The National Catholic Review
Well, is it ’for many’ or ’for all’? Even here on the Southern tip of Africa, where the number of Catholic mother tongue English speakers is minuscule, it’s also a hot topic. Our local Catholic paper has been running a muscular correspondence between prelates, liturgists and pew-sitters. Here too a core issue is the alleged Latinisation of English. Might Italians also react badly if some Anglo-Saxons tried to anglicise their lovely Romance tongue? Or even Celts: consider the Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly’s tale about how he’s walking happily down a street in his native Glasgow, feeling quite at home, when he’s approached by men in saffron robes with shaven heads chanting ’Hare Krishna’. ’And they try to tell me that I’ve got a problem!’ expostulates Connolly. Vox Clara seems to suggest unclear voices. No translation is perfect, but is it implied that a transcendental expression of Catholic truth exists, and that it happens to be in Latin? Apart from the philosophical and theological objections to this, it’s rather a patronising way to deal with a language which has been a vessel and conduit for Christianity for quite some time now, and which today delivers vastly more theological discourse, and liturgical prayer than Latin. How many people think or pray in Latin these days? I imagine we’ve been here before. As koine Greek gave way to vulgar Latin, for the sake of the wider mission of the Church, Latin is now giving way to English and Spanish for the same reason. I wonder if some Greek speakers wanted to Hellenise the Latin as the Latinists now feel the need to Latinise English. ’My dear fellow; how can you possibly adequately translate the word logos into anything except, well, logos?!’ Can we ask the Latinisers to take English a little more seriously? Perhaps. During the apartheid era I visited a ’coloured’ Catholic diocese where the mother tongue is Afrikaans, ’the language of the oppressor’, a sentiment I then shared. When I attended the Eucharist in Afrikaans, my negative perception collapsed dramatically. Here was clear Catholic faith and piety, intense, prayerful, and faithful, ’sanctifying’ a despised language. What further evidence beyond the Incarnation and Pentecost do we need to be convinced that in Christ all languages are sacred and therefore to be trusted? Chris Chatteris, S.J.

Comments

Anonymous | 6/13/2007 - 7:02am
The simple fact is this: 'Pro multis' from the Latin text translates to 'for many' not 'for all.' If it was 'for all' then the Latin would be 'pro omnibus.' What does scripture say? 'For Many.' 'nuff said!
Anonymous | 6/9/2007 - 12:06pm
It's about accuracy, plain and simple. Catholics deserve accurate translations of original Latin liturgical texts. As for Latin, I suggest the good Father read Blessed John XXIII's Veterum Sapientia, not to mention Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and what it actually has to say about Latin and its retention in the Roman Rite.
Anonymous | 6/6/2007 - 12:57pm
There is nothing quite so beautiful as the Mass chanted in pure Latin, and when I used to go so such a Mass, I could easily follow along, though my Latin is, to be charitable, poor. On the other hand I know that since Christ is king of all, he surely does not care if we worship him in English, Afrikaans, Russian, Spanish, or any other language. There are some tongues that lack the complexity and nuance of English, and each major language has its partisans. But true prayer to God and His Son goes through the ultimate universal translator: the heart.
Anonymous | 6/12/2007 - 7:57pm
If America was an academic publication for biblical scholars I would understand the column. I am not interested in this issue. I want more articles on spirituality. How will I live my life for the next week and the next month and the next year. Will my attendance at Mass on Sunday and my reading of America help me to be a more caring and free spirit? It's a tough world out here. I want America; to help me grow as a Christian, spiritual and concerned with my fellow human beings welfare. Thank you. Sincerely, Eleanor Lunn