Why the new translation of the Mass?
Dear Rev. Know-It-All,
must we endure more monkeying around with the Mass? Isn’t this just
another attempt to roll back the great advances made during the times
of the Second Vatican Council? Why can’t we just have the Mass in plain
Verne A. Kiular
a look back in History might help, a look far back, before the Second
Vatican Council, back before the First Vatican Council, back to one of
the least known and most misunderstood of Church Councils: Vatican Zero.
Zero is not accepted as a true Church council because we know so little
about it. We have only fragmentary evidence and this is gathered from
the remnants of a treatise by St. Euflimsius the Stylite, titled “What
are These Goofballs Up to Now?” (In Latin, “Quaecumque Facient Hi
Stulti Nunc?”) Another problem is that this particular gathering was
held under no known Church auspices.
It is to be remembered that
at the time the Vatican was not the home of the Holy Father. It was the
Emperor Nero’s favorite race track. Those who question the importance
of the council remind us that there seem to have more bookies present
at it than theologians. When asked if he planned to send representative
to the meeting, Pope Clement responded “Mercules! Congregare deliris
istis? Nunquam!” (Good heavens! Meet with those loons? Never!)
Treatise begins with “Introivit anas in tabernam....” this seems to be
an attempt at humor which loses more than a little in translation. St.
Euflimsius goes on to decry the replacing of the noble Greek language
with barbaric Latin tongue. However, Euflimsius comes out solidly in
opposition to any return to Aramaic at all as a surrender to the hard
core reactionaries of the Jerusalem and Damascus Churches.
that Latin was allowed in the Mass because it was the NEW vernacular.
The universal language of commerce was Greek. Greek was used from
Germany in the north to Egypt in the south, from Spain and England in
the west to India in the east. East of the Jordan, Aramaic, a Semitic
language closely related to Hebrew and still spoken by modern
Assyrians, was better known. It was the vernacular until Christianity
caught on in Alexandra, Egypt and in Rome which were Greek speaking
There were more people in Rome who spoke Greek than
Latin at the time of Christ. It was an international city whose
immigrant population, if one includes slaves, probably exceeded its
native population. Antioch in Syria and Alexandra in Egypt were also
thoroughly Greek cities. The Church used Aramaic in the east and Greek
in the west.
As the second and third centuries unfolded,
Christianity slowly caught on in the wild west, in Carthage (Tunisia)
and Spain, Germany, Italy and Northern France. Southern France around
Marseilles was largely Greek speaking. As the empire started to split
along a sort of cultural fault line stretching down the coast of the
former Yugoslavia, the west including Rome began to speak Latin more
commonly and the use of Greek died out in the far west. The Christian
East from Syria to India spoke Aramaic, and the Christian heartland,
Northern Egypt, Turkey, the Holy Land and Greece continued to speak
The Islamic conquest of the Christian heartland changed
all that. By 750, after beginning in about 630 AD, the missionaries of
Islam had conquered the Christian world from Spain to Pakistan leaving
only Greece, France and Italy as major Christian lands. The Aramaic
speaking Church in the east was eclipsed by the Muslim conquest and
even the Greek and Latin speaking areas of North Africa and Syria
slowly started speaking Arabic, the language of the conquerors. It was
not such a stretch for the Christians of the east, because Arabic like
Hebrew and Aramaic, is a Semitic language, but the Latin and Greek
culture of Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia were wiped out.
Greek speaking heartland of Christianity slowly fell to the Muslims
beginning with the gradual conquest of Turkey beginning around 1000 AD.
That meant that the center of the Christian world moved to what had
been the far west of the classical world. It was practiced mostly by
hulking, unwashed, illiterate barbarians, from whom I happen to be
They didn’t get out much, except for the occasional
crusade. Most people in Europe of the dark ages never got more than
five miles away from home. Each little village had its own dialect. It
was unwritten and incomprehensible to those from the next town over.
You still see traces of it in Europe.
My mother’s cousins in
Lower Upper Hessia (Yes there really is such a place) get into heated
discussions with my father’s cousins from about seven miles down the
road as to which village speaks a better form of German dialect. To me,
both dialects sound like the Swedish chef on a bender. (Note to the
humor impaired; the Swedish chef is a puppet character who talks with a
vaguely Scandinavian accent) And don’t get me started on the Bavarians.
No one can understand them. Probably just as well.
Where was I?
yes, Latin was the only possible common language in the West. It was
spoken by anyone who could read, and by many who couldn’t until about
1750! Sir Isaac Newton wrote his best stuff in Latin. It was the only
way it could be read by scholars worldwide.
So you see, dear
reader, language has it’s problems. It is always creating
incomprehensible dialects. Let’s look at simple liturgical phrase, “the
Lord be with you”. In some places it would be perfectly acceptable to
translate this as “Yo, What up dog?”
Americans, especially those
from the Bridgeport area of Chicago, talk funny. I remember a rather
tedious Englishman who lectured me every time I asked him to pass the
butter. I, having been raised to speak Prince Richard’s English don’t
say “butter.” I say “Budder”, all the while thinking I am saying
“Butter.” He would remonstrate with me endlessly saying “but-t-t-t-er.”
To which I would respond, “That’s what I’m saying, you English twit!
Now please pass the @$#%! budder!”
Surely if you are a native of
the People’s Republic of Chicago you have caught yourself using those
colorful dialectical phrases, such as “Jeet yet?” (Did you eat yet?)
“No, d’jew?” (No, did you?)
Language changes as fast as a pair
dice on an Indiana craps table. This is why universal languages appear.
It’s the only way people who live more than five miles apart can talk
to each other.
English is the new Latin. It is spoken by about
1.8 billion people world wide. Airplane Pilots have to speak English
lest there be chaos in the skies. There are more people in China who
speak English than there are in the United States. They may not speak
it well, but they manage. Especially if you are in a souvenir shop in
Shanghai. If you only speak an obscure language like Flemish or
high-middle Bridgeport and, having been shanghaied, find yourself in
Shanghai, you are going to have problems. But, if you come from Belgium
where the eponymous Flemish language is spoken, you probably speak
English better than this author does. So, English is the new Latin.
to insult everyone! The die hards who can’t stand the Vernacular Mass
need to remember that Latin was once the controversial new vernacular.
Those who don’t want to return to a more precise and universal
translation of the Vernacular Mass need to admit that American is
increasingly different from English. And Sout’ Side English bears
little resemblance to either. Stop being so narrow and provincial and
learn to speak English, not just American.
So Verne, to answer your question, we are going to translate the Missal into modern English. Finally!
Peace wit’ all yous guys,
Here To Ask The Reverend Know-It-All A Question
Why the new translation of the Mass?