Language and Identity

Mark Pagel is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, a distinguished scientist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Most of his papers have titles like “Mate fidelity and coloniality in waterbirds: a comparative study.” But he has recently been studying the evolution of language, and his research was profiled in last Sunday’s Times.

He claims that “language is a piece of social technology for enhancing the benefits of co-operation.” At the same time that the total number of languages in use globally is falling rapidly (it is now something between 7,000 and 8,000), some groups, e.g. on Pacific islands, are creating new languages every day, with significant language variation appearing every kilometer or so. Papua New Guinea, for example, has somewhere between 800 and 1,000 distinct and mutually incomprehensible languages.

Pagel sees language as a means of strengthening group identity. “We use language not just to co-operate but to draw rings around our co-operating groups.”

“This seemingly natural tendency we have toward isolation, towards keeping to ourselves, crashes head-first into our modern world,” he says. He cites the EU as an example; it spends over €1 billion (about 1.3 billion U.S. dollars) annually on translation costs alone. And he concludes:

If language really is the conduit of our co-operation, can we afford to have all these different languages? … In a world in which we want to promote cooperation and exchange, and in a world that might be dependent more than ever before on cooperation to maintain and enhance our levels of prosperity … it might be inevitable that we have to confront the idea that our destiny is to be one world with one language.”

The quotes above are drawn from a talk that Pagel gave at a conference in July of this year; you can watch the video here.

I’m sure that others can contribute sources on language and identity, but I have enjoyed The State of the Language by Christopher Ricks and Leonard Michaels, published first in 1980 and again in 1989 by the University of California Press, with different essays in the second edition. The 1980 edition features a blistering attack on the language of the revised Episcopalian Prayer Book, and the same author, Margaret Doody, returns in 1989 with an essay on the folly of revising classic hymns for inclusive language. Both editions seem to be readable online through Google Books.

The discussion of language and identity naturally led me to think about the new translation. Some praise it because it will ‘strengthen our Catholic identity’; several blog posters have commented that it ‘sounds more Catholic’ than the 1973 translation. This idea of a distinctively Catholic liturgical language seems to have been mooted in Liturgiam authenticam:

§27   … it will be seen that the observance of the principles set forth in this Instruction will contribute to the gradual development, in each vernacular, of a sacred style that will come to be recognized as proper to liturgical language. Thus it may happen that a certain manner of speech which has come to be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage may continue to be maintained in the liturgical context.

Similar remarks crop up about Latin, once proposed as a universal language, more recently seen as the ‘sacred language’ of a specific group, rather as classical Hebrew is used in Jewish liturgical worship.

One problem with a group-defining language is that it naturally excludes others. Apparently this was not a problem for the authors of LA:

§29   It is the task of the homily and of catechesis to set forth the meaning of the liturgical texts, illuminating with precision the Church’s understanding regarding the members of particular Churches or ecclesial communities separated from full communion with the Catholic Church and those of Jewish communities, as well as adherents of other religions – and likewise, her understanding of the dignity and equality of all men.  Similarly, it is the task of catechists or of the homilist to transmit that right interpretation of the texts that excludes any prejudice or unjust discrimination on the basis of persons, gender, social condition, race or other criteria, which has no foundation at all in the texts of the Sacred Liturgy. Although considerations such as these may sometimes help one in choosing among various translations of a certain expression, they are not to be considered reasons for altering either a biblical text or a liturgical text that has been duly promulgated.

Our group-defining language is here. Like the rosary or holy cards or the Angelus prayer, the new translation now distinguishes us from other Christians: we are the ones who now say ‘consubstantial’ in the Creed, ‘chalice’ in the Eucharistic Prayer and ‘with your spirit’ to the priest. As a writer in Our Sunday Visitor put it,

The [1973] translation, growing out of the changes initiated by Vatican II, was born in a period of great Catholic optimism. In the spirit of the council, at least as it was popularly understood, the Church was more a partner to society than its scold or its antagonist. In this country, the council coincided with the election of John F. Kennedy, and there was a palpable sense that Catholics had arrived in America. No more Latin. No more fish on Friday. Like the theory that had guided the first vernacular translation, there was now a “dynamic equivalence” between Catholics and their fellow Americans. What so many Catholic leaders of the 20th century had worked for was now true: Catholic Americans were seen as the same as all other Americans.

Some of the younger priests I know seem enthusiastic about no longer being seen as the same as others.  They lard their conversation with Latin words – mens instead of mind, creatio instead of creation; and Latinate locutions – ‘apprehend’ rather than ‘understand,’ for example. Their language creates a stronger Catholic identity.

If all this is true then what does this imply for ecumenical work and worship? Some Orthodox friends of mine say that they are forbidden from praying with non-Orthodox. We aren’t barred from praying with Protestants, but in what language should we do so? How, like Paul, can we become ‘all things to all people’ when our language is distinctive?

To put it another way, how can we be truly Catholic, in the sense of ‘universal’?

Jonathan Day is a consultant and writer; he is also a member of the parish council of the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception (Farm Street) in central London.

