Thursday, June 17, 2010


There is a definite problem with “men” in the Church and there does not seem to be a great solution. This will be most clearly seen in the new translation of the Mass as well as being one of the reasons we need a new translation of the Mass.

“Man” has changed over the past 40 some years; that is, the meaning of man, of men, of brethren. In the new translation if one were to see the priest’s parts at times it will read like this;

“Pray brethren (brothers and sisters) that . . .”

The reason for this is that we no longer have a single word that unites the congregation into a single, familial, covenantal entity. “Brethren” forty some odd years ago meant the entire Church, united together, equal heirs in the kingdom of God. That is no longer the case. As the word “gay” seems to mean something other than a state of happiness in today’s vernacular, “brethren,” for far too many people, means only male gender people.

The biggest problem is that we do not have a new word to take its place.

“People” and similar words do not work for they do not have the connotation of connectedness that brethren had. The word “siblings” comes about as close to what was formally meant by brethren as we have but it also does not quite fit the bill.

“Pray siblings that . . .”

“All translators are betrayers” says the Italian proverb. It is so in this case because we do not have a word to translate “fratres” well into English. Saying, “Pray brothers and sisters that . . .” or “Pray sisters and brothers that . . .” does not fix the problem either. First there is the problem of sensitivity as to who is mentioned first: the men or the women? That there is an order is already a problem. Then there is the obvious of being divided into to two groups of people: one of men and women. “Pray women and men that . . .” This is particularly evident when saying Mass in certain situations in which there just happens to be one man or one woman present amoungst others in the congregation. This may happen at a nursing home Mass, or a small daily Mass or a retreat for women or men etc. “Pray my brothers and sister that . . .” or visa versa. There was someone just completely singled out because of their gender. (There was the case when there a person who would have made up the solitary person of the opposite gender if there were such and for the life of me I could not tell if the person was male or female. THERE was a dice roll . . .)

The argument could be made that we are using much more formal language now and the use of male pronouns and such to denote entire groups of people regardless of sex may be used. But as anyone will tell you that is not always wise. Yet the lack of depth of meaning in saying “sisters AND brothers” is also a loss.

So . . . we are thrown under the buss to decide and the Sacramentary will read, “Pray brethren (brothers and sisters) that . . .”
With challenges like these on the board I'm glad I did not have to be on the committee trying to sort all this out!


melody said...

Speaking as a woman, I would much rather be one of the "brethren" than have someone go through a bunch of awkward shenanigans to make sure I'm not feeling excluded. I confess that if I were on that committee I would have voted for "brethren" without hesitation. I guess that would make me insensitive to...well...myself.

The only time in life when I felt excluded by the Church was when I was a raging secular feminist and when everything any man said or did offended me. Since that time, I've lightened up considerably and recognize that femininity is a gift and not an entitlement to always have my preference.

I think this understandably becomes a huge issue to those whose job it is to focus on words. Because words are powerful, hence the overall changes to the Sacramentary. It's also a huge issue to those women in the Church who are committed to continually raging against a male hierarchy.

The case can certainly be made that in recent history many men feel excluded from an overly feminized liturgy. Women of this culture have become conditioned to "fight for our rights" but too often to the exclusion of our beloved men. We wonder where the priestly vocations are and yet fail to build an environment that is inviting to male sensibilities.

At any rate, my ramblings boil down to my opinion that we women are entirely too thin skinned (ie prideful?). Are there really Christian sisters of mine out there who care if the priest says "brothers" before "sisters"? If we focus on Christ and the abundance of blessings we have as his female followers, harmless (and reasonable) terminology will cease to draw our attention at all let alone raise our hackles.

Pat said...

I have always loved the word "brethren" and consider it a worthy solution for addressing us all and for covering those anomalous situations about which you spoke, Father. Indeed, "brethren" is somewhat phonologically removed from its root word (brother), and is so "Old English" as well, that it has been scrubbed of its male-only meaning, IMHO.

We are in danger of ruining not only our prayers but even our English literary heritage by constantly trying to substitute another word for "man/men." Do we censor John Donne's beautiful writing: "No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...." I don't feel excluded in Donne's profound thought just because I am a woman.

Pat said...

Oh, and don't forget how we now feel compelled to use the plural forms "they," "them," and "their" in sentences that include the collective pronoun "somebody" (or "someone") so as not to offend women. To say, "someone dropped their sandwich" is wrong. "Someone dropped HIS sandwich." Probably no one has it in HIS memory that a singular subject requires singular modifiers.

Matt W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt W said...

If we just had the Mass in Latin, this would be a non-issue. Since such is not the case, I would have voted for His Excellency the Bishop of Erie's choice: "y'ins" (which he preferred only marginally above "guys").

Anonymous said...

Oh dear; if only people would focus on important issues, how much kinder the world could be.

Foxie said...

well, in my language at this time of the mass the priest says "Brothers and sisters" or just "Friends" or "Beloved" or just "Dear(in plural)". It depends on an occasion. When i was in a choir retreat, we had a mass with our chaplain and there were just we girls and him so he said just "Sisters" and I found it very interesting at the moment. I think men and women ARE different and God made men as man and a woman so I don't think it's wrong we remember this also at the mass^__^ I think it's not a bug but a feature:)

bill7tx said...

There's a perfectly good collective word: "Everyone". It could be used in at least some of the places where "fratres" is the word in Latin.

It will do us no good to keep complaining about the loss of the use of "brethren" or the change in sense of the words "men" and "mankind." Language changes over time, and this is one of those changes. I'm "older" and I don't necessarily like it, but there's nothing I can do about it. Unless and until we go back to Latin (and there are practical problems with that, too), we are going to have these issues.