contacted our archdiocesan director of worship and asked if I could make a word change, after all, it is in the Latin version, and reminded him he knew as well as I did what St. Paul meant. Why ask, you wonder? Why not “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Because the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy condemns a person for changing the liturgy. I am still not sure if that extends to the reading of Scripture or the use of an older translation of the Bible, but why walk on the brink of the non serviam precipice?
Thank you for trusting me with this question. Sorry to say, but not I, not even the Archbishop has authority to grant you permission to use a translation of the scriptures in liturgy that is different from the one officially approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I understand why the word charity sounds better to the ear, and is theologically richer; nevertheless, we are obligated to follow the Church’s directives in this matter.
I hope he uses that argument on the priest who hisses his way through the part of the Creed “for us men and our salvation,” reducing it to “for ussss and our salvation.” Or the fellow who still insists on taking shortcuts at the Offertory, getting the chalice ready ahead of its appropriate time so he can elevate the bread and wine at the same time.
The Source of the Bad Text
The problem here is obvious. While the revised and more accurate Mass translation came to us in 2011 with the implementation of Liturgiam Authenticam, the Scripture translation was not approved as revised at that time. So the Lectionary used at Mass is sadly dated, the work of the Catholic Biblical Association and under the control of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (“ICEL”) circa 1969, 1970, and the latest version used for lector training books, 1997. The version used in the Mass is dated 2001.
The Catholic Biblical Association (“CBA”), under the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, began retranslating the Bible from original languages in stages, an ongoing project beginning in 1952. Eventually several scholars of other Christian denominations assisted with this project bringing forth the New American Bible, which is still being revised, each revision going to the Bishops’ Conference then the Vatican for approval, getting sent back for more and more revision, for example, a version with a lot of inclusive language didn’t get approved. The final version of Scripture is not expected to be ready until 2025.
We have what we have, bound to the theological thinking of scholars 50 years ago. Keep in mind the milieu, experts knew all, historical criticism of biblical texts was the rage, the Bible texts had to be interpreted in light of their environment in ancient times. Some of the scholars were vocal in their disparagement of tenets of the Faith. I wonder if they were neutral in their work, or used their expertise to promote little detours in the minds of Catholics.
Fr. Raymond Brown, a well-known scholar of that time who eventually was president of the CBA, was on the edge in his work, which made him popular among those constrained by the limits of the Faith. The Wanderer newspaper gave many pages to refuting his thought, so favored on the speaking tours of the time.
In a detailed 1965 article in the journal Theological Studies (12-1-1965) examining whether Jesus was ever called “God” in the New Testament, Brown concluded that “Even the fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus as saying specifically that he is God” and “there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of New Testament tradition.” He argued that “Gradually, in the development of Christian thought God was understood to be a broader term. It was seen that God had revealed so much of Himself in Jesus that God had to be able to include both Father and Son.” ()wikipedia entry for Raymond_E._Brown citing Brown, Raymond E., “Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?”. Theological Studies (Dec 1, 1965), 545–573.
Is he saying if no one ever called Jesus God, it means He wasn’t? I have never written anywhere in any article that I love my husband, should that be understood to mean I have not loved him for 50 years? But consider this, if a man, an expert, has that thought in his head, that no one called Jesus God, maybe He wasn’t, will it have an effect on his translation?
In the same article, Wikipedia also made note of the fact that “Brown’s immense body of work was, at times, controversial among some traditionalists who objected to the elements of his work that they regarded as casting doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith.”
What was going on? There are two schools of thought on translating, one goes for exactness, the other for freestyle. Shouldn’t the word of God be exact? Or was there more at play here? Here are a few possibilities:
A famous reputation means nothing. Anyone who did not know the difference between amor (love) in Latin and caritas (charity), should have been fired. And these words are easily translatable on Google, I am not relying on my 2 years of high school Latin. Anyone who translates the active verb resurrexit into has been raised (sorry, no Latin available) should have been shown the door, yet these words greet us in the Scriptures used at Mass.
Scholars in the rarefied air of their own thoughts sometimes think the masses cannot understand outside their own experience. I was reporting when such thoughts were thrown around, that Americans don’t understand the concept of a king, so some Scriptures would be hard to understand. In the eyes of the scholars then, the translation had to be as simple as possible and in some places these scholars made up a freestyle translation, a “dynamic equivalence” by detaching the content from the original form. The deletion of the word beseech from prayers is an example of the same thinking. It isn’t an everyday word so it was thought to be incomprehensible to us. That is likely the reason many of what I call “church words” disappeared from the spoken language in church. Instead of elevating the masses to higher thoughts, the higher concepts were dragged down to mundane. Older versions of Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd, concludes with “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” but the new version reads, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” People nowadays do not understand the word forever?
Note the change from “tongues of men and angels” to “human and angelic tongues.” There must not be a hint of male preference, even though the Latin word meant all of mankind. Several of the Psalms were reworded to avoid He and Him so that the word God is used instead:
I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall be ever in my mouth, turned into: I will bless the Lord at all times, God’s praise ever in my mouth.Ps. 34:2
Translation of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo involved a change in the second line of the hymn. In the older version: Old: And on earth peace to men of good will. In the new: And on earth peace, good will to men. We must not imply good will is a requirement for peace, rather good will and peace for all.
I would not be going far out on a limb by suggesting some of the “translations” were subtle attempts at subverting the Faith from within, considering the post-Vatican II upheaval, and the popular writers and speakers of the day, the “Spirit” of Vatican II and all that. For example, in the Mass, the most controversial translation of all came in the actual words of consecration, the words of Jesus Christ.
In the consecration of the wine, Christ said, “This is the chalice of My blood which will be given up for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The word multis was present in the Latin and is translated many. But the translation was rendered “This is the chalice of My blood which will be given up for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.” Very basic words, here. Why the change? Was all less offensive? Or a shift in doctrine? A shift corrected a decade ago, thanks to Pope St. John Paul.
Recall the texts at Easter. “He has been raised.” This implies Jesus Christ had no power to effect His resurrection from the dead, Someone greater than He had to do it for Him. God did it for Him therefore He was not God. Yet the Latin uses the active verb resurrexit. He rose. He did it Himself. Conclusion: He is God.
The Dregs of those Misguided “Experts” Remain Firmly Protected in Our Official Texts
The current version of St. Luke’s account of the Passion:
It was now around midday, and darkness came over the whole land until midafternoon with an eclipse of the sun.
An eclipse of the sun? I asked about this from Fr. John T. Zuhlsdorf author of the “Fr. Z’s Blog,” formerly “What Does the Prayer Really Say,” a translator and a former member of the commission which worked on the Mass translation we are using now. He said the people of Jesus’ time did not have the language to describe the darkness in that way.
This is more than a mere freestyle translation, the words are not in the text. So where did they come from? A natural explanation inserted to account for something which occurred miraculously at that particular moment in history? A little knock on our faith in the power of God to do all things His way?
And I was advised not to use the word charity in a Reading for people in a nursing home?
Should we be waiting until 2025 for some clarity on Scripture? It’s time for our Bishops to take the reins on this matter and drive the issue to a conclusion, remove ambiguity, and try to recapture the souls of our fellow Catholics with the true substance and meaning of our salvation.
Let the prelates open their ears and really listen to what we in the pews hear and maybe they will understand the loss of faith they lament so much.
This article, Words Have Meaning is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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