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51 comments

  1. In watching the Mass at St. Peter’s, it occurred to me what the intention of the Vatican is with the new translation. They want the Mass in English to have more in common with the exalted rites celebrated mostly in the mother tongue in the mother church. Thus comprehension may be set aside as long as the look and feel of the processions, the chanting, the vesture, and the censing suggest an other worldly mystique. English speaking priests should also imitate the detached and super formal style of the Holy Father.Even deacons should emulate the wooden stance of those chosen for the papal rites. Notice, also, how inflections that we use in everyday speech–reflecting perhaps a distinctly American sense of personal closeness to the Lord dwelling among us–are strictly to be avoided in imitation of the Holy Father.
    I’m sorry (not really), but I really don’t get it. I have a deep appreciation for beauty, even solemnity, but I do not associate those aspects with what happened in the upper room, at Emmaus, or in the Jerusalem homes of the first Christians. Nor even with the Heavenly Supper of the Lamb where those who have become like children will romp and play and sing.

    1. JF – (It often seems that when you express what seems to you to be a negative, you are expressing what is, to many of us, a positive!) I was not able to see midnight mass at St Peter’s, but can well envision it from past liturgies there that I have seen. Your descriptions of the manner of celebration and of the postures of the deacons and acolytes et al. was (I think) not intended as complimentary, but (Irony) they were to me descriptions of a solemnity celebrated at the heart of Christendom which all should wish to emulate, which should be regarded as paradigmatical for Catholic worship throughout the world – and, most certainly in those parts of the world in which we live, where the appropriate musical and other resources are readily had. There is no rational platform which would excuse anything less at every cathedral and well off church every Sunday, with less well off ones doing their best effort toward the paradigm.

      This is the appropriate fuss that we make over God as we offer sacrifice and receive grace – as we dance the liturgical dance with the Lord of the Dance. I seriously question that the heavenly banquet will be ‘where those who have become like children will romp and play and sing’ I have no preconceived idea at all about what the heavenly banquet will be like, but I do have this much of an idea: Namely, that it will be far more astonishingly profound, with joy, love, wisdom and fulfillment unutterably greater than any earthly categories could even hint at. It certainly won’t be a mere picnic, though some seem to think of it in such terms. St Paul assures us that ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man [and woman] what God hath prepared for them that love him’. So much for ‘romping and playing’, or for St Bridgid’s proposal: ‘cavorting around a great vat of beer.

      Yes, our liturgy here should be astonishingly profound and as heavenly as we can, by the ineffable inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it. Then we can say that we have at least seen the Heavenly Banquet ‘through a glass darkly’.

    2. Yes, and the papal liturgy could not be more removed from
      the ancient Roman Church, let alone Emmaus and Jerusalem. Before Constantine starts showering the popes with gold chandeliers and jeweled crosses, you had something throughout the city more closely resembling what you’re referring to. Strange how toleration leads so quickly to decay. In Rome today it is almost impossible to find anything approaching the simplicity and understated elegance of that period.

      It’s either a feast of Fellini-style 60s kitsch, or a garish display of Mussolini modern, wrapped in pomp, circumstance, and studied theatricality.

      Fellini would be right at home with it too.

  2. Excellent observations, Jonathan. Some responses:
    – tension between “identity” and “mission” have been going on since the early Jerusalem Councils and Paul v. Peter
    – put your LA thoughts into that context and others like it. What happened when the 1st century church moved from Aramaic and Hebrew language/forms to organic development with “gentile” influence? We have little Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic language left? Has that impacted our identity?
    – would suggest that the tension between identity/mission is often played out liturgically
    – significant impact of the Reformation and Trent in which “identity” was the focus and liturgically the Western Church saw little change for 500+ years (did this not have an impact on our thinking and concept of identity?)
    – think of mission: the Chinese Rite controversy; the controversy between the hierarchy in Central America and Bartolomeo de las Casas who envisioned an identity that was inclusive and gave “new” peoples rights liturgically, human rights, dignity, etc. In both of these cases, the hierarchy’s identity need created loss, suffering, inequality, and diminishment of the church

    Would suggest that identity needs to be seen in the same way we discern between “unity” and “uniformity”. Think of nations that have bi or multi languages and yet one identity. The church has been enculturating cultures into its liturgy through Tradition….why now the over-identification with latin or certain forms?

    Identity creates subjective emotions out of anxiety, fear, lack of security; and yet, faith basically means that we hope/love in the face of identity needs rather than insist upon a “man-made” identity to provide certainity and security. Cynically, LA enshrines “navel-gazing” rather than an external mission that is ecumenical, tries to reach out to the Eastern half of the church, attempts to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

    1. Lots to ponder here, Bill, thank you!

      There are parallels in clothing, as well; I grew up in an era when nuns and priests systematically got rid of their distinctive clothing and sought to look more like the people they were serving. All with good intent, I think.

      Now, first-year seminarians in their 20s are going round in cassocks and clerical collars: all part of ‘our Catholic identity’. To me this verges on being anti-evangelical, although I think that their intent is good and that they see this as part of ‘the new evangelism’.

      For some reason I find it easier to accept the idea of distinctive clerical dress than a distinctively Catholic English, a tribal language. The first is at least a signal of accessibility, a sign that a cleric is available — for counselling, confession or other help. The second is more of a tribe-defining signal, something that only ‘insiders’ can grasp. To me the language of the new translation — quite apart from its horrid style and syntax — smacks of disciplina arcani. Is that something we should be encouraging? I don’t think so.

