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Divine Office “Inclusive Language”?
Q. In our religious community, when praying the Divine Office some of the older sisters are changing the word “brothers” to either “brothers and sisters” or just to “sisters.” When not referring to Our Lord, they also change the word “sons” to “sons and daughters” or just “daughters.”
Many of us younger sisters are having a hard time with this since, as far as we know, the pope has not given approval to be doing this, nor have the Catholic bishops.
We were told by one source that the words could be changed in the intercessory prayers of the Divine Office but not in the readings. Is this true?
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The answer is really quite simple: We are to use only the approved translations and are not to make the substitutions to which you refer.
The basic rule in all liturgy is that no one is to change anything on his or her own. This is even the case when the translations, for whatever reason, are arguably deficient.
If, in the future, approved translations make use of “inclusive” language, then we will use that. But in the meantime, yes, we are to be obedient even in these “small” matters.
The way you describe the current practice in your community is not quite as alarming as other language revisions might be. What is going on here is called horizontal “inclusive language” — that is, language referring to our human peers — which today is an understandable response to the inherent limitations in translation from Latin to English. In Latin the word fratres is gender inclusive: It means “everyone” as in “brothers and sisters,” although it could also be limited to male brothers.
Of course, it used to be in English (and for many people, it still is the case) that the word “brethren” was also gender inclusive and meant the same thing. But with the fallout from the culture wars in the United States over the last couple of decades, many people feel that “brethren” excludes the women, and nobody likes to feel left out. So that’s where we are.
I call your practice of horizontal “inclusive language” not as alarming because I do not think there are any theological principles at stake. On the other hand, the more radical vertical “inclusive language” — that is, language referring “upward” to God — is far more serious and erroneous, and must be resisted.
I mean the revisions by which some folks would refer to God as “She” or at least avoid altogether the masculine pronouns in referring to God (He, Him, His, Himself), as if the use of such pronouns is somehow improper. The Scripture consistently uses masculine pronouns for God, as did our Lord Jesus; we cannot reasonably claim, then, that such language is improper.
It may be that horizontal “inclusive” language phrases could be used in the intercessory prayer section of the Divine Office, although I am not familiar with such practice since the intercessory prayers are fairly static.
At Mass, however, there seems to be much more room for using “inclusive” phrases, such as during the various invitations to pray. At the Orate fratres, for example, it is expressly indicated that the celebrant can use phrases other than “Pray, brethren.”
For example, if only women were in the congregation at a particular Mass, it would not make sense to invite them to pray at that moment with “Pray, brethren.” Rather, “Pray, my sisters,” would be more accurate and elegant.
In the same way, at the beginning of the holy Eucharist the celebrant in your community could say, “My sisters, in order to prepare ourselves to celebrate these Sacred Mysteries, let us call to mind our sins.”
So what should you do in your case? Kindly suggest that everyone stick to the script, at least when praying the Divine Office in common. You might also respectfully ask your elders why they are doing what they are doing.
I do not think, however, that it is an issue worth arguing about. Count your blessings that you are living in a community that prays the Divine Office!
Why Christmas Trees?
Q. Why do we have Christmas trees? How did the custom originate, since it’s not in the Bible and I’ve never heard about the custom in the ancient Church?
R.R., Houston, Texas
A. Though Christians in our culture tend to take Christmas trees for granted, a child may sometimes ask the obvious question: What does a tree have to do with Jesus’ birthday?
We don’t really know for sure how this holiday tradition began. What we do know is that about 500 years ago, Christmas trees began showing up in homes throughout Germany. Small fir trees were decorated with apples, wafers, nuts, dates, pretzels, paper flowers, and sugar ornaments, which children collected as gifts on Christmas Day. Over a period of several centuries, the Christbaum, or “Christ tree,” spread to other nations, including the United States.
However the first Christmas tree came to be, today it has become a beautiful symbol of the Nativity. Like the evergreen branches, God’s love never withers. The lights remind us that Christ is the light of the world. Bells, a sign of joy, make us think of church bells calling us to worship Him.
An angel atop the tree points to the angels that announced His birth. A star on the highest branch represents the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Wise Men. Gold-colored ornaments remind us of the gold they brought to Jesus. Candy canes look like a shepherd’s crook; they recall that shepherds visited the stable, and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Why, then, do we have Christmas trees today? Because they help us remember who Jesus is and why He was born.
