Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dominus vobiscum. Please.

The problem with having the Mass in the vernacular is that priests are all too ready to change it to suit themselves.

At last Sunday's noon Mass at St. Thomas, Fr. Harris was ill, so we had a substitute priest. And like another substitute on another day, he too said "The Lord IS with you" instead of "The Lord BE with you."

So what's up with this new translation? Did the missal change and no one told us? Or was it just that the priest thought it didn't matter, or it sounded better?

I know some people would say, what's the big deal? So here's my take. The Latin is "Dominus vobiscum", and the English translation that everyone's been happy with for many years is "The Lord BE with you." It's a wish, a prayer. The word "may" is implied: "MAY the Lord be with you." God might be with you, He might not. Let's pray that He is.

So the important thing that the old version does for us is to remind us implicitly that it's possible for us to cut ourselves off from God through serious sin that we're not sorry for. And we can surely show up for Mass in that state. The priest prays for us that God will be with us, but since he has no spiritual X-ray vision, he doesn't know whether God is with each one of us at that moment. As far as I know, that's still Catholic teaching: in short, if you tell God to get lost, He'll respect your decision. He gave you free will, it's part of your human make-up. If you say to Him: Give me my inheritance, I'm off to squander it all in riotous living, He'll give it to you and sadly wave good-bye. He won't tag along. He'll let you go your own way. He hopes you'll come back, repentant and wiser, since He's got a feast waiting for you if you do; but He's not following you with the lunchmobile.

The important -- and wrong -- thing that the new version does is imply that no matter what state your soul is in, no matter how much you've told God to get lost, He's still happily right there, ignoring your free choice, ignoring the state of your soul, ignoring whether you're in the least sorry for the last eight zillion unconfessed sins you've committed. Like a house-elf in the Harry Potter stories, He's right there to serve you, no matter how many times you kick Him in the face.

We might prefer that God be like that. But as far as we know, He isn't. And it's wrong to change the words of the Mass to pretend that He is.