Does the word “ineffable” belong in the liturgy? Donald Trautman, the Catholic bishop of Erie, PA, doesn’t think so, the Erie Times-News reports. Ordinary Catholics won’t know the meaning of the word, he said, so it shouldn’t be in the liturgy. The Times-News reporter verified this at a lunch-time Mass, where most of those filing out at the end were not comfortable with “ineffable.”
At first it might seem like this is all a question of taste, which, the Romans remind us, is not something to argue over. But there’s more than mere taste at issue.
Look at the attitude of catechesis and worship at work here. Much of the tone of the post-Vatican II Church has been one of condescending to the ordinary Catholics in their pews. They won’t understand all that highfalutin language about the faith, the story goes, so we’ll bring it down to what they can understand. Just as adults water the faith down for teenagers in devotional Bibles because they can’t (or don’t want to) really understand God, so priests should water it down for ordinary folks. After all, the laity can’t be expected to want the ineffable when they’ve got jobs and children.
It turns out, however, that we members of the laity are actually pretty bright. Many of us don’t just want spiritual drivel. We can handle real Christianity, and we want it. Instead of dumbing doctrine and prayers down to “our level,” those in ecclesiastical offices should be raising the laity up to understand the mysteries and the rich tradition. We don’t need milk, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul; we need ineffable, rich, spiritual food.