Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gender Neutral Language

Something that has become more of an issue lately in all Christian denominations seems to be inclusive language. "Inclusive language" is pretty self-explanatory but it basically involves saying "brothers and sisters" instead of "brothers" or "women and men" instead of "men".

There are two things about inclusive language that I'd like to comment as I see it affecting us as Catholics.

1) Certainly St. Paul, for example, was writing to all people, not just the men, so his word "men" or "brothers" IS inclusive of all. However, at the same time, I think there are good arguments for changing the words of the Mass that refer to only one sex to be inclusive of all people.

However - it is very problematic when people decide for themselves to change the wording of the Mass. To decide for oneself to choose different phrasings for the creed or any other part of the Mass is heading down a very problematic path - the path where a person begins to say "I know what is best, not the Church." I think one day the Church may very well make changes to the parts of the Mass that refer to humanity to sound more inclusive, but when we think we can do it for them, when we feel free to make the changes ourselves, when we've already decided that we know what should be done, then we are heading down a dark road of seeing ourselves as the final authority who has had quite enough of the repressive regime of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

2) A similar problem to inclusive language is the issue of people deciding to no longer refer to God as "He". It is true that the triune God is without gender, however, when the prayer is addressed to God the Father, then gender neutral titles are not acceptable. Along those lines, a lot of the prayers that are offered to God are offered to God the Father even though it just says "God". For example, the proper prayers for Mass usually end in "we offer these prayers through our Lord Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit..."; these prayers, then, are being offered to GOD THE FATHER. I once read somewhere that liturgical prayers should always be offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. If prayers are addressed to God the Father, we need to use the words that signify that precisely because it reveals a constitutive part of who God the Father is. A father-son relationship is different than a mother-son relationship and to pretend there aren't differences seems harmful.

Given all of this, it would be wrong, then, to shed all masculine titles for God, because in the liturgy "God" = "God the Father".

The next time you are tempted to say
"for us (protesting pause instead of "men") and for our salvation" in the Creed or
"May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of God's (not His) name, for our good and the good of all God's (instead of His) Church."
fight the urge and know that there is more going on than just changing words.