Monday, June 23, 2008

Orlando Redux

Sorry, folks; looks like it'll be another month and more before we know the US bishops' verdict on the new rendering of the Proper of Seasons that sparked a blockbuster debate on the floor of the bench's Spring Meeting earlier this month in Orlando.

That doesn't exactly mean, however, that all's quiet on the Worship Front... if anything, it's on... then again, we've been here before, no?

After the second major plank of the new Roman Missal to face the Stateside conference failed to attain the required two-thirds supermajority to pass or, alternatively, the veto of one-third of the nation's 250 Latin-rite prelates during the mid-month meeting, the texts -- already approved by four other English-speaking episcopal conferences -- got a strong public push from the conference's top point-man on worship, Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, just as the others received their mail ballots. And now, its (serene and kindly) gaze fixed on the high-hat who jump-started the floor-fight, the objections raised on the floor by Bishop Victor Galeone of St Augustine have drawn a formal response from the body responsible for producing the translations, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

As chronicled on-site by the National Catholic Reporter, Galeone -- a former Latin teacher -- took "forceful" issue with a number of aspects of ICEL's submitted draft, zeroing in on the use of the word "gibbet," which, he said, he hadn't heard since 1949.

In general, the bishop said of the ICEL proposals, "I challenge anyone to proclaim what’s given here at Mass. It’s very difficult."

Below in full, ICEL's response to Galeone:
Bishop Victor Galeone has broken new ground in the public discussion of liturgical language, raising the debate to a higher intellectual level. Whereas critics of ICEL’s recent drafts have mostly commented on individual vocabulary items, his contribution points to structural and semantic issues that are systemic throughout the Missale. His remarks merit a careful response.

Commenting on ICEL’s proposed translation of the Post-Communion for the Wednesday in Holy Week, he has pointed out that the final verb is preceded by two lines that modify it, whereas the more normal pattern in English is for modifiers to follow their verb. If this principle were followed in this case, the translation might read:
Fill our minds, almighty God,
with sure confidence
that you have given us perpetual life
through your Son’s Death in time,
to which awesome mysteries bear witness.
However, ICEL’s translators have been impressed by the fact that Latin orations, especially Post-Communions, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. Because of this, they have often followed the Latin in placing the modifiers before the verb so that the English prayer also ends on a strong note. In doing so, they have hoped to avoid a defect that many have noticed in the current translations of these prayers, namely that they often end weakly. Consequently, ICEL’s proposed rendering of this prayer reads:
Fill our minds, almighty God,
with sure confidence
that through your Son’s Death in time,
to which awesome mysteries bear witness,
you have given us perpetual life.
It has not been possible to follow this procedure in every case, because sometimes too contorted a syntax results, but it has been followed frequently throughout the proposed translation of the Missal. The Commission hopes that this pattern, though unfamiliar at first, will soon become familiar, and allow the teleological thrust that marks so many of the Post-Communions to become more apparent to the people.

Bp Galeone also suggested that the addition of ‘the’ before ‘sure’ would make it clearer that ‘that’ introduces a clause of indirect statement, not one of purpose. This seems an excellent suggestion which, had it been made at the time of the consultation on the Green Book of these texts, might well have been adopted.

He also suggested that ‘these’ be added to the third line, so that it would read:
to which these awesome mysteries bear witness.
The recommendation to insert ‘this’ or ‘these’ where there is no Latin equivalent is made frequently, but the translators have often found themselves disinclined to adopt it, because it narrows the focus of the text. A familiar example is found in the words before Communion currently translated:
This is the Lamb of God . . .
These words draw the people’s attention to the Host that the Priest holds in his hand, and invite them to recognise Christ present in the Sacrament. But the words were originally those of John the Baptist, spoken when he was at some distance from Jesus. The Commission’s more recent translation, ‘Behold the Lamb of God . . . ‘. gives the text a greater polyvalence, inviting the people to remember also the Baptist’s words and the context in which they were first uttered, as well as the eschatological appearance of the Lamb in heaven, which the Priest’s subsequent quotation of Apoc 19:9 recalls.

Returning to the Post-Communion for Wednesday in Holy Week, we can see that Bp Galeone’s proposal would make the prayer refer clearly to the Eucharist whose celebration is drawing to a close. But it should be noticed that since its earliest appearance (in the Hadrianum manuscript of the Gregorian Sacramentary, dated 811 - 812), this prayer has been assigned to the day before the beginning of the Easter Triduum. It retained that position in subsequent Sacramentaries, and in the 1570 Missal. This being so, we can see a richer significance in the words mysteria veneranda: they refer not only to the Mass just celebrated, but also to the mysteries of the Triduum that will be beginning next time the people gather. It would seem a pity to remove such a resonance from this ancient prayer by adding the word ‘these’.

There remains the issue of ‘gibbet’, which Bishop Galeone and others criticize as too archaic for liturgical use. None of the critics of this word seems able to produce a workable alternative. It should not surprise us that an English translation for Latin patibulum is difficult to find, since that word denotes an instrument of torture no longer in use. It is made up of the root pati-, ‘to suffer’ and the suffix –bulum, which, to quote the Oxford Latin Dictionary, ‘forms substan-tives from verbal bases denoting instruments’. As a stabulum is a structure devised to facilitate standing (from stare) and a conciliabulum is a structure devised to facilitate the holding of meetings, so a patibulum is a structure devised to facilitate suffering. ‘Guillotine’, ‘electric chair’ and ‘syringe’ share the purpose of patibulum, but not its shape. ‘Gallows’ denotes a device similar in shape and purpose to a patibulum, but in modern speech seems only be used for structures designed for hanging by a rope. ‘Yoke’ is a possible translation, but it has the weakness that it denotes the shape of the device but not its purpose, whereas the pati- element in patibulum draws attention to its purpose. A vivid modern translation might be ‘death-machine’, but this would be found unacceptable by those many commentators who prefer blandness in liturgical language.

