Priest urges women to protest at ‘sexist language’ in missal

From the Irish Times: Fr. Seán McDonagh says that Catholic women should write to bishops around the country in protest at sexist language in the new version of the Roman missal.


  1. It will be most interesting to see what the response of the faithful will be when the VC2010 transliteration bomb drops.

    My prediction is that there will be a lot of well-deserved horrible press for a couple weeks, then it will quiet down. But after the first of the year we’ll have another huge wave of departures . . . either to protestant churches where leaders understand human communication, or to the fastest growing denomination in the country: lapsed Catholics.

  2. I agree with Fr. McDonagh that the current translation hasn’t done enough for horizontal inclusive langauge. Whenever the word homines is used in the missal to refer to human beings, the word “people” should be consistently used. I also agree that fratres should be “brothers and sisters”. No problems there. I also don’t see a theological issue with “for us and for our salvation” versus “for us men and our salvation”, though I respect those who disagree and have made sound arguments to the contrary.

    However, what does “and with your spirit” and “consubstantial” have to do with sexism? This paper article’s author, Fiona Gartland, conflates the issue of horizontal inclusive language with asides about issues that concern a vague notion of “elitism”. That is misleading, since the greeting and “consubstantial” have little or nothing to do with sexism or even perhaps elitism. Inaccurate reporting of the missal controversy, though inevitable, often confuses the fine lines between issues.

    1. Not aimed at you, Jordan, but I’ve been wondering about “and with your spirit” in recent days. Like, what does that even mean? “The Lord be with your soul, but your body and I aren’t talking these days, so nuts to your body”? To answer that this wording is closer to the original Latin and/or to other vernacular translations merely sidesteps the question. Why would anyone use that response? I’m afraid that any discussion will eventually get around to a suggestion that the priest gets a different greeting because he is a priest, and then people will start asking why that makes any difference.
      My guess? Most people will ignore it, but some people will be very, very irritated.

      On edit: To measure how unbalanced the wording is, try turning it around:

      Priest: The Lord be with your spirits.
      Response: And also with you.

      Not, “and with your spirit also”, or “and with yours”, but “and with you”.

      1. The use of the word “spirit” may seem dualist – don’t we wish for the Lord to be with the whole priest, not only his spirit? We should look at how St. Paul used the word “spirit” to better understand what he meant. For that, I turn to an explanation given by Msgr. Bruce Harbert:

        Two descriptions of Paul’s view on the spirit have helped me:

        One says that in the composition of the human person, the spirit is that part of us which is closest to God and most open to God’s gifts, especially to the gift of God’s Spirit: my spirit is the bit of me which is closest to God.

        The other thing that I read that I found helpful was a reminder that in Paul, “spirit” is not so much contrasted with “body” as with “flesh,” and the basis of the contrast in Paul is not between material and immaterial but between strength and weakness: the flesh is weak, the spirit is strong.

        According to Msgr. Harbert, then, addressing the spirit of the priest means you are speaking of the strength of God within him.

      2. Re: Brigid Rauch on September 15, 2011 – 9:58 am

        A common explanation for “and with your spirit” is that the expression derives from greetings in Hebrew. The address of a person’s spirit was akin to addressing the entire person. “And also with you” is, from what I understand, a relatively accurate paraphrase of the Hebrew expression. A reader who is better versed in late antique Jewish worship and biblical Hebrew might be able to better explain this point.

        However, I do know that very early Christian liturgies did use expressions similar to “and with your spirit” in what we would now call “the greetings”. The expression used was not “and also with you”, even if that might have been the meaning behind the phrase.

        My support for a return to “and with your spirit” rests with the great antiquity of this phrase. Our use of it today connects modern Christians with the most ancient liturgical expressions of Christianity. Also, until very recently, “The Lord be with you / and with your spirit” (or slight variation) has been one of the few liturgical actions common to Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. “And also with you” breaks this ecumenical and historical thread.

        At one time I thought that retaining Dominus vobiscum / et cum spiritu tuo in an otherwise mostly vernacular Mass would be one way to fulfill Sancrosanctum Concilium‘s desire to retain some Latin in the Mass. Many (most?) Catholics probably would not desire this development. I respect this desire.

      3. Somebody says that in Japanese people will be asked to say: shisai no reikon no tomo ni — “and with Father’s ghost”

  3. JP – this gets to the issue articulated in the Gabe Huck post. You have the original language and the receiver language. Translations succeed when they convey and capture the original meaning, contex, culture and are able to replicate this in the “receptor” language.

    Spirit – Mgsr has given an adequate catechises but his effort merely highlights that this “spirit” translation has failed in its movement to the “english receptor” language. Today, culturally -english does not mean what he explains in our everyday language or even in some imaginery “elevated” liturgical language.

    It also completely ignores good, pastoral questions raised around the issue of changing this response.

  4. “According to Msgr. Harbert, then, addressing the spirit of the priest means you are speaking of the strength of God within him.”

    My understanding would be that the call and response is meant as a means of moving deeper from the world of the flesh to the world of the spirit, but i can also imagine this response to that explanation:
    “So, what? there is no strength of God in the people? The strength of God is stronger in the priest? ”

    There were reasons that the phrase “and also with you” was put in place years ago. We will soon be able to judge the wisdom of those reasons.

    1. I agree with you. Priests are full of something, all right, but for the majority these days it ain’t the “strength of God.”

  5. From Fr. A.M. Roguet, OP, on “The Lord be with you” in The New Mass: A Clear and Simple Explanation of the Mass as Restored and Renewed in Accord with the Decrees of Vatican Council II (originally in French, published 1970):

    After this the priest greets the people. He may say: “The Lord be with you,” which could also be translated by: “The Lord is with you.” [Footnote 4: After all “Dominus vobiscum” has no verb. And the “Dominus tecum” addressed to Mary by the angel at the Annunciation is always translated by “The Lord is with you.” But by the fact that it is frequently repeated in the course of the Mass, “Dominus vobiscum” appears rather as a wish, hence as if it had a verb in the subjunctive.] (p. 35)

    And from the translator (Fr. Walter van de Putte, C.S.Sp.), here is the text of footnote 4a on that same page:

    Ever since the Mass has been permitted in the vernacular, there has been a running controversy among scholars concerning the translation of the Latin words “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The new official English translation is “And also with you.” This represents a practical solution, since the English translators did not believe that the meaning attributed to the use of “spirit” (in the translation “And with your spirit”) by those who defend it could ever be fully imparted to the people. Hence, they selected a less enigmatic translation.

    The author, on the other hand, forms part of the group of scholars who think otherwise and opts for the translation “And with your spirit” (which is incidentally that of France). His reasons are as follows: “This response is not, as is often said, a Semitism signifying simply ‘And also with you,’ but a recognition of the fact that the priest cannot accomplish the Sacred Action except through the impulse of the Holy Spirit, ‘Who unites Himself to his spirit’ (cf. Rom 8, 16). It could be translated by ‘And may God inspire you.'” A good summary of this whole question will be found in an article by J. B. O’Connell, “Et Cum Spiritu Tuo,” in The Clergy Review, April 1969, pp. 292-298. [Tr.]

  6. And here is a lengthy article by a Lutheran, Timothy C. J. Quill, director of the Russian Project at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the periodical Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology (Eastertide 1998, Volume VII, Number 2), on “And with Your Spirit: Why the Ancient Response Should Be Restored in the Pastoral Greeting”.

    The article spans pages 27-35.

  7. ‘And also with you’ was adopted by anglophone catholicism from a suggestion made by the International Consultation on English Texts in the first edition of ‘Prayers we have in Common’ (1970). The full suggestion was ‘The Spirit of the Lord be with you . . . And also with you’, and a note said that, if the word ‘spirit’ occurs in the greeting, it need not occur in the response. ‘The Spirit of the Lord be with you’ was not well received, so that in the second edition of ‘Prayers we have in Common’ (1975) it was changed to ‘The Lord be with you’. No change was made to the response however, even though the only justification offered for the removal from it of ‘spirit’ had been that ‘spirit’ occurred in the greeting. Thus, almost by accident, the word ‘spirit’ was dropped from this dialogue.

    Jeffrey kindly mentions my earlier catechesis, but I have to say that I have found this insufficient because people are still troubled by the fact that a ‘spirit’ is attributed to the minister and not to the people.

    I now reply (1) with Saint John Chrysostom’s point that if the Spirit were not in the people, they would not be able to say ‘And with your spirit’ and (2) by reminding people that ordination is a particular gift of the Spirit, and that this fact is specifically mentioned in the ordination rites for bishops, priests and deacons.

