Diagramming the New Missal
Maybe I am beating a dead horse, but the tongue-twisting nature of the new Missal is still proving to be an obstacle for me. By habit, I do not use a missalette: I have forced myself to listen to the lectors and the presider and make a real effort to understand what they are saying. Part of this comes from the days when I helped train lectors, but part is a belief that liturgy is spoken and therefore should be an aural experience.
But I am still getting tied into knots listening to the new missal. Part of it is priests stumbling over unfamiliar prayers—that will improve with time. But some of it is the awkward structure of the language: English is being forced to conform to Latin, even though the languages have distinct grammatical structures and very different standards for what constitutes euphonious writing. A particularly striking example was the Collect for the Feast of the Immacuate Conception:
Graciously accept the saving sacrifice we offer you, O Lord, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grant that, as we profess her, on account of your prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin, so, through her intercession, we may be delivered from all our faults. Through Christ our Lord.
I could not understand this at all when I heard it at mass, and only after reading it a couple times in the Missal could I begin to parse this welter of subordinate clauses. For fun, I asked a colleague of mine in the English department to diagram it:
(personal image of author)
I guess this explains why I couldn’t figure out what the priest was saying! Now to forestall some obvious objections: I am not opposed to complex sentence structure, particularly in written texts. But the spoken word must obey different rules if it is to be understandable, let alone be considered powerful: compare a good translation of Homer, and any of Shakespeare’s best soliloquies with this prayer and you will see the difference. (Yes, Shakespeare has some turkeys: no writer hits a home run every time.)
Could this have been said in a better way? I think so but have not been able to work anything out to my satisfaction. Any suggestions? We can skip fighting over the word prevenient; I am more interested in the overall structure and flow of the text.