Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Missal makes women invisible (Comment)

For Catholic women the principle of "formal equivalence" used in the new translation of the Missal poses a problem of exclusion. 

Thanks to the literal translation of a "dead" language, "brethren" has been re-introduced as the norm, while the familiar, inclusive salutation, "brothers and sisters", has been put as an option in brackets, leaving scope for misunderstanding and for priests so inclined, to revert to outdated, offensive, exclusive forms of address.

Again in the Nicene Creed, women who form the bulk of the praying community are expected to pray: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven."

What is particularly painful to women however, is the Eucharistic Prayer No. 4, as it has deliberately disregarded the existing gender-sensitive translation which uses "man and woman", and replaced it with a version that venerates "man": "You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures. Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation."

Such a translation is at complete odds with the "Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India" issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) in 2009, that calls the Church to be gender-sensitive at all times. 

By excluding women it establishes the "divinity" of man, reinforces the superiority of man, and emphasises man's close relationship with God in direct contravention of the opening remarks of Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil CSsR, then-President, Catholic Bishops Conference of India, which promote "the egalitarian message of Jesus, with the vision of a collaborative Church with Gender Justice".

Making women invisible in this way is referred to as "symbolic annihilation". 

It implies that women are insignificant and can be wholly represented by men. 

Yet the CBCI Gender Policy clearly recognises the "unique experiences and insights" of women, and acknowledges the need "to make space for a spirituality that is shaped by women's life experiences and creative expression".

In all probability the Vox Clara Committee that was responsible for the Missal in its present form did not mean to exclude women. No doubt they used the word "man" generically. 

But in today's culture where students are penalised in examinations for using gender-insensitive language, and doctoral theses in universities are rejected for the use of sexist language and ideas, the subsuming of woman in man is no longer acceptable. 

The world has changed since Latin held sway in ancient Rome, and there can be no going back.

Language as we all know is not just a means of communication; it holds a worldview, reflecting the way we think. Moreover, it shapes our thinking. 

By erasing women from language we privilege men over women and maintain a gender imbalance.

In addition to the language, the new Missal also has some theological underpinnings which women find offensive. 

Thus the Eucharistic Prayer No. 1 has changed "the ever-Virgin mother of Jesus Christ" to "the glorious ever-Virgin Mary" shifting the focus from Mary's virginity as a sign of the divine birth to the glorification of virginity, by corollary attributing a secondary status to the vocation of marriage. If this was not the intent, it is definitely the message that comes across emphasizing the inadequacy of the translation.

The Eucharistic Prayer No. 1, for Pentecost Sunday, also obliterates women. It mentions "the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit appeared to the apostles". 

Yet the Jerusalem Bible in a footnote very clearly speaks of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all present in the upper room including Mary and other women disciples who met in the upper room to pray constantly with one heart (Acts 1:13-14). 

Both sons and daughters were called to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18). Unfortunately we are never made aware of this and prayers like this Eucharistic Prayer perpetuate the myth of only men being given the mandate of the Holy Spirit.

Given the above, the new translation raises an important question: whose worldview is important? 

The speaker/author or the reader/listener?


Totus Tuus said...

The Mass is all about GOD not men or women, we are but dust. Some people should get over themselves seeing things that are not there, such as discrimination against women et al - and I'm a woman by the way. These sort of articles are just another stick to beat the Church with.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the beginning of your note but not the last. To quote another "there is a growing awareness that language does not merely reflect the way we think: it also shapes our thinking". Without knowing it we shape our reality by the words we use and re-use and all is done most innocently. CS