  3. Who wrote LA? It just struck me that several voices can be heard. §29 starts out clear and vigorous:

    It is the task of the homily and of catechesis to set forth the meaning of the liturgical texts, illuminating with precision the Church’s understanding

    After that point, it suddenly becomes clumsy. Shouldn’t a text about style be itself a model of good writing?

  4. “Creating new languages every day” is perhaps overstating the daily process of linguistic innovation in any speech community. New words (etc.) arise all the time, and their spread is reinforced by social groupings and fault lines. One thing we know is that the process is slowed by mass communications, so it’s no surprise that this kind of diversity is documented more copiously in non-technological societies. The opposing force, namely language endangerment and death, has a lot to do with the spread of global communications, to say nothing of economic globalisation.

    It’s hard to see why anyone should be so upbeat about monoculture. “Our destiny is to be one world with one language” is no less inane a sentiment than to say our ‘destiny’ is to have one favourite soft drink. Diversity is a source of vigour, in human culture as much as in liturgy.

  5. Jonathan: Some of the younger priests I know seem enthusiastic about no longer being seen as the same as others. They lard their conversation with Latin words – mens instead of mind, creatio instead of creation; and Latinate locutions – ‘apprehend’ rather than ‘understand,’ for example. Their language creates a stronger Catholic identity.

    I am not entirely sure certain priests’ “language creates a stronger Catholic identity”. If anything, indiscriminate and unexplained use of Latin phrases merely demonstrates a priest’s insufficient ability to express himself succinctly in a vernacular language. This is particularly true in preaching. The best preachers I have heard (traditional and progressive, both Catholic and across Christian communities) all possess the ability to explain complex theological ideas as exceptionally clear parables. Preachers or celebrants who throw about Latin words and phrases without explanation display rhetorical ignorance and not skill.

    There is an unfortunate tendency among a number of EF clergy and laypersons to call certain services according to “Latin names” even if well-known English titles exist for these services. Low Mass is now missa lecta, Sung Mass is now missa cantata, and so forth. Are the clergy and laity who use these phrases trying to create a false display of erudition? I find this “latinization” of religious terms comical, especially since few in the pre-conciliar days would refer to Masses in this manner.

    1. There is an unfortunate tendency among a number of EF clergy and laypersons to call certain services according to “Latin names” even if well-known English titles exist for these services. Low Mass is now missa lecta, Sung Mass is now missa cantata, and so forth. Are the clergy and laity who use these phrases trying to create a false display of erudition?

      This “I’m just asking” way of arguing is invidious.

      I haven’t heard anyone casually saying “Missa Lecta,” but the Latin terms are specific and the English ones are not, especially given the frequence nowadays of international communication and that the British and American usages were different. Language evolves and we’re not limited in our speech to how people talked in 1962!

    2. re: Samuel J. Howard on December 30, 2011 – 9:40 am

      To clarify: I have not heard missa lecta spoken. Latin terms are often used instead of their English equivalents on English-language EF websites.

      I have long thought that the clergy and laity who refer to different levels of extraordinary form liturgical solemnity and liturgical practices by their Latin terms rather than long-standing English terms are approaching Mass from a dilettant perspective. The gradual replacement of colloquial English terms with their formal Latin equivalents betrays both an idealization of the EF and a fetishization of the Latin language. This idealization and fetishization will reduce the EF to a curiosity and arcane interest, and not elevate the EF to a living liturgy of a sacral language within a world awash with the ever-changing vernacular.

      “Sung Mass” refer to different liturgies in American English and British English. Singmesse refers to an entirely different (almost defunct) liturgy, even if the German word resembles the English phrase. Even so, all of these terms should live and grow within their respective languages and cultures.

      The desire to “latinize” anything that refers to the EF parallels the notion held by some in the EF community that the most solemn form of the Tridentine liturgy is the form that should be celebrated whenever possible. This is an idealization akin to a disregard for organic and vernacular terms for the Mass. What many EF faithful of my generation (and myself, at times) forget that the Tridentine liturgies displayed varying approaches to liturgical solemnity in diverse communities, just as in the Ordinary Form today. No Baroque Platonic Ideal of the EF exists. If the form is to live, it must merge back into the flow of vernacular language and common culture.

  6. Perhaps the New Missal is beginning to exclude many who come to Mass: both those who come insufficiently often to learn the new responses and those who lack the motivation to learn the new responses.

    Although at the Christmas Mass people were invited to use the cards for the new responses, only a very few bothered to do this. Most just left the rest of the congregation that knew the responses say them; only a few said the old responses out of habit. Silence is just the easiest response.

    I find that I am doing something similar. I go to several different parishes which have different places for the new responses. I have to think about where to find them. So the easiest thing is just let the rest of the people say them. Perhaps eventually I will hear them often enough to learn them.

    So are we developing two different cultures at Mass? One which has decided to learn the new responses and another (probably the larger one in the parish if one includes the infrequent mass goers) which has decided to just not say anything. Isn’t being a part of the second culture going to lead to boredom, and less interest in the Mass and ultimately less church-going?

  7. I’ve just gone back to the old responses, pray privately the orations of the 73/98 Sacramentaries, and mostly tune out during the Mass. I don’t care anymore.

