Saturday, May 24, 2008

Inclusive Language

The setting was a funeral for a fairly young man. The occasion was solemn. There were about 1000 people in the Church and four priests and a deacon at the altar. At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer (I don't remember which particular Eucharistic prayer it was) the celebrant (a visitor) intoned, "through whom and with whom and in whom ... ." At least that is what I heard. I had not heard this particular part of the liturgy subjected to inclusive language and the attempt sounded quite shocking.

The basic premise of inclusive language is that the use of masculine pronouns in the liturgy makes females feel excluded and therefore these masculine pronouns should be avoided. While I don't necessarily agree with the basic premise I think there are times when a masculine pronoun can be substituted with a more generic one. For example at morning prayer yesterday (Liturgy of the Hours, Friday, week III) one of the intercessions ends with: "pour forth your Spirit upon all men." In a case like this I would have no problem with the text simply saying all, or everyone, or all people, instead of men.

A basic problem however, comes when a masculine pronoun that refers specifically to Jesus is "neutered" in this way. So in the case of the mangled end to the Eucharistic prayer mentioned above the latin reflexive pronoun used here (per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso) is clearly intended to point strongly to Jesus Christ mentioned in the previous sentence in all four Eucharist prayers. So I would say that to substitute "whom" for him in this particular part of the Eucharistic prayer should be unthinkable. If you were determined to avoid a masculine pronoun here the best you could do would be : through Jesus (himself) and with Jesus and in Jesus .... This would be the only way to preserve the basic meaning of the prayer. Basically I think that we all can agree that Jesus was male and I don't think that liturgical language should obscure or ignore that fact.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't noticed ... but I suspect that a lot of this issue is generational ... more important to be inclusive for those priests that came up through the 60s & 70s.

John said...

Thanks for being kind enough to offer feedback. I noticed the beginning of a blog on your part. I hope you find blogging a useful part of your work. Some folks even post homilies and such. I am looking into trying to use this blog to encourage dialogue in our RCIA group this coming year.

Anonymous said...

"I am looking into trying to use this blog to encourage dialogue in our RCIA group this coming year." I look forward to this should it come to pass. I am still attempting to 'learn the technology' of the blog world!