Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Battle of the "Dew."

The Catholic bishops of the United States votes to approve a new translation of the words of the mass. Adopting a new translation was long overdue (I almost typed "overdew!")

In their unseemly haste to translate the mass into English in the 1970s, the delegated experts made a hash of it. Why do I say that? A little event in my life crystallized my grasp of the issue: It was after we moved to Virginia in 1994. Late that year we settled into St. Leo's Parish. A great parish. Each first Sunday, the "new mass" was said in Latin at 8:30. I had to try it! Beforehand, I had thought there was no ounce of emotion left in me to be scandalized. The scabs had hardened and shallowed into pale almost invisible shapes on my psyche. Then I read the Latin words next to the English words we said each mass. The wounds reopened. It had never occurred to me that the Latin and the English could be so far apart. Was I really praying the divine liturgy, when the two texts diverged so much?

Eventually the Vatican responded to the cries of the faithful and started the long campaign to reform the institutions responsible and to call forth a new translation both faithful to the actual words of the original and fleshed in sacred language. You can read that history on the Adoremus site. Well the good bishops of the United States could not stand the thought of using the word "dew." "Dew" induces a wealth of concrete and scriptural allusions. (Bishop Roche's defense of the proposed new translation is well worth reading. It displays a scholarship, a love of words and their power to move, and a love of the liturgy that every diocese should be graced with. Read especially his exegesis of this phrase.) To me this pregnant little word, "dew," evokes an image of the Spirit's working invisibly, yet tangibly. It is both concrete and evocative. But rest assured. "Dew" has been censored by our shepherds and the folks in the pews have been saved from its baneful influence.
I was once accused of having "the soul of a bureaucrat." The phrase cut me to the quick. Now among our bishops we have been blessed with many men of action. They are well trained in administration. They have studied management and absorbed the lessons of the social sciences. They know how to lead and to delegate. Above all, they get things done. If you should meet one of these, there is one thing you should never do! Do not accuse him of having the "soul of a poet." They do not like to be mocked.
[originally posted 6-21-06, republished 7-20-06]

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