    1. When I go to mass, and I don’t always go now because it’s not my mass, I see a small group vigorously uses the new word, many simply hold back because they don’t want to make a mistake, and a few like myself say nothing out of non-acceptance of the new missal.

  8. Some of the younger priests I know seem enthusiastic about no longer being seen as the same as others. They lard their conversation with Latin words – mens instead of mind, creatio instead of creation; and Latinate locutions – ‘apprehend’ rather than ‘understand,’ for example. Their language creates a stronger Catholic identity.

    After Vatican II, priests and other religious worked to emphasize that they were the same as everyone else, that they were humans, that they were people.

    Now they’re trying to restore a belief that they are not the same, that they are superior to others. This is because they saw that when people felt that the priests they were the same, the people had no problem reporting the sexual antics of priests to authorities.

    It will take another 40 years to transform the people. But, once done, the people will again be afraid to oppose the all powerful priests and will be transitioned back into remaining silent and simply obeying the church out of fear, instead of obeying God out of desire.

    1. Do you have evidence to support the idea that clergy who emphasize a unique (more traditional) identity do so as a way to cover up abuse, or are you just trying to link the sexual abuse cover ups with more traditionally minded clergy to discredit people you don’t like or agree with?

      1. I would delete a comment which suggested the sex abuse is more endemic among traditionally-minded clergy, or among more liberal clergy, because it seems clear that sex abuse has been committed by priests of all ideologies. This is not a fair or a helpful way to argue. But I don’t think Sean is doing that above. Rather, he’s claiming that there is a connection between old-time respect for clergy and their getting away with abuse without being reported. That claim seems unassailable.

        I don’t think we as a Church have gotten to the bottom of all the causes of sex abuse, and attempts on all sides to associate it with the other side aren’t helping much. Real human suffering and sickness becomes a pawn in people’s ideological agendas.

        We still don’t know to what extent top-down hierarchical power systems make abuse more possible, or theologies emphasizing priests’ unique status empowers them to abuse, or more archaic/exotic liturgical aesthetics attract troubled men seeking an escape from their sexual identity, or accomodation to the modern world leads to a lack of personal discipline or naivete about human sinfulness. We don’t even know whether more conservative or more liberal beliefs about morality have specific effects. Are liberal dissenting positions associated with lack of personal discipline? (Then why aren’t there more reports of child abuse in the most liberal Protestant denominations?) Or is it weak, troubled (likely to abuse) personalities which are drawn to absolutist moral systems? We also don’t know how much abuse happened before the 1960s, since there have been no surveys done (as far as I know) of the people old enough to tell us. We only have numbers of reported cases – but it seems likely that older, more traditional Catholics are the cohort least likely to “tell on” a clergyman and “hurt” their Church.

        awr

      2. Fr. Anthony is correct in his interpretation of my statement. It was not to indicate that priests who were more conservative (or progressive) as being more or less likely to have sexual transgressions. It was that in the past, when priests held a more elevated status among more people, it was less likely that people would come forward and make a claim that a priest had committed a transgression.

        The church wants to restore that elevated status by rolling back Vatican II.

        That way, if a priest commits a transgression, the priest will be protected because his congregation will be too afraid to accuse him or to accept any accusation as possibly being true.

        I hate to say it, but whenever I’ve spoken to any of the oldest members of my family, they say that when they were young, people were afraid of priests. They also grew up with the belief that people existed to serve the church, instead of the church existing to serve the people.

      3. I am rather depressed by reading Sean’s & Dom Anthony’s comments below: there is a massive dollop of supposition and prejudice in each one.

        Dom Anthony, there are plenty of stories about abuse in the more liberal sects: they tend to get little coverage in a media obsessed with painting abise as a uniquely Catholic issue (vide the coverage of the Netherlands report and the comparable coverage of the recently announced enquiries by the Anglicans).

        The further point we see from Cloyne and the other Irish investigations is that the mishandling of the abuse crisis has come about precisely because of a failure to obey hierarchical dictates about the reporting of abuse and the use of canon law penalties to deal with it.

        After twenty years of reports and soul searching we can be clear on two points: the abuse crisis was exacerbated by people wanting to ignore the rules laid down by Rome and neither the liberal nor traditionalist wings in the Church should attempt to use the abuse crisis to attempt to score points, because none of us really understand it well enough to do so without making ourselves look and sound stupid.

    2. Thank your for the clarification – I responded the way I did because your original post very clearly linked abuse with the desire for a stronger priestly identity when you said “they’re trying to restore a belief that they are not the same…This is because they saw that when people felt that the priests they were the same, the people had no problem reporting the sexual antics of priests to authorities.” One can speculate on the effect of having a more unique identity, but your post outright stated that younger priests had sinister reasons for wanting to be unlike anyone else. Glad that isn’t the case.

      As for older people being afraid of priests – I don’t doubt that – but how much of it was due to pre -Vatican II identity markers (like Latin liturgy and unique clerical garb) and how much was due to the culture of the time – which tended to put a greater value on fearing/obeying authority (and ignoring abuse of many kinds). Older people I know were fearful of public school teachers too since they could beat you.

