Did the Latin Liturgy Use Inclusive Language?

Monday, November 03, 2003



A few months ago, in the July issue of Commonweal, Peter Steinfels wrote that liturgies sometimes turning into shouting matches at certain moments. He paints an image where one side of the congregation is saying " for US and for our salvation" during the creed, and another is saying "for us MEN and our salvation".

I ran across an internet version of the Tridentine Mass in Latin that once again raised the question in my mind why there is so much resistance among English speaking conservative Catholics to inclusive language on the horizontal level.

Before looking at texts, let me explain that inclusive vertical language deals with using female images in reference to God. I already have already written an essay on this entitled Our Mother Who Art in Heaven,...God as Our Mother.

From the perspective of the Latin Mass, it is clear that all images to God were masculine. The only thing I can say to this is that the Holy Spirit in Hebrew was feminine (Hokmah and Rhuah). In Greek, Pneuma was neuter, while Sophia is feminine. But enough about vertical inclusive language.

Horizontal inclusive language has to do the way we address the people of God, the congregation, or the Church gathered to hear the proclamation of the Word. We're talking about using "brothers and sisters" instead of saying simply "brothers". We're talking about saying "humanity" or "humankind" instead of saying "mankind". When the word "man" is used as a generic reference to any person, liberals prefer words like "person", "human person", or "human being", depending on the context.

If one were to read the English translations of the Latin Mass from the link above, one would believe that our traditional Mass did not use inclusive language. Thus, conservatives sometimes argue that inclusive language is changing the word of God or the Tradition of the Church.

This is the point I want to dispute.

I'll grant to conservatives that it's been years since I studied Latin, but the text as translated at the link above is simply wrong, and the Latin liturgy of the pre Vatican II Church used inclusive language where there was an option not to use it!

In Latin, the word vir, viri is used when we mean males. Homo, homonis or Humanus, -a, -um is used when we mean humanity. Every instance where the conservatives or traditionalist want the English translation to be "man" or "mankind" uses the Latin, homo or humanus. Indeed, in the Eucharistic prayers, there is a deliberate attempt to be inclusive by using both the masculine and faminine word for servants!

The following translations are my own, but one can go to the link to see how each verse was translated by the traditionalists. The underlined words indicate the key words I am translating inclusively.

There is only one instance where inclusive language does not seem to be used, and it is an instance that I never hear the conservatives trying to out-scream the liberals at this moment in the Mass.

From the Confetior:
Ideo precor beatum Mariam semper viginem...omnes Santos, et vos fratres, orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.
And I ask the blessed Mary, Ever Virgin,...all the saints, and you my brothers, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

During the rest of the Latin Mass, we see inclusive language used in the following incidences:

From the Gloria:
Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Glory to the Most High God, and on earth, peace to people of good will.

From the Creed:
Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostrum salutem descendit de coelis.
Who for us human persons, and for our salvation, descended from heaven.

Et incarnarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine: ET HOMO FACTUS EST (Caps in original)
And was incarnate from the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary: and was made a human person!

From the Secret Prayers of the Priest at the Offertory:
Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condisisti, et mirabilius reformasti; da nobis per jujus aquae et vini mysterium, ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps, Jesus Christus, Filius tuus, Dominus noster: Qui tecom vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus: per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
God, who condescended to wondrously exalt the dignity of human nature, and more wondrously reformed it; by the mystery of the mingling of this water and wine, give us a share in the divine essence through Jesus Christ, your son and our Lord, who by his participation our humanity, bestowed dignity on us, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in that world without end. Amen.

From the Eucharistic Prayers:
Memento Domine famulorum, famularum tuarum 'N" et "N"
Remember Lord your servants and maidservants, "N" and "N"

(The above piece of the Eucharistic prayer is repeated in both the first and second parts).

Even the Vulgate translation of the first chapter of John that was read at the end of every Mass uses homo and humanus in every instance. The line "and the Word was made flesh" is translated: "et verbum caro factum est".

There will be some who will argue that where the Latin liturgy refers to groups of people, it uses masculine endings. However, nobody in their right mind would seriously argue that "omnibus Sancti" should be translated "all male saints". The endings are a grammatical form and do not imply an exclusive meaning in any point in the Latin liturgy.

So, if the original Latin Mass was inclusive, why do conservative Catholics show so much resistance to inclusive language?

The argument is put forward by some people that the issue is not one of translation from Latin to English, but the understanding of English language itself. Some conservatives argue that English has always used "mankind" to refer to men and women, and anyone who understands English should be able to figure this out. These conservatives argue that an entire faith community should not be forced to change its language because of a handful of disgruntled feminist motivated by political concerns.

I believe the following parable implies a different the Christian attitude to situations where members of the Church feel alienated:
What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. (Matthew 8:12-14)
When a member of the community feels excluded, we are not to simply say, "Well, they shouldn't feel that way, and if they do, good riddance to 'em."

Instead, we are to be like Christ, who came for the lost sheep of Israel. We are to leave behind the rest of the flock if necessary to reach out to the alienated and make people really feel included, even if we think they maybe should not have felt excluded in the first place. To do otherwise is to follow the ways of the world, rather than the way of God!

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 2:30 PM

This page is powered by 

Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by