This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Consubstantial Meanings

    Those Mennos in the know will be aware of the great stir last Sunday amongst our Catholic brothers and sisters.  Mere decades into Vatican II, which changed the language of the Mass from Latin to the local vernacular – in my case, American-English, Pope Benedict XVI has mandated new changes to the English Mass in an attempt to unify all English worship services around the world into a single text while realigning that single text to more closely approximate the original Latin phraseology.
    In Menno-speak, this means tweaking the common service similarly to reverting to the New King James Bible over the NIV (New International Version) in order to preserve and highlight key traditional theological teachings (or for German speakers, realigning Luther’s German Bible to more closely reflect the Latin Vulgate).  Essentially, English speaking Roman Catholics are facing the reverse of the 1980s Mennonite (Brüderthaler) decision to replace the “traditional” King James Bible (KJV) with the more approachable and modern NIV.
    As a frequent ecumenical worshipper in Roman Catholic masses, I, like many Catholics, have a series of concerns and hopeful expectations for Benedict’s changes.
    Most Catholics are seemingly focused on the mere concept of changing the texts of the traditional Mass.  As Anabaptists, this would be the equivalent of changing the wordings of many of our beloved hymns to clarify theological terms and more accurately quote the texts of the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures.  Mennonites might then understand the dilemma – to place fundamentalist orthodoxy over meaningful and traditional creative spirituality.  Are the differences in wording really that controversial that we must give up the traditional phrases?
    The Catholic changes have also resulted in some excellent religious reporting by the New York Times.  On 28 Nov, Sharon Otterman observes that, “The introduction of the New [changes] … appeared to pass smoothly in churches, despite some confusion and hesitancy over the new words. …”  But, “… behind the scenes, the debate over the new translation has been angry and bitter, exposing rifts between a Vatican-led church hierarchy that has promoted the new translation as more reverential and accurate, and critics, among them hundreds of priests, who fear it is a retreat from the commitment of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to allowing people to pray in a simple, clear vernacular as they participate in the church’s sacred rites,” (Otterman, see below).
    Father Christopher Robinson, C.M., pastor of Chicago’s DePaul Parish, puts it more mildly, “There will probably be quite a bit of opinions shared, both privately as well as in the media, about the changes we are experiencing in the language of the mass.  The challenges of learning new phrases, the costs connected the purchase of new books and materials, and the sometimes awkward-sounding word choices open us up to a variety of critiques.  One parishioner asked me if this is really the most important issue the Church needs to occupy itself with at this time,” (newsletter).
    As for me, having been raised on the so-called Protestant-Latin of the KJV Bible, reworking words such as consubstantial back into the service is a change towards which I am rather inclined.
    Yet I find myself strangely uncomfortable and perhaps a bit threatened by changes in the Profession of Faith (the I Believe…).  Significantly, the old familiar and inclusive we is replaced by the more American, more modern and more individualistically imposing I.
    Pietist Mennonites believe that Faith and Salvation are matters dependent on the individual or self, but in the context of the We (the community, the congregation, the gemeinde).
    Secular or ethnic Mennonites share this concept of subjugating the self, the I, to the communal identity of the We – a distinct counter-cultural tendency to prefer the old pluralistic gemeinshaft to the more contemporary American preference for gesellshaft – the politics, economy and identity of the individual.
    Traditional Mennonites might also be encouraged by the almost Anabaptist reaction of some Catholics to the changes in text.  Otterman quotes George Lind who attended the new Mass in New York’s Times Square-area Holy Cross Church, “I am so tired of being told exactly what I have to say, exactly what I have to pray … I believe in God, and to me that is the important thing.  ... ” (Otterman).  
    Lind recalls that his anger at being coerced in such a way actually forced him into silence during the service.  In Mennonite tradition, Lind would, of course, be encouraged to use that silence to talk to God in his own words.  Though most Catholics of my acquaintance have already discovered the power of such prayer.
    Overall, most Roman Catholics are being pragmatic about the changes.  Father Chris felt it was useful to reflect on the so-called “Watchman Passages” of Advent that were coincidentally the readings for 27 November (Isaiah 63, I Corinthians 1: 3-9 and Mark 13: 33-37). 
    As Christians, we are called to be attentive, to be aware.  Regarding the new wordings, Father Chris reflects, “There is even a part of me that appreciates having to be more attentive to what I am and am not saying in the new translation,” (newsletter). 
    In other words, take this moment as a time to get out of the rut of rote participation.  Pay new attention to the words and experience anew the meaning of the Mass and the love of Christ.
    In Father Chris’ words, “The new translation makes this easy.  If I do not pay attention, I am going to fumble around in my words and miss a few things.  The … attentiveness that Advent calls us to runs much deeper,” (newsletter).
    Just as Mennonites successfully faced many challenges changing from the German to the English (or Spanish), changing from the King James Bible to the NIV, and changing from the old traditional hymns to contemporary Evangelicalism’s lighter Christian melodies, Father Chris indicates a hopeful acceptance of such changes.  The terms of the Old Mass are consubstantially the same as those of the new.  As Father Chris recognizes, “… The light of Christ will not be extinguished for having changed a few words” (Mass).

Courtesy of and (c) St Vincent DePaul Parish, Chicago, IL.

  • Otterman, Sharon, “Catholic Church Uses New Translation of Mass, Closer to the Original Latin,” The New York Times, New York section, 28 Nov 2011, p A17, A18.
  • Robinson, Father Christopher, Vincent’s People, 27 Nov 2011, Parish bulletin, Chicago, IL, p 5.
  • Robinson, Father Christopher, text of homily, 27 Nov 2011, Saint Vincent  de Paul Roman Catholic Church, Chicago, IL.


  1. Some helpful links:

  2. 01 Dec -- a heads up -- I changed the text surrounding the Lind quote by shortening it and clarifying that the commonality between Lind and the Anabaptists is not the anger but rather the impulse to use one's own words to form prayer. The following clarifying paragraph is also an edited addition. Thanks.


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