Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The new English translation of the Mass may yet revive English in our isles

So much has been written about the decline of the English language in the Philippines. While the nation remains the 3rd largest Anglophone nation on the planet with 57% of the 92 million Filipino population  functional in it. However literacy in the language is declining. Literacy would mean that being Filipino can be expressed in the English language. When a Filipino uses the language, another English speaker should see, hear and fell the Filipino speaking or writing and not just a poor imitation of the former American colonial master.

Of course many people are using English for specific purposes (e.g. for call center jobs, employment abroad, for tourism and hospitality jobs etc) but the use of the language to build the nation, its culture and, its ethos is declining. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has decided to implement the new translation of the Mass in English starting Advent 2012. This would give the parish priests one year or so to orient their congregations.

I just listened via live streaming the Ordinary of Our Lady of Walsingham, Monsignor Keith Newton deliver his keynote address to the 2011 Anglican Use Conference in Texas, USA. While on the subject of the Ordinariate liturgy, Mgr Newton said that the Ordinariate has decided to stick with traditional English in its future liturgy now aborning. The reason is that this English usage will preserve the Anglican  patrimony in the Roman Catholic Church and enrich the culture of today's multicultural England. Mgr Newton admits and we have to agree that the Anglican patrimony is extremely hard to define even in England. The use of the traditional  will make it easier. This is unlike in the USA, where the Anglican Use has options for contemporary English use. This insistence on traditional English struck me since as Mgr Newton says many of the Ordinariate groups when they were in the Church of England used the Roman Novus Ordo with its more to be desired English translation. The shift to the traditional use will require adjustment from these congregations. Mgr Newton also said that the Ordinariate prefers the Revised Standard Version (RSV) Bible to be used at Mass and the prayers. The Catholic Church in England has long opted for the Jerusalem Bible but the RSV represents continuity from the Anglican tradition. (Rome has used the Jerusalem Bible since 1966 in its English liturgies) I myself have been reared and nurtured in the Oxford Anglican and Catholic versions of the RSV with the Catholic one having Cardinal Heenan's imprimatur. The RSV has nurtured me in my study of English. While the Jerusalem Bible is good, I learned my English from English language teachers taught by Episcopalians, thus the partiality to English language translations made in England.

The CBCP is rightly concerned about  Filipinos being habituated to the English 1973 Mass translation and that a sudden shift to the more literal new translation will be a shocker.  But I believe it is a necessary shift since the new English translation will help recover tradition (although the new translation is in contemporary English) and Catholic faith among our people. Also it would help revive the English language in the country. Why do I say so?

Mgr Newton points out that the language used in worship enriches the use of that language in daily life. The good monsignor believes that the Ordinariate may preserve and conserve something good and beautiful in the English language. This does not preempt the fact that the English language evolves and coins new terms. English is a dynamic language which borrows and innovates, but it is not a good idea to throw what is good in the past.

The English language was brought to the Philippines by the American colonizers and not a few of the teachers were Episcopalian. In a real sense English in the Philippines is an Anglican/Episcopal patrimony which needs to be conserved and promoted. The ECP has been completely Filipinized but it has an obligation to celebrate the English language it received more than a century ago. But English is not just an Episcopal inheritance. Irish and American Roman Catholic priests also taught the language and by the late 1920s the Ateneo de Manila had garnered the reputation of being a good school to learn excellent English.

The old Roman Missals were an example of good traditional English. The Latin of the Mass was on the left page and the correct English (traditional) translation on the right.

Was Mgr Newton correct in saying that the language used in worship builds the culture of the nation? Your thoughts please.

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