    1. Okay, if I accept your first explanation about the transition from 1970 to 1975, and 1975 dropped the ackward “Spirit of the Lord” – why would you than re-insert “spirit” in the response?

      Sorry, your next few paragraphs only reinforce the fact that this new translation continues to search for a reason for the changes beyond just a literal word for word.

      Refer to Gabe Huck’s “receptor” lanaguage – “and with your spirit” creates problems in many receptor languages including english.

  8. I still hear the resonant “And also with you!” at the end of Mass from the aged, conservative congregation in Cork last Sunday, despite the hearty “And with your spirit” with which they began. If the faithful reject “And with your spirit” (a response occurring 5 times at every Mass) the whole new translation project will be covered with the ridicule it deserves.

    1. And maybe — just maybe! — eventually we can get altogether rid of these dumb set-piece dialogs written by some Roman for us to repeat like drones, and focus in on actual prayer and community. Hmm….. 😉

  9. Our parish is in its third week of saying and singing “And with your spirit.” The ingrained knee jerk response that we’ve all said and sung for about 40 years is fading as “and with your spirit” takes its proper place in each person’s memory bank. Our parish likes the new translation on several different levels. It has been a tremendous sucess. This transistion has been no where as complicated as the transition to the “new” Mass was 45 years ago which back then was very well received except by a tiny minority who were negative about it. Negativity never has the upper hand.

    1. Fr Allan

      I am much less concerned about the Ordo, which is repeated with enough frequency that people can get accustomed to changes in it with repetition. It’s the proper prayers that are more my concern: I think there was a serious misjudgment in treating all the texts as if they were at the same level of receptivity (misbegotten by a lingering but somewhat overprivileged belief that, so long as you have the master text and someone renders it “right”, all is legal and thus all is well), and I think more attention needed to be paid to avoiding unidiomatic Latin syntax in the proper prayers and giving more valency to a more idiomatic (and euphonious) vernacular.

  10. In terms of the laity, the priest’s prayers will be even less difficult for them than their changed parts. I see no difficulty there for them. It will be the priests themselves, especially those who do not practice their prayers who will have the most difficutly. I’ve found that if I practice these out loud that the phrasing of these is the way that most of us speak as we don’t normally speak in short choppy sentences but in long sentences and much like these prayers are written. But it does take practice to make sure one paces oneself correctly and places the poper emphasis where needed.

  11. Urging women to write to the bishops is a gesture of defeat. I don’t know how often, but often enough, I have been told by orthodox Catholics resisting calls for reform that the Church is not a democracy and that Christ did not conduct a “straw poll” before he gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter, etc. Taking surveys, writing letters, registering opinions on a blog— these are futile when no one is required to listen or reply. I envision a bishop smiling in self-satisfaction as he drops my letter in the waste basket. What would change if the bishops were inundated with letters from women pointing out the obvious: “I am not a ‘man'”? Precisely nothing would change. It’s more likely that I would metamorphose into a man than that a bishop would give my letter two minutes’ worth of thought or a reasoned personal response.

    The latest Irish priest’s assault on women, by Fr. Banville, should have many women voting with their feet, as we say in the US:

    We all know that sexist language is wrong, and we know that it’s wrong in the sense of immoral. Those who brought us the Vox Clara Missal intend to demean women, to render women invisible and without a voice in the Church. Instead of urging women to write letters of protest, Fr. Seán McDonagh ought to be urging priests to exercise their consciences. Men of conscience need no prodding from public opinion polls.

  12. One place where I’d really have expected our mysogynistic Church to go sexist, and it didn’t, was the opening of the Gloria. I do wish it had. ‘And on earth, peace to people of good will’ is so much trickier to set to music.

  13. For years many of us at Mass have been saying “for us” during the creed. The word, “men” is redundant and it also does not include women, no matter what the pope and the bishops think and say.
    I also use “Creator” for “Father” and the pronoun “she” for the Holy Spirit. This is the only way I can attend Mass and believe that God indeed wants women in attendance. I will continue to do this because this is my prayer and I am a woman. I know God recognizes women even if the powers of the Church do not.

    1. Thanks for your words, Joyce. I agree, especially that if we use gendered pronouns for any reference to the Holy Spirit, “she/her” is right. The Nicene Creed said at my church translates “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.” I almost cannot imagine (except that I can recall the 1970s) having to struggle with sexist language in liturgy in the 21st century.

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