  9. Jonathan – from a letter by Cardinal Ranjith (former liturgy director of the curia) in terms of identity:

    http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/

    Posting because this relates directly to the question of “identity” and also his contrast between human and divine…..” Liturgical symbolism helps us to rise above what is human to what is divine. In this, it is my firm conviction that the Vetus Ordo represents to a great extent and in the most fulfilling way that mystical and transcendent call to an encounter with God in the liturgy”

    Appears to be confused about the meaning of the “Incarnation” and the church’s faith that Jesus was both divine and human fully.

    1. Indeed!

      The glaring flaw in the Vetus Ordo is precisely what the Cardinal praises. “To rise above what is human” is to move away from Christ, who became human for us. We join with Christ on a human level so that we can share in his divinity,. That is the heart of the liturgy, and it is disappointing to see someone so involved in liturgy make such a mistake.

      This considered judgment comes to you from someone completely unqualified to make it.

  10. Bill — Thanks for calling out the post about Cardinal Ranjith’s letter. Because the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog will soon have new posts, here is an ongoing link to the post you cite.

    The cardinal’s letter is confused in many ways, including the one you mention. That has not stopped the traditionalists from whooping it up over its appearance. Their supposition is that Cdl Ranjith would not have published it if he were not confident of Pope Benedict’s behind-the-scenes support for his views.

    1. [Traditionalists] supposition is that Cdl Ranjith would not have published it if he were not confident of Pope Benedict’s behind-the-scenes support for his views.

      I haven’t seen anyone write that. Can you point us to some sources?

      What I have seen is people saying that Cardinal Ranjith is at the vanguard of a push for more frequent celebration of the EF as a method of implementing Benedict’s broader liturgical vision and his ideas about how important the liturgy and its proper celebration are in the life of the Church.

      Traditionalists seem to me be excited because the letter advances their method (more celebration of the EF) not because that is assumed because of this letter to be the Pope’s method.

      Fr. Zuhlsdorf made something like this distinction when he wrote in response to the letter:

      Did you see that? A renewal not just of our worship but of the Church! This is EXACTLY what I have been talking about for years! The Holy Father’s “Marshall Plan” must begin with a revitalization of our worship. Not initiative of renewal can be successful without a revitalization of our worship. I think, and apparently Card. Ranjith thinks, that the Extraordinary Form, the Vetus Ordo, is a key o [sic] that renewal.

      Note that he didn’t write, “I think, and apparently Card. Ranjith thinks, and therefore Pope Benedict must think…”

      1. SJH, happy to be called on sources and to retract over-reaching statements. This time I stand by my comment. Fr Z (just as you quoted) constantly blathers about Pope Benedict’s ‘Marshall Plan’ to revise the normative liturgy in light of the Tridentine Mass. Beyond that, look at look at trad comments from the time that Ranjith was made a cardinal, or around the liturgy conference he held; you will find many suggesting that Pope Benedict supports Ranjith’s statements. Here’s one commenter on the current story, verbatim from NLM

        Cardinal Ranjith statement is quite radical (and welcome). Due to his close relationship to Pope Benedict and the high regard the Pope has for this Cardinal, I suspect this is a trial balloon of sorts. It will be interesting to see if other high placed prelates jump on the Ranjith band wagon.

        This isn’t an isolated remark.

        I have no idea where the pope stands on the matter. I personally think that Paul VI did intend to stop the use of the Tridentine Mass, right across the Church; in any event, I think it has been a serious mistake to bring it back. The pope obviously disagrees, but he has maintained a degree of ambiguity around his personal convictions. Maybe he’s trying to maintain as broad a Catholic identity as possible. The pope has been sympathetic to traditionalists – including cardinals and Lefebvrists – but is he a traditionalist himself? What is his view of identity?

        Your comment reminds me that ‘traditionalism’ is a broad camp. Some trads remain upset that Pope Benedict doesn’t celebrate the Tridentine Mass, at least in public, even that he has ‘failed’ to abrogate the Novus Ordo. Reformers-of-the-reform like Fr Fessio imagine some synthesis of the two. Perhaps we should stop using ‘traditionalist’ in such a loose way. Perhaps, for similar reasons, the traditionalists should stop using ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Who will make the first move?

      2. Fr Z’s posting of his wish list not because he really wants material gifts but “Because you ask” is amusing and for the discerning reader, ought to colour everything else he writes.

      3. re: Jonathan Day on December 30, 2011 – 3:36 pm

        Jonathan: Your comment reminds me that ‘traditionalism’ is a broad camp. […] Perhaps we should stop using ‘traditionalist’ in such a loose way. Perhaps, for similar reasons, the traditionalists should stop using ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Who will make the first move?

        I would gladly make the first move to begin dialogue over what different Catholics would like to be called. I have used “progressive” rather than “liberal” on PTB because American conservative politics often uses “liberal” as a slur rather than a description. I thought that “progressive” would suffice as a more polite way to describe those who advocate advanced development of the Ordinary Form. If many who self-identify with this movement would prefer a different term, I would use that term.

        For the moment, those attached to the EF or the “reform of the reform” have coalesced around “traditional” or “traditionalist”. I prefer “traditional”, as I believe that the Ordinary Form is an entirely orthodox liturgy that has in some cases deviated significantly from historical Catholic liturgical practice. Even so, you are right to say that EF adherents occupy a very broad tent. Within it are Low Mass pietists such as myself, all the way up to those who find spiritual nourishment in very ornate liturgies.

