Michele Somerville is the author of a December 1 article in the Huffington Post, “The Truth Behind the Godawful New (Old) Roman Catholic Missal.” She writes her “Truth” in a “cynical” style, which is a drawback for the good comments she does give. She is sarcastic, as for instance calling the translation a “tasty treat for the lockstep sheep and papist throwbacks.” She talks about the “boys in the Vatican” wanting our money, and about “bishop-facilitated child-rape.” Priests are made out to be “marionettes,” with “every Catholic in the U. S. dutifully holding “pew cards.” Serious readers may agree with the nugget of some points, but casting them in stand-up comic language does not help point us to the truth.
There are factual errors of which Somerville seems blithely unaware. I am no linguist but examine Somerville’s statement that since “Catullus was a contemporary of Caesar Augustine, the Latin in which he wrote would have been about the same as that used by Romans during the time Jesus lived on earth”. Even though this author is herself a poet she does not seem able to distinguish between poetic speech and everyday talk. It is hard to imagine ordinary Romans speaking in hendecasyllabic or elegiac couplets. And are we suggesting that Jesus spoke Latin?
Somerville alleges that the “Eucharistic Prayer may not be a poem in a technical sense, but it functions as one.” There may be a good point buried here, but what kind of poetic function is she talking about? I would have thought that the EP should instead consist of a ritual language, i.e., one that expresses (repetitively) truths that are already deep within the assembly—which includes the people in the pews, and therefore must “come across the footlights”, as the theater world say. As far as I can see this form is therefore quite different than most poetry.
That said, I do agree with some main points of Somerville. The new language does seem “stiff and unwieldy,” as she says. And I think it is silly for Church to say that, in the United States, the word “men” today still means men and women. This is quickly becoming a dead usage, and it certainly is out of place in a time when women are at last being recognized as equals to genetic “men”. I would agree that “chalice” is an awkward substitution for “cup.” It caters too much to the monarchical phase of the Church. And finally, I believe that the reversion to “for you and for many” is simply trouble-making. Again, I am no scholar in this, but those who pleaded with the Pope to allow at least “the many” as making good and proper sense in English were right. Somerville unfortunately labors the obvious but unthinkable interpretation that Jesus died for one group of people but not for any others. If anyone sees a valid reason for such wording, I hope we hear from them below.