By Christopher Pineo
The Boston Pilot
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts welcomed Father Benedict Groeschel and three experts on language and liturgy to speak as part of a day-long event before their annual President’s Council Dinner on Dec. 3 in Boston.
In the evening, a fellow Franciscan helped Father Groeschel, a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in 1987 and director of the Office for Spiritual Development for the Archdiocese of New York, into a high-backed chair as he took the stage during applause from the crowd in the 500-seat Harvard Hall.
He began the keynote address speaking on the subject of a transition between the social upheaval in the 1960s and 1970s and a movement toward more open governance in the current times, detailing his views on what the Church can expect in the future. His keynote address outlined a sense of optimism for people of faith, despite the complications caused by secularization in the United States.
Father Groeschel’s keynote address capped a day-long symposium, “The Language of Liturgy: Does It Matter?” featuring three speakers discussing aspects of the changes to the new Roman Missal.
Father George Rutler, Russell R. Reno, and Anthony Esolen each addressed the changes in the language of the liturgy from casual, academic, and artistic perspectives.
“Each of these speakers for different reasons has a known excellence with respect to either liturgy, or language, or both of them together,” said Thomas More College Dean Christopher Blum.
Father George Rutler of the Archdiocese of New York is a documentary film-maker, author and contributor to numerous scholarly and popular journals. He spoke about casual attitudes toward language corroding the previous translation in a culture of cynicism.
He used the Emperor Julian the Apostate, a 3rd century critic of Christianity, as an example of how cynicism impacts not only the religious body of the Church, but also detracts from the coherence of conversation surrounding its work in liturgy.
“Julian today, when asked of matters of religion, probably would have used the current refrain, ‘Whatever,’” Father Rutler said.
He said to pursue the truth, particularly the truth of Christ, people must take great care in their use of language. His talk connected articulate, thoughtful language with deep thinking and deepening faith.
“Why are people afraid of raising the bar?” He asked. “Because it raises us closer to God. It takes us out of ourselves.”
Russell R. Reno, editor of the journal First Things, discussed the changes to the liturgy from a more academic position, presenting Jesus in the role of teacher and orator.
“The Risen Christ pours out the Holy Spirit, but not hither and yon,” the author said. “Instead he pours it out to biblically and liturgically formed followers.”
Reno said the changes in liturgical language move people beyond simple understanding.
“Out of Israel’s scriptures, out of the words of the apostles, and in and through the life of the Church, God has forged a language for us,” Reno said. “He gives us the words whereby our spiritual imaginations are healed.”
Anthony Esolen, author of 12 books, brought his experience as a published commentator on scripture, as an English professor at Providence College, and as a specialist on Renaissance and Middle Age literature to bear, highlighting the artistic role of poetic language in scripture.
“The new translation brings out the poetry that had been simply abandoned,” Esolen said.
“I won’t say that it had not been rendered well, because that would imply that the translators in 1973 actually tried to render it. They did not,” he added.
Esolen presented Jesus Christ as a poet of sorts, using a mustard seed as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God as he enlightened his students. Esolen said, presumably, the students had seen mustard seeds before.
“The parable turns our attention from a familiar term, The Kingdom of God, to a wholly unfamiliar and mysterious being, namely The Kingdom of God, as it really exists,” Esolen said. “The soul of poetry is not so much to make strange things familiar, but to make familiar things strange.”