In the August 2005 AD2000 I pointed out that unauthorised translations of the psalms were being used at Mass in Brisbane's St Stephen's Cathedral. They were designed to remove masculine pronouns referring to God in spite of their abundance in the Hebrew originals.
As my article explained, I drew this liturgical abuse to the attention of the Brisbane episcopacy, but it continued unchecked.
I now owe readers an update. On 4 September and 30 October 2005 I wrote elaborately documented letters pleading with Archbishop Bathersby to end this abuse, and I can at last report that, since 3 January 2006, the offending translations have disappeared and been replaced with the officially approved ones, at any rate on weekdays.
While it is disappointing that this much-needed reform should have been delayed for two full years, its eventual implementation is nevertheless most welcome and has delighted several friends who attend weekday Mass at the Cathedral.
But what is happening on Sundays? Only very rarely do I attend Sunday Mass at the Cathedral, but I was at the 10am Mass there on Sunday 26 February 2006, when masculine pronouns referring to God were once again illicitly changed in the psalm (Ps. 102).
Furthermore, verse 13 of this psalm, ‘As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear him’, was changed to ‘As parents have compassion on their children ...’. This hacking at the text damages the theology: if we keep the psalmist's own word ‘father’ here, we have one of the Old Testament foreshadowings of the New Testament's Trinitarian doctrine of God the compassionate Father; if we have the audacity to ‘improve’ the psalm, we do not.
On 7 March 2006, I wrote again to Archbishop Bathersby, thanking him for the weekday improvements but also drawing this latest Sunday abuse to his attention and seeking his assurance that this sort of thing would cease. I have not received any reply.
At the Brisbane suburban church that I dubbed St Bede's in my previous article, there has also been some disturbing backsliding, in spite of the Archbishop's ban on its ultrafeminist translations in 2003. On Good Friday 2006, at the 3pm Liturgy, devout parishioners were shocked and upset by the many gross departures from the prescribed texts on one of the most solemn and sombre days of the liturgical year.
Jesus' words ‘Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?’ were changed to ‘... the cup God has given me’. This paralleled the removal of the ‘sexist’ Trinitarian terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ at St Bede's in 2003. And just as in 2003, masculine pronouns were, as far as possible, removed from Jesus, so were they removed once again in 2006: for example, ‘his disciples’ became ‘the disciples’, three times.
In 2003, one device for removing divine masculine pronouns at St Bede's was to change ‘he’ to ‘you’. On Good Friday 2006 this strategy was taken to ludicrous extremes. In the moving ‘Suffering Servant’ passage from Isaiah, all the masculine pronouns referring to the Servant were switched from the third person to the second, so that ‘he’, ‘him’ and ‘his’ became ‘you’ and ‘your’ throughout. The reason for this bizarre procedure was apparently that the Church interprets the Servant prophecy as referring to Jesus (Acts 8:26-35), and the pastor of St Bede's prefers to avoid masculine pronouns for Jesus. No matter that this is one of the most famous passages in the Old Testament and that even educated non-Christians will know from Handel's Messiah that it runs ‘He was despised and rejected’, etc, not ‘You were’.
Other arbitrary changes included the following: the shifting of the Communion Rite from the end of the liturgy to the beginning; the kitschy interpolation of the refrain ‘It is accomplished’ on eight occasions during the reading of the Passion, each to the accompaniment of a single loud drum-beat; the removal of St John's words ‘the Jews’ and ‘Jewish’ in eight places; various unauthorised omissions and rearrange-ments of parts of the Passion; and the obsessive shunning of the ‘sexist’ word ‘man’, with absurd results: for instance, when Jesus, before Pilate, says, speaking hypothetically, ‘If my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought ...’, St Bede's changes ‘men’ to ‘friends’. Why?
Did ancient militias include women? No. Does the Greek original say ‘friends’ here? It does not. What does it say? Hyperetai. What does this mean? Underlings, servants or subordinates. In this purely hypothetical military context, ‘men’ (as opposed to ‘officer’ or ‘commander’) is exactly right.
On 30 April 2006, I reported these proceedings to Archbishop Bathersby, expressing the hope that the priest concerned would be ‘charitably instructed’ to stick to the book next Good Friday, in accordance with the requirements of Redemptionis Sacramentum. I have received no reply from the Archbishop, in spite of having sent him what I called a ‘gentle reminder’ on 3 July.
All this goes to show how wise Mother Church is to insist on the use of her duly approved Lectionary for her liturgy, and what folly it is to try to force Holy Writ into the Procrustean bed of a fashionable but flawed ideology.
Dr Michael Apthorp is an Honorary Research Adviser in the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland.