Doxology Grammar; New Missal

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Doxology Grammar; New Missal

ROME, OCT. 11, 2011 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, why do we say, "All glory and power is yours"? Since glory and power are plural, shouldn't we say, "All glory and honor are yours"? Also, I celebrate Mass in our local nursing home twice per month. Recently I was asked if we can continue to use the present words of the Mass for our nursing home Mass, after the changes take effect at the beginning of Advent. The elderly people are used to the prayers and responses that we have been using for so many years now, and they will find it very difficult to change. Are we allowed to continue to use the Mass in its present form after the new translation of the Roman Missal takes effect? — J.L., Pittsfield, New Hampshire

A: While no grammarian, I believe there may be several possible explanations that would justify the use of "is."

Fowler's Modern English Usage, in addressing "Number," states that while compound subjects usually take the plural, there can be exceptions: "a singular verb is … sometimes legitimate when it conveys a single notion." I believe that the use of "all" before "glory and power" acts as a modifier unifying the two concepts.

In a "Catholic Answers" forum on this subject, an expert linguist suggested that some insight could be gleaned by "changing the verb from a 'be' form (is, are, am, etc.) to another verb:

"'All glory and honor belong to you.'

"'All glory and honor belongs to you.'

"In the first example, we're saying, 'All glory belongs to you and all honor belongs to you.' In the first example, 'glory' and 'honor' are counted as two separate items, thus justifying the plural verb form (the two things belong to you; the two things are yours).

"In the second example, we're assuming that 'glory and honor' is a unit — one thing — that 'belongs to you' and this 'is yours': 'All glory and honor is yours.'

"So the question comes down to this: Do we treat 'glory' and 'honor' as two separate nouns (the way we'd treat the plural countable nouns 'dogs' and 'cats') or do we treat 'glory-and-honor' as a collective noun — two things taken as one entity? It all depends on 'all.' 'All indicates a totality of items. The component units are part of an unbroken mass.'

"Thus, where 'all' is used, it's assumed that the nouns following it are treated as a unit, as one entity: 'honor-and-glory' not (1) 'honor' and (2) 'glory.'"

I think this is sufficient to justify the "is" in the doxology.

With respect to the second question, in principle the use of the new missal will be obligatory throughout the world. However, in the case of a nursing home or other similar situations in which many people might be unable to learn new formulas, I think it falls within the province of the diocesan bishop's authority to dispense from introducing the new people's parts for a number of years.

Similarly, I think a bishop could permit an elderly or infirm priest, above all if he has difficulty reading, to continue to use the current missal.

An analogous dispensation was granted by Pope Paul VI to elderly priests (St. Pio of Pietrelcina among them) when the new missal was first introduced.

* * *

Follow-up: Doxology Grammar; New Missal [10-25-2011]

We received a few comments regarding the doxology of the new missal (see Oct. 11). A reader from Yorkshire, England, commented, "With reference to today's question regarding the use of 'is' rather than 'are' in the doxology, the simplest answer surely is that in the Latin version we have 'est' rather than 'sunt'!"

Actually it is not quite that simple. The "est" in this case can be subject to several possible translations. For example, the Italian translation does not use the verb "to be" at all and translates the "est tibi, Deo Patri omnipotenti" as "to you, Almighty Father, all honor and glory." In any case, even a literal English translation has to observe the rules of English grammar in order to make sense.

A reader from Denver, Colorado, asked: "Concerning the use of the singular verb 'is' with the dual subject 'glory' and 'honor' — aren't the words 'glory' and 'honor' two translations of the Hebrew word 'kabod,' which is rich in meaning and incapable of description with one English word? If they are both being used to describe a singular reality, could that justify the singular form of the verb?"

The single Hebrew origin is quite possible. But it would not affect the English translation, which literally follows the Latin "omnis honor et gloria."

Another question is the difficulty that will inevitably arise due to the coexistence of other ritual books. As one reader points out: "Can the new collects be used when praying the Roman Office and will the dialogue change to 'And with your Spirit'? It will seem odd (and pastorally difficult) if this is not the case, especially when rites take place within Mass (e.g. the rite of religious profession with a prayer of consecration that begins with the same dialogue as the preface; the anointing of the sick, etc.). Please let us know what should be done."

I have recently addressed the question of the collects for the Divine Office. I think that the response "And with your spirit" can replace "And also with you" in practically all the rites it is found, even before these liturgical books have been officially updated. This retranslation process will necessarily take several years, but it was necessary to publish the missal first as this is by far the most important liturgical text and is also the source of many texts found in the other rituals.

In my reply I had mentioned an anecdote regarding St. Pio of Pietrelcina being dispensed from celebrating the new Mass. A Washington, D.C., reader pointed out a chronological inconsistency in this: "There was no special permission for Padre Pio to use the old Missal, as he dies in 1968, well before the new Missal was introduced. Perhaps he was dispensed from 'Tres Abhinc Annos'? That's the only thing I can see in this case."

Our reader is correct, of course, although I believe that the saint was dispensed from using the "hybrid" Italian-Latin missals that were in use in the years leading up to the publication of the new missal.

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