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Small word, big problem
  By William Grimm  
  PEOPLE who have studied English as a second language tell me that three of the biggest challenges they encounter are pronouns, prepositions and articles.

Articles (a, an, the) are the most difficult. Which one to use or even whether to use one or not causes them anguish. The use or non-use of such a short word can make a huge difference in the meaning of a phrase or sentence.

One example of the problem can be found in the translation of the Mass that Rome has recently declared must be used for celebrations in English.

That is relevant to the Church in Asia because in large parts of the continent, English is often used in worship. In South Asia and other parts of the former British Empire as well as in the Philippines, English remains a living language.

In just about every country of Asia, overseas workers from the Philippines worship in English. English is also the language of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, the FABC.

The new translation has been criticized on many points. In an attempt to follow as closely as possible a Latin original, the English is stilted, verbose and at times nonsensical because of poor grammar.

The whole process of its development has been marked by secrecy and by spinelessness on the part of most of the world's English-speaking bishops who acquiesced in the destruction by non-English speakers of generally acclaimed new translations prepared a decade or more ago.

Tens of thousands of Catholics have signed a petition asking that the new translation not be imposed until after a period of trial to see if it "works." Of course, the petition has been ignored by the bishops and curia.

An ancient principle of theology is "lex orandi, lex credendi." The way we pray is the way we believe. If our prayer is not in accord with the faith of the Church, it will lead people away from that faith.

The worst problem of the new translation is that it will, in fact, bring heresy into the Mass, and all because of an article.

Currently, the words over the cup during the Eucharistic Prayer speak of the Lord's blood being spilled "for you and for all." That translates the idea of the probable Aramaic words of Jesus and the Catholic faith that God's will is that all be saved. The Latin text reads, "pro multis," which also implies all-inclusiveness.

Good Latin but heretical English will have priests proclaiming that Christ shed his blood "for you and for many".

Ever since the currently-used English translation appeared, some people have objected to its inclusiveness. I have run across those who object precisely because they neither believe nor want God to desire the salvation of all.

When the new translation was being prepared, it was decided by someone that the word "multis" must be rendered literally as either "many" or "the many."

There are two possibilities because Latin does not have articles.

The secrecy of the whole process precludes knowing who made decisions or what their qualifications to do so are, but apparently because Latin does not use articles, the English translation will not do so, either.

Good Latin but heretical English will have priests proclaiming that Christ shed his blood "for you and for many."

The problem arises from omitting that three-letter word, "the."

In English, "many" without the article is an indeterminate word. It can mean a handful, a few dozen, a few thousand. It never means, however, the majority, let alone everyone.

On the other hand, "the many" can mean everyone. In order to be slavishly faithful to Latin grammar, Rome is telling us that we must pray heresy, saying in effect that Jesus shed his blood for quite a few, but certainly not all.

That presents priests with a dilemma. We can obey men who obviously do not know what they want us to talk about or we can continue to proclaim the actual faith of the Church.

I have talked with priests about this and find that many (the many?) say that fidelity to the faith of the Church and their mission to proclaim God's love will force them to disobedience to the liturgical rule of that same Church.

None are happy about that, not least because it might result in their suffering at the hands of their bishops.

There is, however, reason for these priests to take heart. Though he certainly did not intend it, Pope Benedict has shown the way to go.

In his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum broadening the use of the 1962 Latin Mass he says, "in some regions, no small numbers of faithful adhered and continue to adhere with great love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms" and goes on to say that such dedication (and some 40 years of defiance that accompanied it) deserve to be rewarded.

The clergy and laity of Germany have refused to accept a newly-translated funeral rite and the bishops there reported to Rome that "the new ritual must be considered a failure."

The result is that the new translation of the funeral rite has been abandoned. This is probably just the beginning of a movement in the Church, a movement that may be of the Holy Spirit.

It appears to me that when the new English Mass translation becomes mandatory, many priests, if not the many, will continue to proclaim the good news that Christ died for all.
Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News and former editor-in-chief of "Katorikku Shimbun," Japan's Catholic weekly
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