Language that does not exclude

Inclusive Language Part II

There is nothing sacred or transcendent about language that uses “man” to refer to both women and men; there is no doctrinal issue at stake if we choose to say “everyone” instead of “all men” or “the human race” in place of “mankind”.
Whether “man” can be used in a generic sense or not these days is beside the point; it is rather that there is an inherent linguistic bias in employing a masculine form to refer to all people.
The first approved versions of the Eucharistic Prayers in English said: “It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven”. The word “men” was dropped in 1981 because it was seen as discriminatory to women.
If that could be done without any apparent difficulty, why are equally modest proposals, like removing “men” from the Nicene Creed, unacceptable? After all, what is being changed is an English translation that has been in use for 40 years or so, not the original meaning or intent of the scriptures or ancient prayer texts! It is simply recognising that our language is constantly evolving.
If awareness of the need for inclusive language had been stronger in the 1960s and it had been used in the original English translations, it would have just been taken on board and not caused the angst that its mere mention does now in some quarters.
One of the first and most stunning indications of Rome’s about-face on the issue was the rejection of an inclusive-language Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994. Hence the first article of the catechism uses “man”, “men”, “his” and “him” with reference to people seven times in its nine lines.
Liturgiam Authenticam, the document that guided the new translation of the Missal, rejects efforts to utilise contemporary inclusive forms and states that the church “should not be subject to externally imposed linguistic norms” (LA 30).
Hence the new Missal has phrases such as “in goodness you created man and, when he was justly condemned, in mercy you redeemed him” (Common Preface II), and “You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care” (Eucharistic Prayer IV).
A more inclusive translation of the scriptures to replace the current Jerusalem Bible Lectionary is urgently needed for two reasons. Firstly, it is quite understandable that some women do not hear themselves included in texts such as: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross”.
Secondly, an inclusive lectionary would curtail the practice of individual parishes, and even readers, making their own changes in a well-meaning, but misguided, attempt to avoid language that is blatantly discriminatory.
While there is nothing we can do about the Missal and Lectionary, parishes can be attentive to inclusive language in preaching, prayers of the faithful, hymns, announcements, parish bulletins, etc.
Yes, there are more pressing issues than inclusive language that need to be dealt with, but why not move to using words that do not alienate and exclude when this can be done so easily? Our principles and practice must be based on the example of Jesus’ ministry which was totally inclusive.

Elizabeth Harrington