Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, seems to have a less than winning way with folks he calls “John and Mary Catholic,” probably in large part because he thinks they are idiots who cannot handle anything other than monosyllabic utterances during Mass—or before and after Mass, for that matter. Bishop Trautman's comments, made in the May 21 issue of America (and reprinted on the Diocese of Erie website), have not gone over too well with those John and Mary Catholics who don't appreciate being talked down to, even by bishops. Amy Welborn has commented, saying:
No translation is infallible and while there may be certain aspects of the current translation that I or you or anyone else might find odd or awkward, here are the problems with Bishop Trautman's article:
1) He ignores principles. Well, he has one - that of "pastoral" - but there is much more to liturgical language than that, and even that - "pastoral" doesn't rise to the level of a principle because who knows what it means? What pleases your ear might grate on mine, so whom should the translators have in mind as they seek to be "pastoral?" No. There is much more to the matter of liturgical texts than that, and there are innumerable other issues related to the purpose and shape of liturgical language, none of which ever seem to appear in anything I read from Bishop Trautman on the issue.
2) This "John and Mary Catholic" who haunt Bishop Trautman's conscience are a worrisome pair. They are worrisome because of what they imply about a cleric's view of the laity. As I have blogged and written before, many times, clerics and those in the church bureaucracy need to get their stories straight. Are we "the most highly educated laity in the history of the church" capable of making our moral decisions all on our own, without substantive Church guidance..or are we idiots who can't figure out what "dew" is?
Make up you minds.
I would gently suggest that those who are worried about translations, who don't like the more elevated tone, not rely on the "the laity are too stupid to understand this" line of argumentation. There are, indeed, legitmate ways to discuss a translation and its fittingness, but this, in the end, is going to come back to bite you. Why? Well, because if it begs the simple question. If the laity can't understand theological concepts expressed in slightly elevated or layered ways, could it be because no one's bothered to teach them?
In a Denver Catholic Register column titled, "We are not morons," (June 20, 2007) George Weigel finds the bishop's remarks both condescending and confused:
My hunch is that they’ll do just fine. “John and Mary Catholic,” in these United States, are among the best-educated Catholics in history. In my rather typical parish, “John and Mary” can understand legal contracts, Russian novels, architectural plans, IRS forms, the Atlantic Monthly, columns by George F. Will, the calculations necessary to compute an Earned Run Average, their children’s math homework, the Federal Register, New England Journal of Medicine articles on osteoporosis therapies, the fine print of their pension plans, and Sports Illustrated stories on the Cover-2 Defense; they’re not going to come unglued over “unfeigned” or “consubstantial” or “thwart.” In a word, they’re not morons.
John and Mary are also smart enough to have figured out that the present translation of the first Collect for Trinity Sunday is heresy (it’s addressed to the Father, who’s informed later in the prayer that he is “one God in three Persons”). Having read Paul’s letter to Titus, John and Mary may wonder why, at each Mass, the translators Bishop Trautman evidently prefers have transformed a theological fact (“our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” [Titus 2.13]) into an emotional condition (“...as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior...”). And no matter what Latin John and Mary may have forgotten — or never learned — they’ve been scratching their heads for forty years over how “Et cum spiritu tuo” became the supremely clunky “And also with you.” The list could be multiplied ad infinitum and ad nauseam — phrases John and Mary Catholic readily understand.
A witty, post-Vatican II Anglican convert to Catholicism was once asked what he missed most about his former ecclesiastical home. “The Mass in English,” he immediately replied. Bishop Trautman is clearly a man of intelligence and learning, so it’s all the more puzzling why he seems to defend the indefensible. For how can anyone with a sense of the majesty of the English language defend the See-Spot/See-Spot-Run vocabulary and syntax the new ICEL translations are intended to replace?
It continues to confound me why some adults insist on treating other adults as drooling simpletons in so many areas (not just liturgical matters, of course, but a host of issues). It seems to usually come from the increasingly exaggerated gap between "experts" and "other people," which in turn reflects the growing specialization found in our culture and the manipulation of that specialization by experts so they might increase their little kingdom of power and influence. Two other areas (again, out of many) that seem to be swamped with this suffocating attitude are education and parenting, in which nearly everyone is an expert except, of course, parents, who are often treated like dolts who wouldn't know the difference between the alphabet and algebra (not to mention discipline and abuse) unless Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil, or Guru Oprah kindly explained it to them.
That some clergy would take up such an attitude in relation to the Mass, which is the primary and most regular point of public contact "John and Mary Catholic" has with their Faith, is both revealing and disheartening. But, in light of how the liturgy has often been approached by the "experts" for the past forty years, it is hardly surprising. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and look up the meaning of "monosyllabic utterances."