Friday, October 16, 2009

Woodward: October 16, 1978

Thirty-one years ago today:

O Blessed Trinity, we thank You for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of Your fatherly care, the glory of the Cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Spirit of love to shine through him. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with You. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among Your saints.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Woodward: St. Teresa of Avila

The feast of this great saint is October 15.

I have read a great many Catholic mystics without managing to move even one inch towards mysticism. But if I ever do make any progress, I have a feeling that it will be under the tutelage of St. Teresa. There is something so down-to-earth, so (this sounds wrong) commonsensical in her mysticism that she really does make it sound like a path that anyone could follow. For example:

There's no need for us to be advising God about what He should give us, for He can rightly tell us that we don't know what we're asking for [Mt. 20:22]. The whole aim of any person who is beginning prayer -- and don't forget this, because it's very important -- should be that he work and prepare himself with determination and every possible effort to bring his will into conformity with God's will...It is the person who lives in more perfect conformity who will receive more from the Lord and be more advanced on this road. Don't think that in what concerns perfection there is some mystery or things unknown or still to be understood, for in perfect conformity to God's will lies all our good.

--The Interior Castle II:1

Perfect conformity to God's will. I knew there was a catch....

Hear our prayer, O God our Savior. The feast of the blessed virgin Teresa fills us with joy; may her holy teaching also inspire us, and the example of her virtuous life guide us.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Woodward: St. Edward the Confessor

His life is practically a whole chapter in English history all by itself. He was instrumental in bringing about the Norman Conquest by promising the throne to two different successors at two different times. Upon his canonization in 1163, the translation of his incorrupt remains to their final resting place in Westminster Abbey was presided over by Archbishop Thomas Becket, with his good friend King Henry II in attendance. And the gold crown that he wore was, according to some reports, destroyed in the wake of the English Civil War by Oliver Cromwell, who was good at destroying things.

Edward was a model of Christian piety, if not a particularly forceful king. And he is the patron saint of the British royal family, which perhaps explains that tired expression on his face.

His feast day is today.

O God, you gave the blessed confessor king Edward a crown of everlasting glory. May we who honor him on earth be worthy to rule with him in heaven.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Woodward: Shakespeare and Religion

My wife and I encounter at least ten reasons a day to be glad we home school our children. The most recent occasion of rejoicing for me was the text I'm using to teach Twelfth Night to our eleventh-grade daughter. It's a highly respected and widely used edition of the play, part of the Oxford School Shakespeare series, complete with copious and illuminating notes on the text, and appendices that offer suggestions for classwork, outside research projects, and -- here's where the problem presents itself -- "background" information on Shakespeare's England. I'm beginning to learn that one man's (excuse me -- one person's) "background" is another person's collection of ideological hobbyhorses.

The text's "background" information on the subject of "Religion" contains this bit of historical analysis:

Following Henry VIII's break away from the Church of Rome, all people in England were able to hear the church services in their own language. The Book of Common Prayer was used in every church, and an English translation of the Bible was read aloud in public. The Christian religion had never been so well taught before! [exclamation point in the original]

Where to begin? "The Book of Common Prayer was used in every church." True, because Roman Catholic churches had all been destroyed and outlawed. "An English translation of the Bible was read aloud in public." That "in public" is a nice rhetorical touch, suggesting that reading the Bible in public, or in English, or in public in English, had been impossible under the tyrannical "Church of Rome." In fact, English Catholics had an English New Testament 29 years before the King James Bible was published. As for the assertion that "the Christian religion had never been so well taught before," that is a matter of prudential judgment, as we Catholics say. And the prudential judgment of the Oxford School Shakespeare series on this point (in the prudential judgment of this Catholic) leaves something to be desired.

But then there is this:

Attendance at divine service was compulsory. By such means, the authorities were able to keep some check on the populace -- ensuring a minimum of orthodox instruction through the official "Homilies" which were regularly preached from the pulpits of all parish churches throughout the realm.

