Friday, December 30, 2011

Look, maybe I didn’t say every single little tiny syllable...

This post is Simcha Fisher's fault.  It is.

In her post on "Martha and Mary and Primitive Screwheads", she mentions Ash from the Evil Dead movies. An anonymous commenter cites one of Ash's more famous exchanges:
Wiseman: When you removed the book from the cradle, did you speak the words?
Ash: Yeah, basically.
Wiseman: Did you speak the exact words?
Ash: Look, maybe I didn’t say every single little tiny syllable, no. But basically I said them, yeah
I can't help but think about difficulties with the new English translation of the 3rd edition Roman Missal. By the time I'm writing this, we've made it through Advent and have had several weeks to use this translation. At this point, then, is it important that we get "every single little tiny syllable" right each time we say our responses?

I would say no. Habit is a powerful, though not unconquerable, force. "Unlearning" something - changing the way you perform an action - takes more effort than simply learning something the first time. That said, our  intentions matter and must be correct, since God knows our hearts. If we're getting the words wrong because we refuse to learn them (disobedience) or don't care (acedia?), then there is a problem.

What about the priest - is it important that he get every word right? Yes and no. He faces the same forces of habit and, in most cases, his intention is more important that his absolute and constant correctness. Priests are human too - that's part of the whole point, in their representing us before God.

Some words said by the priest must be correct, though. This takes us back to Ash's "little tiny syllables". He was performing a liturgical action, in a way, and he was told to say the words exactly. Words matter. In a Word, the universe was made. Words absolve sins, marry couples, and confect the Eucharist. If the priest does not say the words of absolution, you are not absolved. If the priest does not say the words of consecration, the Eucharist is not confected. (Some mistake is allowed, as long as the meaning and intention remains the same.) (For more on this, read Pope Pius V's De Defectibus.)

Carl Olson recently posted an article, Why Do Words Matter?, that recommends more reading on the importance of words and the new Mass translation. He cites, in particular, from "To Understand and to Teach the Church's Sacramental Language". In that article, Father Martis and Mr. Carstens tell us that "By virtue of the sacramental connection between sacramental words and their supernatural reality, when the Church speaks her Mystical Voice, she says what she believes and means what she says.... She means Christ, her Spouse, the eternal Son of God, and our Redeemer." When those sacramental words are spoken, in a way the Word is spoken. "The precision of the Church’s sacramental language, consequently, expresses the reality of Christ the Logos..." We want to translate the words correctly, and speak the translation correctly, because we want to correctly know and join with Christ.

Hail to the king, indeed.

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