One of you readers here sent this. It is by H.L Mencken, an influential American columnist in the 20th c. He was prodigiously clever, but clever enough to avoid being a fan of Nietzche and an enemy of religion. He was universally read, but he wasn’t universally liked. More on him HERE. In 1931 the Arkansas legislature passed a motion to pray for Mencken’s soul after he had called the state the “apex of moronia.” That from what some people would call a “Baltimoron”. Yes, he was from that city.
In any event, a new round of liturgy wars that is probably going to erupt, now that we have Magnum principium and some a about it from Pope Francis that was as clear as mud about the principles of translation laid down in Liturgiam authenticam. (Hint: Liturgiam authenticam is still in force, but Pope Francis suggested that some of it might not be. But we don’t have any document explaining which parts and how, etc.)
So, about that whole “liturgy has to be understandable” thing that libs relentless push: It has to change all the Time! It mustn’t be tooo haaaard for the simply people in the pew … blah blah blah. Because that’s what liturgy is for, right? “No mystery here, folks! Keep moving.” It’s enough to make you … I dunno… do what you do when you are exasperated by stupid.
The stupid! IT BURNS!
Let’s see what religion hater Mencken wrote about translation. Make popcorn and get a beverage in your Fr. Z swag mug. My usual treatment.
by H. L. Mencken (from the Smart Set, October 1923)
Whoever it was who translated the Bible into excellent French prose is chiefly responsible for the collapse of Christianity in France. Contrariwise, the men who put the Bible into archaic, sonorous and often unintelligible English gave Christianity a new lease of life wherever English is spoken. They did their work at a time of great theological blather and turmoil, when men of all sorts, even the least intelligent, were beginning to take a vast and unhealthy interest in exegetics and apologetics. [In a way, this was a draw back of the Liturgical Movement, which put helpful explanations and texts into people’s hands: some people got the idea that they were now experts on liturgy. Even today there are those in the traditional camp who focus on how the book was moved to their liking or if the bell was rung properly, or if Father wiggled his left finger at the third comma in their old St. Joseph Missal… thus missing the point of why they are there in the first place. These folks are few, but they can be vocal and unhelpful. But I digress.] They were far too shrewd to feed this disconcerting thirst for ideas with a Bible in plain English; the language they used was deliberately artificial even when it was new. [REMEMBER: When the Roman liturgy shifted from Greek to Latin, the Latin used was NOT the Latin spoken in the streets, the “vernacular”. It was highly stylized, drawing on old Roman prayer and concepts from philosophy, etc.] They thus dispersed the mob by appealing to its emotions, as a mother quiets a baby by crooning to it. [Keep in mind that Mencken hates religion.] The Bible that they produced was so beautiful that the great majority of men, in the face of it, could not fix their minds upon the ideas in it. To this day it has enchanted the English-speaking peoples so effectively that, in the main, they remain Christians, at least sentimentally. Paine has assaulted them, Darwin and Huxley have assaulted them, and a multitude of other merchants of facts have assaulted them, but they still remember the twenty-third Psalm when the doctor begins to shake his head, they are still moved beyond compare (though not, alas, to acts!) by the Sermon on the Mount, and they still turn once a year from their sordid and degrading labors to immerse themselves unashamed in the story of the manger. It is not much, but it is something. [It’s quite a lot, actually. Those are moments of grace and opportunity to which not a few respond.] I do not admire the general run of American Bible-searchers — Methodists, United Brethren, Baptists, and such vermin. But try to imagine what the average low-browed Methodist would be if he were not a Methodist but an atheist!
The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astounding imbecilities, [LOL! Not to mention imbeciles!] has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. [Edging closer to the concept of MYSTERY… mysterium tremendum et fascinans.] It is accused by Protestant dervishes of withholding the Bible from the people. To some extent this is true; to the same extent the church is wise; again to the same extent it is prosperous. Its toying with ideas, in the main, have been confined to its clergy, and they have commonly reduced the business to a harmless play of technicalities—the awful concepts of Heaven and Hell brought down to the level of a dispute of doctors in long gowns, eager only to dazzle other doctors. Its greatest theologians remain unknown to 99% of its adherents. [And then came Twitter.] Rome, indeed, has not only preserved the original poetry in Christianity; it has also made capital additions to that poetry—for example, the poetry of the saints, of Mary, and of the liturgy itself. A solemn high mass must be a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under the big-top by a Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone. [A famous English convert – Chesteron? – remarked that one of the reasons he converted is that when he went into Catholic churches, the people left him alone. They weren’t slobbering over him in faux welcoming and glad-handing.]
Preaching is not an essential part of the Latin ceremonial. [Because we have more than just “words”.] It was very little employed in the early church, [Ummm… wrong. Sorry, H.L.] and I am convinced that good effects would flow from abandoning it today, or, at all events, reducing it to a few sentences, more or less formal. [And can we stipulate that perhaps fewer priests and permanent deacons should have faculties to preach?] In the United States the Latin brethren have been seduced by the example of the Protestants, [HOW TIMELY!] who commonly transform an act of worship into a puerile intellectual exercise; instead of approaching God in fear and wonder these Protestants settle back in their pews, cross their legs, and listen to an ignoramus try to prove that he is a better theologian than the Pope. This folly the Romans now slide into. Their [lib] clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity. A bishop in his robes, playing his part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a dignified spectacle, even though he may sweat freely; the same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour later, [These days, in favor of things that Darwin would have known eliminated certain lines from the gene pool… if you get my drift.] is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a bald head, the son of a respectable saloon-keeper in South Bend, Ind. [Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.]Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.
And I had just read… I mean minutes before… this stupendously daft bit by the Wile E. Coyote of the catholic Left at Fishwrap and cadres of the New catholic Red Guards, Michael Sean Winters. He is lamenting the agenda of the upcoming US bishops meeting:
The day Magnum Principium was issued, I remarked to a friend: “This directive from the Holy See presumes that the bishops’ conferences are even capable of having the kinds of discussions needed to bring about an effective translation, and I am not at all sure our bishops’ conference still has that capacity.” I remember the days when Archbishops Daniel Pilarczyk, Oscar Lipscomb, Rembert Weakland and Bishop Donald Trautman would discuss these issues posed by liturgical translations, drawing on years of scholarship and learning.
Oh dear. I remember those days, too.
Mencken would have had a lot to say about them.