This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The New Translation of the Mass - Reforming the Reform

Today, the Catholic Church in the English speaking world began using a revised translation of the Roman Rite that more closely resembles the idioms in the Latin.  After Vatican II, when the English speaking Church began using a vernacular translation, the basis for the translation was to make the concepts understandable to English speakers, translating the meaning rather than simply translating the words.  Pope John Paul II, in a reform of the reform, instructed that the translation be revised to reverse this.

Last night, I compared a copy of the new translation to my Loras College Missal, which was written prior to Vatican II.   The new translation and the translation for congregants to follow along are not dissimilar.  While some prayers have changed - mostly to remove invocations to St. Michael and Saints Peter and Paul, the similarities are surprising - especially in the language used by the priest.

At Mass today, it was easier for the congregation to adjust to the longer prayers (the sung prayers have little participation anyway on the best day).  What was the hardest was the response to the prayer "The Lord be with you."  The new response, which is actually quite ancient, is "And with your spirit."  It was the one that no one got.  Whether automatically or intentionally, most of the congregation responded with "And also with you."  The reform will be complete when the automatic response becomes "And with your spirit."

When the new/old translation was being implemented, there was a bit of resistance to it, even among some of the bishops - especially with how it was done from the top down.  While the bishops adopted it cooperatively, it was pretty much an offer that they could not refuse.  This brings up an interesting question on Church governance.

The Roman Catholic Church in America and throughout the English speaking world uses the Roman Rite because our patriarch is the Roman Pontiff.  In the Latin Church, all patriarchs are in union with Rome, however there are patriarchates leading other Great Churches in Catholicism which do not.  They regard their leader, the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of New Rome and Constantinople as the first among equals - however they are autocephalous (self-headed).  There is no Curia which governs Orthodoxy the way the Pope and his Curia govern the Latin Church.  As the existence of Orthodoxy shows, more local control is possible while still remaining Catholic.

The imposition and acceptance of a new translation ultimately must pass the test of popular acceptance.  Whether the people accept "and with your spirit" rather than "and also with you" is the acid test.  If they do not, they could demand a more "Orthodox" relationship with Rome, with an authentic English Rite and an English speaking patriarch, with or without their own code of Canon Law.  While any adoption of such a reform is best done with the permission of Rome, if the people speak with a clear voice and claim that the Lord is truly with them on this, they cannot be denied - especially by a Pope who seems to be making overtures to Constantinople himself.  There was an ancient Church, the Church of the Galatians, which were made up of Gallic/Celtic people rather than Latins.  It could be officially revived rather than thought of being a new invention.

Of course, the people could simply conform to the new/ancient usages - which do have a certain poetry to them.  Whether they do or not is ultimately up to God, not the Pope or the Bishops.  I personally like the reform of the reform, just not how it was done.  More will be revealed.

The theological implications of "and with your spirit" are also interesting.  They invoke a rather Aristotelian/Cartesian world view of the soul controlling the body but being somehow separate from it.  This contrasts with both modern neuroscience and the ancient beliefs about the necessity of the bodily resurrection for eternal life.  Experiments on perception show that the brain first has a thought before the consciousness perceives it, so our perceptions are best regarded as a reflection of what goes on within our beings rather than our beings themselves.  This does not mean we are not free, as some would infer, only that our freedom is tied into a more integrated self.  Part of who we are is our brains working rather than being our physical servant.  This is actually a reflection of the Trinity.  The Father is the Mind and Perfection of God and the Son is the expression or Word of the Father. Taking us back to the Mass, it would seem that "and also with you" may be the more authentic expression of what is happening with the human soul than "and with your spirit," although the latter is more poetic in Latin and English.

Who could have thought that the new translation had implications for neuroscience?  This could very well be a learning and teaching moment for the Church if others take up this discussion, which is ripe to have given the debate with the new atheists over just this topic.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Virgin Martyrdom

In my prior essays on the “Death of Jesus and It’s Meaning for Us” and “Liberation Morality,” I laid out a moral code that can be best described as Christian Humanism, where the moral law and salvation entirely for human benefit, rather than part of some divine agenda. Given this change, the question arises whether virgin martyrdom makes sense at all. Since Musings from the Christian Left were initially published in 2003, my daughter, to whom they are dedicated, has grown to eight going on eighteen and is in the third grade, so that talk we all dread is just around the corner. Given that she is named for the Virgin Martyr of Alexandria, St. Catherine, her likely questions will have added significance.

The first question to ask is whether virgin martyrdom is still relevant in the modern world? The answer you are likely to get from traditionalists is that virginity is now counter-cultural, however to die in order to make a political statement seems a bit to far for the group dynamics of the Roman Catholic Church. Group loyalty is just not worth dying for in the modern world, unless of course the lives of other group members are at stake.

The whole question of virginity bears examination. Traditionally, it was considered part of family honor to be a virgin as a gift to one’s spouse, especially for females. To not be a virgin at your wedding was to dishonor the family as well – and in some parts of the world it still is – usually where women are still regarded as property and marriage is a property transaction between families. It is tragic to love one's child less than one’s position in the community, which is exactly the implication of honor killing. In the modern world, this concept is anathema and should be, as it goes along with ignoring the education of girls. If this were the motive for virgin martyrdom, then it is of no value.

Virginity, to be meaningful, should be a personal gift to one’s spouse, not part of a property transaction. It is part of a holistic view of sexuality as more than just a bodily function, but as a giving of oneself to another. It is part of forming a lasting attachment, which seems to be a natural part of human sexuality – a part that is cheapened with promiscuity. That part can always be reclaimed, however, so the virginity aspect can be thought of another aspect of having ownership of one’s body. In this way, it is an affirmation of individuality, rather than the property of one’s family or faith.

Virgin martyrdom is always in resistance to the attempt to take virginity by force. It is, in essence, resistance to rape – so the virginity aspect matters less and less while the affirmation of self-ownership matters more, especially with a more modern view of sexuality. Virgin martyrdom hence becomes part of the right of any person to say no to the sexual advances of others, whether violent or induced by intoxicants. It is a right that can be claimed by virgins, married women – even against their husbands, prostitutes who have simply had enough and women who are the victims of state-sponsored rape from Bosnia to Darfur.

The urge to rape, whether by violence, by intoxication or as a tool of terrorism, is always an explicit admission of the inadequacy of the rapist. It not only bespeaks an inability to master one’s self, but of deep feelings of inadequacy. The rapist must resort to violence or intoxication out of fear that he is unattractive to a willing and sober partner, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. It is the product of a deep self-loathing.

Rape as part of a terrorist program is an admission that one’s cause is likewise inadequate to be accepted freely. It is an admission that it is not a just cause based on right, but only on the ability to marshal superior, and often, illegitimate force. Use of such force is an implicit admission that the cause of one’s opponent is just and that one’s own cause is pursed in denial of their legitimate rights to peace, land and self-determination.

There is one final aspect of virgin martyrdom that is particularly meritorious. It is why such martyrs have a particular place of honor, regardless of whether the martyr died with virginity intact or not. To resist to the point of death is not just about personal bodily integrity. It is also a witness to faith – not to the group dynamics of church membership, but to the faith that there is something more to life than the present. It is the ultimate response to the rapist – one that says that the real person cannot be touched. Like other forms of martyrdom it is an affirmation of the belief in personal resurrection, eternal life, and for Christians, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, it is the ultimate resistance to the evil of the rapist or the dictator and why it will never go out of style, even in the modern world.