Homosexuality and Chastity
Q. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity” (2359). Heterosexuals have the option of chastity or marriage. If as a heterosexual person I consider the option of perpetual chastity and do not believe I have the will to maintain this state, I have the option to pursue marriage.
It seems to me homosexuals have been disadvantaged by a lack of choice in this regard and have a steeper slope to climb to achieve salvation. This strikes me as unfair and inconsistent with the love and compassion of God for mankind. Can you help me understand this apparent inconsistency?
Bob Nemmers, via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Let’s start with the distinction between “chastity” and “continence.” All persons are called by God to the virtue of chastity.
One’s state of life determines what form that virtue will take for oneself. Chastity for the single person and for a religious means continence and purity. For the married, chastity means purity in total fidelity and devotion to one’s spouse.
Since in God’s plan persons with same-sex attraction have only the option of purity and continence, you think this is “unfair,” that it is “inconsistent” with what we know of God’s love.
It may be true that, as you say, the person with same-sex attraction has “a steeper slope to climb” on the way to salvation. Your reasoning seems to be that if a person has a “steeper slope to climb” that someone else, that is “unfair” and “inconsistent’ with God’s love.
Your underlying assumption seems to be that everyone should have the same difficulty (or the same ease) in “climbing” to salvation. But there is nothing in God’s revelation to support or even suggest that assumption. Each person is unique. Each path to salvation, though directed toward the same Lord, is unique.
Indeed, the path will be more difficult for some than for others. This is not because God plays favorites, not because He chooses to be “inconsistent” and in His bestowal of love. Not at all.
Rather, God totally respects the unique gifts and background of each person. He seeks to work with each person in the context of that person’s situation.
There are various theories about the origin of same-sex attraction, but there is absolutely no evidence that God actively intends for some persons to have same-sex attraction. Even so, the fact that God has allowed the condition to appear shows that it He can somehow incorporate it into His overall plan for that person’s life. A person with same-sex attraction must continually seek to cooperate with God in fulfilling that plan.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that it is demeaning to a person to assume that because he is so much the slave of his hormones, it is impossible for him to live a chaste life.
Q. What exactly is an oratory?
G.N., St. Louis, Mo.
A. An oratory (from the Latin orare, “to pray”) is a place set aside by the bishop or diocese for divine worship, but usually not intended for the general public. The bishop and liturgical laws may limit the liturgical ceremonies to be performed in an oratory, which is not strictly meant for solemn public use. There are three types of oratories:
(1) public, for religious communities;
(2) semi-public, for some specific groups; and
(3) private, for a family or individual.
In common speech, “oratory” is often used to refer to a small chapel in a private home.
The Truth About Santa Claus?
Q. I’ve had a number of disagreements with my friends, Catholic and non-Catholic, about what we should tell our children about Santa Claus. What do you think?
M.B., via email
A. This particular debate never seems to end. Is Santa Claus a bit of harmless fun, or a lie that turns kids' attention away from Jesus? What should we tell our youngsters about St. Nick?
Why not tell them the truth? I don’t mean a somber lecture about how reindeer can’t really fly. I mean the story of the real, historical St. Nicholas—a man whose life pointed beautifully to Jesus.
Born in Asia Minor more than sixteen centuries ago, Nicholas was a bishop who gave his life to serve others. He worked miracles and brought many people to faith in Christ. He also shared his wealth with the poor and took special care of children.
We don’t know much more for sure than that, though legends abound. But this much is certain: St. Nicholas shone so brightly with the love of Jesus that the Church has never been able to forget him.
Over the years, some Christians honored him by dressing up like him and giving children gifts. As his fame spread across many countries, his costume and his name took many forms. The Dutch called him “Santa Claus” and introduced him to America. In our country, the red suit, sleigh and reindeer were added to his portrait.
Whatever we may think of these more recent notions of St. Nicholas, they shouldn’t keep us from telling our children the truth about a great servant of God. If we share with them the story of the real St. Nicholas, we won’t be turning their attention away from Jesus. Instead, we’ll be showing them how the Child of the manger can shine even now through a heart that’s devoted to Him.
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