We are almost there -- only hours away from the end of American Catholicism as we know it. The new English translation of the Catholic Mass is a big deal and I get that. I recognize that the coverage we have been seeing in the mainstream press reflects the Catholic liturgical culture wars and I get that, too.
Nevertheless, the journalist in me wants to know what is going on in the following lede in The Los Angeles Times.
The word "consubstantial" does not roll naturally off the modern American tongue. It's one of those $5 words with Latin roots that tend to make the speaker sound pretentious or, if he trips over it, like a pretentious idiot.
Who, precisely, is speaking in this lede? Who says that "consubstantial" sounds pretentious? Who says that it does not roll naturally off the tongue?
Who is being quoted in this very, very opinionated lede? The story has a normal byline. Is it actually a column?
This is a journalism question. I am not arguing that many Catholics do not agree with the Times on this point. There are many who would disagree. Could it have been stated AS FACT that the word "consubstantial" can be mastered in under 60 seconds by anyone who wants to do so?
This story does include lots of practical language that illustrates the changes -- which is good. Yet, even there, the voice is one of a lecturing professor, not a journalist quoting people who have debated these issues for decades.
Change doesn't come easily, especially when it alters deeply ingrained rituals. Not all Catholics are happy with the new prayers, and some priests are deeply distressed by a translation that they find, in spots, to be tongue-twisting. But most seem willing to accept, even embrace, the new wording, which hews much more closely to the original Latin.
In instances when Catholics have said that Jesus "was born of the Virgin Mary," they will now say he "was incarnate of the Virgin Mary."
When they said, "I have sinned through my own fault," they now will say, "I have greatly sinned," and add the triplet: "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."
Voices do show up, eventually, and to no one's surprise, they tend to be rather one-sized. Here's my personal favorite, in terms of the -- uh -- forward-leaning language in this piece.
The Catholic blogosphere has buzzed for two years with debate over the new translation. It has been called "clunky, clerical and academic," "wordy, pompous and utterly unnecessary," and "a great step backward."
More than 22,000 people signed a petition on the website "What if We Just Said Wait?," urging the church hierarchy to delay making the changes until they can be reevaluated and improved.
As a frequent visitor of the Catholic blogosphere, let me note for the record that there are fierce defenders of the new translation out there who have computers and know how to use them. It would be very, very easy to put together a long list of nasty descriptions of the quality of old new English translation of the Mass as well as a long list of superlatives about the new old Mass translation.
In the end, conservative voices do show up, including the archbishop of Los Angeles. Thus, readers are told:
Vatican II led to the first substantial change in the missal since 1570. Church officials now say they believe the English translation of that prayer book was hastily conceived and fundamentally flawed. Its mistake, they say, was focusing on the creation of a readable English text at the expense of accuracy. The new missal is intended to translate the Latin as accurately as possible.
"We aren't trying to go back; we're just trying to update what we had and improve it as much as we can," said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. "I see it as something positive."
Father Daniel Merz, associate director of the Secretariat for Divine Worship at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the previous translation put more of an "activist" spin on the liturgy, in a way that made man, not God, the central player.
To be simplistic, this does appear to have been a battle between the "people of God" advocates in Catholic academia and conservatives who favored the return of more language and images from scripture, especially those stressing the reality of sin and the actions of a transcendent, judging God.
Stay tuned for the day one coverage when this hits the pews this weekend. Please point us toward the most balanced and informed coverage.
For example, check out the following "On Faith" online Washington Post feature by Elizabeth Tenety, which combines tons of helpful info and links to hard facts. Essential reading as the apocalypse nears.
Read it all.