June 6, 2011

To Stand In Your Presence And Serve You

The other day I heard a priest mention how he doesn't speak this section of Eucharistic Prayer II as it is presented: We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. The people are kneeling, after all (at least in the United States), so how can it make sense to say that they are standing?

I have heard this complaint a number of times over the years, and just as often I have heard the text changed to something more like be in your presence and serve you.

I'm not ranting about the changing of one little word; it seems to me like something more troubling is at work here. How is it that someone who has just let his voice work through something as deep and mysterious as consenting to let the Lord's speech pass through him to speak a little bit of bread and a cup of wine into the Body and Blood of Christ then cannot abide to speak the verb 'stand' in a metaphorical way?

After all, 'to stand' is a verb which we are constantly and routinely using in figurative and metaphorical ways, even across cultures and languages. So how is that liturgical speech, which one would hope had some preeminence among the sorts of our speaking, is not even given the benefit of the ordinary flexibility and depth of language?

I think it speaks to the standard traditionalist complaint about the loss of mystery and transcendence in the liturgy. Not that the usus antiquior is the answer; the Extraordinary Form can be celebrated in small-minded and wooden ways as well.

On the theological level, we have to remember that just because we insist on certain words as a way to guarantee that we fall within the window of orthodoxy, it doesn't mean that the referents of these words are precisely defined. I know that I have to say that the Blessed Trinity is three persons and one deity, or that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures hypostatically united, but to say exactly what these words mean is another story altogether, and a long one at that. Theological speech delineates boundaries more than it establishes what some of the other sciences would call precision.

Further, we should not shrink from symbolic or metaphorical speech in our prayer out of fear for the charge of 'it's just a symbol' or 'it's just a metaphor.' These are the complaints of those who live in a reduced and small reality, in a world in denial of the spiritual. As any reflective person knows, symbols and metaphors can be extremely powerful.

In any case, such priests will be happy with the new translation, which resolves their difficulty, though probably without meeting their complaint: ...giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.


Michael Hallman said...

This reminds me of a comment one of my brother novices made when one of our friars was complaining about the new translations' use of "consubstantial" on the grounds that the people won't understand what it means. The novice replied, "Well, for that matter, how many people can tell you what one in being really means?" The point wasn't so much to agree with the change to consubstantial as it was to point out that any language we use is always going to be limited and always necessarily points to a mystery beyond the boundaries of our linguistic and rational capabilities. Perhaps we don't appreciate enough Thomas' comment that any language used to speak of God is necessarily analogous.

Brother Charles said...

Indeed. Thomas understood the relationship between theological speech and scientific conclusions drawn from sense data much better than many people even today.

Fr. Richard said...

I always thought that presiders who added, "This is Jesus" during the lamb of God did not have a good understanding of the ascension. Whatever the changes, let just commit to what is written.

Brother Charles said...

Yes! That one drives me crazy. It's another reason not to change the words: sometimes you just display the inadequacy of your understanding!

pennyante said...

Euch. Prayer II works fine in my diocese, since we ARE standing at this point.

Julia said...

Has no one ever said the Memorare while kneeling? :)

Brother Charles said...

Good point!