        There is no way to characterize movements by titles. Still, it might be possible to create titles which are inclusive to all of a particular persuasion,

  11. Language is indeed an amazing gift, enriching humn life, and becoming a medium by which words of human beings can become Word of God. It is therefore all the more sad and unjust when language is used as a weapon with which to subjugate others, telling them that their own language and culture are less important or significant than the language of those in power.
    Regardless of the benefits or difficulties in the new English translation of Mass, it is reprehensible that those in a position of power in the Congregation for Divine Worship have used language as a tool of linguistic racism in telling us that Latin language and structures must trump the structures and genius of the language of so many millions of Catholics; that our language and culture must submit; and that the conferences of bishops of English-speaking countries have failed those their people by their docile compliance.
    John Paul II in 2001 in Novo Millennio Ineunte 45 quoted St Paulinus of Nola with approval: “Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes”.
    The great challenge to the church is to find and develop ways to make this a reality.

  12. John Paul II in 2001 in Novo Millennio Ineunte 45 quoted St Paulinus of Nola with approval: “Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes”.

    The worst abuse of language is to say one thing, and to do another.

  13. Yves Congar described the period from about the late 1600’s to about the very early 1900’s as a time when “hierarchology” rather than an ecclesiology influenced the life of the church. This hierarchology over-emphasized authority and a lack of lay involvment in the life and mission of the Church. The church was a separate society, indeed a “perfect society’ as some called it, and its success was measured in statistics of conversions, baptisms, regular attendance and communions; saving souls by bringing them into the society of the church. This led to a number of distortions including clericalism, juridicism, and triumphalism. These are characteristic that have been beginning to reappear. The just celebrated the Word becoming flesh AND DWELLING AMONG US; we as church must be aware of the danger of making the church appear to be “dwelling” above the world’s people rather than among it like its Lord.

  14. One problem with a group-defining language is that it naturally excludes others.

    With all due respect, this statement is nonsensical. Languages aren’t merit-badges that you can give out only to the select and merited few. They are open systems of communication and expression. Anyone who takes the time and effort necessary to learn a language becomes part of that language-community, whether the rest of the community likes it or not; being a member of that language-community just is being able to speak the language. Furthermore, languages are, I would say, probably never “group-defining” in practice. As it happens, language boundaries are occasionally coextensive with group boundaries for some well-defined group, but there’s no necessary relation between the two. Other criteria will typically have to be satisfied to be a member of the group; after all, if language were the exclusive criterion of group-identity, groups would have no way of regulating membership, because languages can be learned by virtually anyone, and the whole point of identity criteria is to regulate membership in the group.

    Furthermore, exclusion of others isn’t always a bad thing. We don’t let mainline Protestants and non-Christians receive Holy Communion, and it’s not mere language-use that excludes them from the group of communicating Catholics. It seems to me that that’s a more serious obstacle in the way of ecumenism than the change of liturgical language, but it’s not something any (good) Catholic is prepared to sacrifice in the name of ecumenism, either.

    1. Chris, isn’t ONE of those the star of the Dancing Santa video? I think the other one is Mary Burke…but, I may be mistaken!

      1. Janet, is that your tit for tat for my remark about your ‘current boyfriend?’ If so, I have to admit you have scored one on me.

    2. At last I understand why they decided to go with “to the immensity of your Majesty” for that Preface of Christ the King.

      Well, after that hearty laugh, it’s off to Saint Peter’s for Primi Vespri and the Te Deum, if I can get those images out of my mind . . . By the way, I see, in my advance copy of the “libretto”, that il Papa (it must be he, for who else there would know?) has restored the Ave, Maris Stella, the traditional Vespers Hymn for Feasts of the BVM prior to the Pius XII-commissioned hymns for the new Marian Offices and, of course, dear D. Anselmo Lentini’s choice of Corde Natus ex Parentis for First Vespers of 1 Jan.

  15. One of Fr Z’s recent posts contains many of his standard tropes: liturgical problems are mostly the fault of old people; you should follow the book exactly, except to add bits and pieces from the Tridentine Mass to the normative one; increased use of the Tridentine Mass is supposed to ‘clean up’ liturgical sloppiness in the ordinary form; this is all part of Pope Benedict’s plan [see discussion with SJH above].

    And: the older, Extraordinary Form [will] recuperate a Roman style of celebration consistent with our Latin Church identity.

    That seems troubling to me, for many reasons. But perhaps the term ‘Roman Catholic’ contains a similar tension: Roman and universal at the same time. Now that the Caesars are dead, can a Latin and Roman identity work everywhere in the world?

    Here is Fr Z’s conclusion:

    … the book for the Ordinary Form describes how to do certain things in rather vague terms. Therefore, variations crop up.  Some legitimate.  Some not.
    Happily younger priests are more and more inclined to follow the book exactly, to say the black words on the page and do what the red words indicate. They are happy to take their cue from the older, Extraordinary Form to recuperate a Roman style of celebration consistent with our Latin Church identity.

