Saturday, November 07, 2009



Saturday meandering. That means I'm wandering aimlessly. Which means I'm kind of going sideways to sideways.

This post is likely to take some time to process, both for myself as I lay it out, and for anyone who takes up the task of reading and following a possible tenuous thread.
In the latest volume of the OCP periodical, TODAY'S LITURGY (Advent-Epiphany 09-10) Dr. Elaine Renler-McQueeny offers the following commentary for the Fourth Sunday of Advent Music Selections (the word emphases are mine, without explanation):

"Our liturgy overflows with the news that our God loves us, and that he has prepared a human body for his Son. Almost everyone is familiar with the scriptural text of the Magnificat. Kudos to musicians for teaching it in song. For a change of pace, here's a contemporary poetic rendering of Mary's Canticle for your Advent reflection. Sometimes we use this version...before meals during this graced season. Teachers often have enjoyed using it with youth at retreats and non-liturgical gatherings. May you and your musicians (and even your liturgy committees) enjoy Mary's Song from The Message.

I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.>

God took one good look at me, and look what happened-
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
The God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
On those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
Scattered the bluffing braggarts,
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
Pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
The callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
He remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
Beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Luke 1:46-55, The Message. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004

When I first read this yesterday I was struck dumb by a number of reactions. What would prompt a reasonably respected Liturgist/Musician to proffer such an impoverished and pretentiously modest translation of a perfect singularity among all of scriptural and liturgical hymntexts ever transcribed and uttered for human edification? Even though Dr. Rendler qualifies its usage as devotional or inspirational, for personal not liturgical assignment, that she would determine that this mixture of pre-adolescent prose in a soup that also contains bodice-ripper images of God's arms that would make Michelangelo blush, and which is a blatantly pale surrogate for the metaphors in the Song of Solomon, as well as a hubris on Mary's part that contradicts (in my estimation) the overall ethos of supreme humility and trust in God explcitly evident in the scripture passage, (pause for breath) confounds me. And I was literally surprised that her source was Zondervan. No more to say on that.

Where I'm going with this is that it might be reasonable to conclude that Dr. Rendler and Archbishop Trautman are philosophical pals if the issue of literacy and understanding of our ritual texts was on their table. Maybe that's a stretch of an assumption, and I know what "assume" can lead to, but....
Abp. Trautman has fired his official salvo across the bow regarding the "intelligibility" with this recent quote: "“The vast majority of God’s people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like ‘ineffable,’ ‘consubstantial,’ ‘incarnate,’ ‘inviolate,’ ‘oblation,’ ‘ignominy,’ ‘precursor,’ ‘suffused’ and ‘unvanquished.’ The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic,”

The standard rendition of the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.


Returning to Dr. Rendler's endorsed version, is Mary bursting after receiving "God-news" literally (like Mr. Creasote in "The Meaning of Life") or is she acting like she just received a full-access pass backstage at a Josh Groban concert?
She dances. Is that magnifying God, and rejoicing? You make the call.
And his mercy "flows wave after wave." I get the generation analogy, but I'm a bit distracted more by an ironic image from the film "From here to eternity." My bad.
I need to wind this down. Obviously I realize that "bluffing braggarts" might be more accessible a term than "ignominy" and that teenagers may get it that "callous" might mean something other than hardened crusty fingertip tissue after a 48 hour "Guitar Hero" marathon.
But the thing that so msytifies me (and truthfully, offends me as a teacher) is that such efforts to make all vocabularies relevant and user-friendly literally insults the noble philosophical goal for all humans to savor the subtleties and treasures gifted to us by God with language. Is there no deeper meaning to transformative power when St. John writes "In the beginning was the Word."? And to think that those nuances become even more precious when they are transformed into many languages other than Latin to English!
When I think of mercies bestowed, I rather tend to think of a helping hand, a fresh breath and a new start and a rising attitude. Heck, I might even break out into singing with Josh- "You raise me UPPPPPPPP..."
But being piled upon, hmmmmmm. And piled on again? You don't want to know what that image could evoke.

1 comment:

Mary Jane said...

I can't stand it when people fuss around with the Magnificat and the Benedictus. To me, the Magnificat is a startling realization by an individual (certainly an individual like no other) that all the longings of Israel are about to be realized in a way no one expected. Perhaps for a brief moment, Our Lady, who was then a Jewish girl of no particular importance, sees that she will be a queen beyond imagining, thanks to the God many Jews believed had abandoned them.

We don't need to make it "easy."