Language, but Mostly Not Ideological

From Zenit’s liturgy column this week, a complaint about the widespread use of “Pray, brothers and sisters …” which has usurped the “Pray brethren …” followed by a curious answer by columnistFather Edward McNamara.

Thus, not all expressions such as “brothers and sisters” instead of “brethren” are necessarily ideological uses of inclusive language. Rather, such uses might simply recognize the reality that in some parts of the English-speaking world the word “brethren” is now archaic and no longer conveys its original meaning.

In my experience, most uses of inclusive language in church are non-ideological.  A curial official in the CDWDS, when confronted with proposals from ICEL in the early 90’s, asked, “Is this all you want?”

When the Latin uses “homo,” its gender neutral term for “humankind,” why do translators persist in using the archaic definition of “man?” They burden parishes and widen rifts that should be closed. Language doesn’t need to be the distraction it is.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to Language, but Mostly Not Ideological

  1. Liam says:

    What is ideological is often in the eyes of the beholder, unfortunately, leading to lots of arguments and pseudo-arguments that are not always as charitable or honest on either side as ought to be. This may or may not be an example of that, too. Ideology can encompass things like desire to champion local authority over things that have been reserved to higher authority, btw…

    What is “archaic” among us liturgical and professional types is not necessarily archaic outside our circles. I’ve witnessed that enough to realize how much projection is involved in asserting what is or is not archaic. Though I remain intensely sympathetic to the issue of how what is proclaimed is heard and understood; I just believe it is very difficult to form a strong conclusion that too many people are misunderstanding the approved texts in this regard; rather, it seems the issue is often a choice to pick an argument, which is *very* different from misunderstanding.

    To get closer to practical issues, one might also distinguish between translations of Scriptures and non-inspired texts (like presidential prayers) and, certainly, things like homilies and daily discourse. One might also distinguish between allowing older texts to speak in the voice of their authors, and what one would do in writing new texts. It isn’t only Rome who appears to want a rigid consistency, but a lot of people on the ground as well, one way or the other.

    Finally, a lot of people (including me) did a lot of damage to inclusive language by promoting it in ham-fisted or overly linear and grandiose self-serving ways. I think its going to take many years for that damage to be undone, and railing against it is like Canute holding his hand to the incoming tide.

  2. Gavin says:

    Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of “inclusive language”. When, in the creed, it says “us men and our salvation” I always understood men refers to mankind (humankind?). I think most people do also. It isn’t archaic, and I do often talk to people anywhere using the word “man” to refer to humanity. Brethren, or brothers, is another one where for me it refers to the Church. Period. I never thought that reference to my Christian brothers was exclusive of women, I’ve never driven by a Brethren church and wondered if they let women in. While we’re at it, in fact, should we remove usage of the term “brothers and sisters” because it implies that everyone in the church is related?

    All I’m saying is that I find it odd what things are found to be archaic. It seems to me, as you touched on, that there’s a band of people trying to FORCE something or other into being archaic.

  3. Gavin, just picking a nit:

    Everybody in the church _are_ related, being we are all siblings of the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism.

    karen marie

  4. Tony says:

    homo -inis c. [a human being , man, mortal]; in pl., [men, people, the world]; used like a pronoun, [he, him]; milit., in pl., [infantry].

    frater -tris m. [a brother]; ‘frater germanus’ , [own brother]; ‘fratres’, [brothers and sisters]; also [a cousin or brother-in-law]; Transf., [a comrade, compatriot, ally].

    This is becoming a habit with me. I look stuff up to try and prove you wrong and have to eat crow.

    “frateres” (at least according to Notre Dame University) means “brothers and sisters”. Unless, of course, the dictionary has been co-opted by the feminists, just to bamboozle liturgical translation purists. :)

  5. Tony says:

    Hey! What’s this moderation crap kimo-sabe? :)

  6. Anne says:

    Those gathered for Eucharist should totally understand the prayer that they are praying. The Council Fathers reminded us many times in more than one document that full, conscious, active participation is the aim to be considered— before all else—. I have no problem with a Latin hymn now and then. I can understand and make it prayer because I grew up with Latin. I have no problem with a term such as- brethren- because I understand it as refering to all of us. The problem is that most Catholics don’t understand Latin. Most Catholics have no desire to learn a dead language, including many priests. Our young people, the future of the church, will not accept these old ways. Our liturgical prayer should be in our everyday language. I don’t mean slang, but proper English or whatever the vernacular may be. IMO, to promote Latin and ancient language of any kind is denying people the right to FCAP and to making liturgical prayer their own. This right to FCAP should supercede a goal to preserve Latin in the liturgy.

  7. Gavin says:

    To kim, yes I do understand what the phrase means, I was just citing a somewhat ridiculous example of how even a somewhat simplified term has its merits. So don’t worry, I’m not a total fool! :P

    As to Anne, I’m sorry but that kind of talk frustrates me very much. I am what you may call young (21), and I was even younger so recent as a couple years ago! So when I say I have NEVER misunderstood what the terms “brethren” or “men” meant in the context of the liturgy, I really mean it! “Holy Ghost” I can say it took me a while to understand, but that’s perhaps because it wasn’t used at all growing up. It seems to me that people will learn whatever language you teach them. We don’t teach people by keeping them underexposed to our language. My girlfriend is an English major with an interest in linguistics, I’m sure she would back me up (I’ll talk to her about it) about the plight of our language being lost by avoiding the use of the “big words”, particularly in the liturgy. If children don’t know the word “brethren” typically refers to the Christian fellowship, it’s not because it’s a hard word, it’s because we’re NOT teaching it to children or using it around them! People are in the position where so-called “archaic” language is foreign to them because often you (and I suppose myself, I am an adult) keep wanting to not let them be exposed to it. It’s a terrible viscious cycle!