    But we are a long way from consistency from priest to priest (especially those of a certain age) when it comes to the Ordinary Form. It’ll take quite a while for that to happen.
    This is one of the reason why we need more and more and more celebrations of Holy Mass with the Extraordinary Form. This is one of the reasons Pope Benedict issued his provision in his documentSummorum Pontificum, the “emancipation proclamation” for the older form of Mass.  He thinks that a kind of gravitational pull will be exerted by side-by-side use of both Forms of the Roman Rite.  The growing use of the older, Extraordinary Form will do a great deal to clean up liturgical sloppiness in the Ordinary Form.

    1. But perhaps the term ‘Roman Catholic’ contains a similar tension: Roman and universal at the same time. Now that the Caesars are dead, can a Latin and Roman identity work everywhere in the world?

      There’s no tension between Roman and universal. The Roman part has to do not with the Roman Empire and the caesars, but with Peter’s (and Paul’s) connection to Rome. And Peter was the rock on which Jesus Christ founded his (one) church.

      1. A little historical awareness would go a long way, D.V. Peter’s connections to Rome are tenuous in the extreme. It was Irenaeus of Lyon who fabricated a list of monarchical overseers of the church up to the final third of the second century to give the system which the church wished to borrow from civil society, validity.
        It’s infantile to suppose that Peter exercised any jurisdiction in Rome, a church which existed before he set foot there.

      2. Mary:

        Just curious: is there any part of Catholic tradition or doctrine that you actually accept?

  16. Fr Z’s posting of his wish list not because he really wants material gifts but “Because you ask” is amusing and for the discerning reader, ought to colour everything else he writes.

    As opposed to the ads and posts on this blog for Liturgical Press products? Let’s not kid ourselves about the monetization of web content.

  17. What I find interesting in all of these conversations is that no one denies that Catholic identity needs strengthening. They may argue about what Catholic identity entails or how to strengthen it, but everyone recognizes the problem of falling Mass attendance rates and the growing number of “fallen away” Catholics.

    I approach the problem as a young (30-something) Catholic who has seen most of his Catholic friends fall away from the faith — from non-practice to outright hostility. We grew up in the age when the Church (or at least its American wing) was self-consciously trying to look, act, and sound like everyone else: Bible-based catechesis with little difference from Protestant curriculums; felt banners in the sanctuary; inclusive language inserted into the prayers. I’m not saying any of these things are bad in and of themselves, but by the time I got to college I couldn’t have told you what difference being Catholic made in my life; it was just like everything else. Fortunately, as I began to study the faith, I found reasons to stay. Most of my friends didn’t.

    So I see the advantages to having distinctive practices and language that sets us apart from everyone else. I (and, from what I can see, others in my age cohort such as the young priests everyone loves to malign) are less concerned about ecumenism and common worship than we are stopping the slow bleed of those who have stopped practicing the faith. Do I think the new translation will give people a reason to stay? No. Do I think that, coupled with other strategies, it may help people articulate how being Catholic makes a difference — why, if they were to leave the Church, they would be giving something up, as opposed to leaving something that’s just like everything else? I hope so. That’s my prayer, anyway.

    1. I confess I find the “distinctive identity” argument to have reversed cart and horse to an astonishing degree. A distinctive identity flows from discipleship of theosis: becoming an icon of Christ (and here I don’t mean so much the ritual reduction of this). An infectiously joyful spirit of self-sacrifice is the marker here. Not ritual practices as such. Neither felt banners nor maniples get us there. Liturgical dos and don’ts are eminently useful only insofar as they free us to become icons of Christ, instead of liturgical busybodies of divers flavors.

    2. The church seems to care very little if this “new transition” pushes people away. People who until recently had a church that was completely fostering their spiritual growth, but who woke up at the start of the liturgical year and noticed evidence that an impostor is in the place of the church that they knew.

      We can only pray that our true church returns. We’ll be waiting for it.

    3. Catholicism is the religion of more than a billion of the world’s people. Depending upon how one wants to describe Catholic identity (e.g. those who say they are Catholic, those whom Church organizations list as members, those who attend services regularly, etc) one could probably come up with a billion different ways of describing Catholic identity, some of them might apply to many Catholics, some to just a few Catholics.

      A lot, perhaps most Catholics get some of their identity from their social networks: Catholic families, parishes, educational institutions, charitable institutions, and all sorts of associations, great and small.

      A lot, perhaps most Catholics get some of their identity from Catholic culture: the Mass, Divine Office, Bible, rosary, devotions to saints, various religious order spiritualities, Catholic literature, Catholic music, Catholic theology, Catholic philosophy, etc.

      Some people are Catholics largely because of their social networks without a lot of interest in many aspects of Catholic culture; others are Catholics because of their interest in one or more aspects of Catholic culture without much interest in many Catholic social networks. There may be as many combinations of all these things as there are Catholics.

      In some ways the problem of finding your own personal Catholic identity is a problem of richness. Catholic colleges with a religious order background, e.g. Jesuit, find it a lot easier to decide how to keep that subset of Catholic identity than to try to decide how to keep the larger more diverse Catholic identity. Actually one could probably fill a whole university with specialists in all sorts of aspects of Catholic organizations and Catholic culture and still leave a lot out!

      The problem of Catholic identity has not been helped by the rise of the term “cafeteria” Catholic because the psychological and social reality is that we are all cafeteria Catholics, the whole is bigger than any one can comprehend.

