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The importance of words and their meaning

De Facto

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

God rest John Hume. He was O’Connell and Parnell for our generation. The word he embraced was difference. For him, difference was the essence of our shared humanity. Race, colour, sex or religion didn’t matter. They were an accident of birth. None of us chose them at birth.
Difference is the hallmark of humanity. No two people are the same. We are marked by our differences, just like the leaves, branches and trees. It’s when differences become equated with the word ‘wrong’ that trouble starts. It’s like the difference between the words ‘unity’ and ‘shared’.
John Hume always insisted on a shared rather than a united Ireland. Shared embraces difference rather than isolate it and make it inferior. Unity tends towards sameness rather than acknowledging the unique individual.  
Words are important, simply because they convey a specific meaning. There is a huge difference between ‘united’ and ‘shared.’ It would be a great exercise for anybody, for everybody – walk for a while with both words and see where their meanings lead. Taking a trip from ‘united’ to ‘shared’ is some journey. Difference and sameness are not really good bedfellows.   
Oh that our beloved institutional church would embrace the same notion of embracing difference. Language is also important in church life. In liturgical settings words have specific meanings.
There has long been deep concern among churchgoers over the language used in the liturgy. For many, especially women, it is not inclusive and can cause offence. Anyone can observe that women form more than half of church worshippers. Yet they are noticeable by their absence from high office in the church. Pope Francis is trying to balance the scales, somewhat.
Last week he appointed 13 new members to the Vatican’s Council for the Economy. Six of these were women. The council oversees Vatican finances. This is all well and good but there are serious concerns in other areas of church life.
The Scottish Catholic Bishops have just joined their confrères in England and Wales by signing up to a new translation of the Lectionary, the daily and Sunday Scripture readings at Mass. It follows the recent updating of the Missal with one example of its ugly translation of the Creed from ‘of one being with the Father’ to ‘consubstantial with the Father’. Words matter.
The new Lectionary translation is currently not being considered by Irish Bishops. One wonders why not. Will it be a case of letting the boys across the water do the work and we can adopt it in Ireland when it’s ready in a few years time? That cannot be allowed to happen.
Irish Bishops need to sit up and take action before it’s too late. The Missal translation was a mess, with many clerics and laity describing it as such. One senior bishop even admitted, “We took our eye off the ball on that.”
The proposed translation for use in Britain is the English Standard Version. The concern with this translation is that its language is not inclusive. This will cause unnecessary hurt to many people when it is adopted.
The Church has used the Jerusalem Bible translation since 1981. An updated Revised New Jerusalem Bible translation is already available, as is the New Revised Standard Version. Both use inclusive language.
Speaking after the Scottish Bishops signed the new translation, Dr Sarah Parvis, Senior Lecturer in Patristics at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It is disappointing to learn that the Bishops of Scotland are licensing a new translation of the lectionary which still does not use inclusive language, more than 30 years after the inclusive New Revised Standard Version became available. They really need to consider more carefully the pastoral impact of continuing to prevent Catholic women from recognising themselves as referred to in the words of Scripture in this way….”
Oxford-based Fr Nicholas King SJ said: “I fear this takes us back some 50 years in biblical scholarship, not to mention the use of language that excludes half the human race….”
We don’t want that mistake repeated in Ireland. Too many people have left the Church, why add to it? When will we, as Church, embrace difference rather than unity?