    As for Latin, much the same thing applies. I will say that I’m not terribly in favor of Latin. I think it’s a beautiful language, but we can’t go back to the Tridentine days of the priest mumbling to himself and us ignoring it. HOWEVER, as SC 35.1 (I think) says, it was to be retained somewhat. The question which, I think, is before us is how much was supposed to be retained? I don’t think the common standard of “all English, all the time!” is what they wanted, nor would I say English Mass with Latin Gloria, Sanctus, etc. is the most we should have held on to.

    I’m a huge fan of FCAP, and I’ll add that’s something direly absent from the old rites and still HUGELY LACKING in the new one. However, I think FCAP should be something that is taught. We can’t force someone to participate in the Mass. My girlfriend is Lutheran, conservatively so, so when she visits my church, I guarantee she’s not going to FCAP, no matter how happy the language is. So, with that said, I’ll say that English is NOT the only way to FCAP! Think of your Eucharistic prayer: does your priest fly through it, starting at the beginning of EPB and only stopping at the “amen”? That’s what I’ve seen EVERYWHERE but where I am now. My priest pauses at each clause, each change in intent. I never realized before that Mass was offered for the living, the dead, the church. On All Souls, the priest said the EP in Latin, and while I didn’t understand every word, I KNEW what was going on! I think that’s the problem which needed reforming, not that people couldn’t understand each and every word, but that they couldn’t understand what was happening. At least that’s what my mother tells me of the old Mass.

    On a similar note, I remember the first time I sang “pange lingua”, in fact the first time I ever sang a hymn all in Latin. It was at my first job, it was customary to sing it on Holy Thursday, and so I had to use it. I didn’t understand what I was singing one bit, but I glanced at the translation, and knew that the whole hymn was a hymn to Christ’s Body. Do you, even yourself, proclaim to know, actively present, and feel every word of even the Gloria? I sure don’t, and it’s my favorite part of the Mass! But that’s ok, because while I don’t praise God at “we praise you”, bless him at “we bless him” and I don’t always give thanks to him for his glory at “we give thanks to you for your glory”, I ALWAYS have the Gloria as a prayer be mine, whatever the language, by 2 things: 1) I sing it 2) I know what it’s about and believe it. Those 2 things are what are REALLY missing and why FCAP is so much neglected. Latin is just an excuse.

  8. Gavin says:

    Sorry for the monster comments, but I forgot to add on: shouldn’t priests know Latin as it is? I don’t know what goes on in seminary, but having been around many Lutherans (at a LCMS college), I know that the entrance exam for their seminaries requires an understanding of Hebrew and Greek. Those languages are taught in their seminaries thoroughly, and many seminarians also take Latin because of its importance to the western Church. I don’t know if Catholic seminaries teach Latin anymore, but the LAST obstacle to the use of Latin ought to be the priest.

    And let me be clear: I would be fine with an all-English Mass. I can live with that. But the Church, in SC, said that Latin is to be retained. It was not. My point is mostly retrospective, but still it seems to me, if we disobeyed the council already, why shouldn’t we make a better effort at obedience in the present?

  9. Liam says:


    I would say to deny the people regular exposure to Latin and other treasures of the Roman rite would be to deprive them of their birthright heritage, a kind of theft we should be extremely wary of committing. Jews have, for example, increasingly reconsidered trends away from Hebrew in the past couple of centuries in understanding this point. I do not favor an all-Latin liturgy as a regular matter, and promote the conciliar reforms. But it’s not difficult to give the people the tools to gain and retain familiarity with basic liturgical texts and music Latin: the Jubilate Deo collection that Rome gave to the Church for the 1975 Jubilee was designed precisely with the express goals of the Council in mind. You can often find parts of it in the major Catholic hymnals. The music is much less difficult than much contemporary music congregations have been asked to learn over the past decades. The words, especially of the ordinary, become very familiar through repeated acquaintance (and anyone singing in a non-church choir is likely already familiar with them, since settings of the Mass are the foundation of the Western choral repertoire).

    Anyway, I am glad to see that the generation of folks for whom the no-Latin rule had a talismanic quality has been succeeded by people for whom that talismanic quality no longer obtains.

  10. Gavin says:

    Yes, I’ll add that my generation as a whole sees very little in talismanic ways. That’s part of why Latin in liturgy has such appeal to us: its merits stand alone as opposed to based on ridiculous arguments about every little letter of the Mass. The use of unchanging universal language can be fairly contrasted with the use of a relevant vernacular.

    By the way, Liam and others, not that I enjoy advertising on other peoples’ blogs, but I just put up a post on my blog about the use of Latin that you may (or may not) enjoy.

  11. Anne says:

    Time will tell, probably lots of time. I believe it’s important to keep in mind the trends of today that effect parish life and liturgy. Rome, for the most part, seems to ignore those trends.

  12. Liam says:

    Is is to keep up with trends or to sift them against the Gospel? If the former, that’s the job of consumer capitalism, not the Church.

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