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April 2011 Vol 50 no 2


COMMUNICATING THE SACRED

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Contents

Translating the Divine

There are few issues in the life of the Church guaranteed to provoke more controversy than the language that is used in liturgy and theology. In particular, the debate on the importance of inclusive language (whether, for instance, the word ‘men’ can be used to refer to a mixed group of males and females) has raged in the English-speaking world for several decades, and shows little sign of reaching consensus. Teresa White asks what the experience of European languages in which most nouns are assigned a gender might contribute to this debate.

Liturgy and Communication

One of the ways in which The Way is marking its golden jubilee year is by reprinting a key article from each decade of the journal’s life. The 1970s, in the Roman Catholic Church, were marked by efforts to implement the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. Kevin Donovan was a British Jesuit influential in both the theory and the practice of the renewal of the liturgy that the Council had called for. In this article from 1972 he asks how liturgy can best communicate God’s message to the whole variety of people who come to church.

Our Lady, Lead Us to Christ!

Since the Reformation, the role of the mother of Christ in God’s plan of salvation has been the subject of much discussion. The early Jesuits found that they were frequently called upon to address this topic, without (as Ignatius himself had decreed) stirring up unnecessary controversy. Frederik Heiding considers the nature of the devotion those early Jesuits themselves had to Mary, and how this might have relevance for us in today’s more ecumenical context.

Spiritual Freedom as Liberation Within: Lessons from the Gulag Era

‘Freedom!’ is a rallying-cry that can readily unite Christians with people of other faiths and none, and the achievement of spiritual freedom is often seen as a primary goal of the Christian quest. Growing up in a Soviet-dominated Lithuania, and living through that country’s journey to independence, gives a particular sharpness to Ligita Ryliskyte’s analysis of this complex theme.

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Sit, Stand, Walk: The Art of Spiritual Direction

The rapid growth in the numbers of individuals looking for spiritual direction has been one of the key developments in Christian spirituality in recent decades. Once it was thought to be the preserve of clergy and religious; now lay-people are increasingly both seeking and offering this kind of accompaniment. But what is it that someone who approaches a spiritual director is actually seeking? Phiiip Seddon offers a range of answers, from an Anglican perspective.

The Camino and the Cochlear Implant: Being Guided into the Way of Peace

In recent years The Way has featured a number of articles in which those who have made pilgrimages of one kind or another reflect upon their experience. What makes Philip Shano’s article unique is that his plans to walk the Camino, the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostella, had to be put on hold as he faced treatment for a brain tumour that left him completely deaf. It was only after a new medical device restored something of his hearing, that he set out to fulfil his earlier dream.

Seeking Sanctity in Our Contemporary World

In the book of Leviticus (19:2), God instructs the people ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’. This command is addressed to everyone; sanctity is not to be the preserve of only a few. What might responding to such a call mean in today’s world, in our own vastly different circumstances? Hector Scerri, a Maltese diocesan priest, draws on the example of those recognised as living holy lives throughout the ages to arrive at a contemporary understanding.

Purity of Heart

‘Purity of heart’ is a theme that is widespread and influential in the Christian tradition, yet probably requires quite a lot of explanation if it is to help shape the life of a twenty-first-century believer. Stephen Munzer sets out to provide such an explanation, combining insights derived from psychology, theology and moral philosophy. He concludes that this is an ideal that in the end outstrips even morality, and demands the grace of God if it is to be realised.

Book Reviews

on a new biography of Oscar Romero
on practical and pastoral theology
on Aquinas' understanding of the emotions
on the diary of an inner-city parson
on God as first cause
on the Cistercian life
on Catholic social teaching and public policy in Ireland
on illness and the search for God
on comparative theology
on theology in post-communist culture

From the Foreword

LATER THIS YEAR the Roman Catholic Church in most of the English-speaking world will begin to pray with a new translation of the original Latin texts in its eucharistic liturgy. The present translation, in use for more than four decades, was based in part upon the principle of ‘dynamic equivalence’—what phrasing would have a comparable effect on a native speaker of the language into which the translation is being made as the original words would have on one who spoke that language. This could, and did, lead on occasion to translations that seemed to some to be distant from the Latin, and it has been decided that something more literal is required. If this means that familiar words are replaced with less familiar, perhaps more technical, ones, it is argued that this provides an excellent opportunity for education. This change has not been uncontroversial. Apart from a debate about the manner of its imposition, the difference between the existing translation and the one that replaces it raises fundamental questions about how human beings communicate their experience of the sacred to one another, and how this communication becomes enshrined in a common language. This edition of The Way does not enter directly into the controversy about the new liturgical translation—to many of our readers this might seem a parochial affair, by which they are little affected. But many of the articles to be found here share a concern with making age-old spiritual themes comprehensible to a contemporary audience.

Topics such as purity of heart, spiritual freedom, or even sanctity itself, can easily seem esoteric and unconnected with the struggles of everyday living even to a dedicated Christian, let alone to those ‘people of good will’ beloved of recent papal documents. Yet, properly understood, they have as much as ever to say to questions of what it means to live a good life. The analysis of purity of heart offered by Stephen Munzer, for example, synthesizes insights from psychology, philosophy and theology to present a picture of a ‘mature innocence’ the achievement of which would transform one’s existence in the world. It has clear parallels with the concept of sanctity that Hector Scerri explores, concluding that it demands no more, and yet no less, than an ordinary and faithful discipleship. Ligita Ryliskyte’s presentation of spiritual freedom seems at first sight to be much more demanding, rooted as it is in the experience of those who suffered in Soviet-era Gulags. Yet ultimately she regards such freedom more as gift from God than as human achievement, and as a gift that is, furthermore, offered to everyone.

Traditionally one of the tasks of spiritual direction has been to help the one being directed to put what might have been initially a somewhat inchoate and unfocused experience of the divine into words that are in principle comprehensible by others (or at least by the one offering direction). In a wide-ranging presentation that moves from the music of Annie Lennox to the spiritual theology of Thomas Goodwin, a seventeenth-century Puritan preacher, Philip Seddon considers the expectations that one might realistically have of such direction. Philip Shano, himself a spiritual director of considerable experience, describes the spiritual lessons he learnt from a pilgrimage made in the aftermath of a brain tumour and subsequent deafness. At the time of the Reformation the role of the Virgin Mary in communicating the sacred to human beings became a source of fierce controversy. Fredrik Heiding describes here what this came to mean to the early Jesuits who lived in the midst of this debate.

Two articles, written nearly forty years apart, address more directly the question of how spiritual experience might best be communicated. Teresa White approaches the well-worn topic of the use of ‘inclusive language’ in liturgy from a new angle, by considering what difference is made by reflecting upon those languages in which every noun is itself either masculine or feminine. In a continuing celebration of The Way’s golden jubilee, we reprint an article from 1972 in which Kevin Donovan broadens discussion of the last new translation of liturgical texts to explore the preconditions for liturgy to be able to communicate any experience of the divine at all. His call for a presentation that respects the needs not simply of the professionally religious, but also of those with a more tentative grasp of worship and of church membership, has a very contemporary ring to it. ‘In the beginning was the Word’, and words remain among the principal ways in which we human beings communicate our experience of the sacred to one another. The gestures of liturgy, or the experience of being on the receiving end of silent, loving service, may be as, or even on occasion more, important. But any journal editor is predisposed to believe that the careful choice of words counts. It is not easy to communicate experiences that are both deep and personal accurately and comprehensibly. But if faith is going to be, to our contemporaries, more than simply a museum relic from the past, this is a task that must be carried out.

Paul Nicholson SJ

 

 

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