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Sunday, 6 June 2010

After 40 years in the desert, I think I catch sight of....

A truly surprising, (to me,) and gratifying, (to me,) post from a member of the liturgical publishing establishment:
A few weeks ago, after a choir rehearsal for which I was filling in, a young twenty-something choir member approached me and said something like, "I'm not sure you're the appropriate person to talk to, but I have a question." I told him I would do what I could to answer his question. He said something like, "Why all the inclusive language at this parish?" I asked him what he meant exactly. He responded, "You know, like changing the word "his" to "God" in the refrain of the Gloria." I told him that this was something that had been a part of the parish's heritage for many years—at least as long as I had been attending Mass there. I then told him that the new translation of the Gloria would not include the phrase "and peace to his people on earth," so things would soon be changing. And, besides, the practice of changing the readings to inclusive wording had ceased in the parish a few years ago. So, I left the conversation with this young man at that. I was tired; it had been a long day and a long rehearsal. I didn't have the energy to engage in a long conversation about the whole issue of inclusive language. And, I honestly thought that he was overreacting just a bit to this change of one word.

Until Sunday. The choir has sung the traditional spiritual Come Let Us Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness for a couple of years.... As the choir began singing it on Sunday, it started to dawn on me that the words had been changed. The references to God as "him" had all been changed to "God" or something like "the one." I was totally distracted by this. When I looked in the worship aid, I noticed that, following the name of the composer of this piece, there was an additional phrase added in parenthesis, which read "New lyrics by . . . ," with the name of a choir member inserted there. Granted, I am a firm believer in creating texts that do not refer to God exclusively in the masculine, nor refer to God's people as "brothers" or "men." But I wonder how far, when dealing with established texts, is too far?

Of course, this brought me back to my days in the 1980's. I am being honest here. In the parish where I was music and liturgy director, we had the "inclusive language committee" of the liturgy commission that painstakingly moved through the Lectionary, with Wite-Out® and black pen in hand, purging the readings of any masculine pronouns referring to God. This group added "and sisters" in places and changed "man" to "human," etc. Frankly, it all seemed perfectly acceptable at the time; "everyone was doing it." When I think of some of the awkward phrases in the readings that resulted from this activity, I now cringe. What were we thinking? Followers of this blog know that I am not an advocate for "adjusting" the Church's official texts. Hearing the same readings and prayers as my parents do, as my siblings do, as my friends in other parishes do, as Catholics all over the world do, is something that helps identify us as Catholic. I believe this is a treasure. I regret having entered the practice of "altering" texts in those early days of my ministry. And what happens to the collective lex orandi lex credendi when parishes all over the world are hearing and praying altered texts?

What will happen when we implement the new translation of the Roman Missal? I have heard some pastors say that they will painstakingly move through the Missal, altering the texts so that they make better sense for them and for their people. I certainly hope that this doesn't occur. The Church in the English-speaking world needs to work together to make this new translation our own. And we need to work together, if need be, to make concrete suggestions to improve this translation.
I truly think that over-reaching, and straining at gnats by people who thought they were working for gender equality has harmed the cause of women, of the gifts that women genuinely have to offer being fully recognized by many people in positions of power in the Church.
And I think the real promised land, (instead of the mirage of an oasis populated by the Middle East's equivalent of sirens,) may be coming in to sight.

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