Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Men" vs. "All"? Equality in Catholic Hymns

Father Scott says, "The Lord be with you" and I automatically reply, "And also with y..." before I realize the majority of the congregation is saying the new response, "And with your spirit."  Strike three for me today while trying to follow the new translation of the Roman Missal.  Better luck next Sunday?

My struggles notwithstanding, one of the benefits of this new translation is that it really makes you pay attention to the words you use and what they mean. Instead of repeating, verbatim, the words we've said for years, one really has to focus.  It's hard not to notice the big changes, like the one from "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but..." to "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but..." and consider why those changes were put in place.  

This new focus seems to have spread to other things in my life, especially in church.  I've always been a fan of words and of using the ones that most perfectly describe what you want to say.  I'm also aware of the ways words can create exclusion and hurt or, conversely, inclusion and joy. I was especially aware of the power of language as I looked with new eyes at the Christmas hymns we sang this morning. I realized that many of them have been changed from the ubiquitous (and, technically, inclusive) "man/men" to words like "all" in an attempt to be more inclusive.  I appreciate these efforts, and have seen them many times over the years in songs or hymnals.  With a long history of singing in choirs, I have most Christmas carols and hymns committed to memory. I learned them before the words were modified, so as I sing without looking at the hymnal, I tend to stumble over the changes. Here's an example:

 From "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" in Today's Missal

"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men," is changed to "Peace on the earth, goodwill to all,"

When this happened during mass today, I mused about the possible impressions this might give to those who aren't Catholic.  I think many people see the Church as an institution mired in the past, patriarchal, stubborn, and unwilling to change.  In some ways, this may be true.  From what I've learned during my RCIA conversion and from discussions with "cradle Catholics," it's more accurate to say that the church changes slowly.  Rather than an immovable stone pillar, the church is akin to a cautious turtle: moving slowly and with concern, but heading in a new direction, nonetheless. The changes in these hymns are indicative of that.  Women aren't allowed to be priests, yet, but the Church is not the extreme patriarchy some may think.  As another hymn says, "All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place..."  The Church has its faults, and there are several things I don't agree with, but this move toward inclusion is one I wholeheartedly support. 

Now if I can just learn to sing them...

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