You may think of your husband, your father, your son, your uncle, etc., but my guess is that no women popped to mind. Now, obviously, you wouldn’t think of a woman. Because, guess what, when we hear the word “man,” we know that it does not mean “human” or “person” regardless of gender.
So, with this in mind, you may wonder (I do!) why the Catholic Church in its flurry of refashioning our Mass language retained this line in the Nicene Creed (Profession of Faith):
“for us men and for our salvation”
Let me back up a bit. For those who don’t know . . . just in time for the Christmas season last year, the Vatican gifted American Catholic congregations with a new (some call it old) translation of Mass. The language is allegedly a more direct translation of the original Latin Mass. Yep, this is not a return to the original words of Jesus or original Scripture. It is merely a return to a less-friendly version of the Mass from 40-50 years ago. We now have clunky, inaccessible phrasing like “consubstantial with the Father” rather than “one in Being with the Father.” And, instead of saying “also with you,” we now are supposed to say the rather awkward “and with your spirit.”
Despite this nine-year-long, painstaking word-by-word process — designed to universalize and unify, the all-male wordsmiths deliberately chose to leave the archaic, gender exclusive language “for us men and our salvation” into the text. When you consider their multi-year linguistic task and examination, we can only assume that they made the choice to continue to exclude women from this idea of salvation.
And, for some of you regular Mass-goers like me, you might even ask: Didn’t we used to say “for us
men and for our salvation.” Yes, some parishes and translations, over the past few decades, had omitted the word “men” during this line of the Creed. But, the Papal linguists have, with three small letters, returned women to their rightful excluded place — on the outside looking in without contraception or salvation.
To underscore the segregated mentality of Pope Benedict’s smaller and manlier Church, the new (very frustrating) translation also has changed the words of the Eucharist, which once included “all” and now only includes “many.”
Priests used to say:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
Instead, priests now say:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
This new language suggests that, again, salvation is only for some — not for all. The decision to swap “many” for “all” came straight from the Pope himself. However, he promises that he is not limiting salvation, only sticking to a truer translation.
Interestingly, the Pope with all of his linguistic gymnastics appears to agree with a post-modern ideal that language shapes — not reflects — reality. This post-modern view of language suggests that life is narrative not essence. Certainly, an unusual perspective for someone who represents divinity. But, we must acknowledge — as the Pope clearly does — that language is not a benign collection of letters, but a force for shaping the reality of our faith. Why else would the Vatican spend so much time surgically parsing language instead of investigating and eradicating priestly sexual assault of children?
Meanwhile, several months after the Pope made the choice to use language that excludes people, we sit in Mass and stumble over words. The U.S. Bishops assured us that over the months the new words would “strike our hearts and imaginations.” Yet, our former language rituals and the once-comforting rhythms of Mass are now contorted expressions devoid of Spirit. The 90-year-old man who sits behind me every Sunday struggles with remembering the new words and appears to have just decided to stick with the words he has said for the past four decades. Others, instead, sit tight-lipped in the pews afraid to embarrassingly say the wrong words. All of this has transformed a Mass of collective prayer into one of awkwardness and silence . . . and, of course, re-kindled exclusion.