John M. McCarthy on the Implications of Changing the Pater Noster
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
On the first Sunday of December, the Catholic Québécois recited a new "translation" of the Our Father. "Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation" ("lead us not into temptation") is now rendered "Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation" ("do not let us enter into temptation"). Earlier this past November, the Italian Bishops' Conference approved a similar change to the Italian translation, from "non indurci in tentazione" ("lead us not into temptation") to "non abbandonarci alla tentazione" ("do not abandon us to temptation"). Rather than making a unilateral move in altering the Our Father according to Pope Francis's inferred wishes, it appears that Catholic bishops are taking a "synodal" approach.
A little over fifty years ago, the same Latin translation of the Our Father was said in every Roman Catholic Mass. Now, to go along with just these three languages—Latin, Italian, and French—Catholics can celebrate a genuine diversity in what is signified. Why should any single language, say Latin, maintain a monopoly on meanings? Surely the Catholic Church in her economy can offer a more evolved range, a full smorgasbord.
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John M. McCarthy is a fellow at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife, Aja, and their three children. He is a Roman Catholic and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston College.
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