"A minimum of orthodox instruction" sounds about right.

There is no such thing as unbiased history. Home-schooled children, at least, know that, and they know what their teachers' biases are. Government-schooled children are allowed -- no, encouraged -- to believe that all biases have been conscientiously purged from the intellectual atmosphere in which they breathe. That is the most dangerous intellectual atmosphere of all.

Woodward: Seedtime and Harvest

Maclin Horton's picture of a magnolia seed got me thinking about seeds in general, and red seeds in particular. We have a Texas mountain laurel by our front door that produces huge clumps of purple blooms in the spring (they smell like grapes) and, thereafter, leathery little seed pods each of which contains a single large red seed, about the size of a pinto bean. (In fact, one of the names of the Texas mountain laurel out in far west Texas is frijolillo -- the little bean tree.)

The seeds -- impossibly, almost cartoonishly red -- look like something you might trade a cow for and then pay a visit to a giant. And while Maclin considers it a wonder that he never ate a magnolia seed, I consider it a blessing that I never ate a Texas mountain laurel seed. They are reportedly hallucinogenic in small doses, deadly in larger doses, and the dosage is tricky.

Our Texas mountain laurel was about four feet tall when we planted it 12 years ago and is only about eight feet tall now. It is -- in the words of Neil Sperry, the dean of Texas horticulturists -- a "deliberate grower." Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to rest in its shade. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure I don't have time to grow any more from these seeds.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Woodward: The End of the Season

Tomorrow marks the end of the regular baseball season (and the season, period) for the Texas Rangers. Time to go into hibernation until spring training. (Well, not quite. I guess I'll stay awake and watch the Phillies win the World Series.)

To be a baseball fan in Dallas is to cultivate, of necessity, a taste for the kind of goofy (yet somehow endearing) existential optimism exemplified by's account of the Rangers' performance this season:

"The victory allowed the Rangers to clinch second place in the American League West for the second straight year after eight straight seasons of having finished no higher than third."

Ah, yes, the coveted AL West Second Place Trophy. Again. One word of advice to all you struggling major-league clubs out there: Before accepting Lucifer's offer to make you the "Team of Destiny," find out exactly what destiny he has in mind.

I don't mean to sound bitter. The Rangers gave me some genuinely thrilling moments this year, and some reasons (I think, I hope, I pray) to look forward to next year (when we'll be defending our second-place title with everything we've got). But I worry about how long a place like Dallas-Ft. Worth can keep on going without a pennant and still preserve any semblance of being a baseball town. It's not like we have a century-long tradition of being a loser. We're not Chicago. Or Boston. When it comes to professional sports, we're used to instant gratification.

I try to post either at the beginning of each baseball season or at the end. So I'll close out Baseball 2009 with a recent picture of Michael Young (my middle daughter's favorite player) tagging out the Angels' Erick Aybar at third:

...and a suggestion to Vehige about adding this to our reading list:

Woodward: Moral and Linguistic Chaos

Orwell might say that they are sometimes the same thing, and so it would seem to be with this report about the exciting strides being made in Britain toward what the headline writer cheerily calls "assisted suicide reform." That phrase is Newspeak-y enough, but then we get this:

The Australian travelling the world to teach people how to end their lives safely with a suicide drug-testing kit.

"End their lives safely"??? I guess it's all fun and games until somebody winds up still alive....

Woodward: New English Translation of the Mass

Sometime next year, English-speaking Catholics at celebrations of the ordinary form of the Mass in the Roman rite will stop professing a belief that God created everything "seen and unseen" and start professing instead their belief that God created everything "visible and invisible." They will no longer proclaim that Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary and became man" but rather that he was "incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man." When the priest, in the Consecration, narrates the institution of the Eucharist, he will no longer say that Jesus took "the cup" but rather that he took "this precious chalice into his holy and venerable hands." Most controversially, perhaps, the priest will no longer say that Christ's blood will be "shed for you and for all" but that it will be "poured out for you and for many."

Does any of this make any difference?

In the way that counts most, the answer (I believe) must be no. The Mass is the Mass -- ordinary form or extraordinary, Latin or vernacular, well translated or ill. The Mass is what the Church says it is. If you disagree with that, then you understand neither the Church nor the Mass.

In another way, the answer must be yes -- it does make a difference. There are good translations of Latin texts and bad translations. On purely linguistic grounds, the English translation of the Roman Missal that has been in use for almost 40 years is a pretty bad one. It is denotatively inaccurate (prompting each of the changes cited in my first paragraph). It is clunky and tin-eared in innumerable places. For instance, I can never hear the Prayer after Communion for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time...

Lord, bring to perfection within us the communion we share in this sacrament. May our celebration have an effect in our lives.

...without feeling sorry for the priest who has to pray it. "May our celebration have an effect in our lives"?? That's really laying siege to heaven, isn't it? (Needless to say, the original Latin of that prayer bears no discernible resemblance to the absurd English rendering -- so I guess that particular translation belongs in both the "clunky" and "inaccurate" categories.)

And occasionally, the current English translation -- beyond being inexact and graceless -- even descends into outright ungrammaticality. I can't be the only former English teacher who cringes at "all glory and honor is yours."

For years, liberal and conservative liturgists argued not so much about the quality of the English Mass translation (nobody claims it's a masterpiece), but about the alleged motives of the translators. Was the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which produced the current translation, devoted simply to a particular philosophy of translation (simplified vocabulary and sentence structure, avoidance of rhetorical decoration, paraphrase when necessary to achieve wide intelligibility), or was it committed to something more ambitious -- putting its own stamp on the Mass, emphasizing inordinately a communal, lay-centered, "spirit-of-Vatican-II" understanding of the Sacrament?

At one time I had a firmly held opinion on that question, but with the new translation on its way I find, blessedly, that I don't have to have an opinion any more. The old ICEL "dynamic equivalence" philosophy of translation is gone, relegated to a footnote in liturgical history by the Vatican's directive Liturgiam Authenticam and the subsequent ratio translationis for English-language translations, in which the Vatican undertook to give English-language translators of liturgical texts fairly explicit instructions on how to do their job. So the new translation that is nearing final approval reflects translating principles like these:

  • The translator should strive to maintain the denotation, or primary sense of the words and expressions found in the original text, as well as their connotation, that is, the finer shades of meaning or emotion evoked by them, and thus to ensure that the text be open to other orders of meaning that may have been intended in the original text.
  • To be avoided in translations is any psychologizing tendency, especially a tendency to replace words treating of the theological virtues by others expressing merely human emotions.
  • Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become part of the general human patrimony, are to be respected by a translation that is as literal as possible, as for example the words of the people’s response Et cum spiritu tuo, or the expression mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in the Act of Penance of the Order of Mass.
  • That notable feature of the Roman Rite, namely its straightforward, concise and compact manner of expression, is to be maintained insofar as possible in the translation. Furthermore, the same manner of rendering a given expression is to be maintained throughout the translation, insofar as feasible.
  • In the translation of terms contained in the original text, the same person, number, and gender is to be maintained insofar as possible.
  • The literary and rhetorical genres of the various texts of the Roman Liturgy are to be maintained.
--Liturgiam Authenticam

Not surprisingly, a translation of the Mass that is as close as possible to the original Latin text will also be as close as possible to the actual faith of the Church. There are things in this world that are not merely unseen but invisible. Jesus did not "become man" when he was born but when he was incarnate, conceived in his mother's womb (a particularly important truth for us to be reminding the world of nowadays).

The Mass is the Mass, despite whatever little distractions may come by way of inept translation. But it will be nice when those little distractions are gone. I'm really looking forward to the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2010.

[NOTE: For a handy overview of the changes made in the new English translation of the Mass, go here.]