'Men' in the Creed

Question: I have been in two parishes where during the Profession of Faith (Creed), the priest dropped the word “men” from the sentence, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” The congregation says the word “men,” but the priest doesn’t. Has the Church sanctioned the wording of the priest? Surely the Church is one place where we should not be afraid of our prayers and be politically correct. 

— Name and city withheld, Ohio

Answer: I am the last person to suggest that priests or anyone else ought to make changes in the official wording of the liturgy. It is particularly disruptive when priests make changes to texts that are recited in common. The Church needs a uniform language, and chaos breaks out if everyone makes adaptations to his or her taste. Needless to say, ecclesiastical authorities do not approve of what you have found in the two parishes you attended. (Most people know there will be new Mass translations in the English-speaking world next Advent. But the same principle of fidelity to given texts applies — which in the matter you mention will involve no change.)

Having said that, the fundamental issue inherent in what you describe is the evolution of the English language in matters of gender. Traditionally, the words “man” and “men” had two references: one to the male species, and the other to people in general (men and women). This is no longer the case. Increasingly today “man” and “men” refer only to the male gender. Thus fewer people today use the words “man” and “men” when referring to the human race more generally. People (including myself) more commonly speak of “man and woman,” “men and women,” “humankind,” “humanity.”

This evolution in the English language creates problems for the translation of Latin texts. The word “men” in the phrase “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven” is a translation of the Latin word homines. But in Latin, the words homo and homines do not refer only to “man” and “men” in the narrow English sense; they refer to all humankind. The problem, then, is not the Latin wording of the Creed but modern English, which has narrowed the words “man” and “men” to mean the male species and has found no adequate replacement to the old gender-inclusive “men.”

One might argue that “For us and for our salvation” is a less misleading translation than “For us men and for our salvation,” but those who have overseen the present (and new) liturgical translations thought that dropping the word “men” would mean being unfaithful to the original text, and — more to the point — there was no better English word available. 

The fundamental solution, it seems to me, is to have Catholics learn to become comfortable with two kinds of English when it comes to gender-language issues: traditional English (which is what we will continue to find in the Creed and some other liturgical texts — as well as in Shakespeare and Cardinal Newman) and the evolving form of English, which on gender-language issues will no longer habitually use the words “men” and “man” for the human race generally. 

Many Catholic women today feel that the Church undervalues them: That is the most basic issue behind the sensitivity over language issues. I surmise that when women have more of a say in how the Church is run and fully occupy the roles open to them, then language issues will not be so neuralgic. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.