      1. The problem of Catholic identity has not been helped by the rise of the term “cafeteria” Catholic because the psychological and social reality is that we are all cafeteria Catholics, the whole is bigger than any one can comprehend.

        The church leaders have also expressed their displeasure with the fact that some people have been able to maintain a spiritually fulfilling level of closeness to the church and their Catholic identity, without having to do it exactly the way that the leaders would rather they do it.

        Yes, we are all Cafeteria Catholics, and that’s what the hierarchy doesn’t like. So, they are slowly removing things from the cafeteria menu, and the items they are leaving, they’re modifying the recipes so that the customers will either conform or leave.

  18. Karl Liam Saur :

    I confess I find the “distinctive identity” argument to have reversed cart and horse to an astonishing degree. A distinctive identity flows from discipleship of theosis: becoming an icon of Christ (and here I don’t mean so much the ritual reduction of this). An infectiously joyful spirit of self-sacrifice is the marker here. Not ritual practices as such. Neither felt banners nor maniples get us there. Liturgical dos and don’ts are eminently useful only insofar as they free us to become icons of Christ, instead of liturgical busybodies of divers flavors.

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Well said!

  19. The church seems to care very little if this “new transition” pushes people away.

    If I were your parish priest, I would be hoping you’d bolt and go to the Episcopalians or whoever else would never disappoint you.

    and they’ll know we are Christians by our love?

  20. By the way, interestingly enough, there have been actual social-psychological studies done showing that there is in fact a generally applicable index for Catholic identity: viz., the Eucharist and its place in the Catholic faith. (Of course, it’s not the case that 100% of Catholics identify the Eucharist as the core of their identity as Catholics; if I remember correctly (and it’s been a few years since I read the stuff), it was something in the range of 60-70%. But there was no other feature of Catholic faith or practice that came anywhere close to that number.)

  21. This is right on the mark, especially so far as Day quotes the OSV: the Council proposed thinking of the Church as “a partner to society [rather] than its scold or its antagonist” Quite apart from vindicating the statements of some bishops and other prominent Catholics that a smaller, purer Church would be acceptable (“Then so be it,” Archbp. John Myers told the Newark Star-Ledger about a decade ago), this point-of-view has consequences for the Church’s ability to provide a witness and example in social and political questions. To enclose ourselves in a linguistic ghetto and stand apart (as a scold or an antagonist) gives our non-Catholic brothers and sisters no reason to see us as partners in dialogue, no reason to take our arguments about abortion, euthanasia, war, torture, economic justice, or anything else seriously.

  22. The US Foreign Service Institute says that you need 2200 class hours, many of them in country, to achieve moderate competence in Japanese. Having learned Japanese, go there and observe that many natives simply cannot believe that a foreigner can master their language. Languages can be powerful shapers of group identity.

    ‘The Catholic thing’ is to be universal: not only we do not want to exclude, we are keen to include. Some religions actively discourage converts, sending them away until they pound on the door to be admitted. The Gileadites used a person’s pronunciation of ‘Shibboleth’ to determine whether or not the speaker was an Ephraimite; they killed 42,000 Ephraimites because they couldn’t pronounce the word correctly (Judges 12.5-6).

    In contrast, we obey the Great Commission. The Holy Spirit empowered the newborn Church through the undoing of the curse of Babel. The apostles created understanding, not a ‘verbal iconostasis’ or a mysterious language, not understood outside the group. (Acts 8.30-35)

    This doesn’t imply a single world language (English? Latin? Mandarin?) but a Church that, like those first apostles, speaks every language (Acts 2.6ff).

    I don’t think it is obvious that ‘Catholic identity needs strengthening’. That may or may not be part of the new evangelism. If it breaks down ecumenical ties, it may be negative.

    I have seen the same studies showing that Catholics view the Eucharist as the core of our identity. But so do many Anglicans and Lutherans, in particular, and many Methodists that I can think of, and of course the Orthodox. For many denominations, the Church (writ large) is the community that celebrates the Eucharist. Vatican II had a significant impact on Protestant ministers and thinkers, in part because it opened up the Mass to the vernacular and in part because theologians influenced by Vatican II developed a view of the Mass as an act of all of God’s people – and not just the clergy.

    Linguistically mediated identity is powerful, but I’m not sure it is a good thing for the Church.

  23. About group defining language: I find something schizoid (schismatic I will leave to others) in our new translations.
    If I say the Creed privately, of course I begin with ‘I believe, because I am speaking for myself’ But if I say it as part of a congregation of believers, I start with ‘We believe.’ I don’t understand the desire to turn us all into autonomous self-regarding individuals, each of us intent on our own separate existences and beliefs (a kind of liturgical free enterprise it seems). And after all, somewhat later in the Mass we say “Our Father?” Why? Should we not really be saying, to echo the new translation of the creed, “My father . . . . give me this day my daily bread and forgive me my trespasses. . . ” (and as for the rest of you, worry about your own problems).

    Why the difference? Is it only a fidelity to a literal translation of “Credo” and “Pater noster?” as if Latin were somehow magical in its effects?

    And of course there’s the problem with “homninibus” translated in the Gloria as “people” and “homines” translated in the Creed as “men.”

    Do we know who is responsible for such random differences? Or perhaps I should say, so I might sound properly Latinate, such “aleatory differences?”

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