In choosing ‘gibbet’ to translate patibulum, the Commission has been aware that the phrase ‘the gibbet of the Cross’ was used by Saint John Fisher.
...and so it continues.

It's worth noting that, in taking on the qualms voiced by Galeone alone, ICEL blew straight past the bishop long regarded as the US conference's leading opponent of the translation project: Donald Trautman of Erie, whose second tour of duty as the body's liturgy chair ended last fall.

* * *
Seemingly overshadowed by the traditional Showcase Showdown on matters liturgical was the bishops' passage of their first major statement on the hot-button issue of embryonic stem-cell research.

Then again, conflict always being sexier than unanimity no matter where you go, the statement's overwhelming margin of passage -- 194-1 (with a sizable bounty afloat on identifying the "1") -- makes the lack of attention rather unsurprising.

Lest anyone missed it, fulltext... and snips:
Almost everyone agrees with the principle that individuals and governments should not attack the lives of innocent human beings. However, several arguments have been used to justify destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells. It has been argued that (1) any harm done in this case is outweighed by the potential benefits; (2) what is destroyed is not a human life, or at least not a human being with fundamental human rights; and (3) dissecting human embryos for their cells should not be seen as involving a loss of embryonic life. We would like to comment briefly on each of these arguments.

First, the false assumption that a good end can justify direct killing has been the source of much evil in our world. This utilitarian ethic has especially disastrous consequences when used to justify lethal experiments on fellow human beings in the name of progress. No commitment to a hoped-for “greater good” can erase or diminish the wrong of directly taking innocent human lives here and now. In fact, policies undermining our respect for human life can only endanger the vulnerable patients that stem cell research offers to help. The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow, if his or her survival is viewed as disadvantaging other human beings considered more deserving or productive. The suffering of patients and families affected by devastating illness deserves our compassion and our committed response, but not at the cost of our respect for life itself.

Second, some claim that the embryo in his or her first week of development is too small, immature, or undeveloped to be considered a “human life.” Yet the human embryo, from conception onward, is as much a living member of the human species as any of us. As a matter of biological fact, this new living organism has the full complement of human genes and is actively expressing those genes to live and develop in a way that is unique to human beings, setting the essential foundation for further development. Though dependent in many ways, the embryo is a complete and distinct member of the species Homo sapiens, who develops toward maturity by directing his or her own integrated organic functioning. All later stages of life are steps in the history of a human being already in existence. Just as each of us was once an adolescent, a child, a newborn infant, and a child in the womb, each of us was once an embryo.

Others, while acknowledging the scientific fact that the embryo is a living member of the human species, claim that life at this earliest stage is too weak or undeveloped, too lacking in mental or physical abilities, to have full human worth or human rights. But to claim that our rights depend on such factors is to deny that human beings have human dignity, that we have inherent value simply by being members of the human family. If fundamental rights such as the right to life are based on abilities or qualities that can appear or disappear, grow or diminish, and be greater or lesser in different human beings, then there are no inherent human rights, no true human equality, only privileges for the strong. As believers who recognize each human life as the gift of an infinitely loving God, we insist that every human being, however small or seemingly insignificant, matters to God—hence everyone, no matter how weak or small, is of concern to us.

This is not only a teaching of the Catholic Church. Our nation’s Declaration of Independence took for granted that human beings are unequal in size, strength, and intelligence. Yet it declared that members of the human race who are unequal in all these respects are created equal in their fundamental rights, beginning with the right to life. Tragically, this principle of equal human rights for all has not always been followed in practice, even by the Declaration’s signers. But in our nation’s proudest moments Americans have realized that we cannot dismiss or exclude any class of humanity—that basic human rights must belong to all members of the human race without distinction. In light of modern knowledge about the continuity of human development from conception onwards, all of us — without regard to religious affiliation — confront this challenge again today when we make decisions about human beings at the embryonic stage of development.

Finally, some claim that scientists who kill embryos for their stem cells are not actually depriving anyone of life, because they are using “spare” or unwanted embryos who will die anyway. This argument is simply invalid. Ultimately each of us will die, but that gives no one a right to kill us. Our society does not permit lethal experiments on terminally ill patients or condemned prisoners on the pretext that they will soon die anyway. Likewise, the fact that an embryonic human being is at risk of being abandoned by his or her parents gives no individual or government a right to directly kill that human being first....

It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line that prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research, there is no stopping point. The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path. We therefore urge Catholics and all people of good will to join us in reaffirming, precisely in this context of embryonic stem cell research, that “the killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.”
In a small but notable shift in language, while their quadrennial election text on faithful citizenship deemed both "human cloning and destructive research on human embryos" as "intrinsically evil," the stem-cell statement reserved the theological equivalent of the third-rail for human cloning alone.

PHOTO: AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack