Tuesday, November 1, 2005

New Mass Translation

Whenever the new ICEL translation of the Mass is approved, (it could be as soon as next year), much catechesis will be needed. This translation will be radical--but very good! The aims of the translation are to put it back in line with the Scriptures that the Latin and most other translations preserve. The opportunities to use this time of transition before the translation appears to catechize and teach people about the Mass are endless. If you are in a position to catechize your parishioners begin doing so now…do not wait until the last moment!

The bishops of this country had a number of issues with the first new translation that was done by the new ICEL committee. interestingly the latest does not give into most of those "issues" but rather explains the rich theological significance of the changes and particular choice of words. So instead of "Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries" "Let us acknowledge our sins that we may be made ready to celebrate" is defended because as the Bishop's reply the action of the Mass is as much God's as it is ours and "prepare" makes it sound as if it is all our work. That one little snippet shows why this new translation will facilitate the beginning of a great renewal within Catholic liturgical life in the English speaking world.

Before anyone blames Pope Benedict for this--remember this is a Pope John Paul II initiative.


  1. So is there somewhere the public can get a glimpse of this?

  2. How about the Anglican Use? It's already approved.


  3. Now here is an area where I really disagree.

    Just because an English passage is a fussily literal translation of Latin (and the Latin scriptural passages and references being themselves translations), does not mean that it is more accurate, more meaningful, more theologically correct, more "beautiful."

    The error is in the lack of artistic merit in the texts, not in the lack of the "smell" of the Latin text.

  4. I think it is regrettable that the ICEL blew the opportunity to write an English mass in elegant, modern English with all the richness of the Latin original. So we may have to settle for an awkward, literal translation of the Latin.

    On the other hand, the mass is a prayer directed to God, not a tool to instruct the faithful. A prayer, addressed to God, which we spend our whole lives learning to pray, perhaps doen't need to immediately accessible to all.

  5. What are the chances we will really ever see this new translation used? After all, I am still waiting to see the implementation of the GIRM that I have been hearing about for several years now... Still hasn't happened in the diocese I live in. I hope this new translation will be different but I'm not betting on it.

  6. In addition to RP's criticism, with which I agree, this new Ordo Missae translation has the potential to be seen as the end result, rather than the first step to better liturgy. Mumbled literal translation is still deadly for good worship, as are half-prepared and half-hearted priests, musicians, and people.

    Keep in mind the changes are substantial enough that everyone: priests and people alike, will be reading out of a book the basic prayers and responses we've taken for granted for the past 35 years.

    This has the potential to be a more wrenching change for US Catholics. Why? The switch from the old to the new Mass took about a decade and was implemented piece by piece. The switch from Latin to the vernacular was a nearly universally acclaimed development most Catholics were willing to invest in. This will be an English to English change that will seem nitpicky to many people. They may well ask why they should consult a new missal for responses they've used for the past few decades.

    With so much focus on the narrow fight, the liturgy may well be, in the short term, worse off, no matter how "nice" the language is.

  7. Trying to get everyone to adopt a new translation of the Mass, especially of the most familiar prayers, will be a real mess. But that's good! Then everyone will see the value of a liturgical language which is 'dead', and so beyond change. If we were still responding 'et cum spiritu tuo' there would be no issue.

  8. Exactly! When will we ever learn how wise the traditions we inherited were?

  9. The Latin text of the passage referred to in the top post is this:

    Fratres, agnoscamus peccata nostra, ut apti simus ad sacra mysteria celebranda.

    The current translation, which uses the phrase "to prepare ourselves," is simply wrong, since apti simus is first-person plural perfect passive subjunctive, thus indicating something that a) is being done to us and b) is to some degree uncertain in human terms. The new translation far better expresses the sense of the Latin. Still, I think Todd and RP Burke have a valid and important concern; while we must avoid the perils of arbitrary dynamic equivalence, the Latin is not well-served by being slavishly literal. Much as I love the Douay-Rheims Bible, for example, its English is sometimes awkward and clunky.

    I think Todd is also correct about the possible effects of a change of translation. Much as I want better English at Mass, I am not looking forward to the change, because if history is any guide we could have horrible confusion and disorientation to deal with. Nonetheless, it should be done, and I pray that Michael's hopes are fulfilled.

  10. Nicholas, I think it's inevitable, and when the change comes, I'll comply. And listen to dozens of complaints in my parish about it--and not just the liberals.

    But I don't see this as much more than a distraction to the real work of energizing the ordinary laity at and for Mass. It won't get us the better homilies and music we need. It won't encourage the Catholics enjoying breakfast in bed on Sunday morning to come to church. (Gosh, Ethel, they're finally using proper English at Mass; what do you say we join our fellow men at worship today?")

  11. I don't know where to find a complete copy of the latest translation, but the first, which doesn't differ markedly from the latest, can be found here: http://home.comcast.net/~cebadams/ICEL-Translation.pdf

    Personally, I'm praying for the universal indult so I can wipe my feet of the whole mess. But why should we applaud this "wrenching change?" Because the present Mass translation isn't even a translation. It's a paraphrase. It's the product of a hippie (and if you don't believe me, check out the likes of old ICEL's guru, Gabe Huck. No Father Harbert he) committee who didn't give us the reformed Mass, it gave us their own groovy version of it.

    If we must have the Novus Ordo, shouldn't we have the real thing?

  12. Todd, is that grudgingly comply (while making snide comments to all those who come up to you about how this is just nit-picking, and distracting us from the real issues etc - similar to what you've just said here)?

    Or is it comply with all your heart and all your undoubted enthusiasm in the knowledge that this will make the sense of the English-language Mass of Paul VI more in line with the Universal Church established by Christ?

    Lex orandi, lex credendi.

  13. The punchline from a lawyer-joke is: First lets kill all the lawyers...just substitute "liturgists" for lawyers. Liturgists[def.]= those responsible for ensuring that each Mass has a certain number of predetermined abuses incorporated in it.

  14. The new translations make me happy. I still remember how shocked I was when I found out just how "dynamic" the current one is.

    If somebody had translated a poem or a story that way, I'd be complaining about the lack of fidelity to the original source, the basic imagery, and the rhythms.

    When it's the Mass? I feel that someone's been lying to me all my life, or has stolen my entire bank account and has been giving me a pittance of an allowance instead. Just because this was done with all the good intentions in the world, it doesn't make it right.

    (Btw, that whole "nearly universal" agreement thing? Yeah, right. That's why my entire childhood was spent hearing Midwestern adults mourning Latin. 'Cause they were with the program. Sure.)

    This is not to say that I consider the current English version of the Mass invalid. It's perfectly valid, because it got approved by the successors of Christ's apostles. It's just not as good as it could be or was intended to be.

    I look forward to the new translation, even though shifting to it may be a pain. Even if it should be awkward (and I don't think it will be, given some of the sneak previews), at least it won't be stripped of all the ooh, scary! Catholic stuff for the benefit of the American peasants.

    I look forward to having peace wished to my spirit.

  15. Todd,

    I see what you're saying, but I think the long-term bernefits outweigh the short-term pain. Perhaps you can argue that the old ICEL translations should be retained for the people's parts - fair enough - many of them are not all that bad.

    However, the English prayers that the priest speaks alone (opening, closing, Eucharistic prayers, etc.) are so impoverished - we're missing out on so much of the richness of the originals, it's embarassing - and a lot of the time they simply miss the meaning altogether. I almost feel at this point that practically anything is better than what we have.

    And I can't wait until the the new translation is a distraction - maybe people will pay attention to what they're hearing and saying for the first time in 35 years! I know, understanding the prayers will take a bit of thought - imagine that. (Right now some of them make no sense at all no matter how hard I think . . . . )

    And rp burke - I think you're playing a zero-sum game here. It doesn't have to be a choice between "fussily literal" and beautiful - how about a non-pejorative term like "accurate" or "faithful" and beautiful. It has been done in other contexts. As it is we have the worst of both worlds - clunky *and* inaccurate. One or the other (or both!) would be an improvement.

  16. Sam, the priests' parts have been done: translated and approved for about two years now. They've been in cold storage awaiting the Ordo Missae. I'd hope that there's more of a reason to pay attention at Mass than the novelty of following new English in a new missalette.

    Aussie, you asked, "Or is it comply with all your heart and all your undoubted enthusiasm in the knowledge that this will make the sense of the English-language Mass of Paul VI more in line with the Universal Church established by Christ?"

    Well, it won't. Every translation in use today -- poor and good alike -- was approved by committee, about a dozen bishops' conferences, and by the curia.

    Few people deny the rush job on Roman Missal I was poor. Heck, I heard about that in progressive circles when I began studying liturgy in the early 80's. If we're aiming for "sense" and not literalism, then I think English-speaking theologians and writers could come up with improvements over these translations, and perhaps, in the Latin originals.

    For different reasons, I think this latest round is aiming for second-best. The first was second-best because it was too rushed. This one because it sticks slavishly to the Latin original.

    But I won't mince words in my parish: the real work of liturgy is the worship of God and the sanctification of the people. Worsd are only means to the end of getting them there. No more. No less.

  17. Ecclesiastes is right. Could it be that our Fathers in the Faith knew what they were doing? How does excessive tinkering help us to pass on what we have received? Even Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council acknowledged the importance of preserving the Latin. What we cannot afford to do is alter the prayers of the Church, which is not ours, or the bishops, or even the Pope's to play around with.

  18. The problem with your post is that words signify ideas, and ideas have consequences. The prayer of the Church forms the piety of the Faithful as much as the other way around. Heteropraxis is more poisonous to souls than heresy. If the priests put the Tabernacle in a closet for forty years, they have no right to moan when the majority of church-going Catholics under the age of 55 don't believe in the Real Presence. Orthopraxis has to be a major focus. Otherwise, the liturgy will be an ocasion for Catholics to lose the Faith.

  19. That last post was directed at Todd. Sorry.

  20. Sam, it is most certainly NOT a zero-sum game. But where I disagree with you is that what the people hear needs to:

    (1) say in English to an English-speaker what it says to a Latin to a Latin-speaker;

    (2) use artistic, idiomatic English as the goal (and not use a Latinate version of English that was not allowed past the first year of study at the Boston Latin School, my alma mater);

    (3) be clear and proclaimable in SPOKEN English, which, after all, is how the Mass is said (and not read).

    It's a complex issue that is not dissolvable to the simplistic approach of "literal is better" that right-wingers want.

    We need GOOD ENGLISH TEXTS, not something else, and this focus on texts that smell like the Latin original is sadly misplaced. Is it because, since Latin is a more gendered language than English, literalism inoculates the texts from feminism? (I think that's a part of the reason the boys in Rome are so excited about it.)

  21. rp burke,

    Of course we all want it to say in English what it says in Latin; I want GOOD ENGLISH TEXTS as much as you do - I agree with you in principle.

    The question is how do we get there? The old policy of "dynamic equivalence" turned out to be too dynamic and not enough equivalence. Too often this meant the prayers turned into a vague and well-meaning something that sounds very 1970s today, with little or no relation to the Latin. You argue that the new translation will have the opposite problem. My point was that, given we have to choose between the two (and it seems like that's the choice right now) the latter's better than the former.

    Does this mean I want nothing more than a "fussily literal" and strictly word-for-word version of the mass? This is where the zero sum thing comes in: forcing the debate into a false dichotomy which only results in the two sides talking past each another. Either you champion beauty, goodness, and truth in translation, or you are in cahoots with the Vatican and are determined to foist a crude and dark transliteration on the rest of us, snuffing out the flames of proclaimability forever!

    Just for the record, I fall into neither camp.

  22. If it's not to late to comment here, let me just say that I'm very, very pleased with a lot of what I'm seeing in the new Ordo-- and I'm a liturgical officer in a Protestant denomination. The reason I'm pleased is that once yours is fully "out there," the rest of us "out here" who work on these issues will be able much more easily to reclaim a lot of what we've lost in the former ICEL translations as well. I'll be thrilled to have "And with your spirit" (not just "oh, and you, too!") and "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts" (none of this vague "power and might" stuff!) as part of what will become an ecumenical English vocabulary-- one that has the potential to renovate us all!

    Will the changes cause disruptions? Yep. Will a lot of folks in my denomination just ignore them? You bet. We're still not using the "new" Lord's Prayer consistently, even though that's what's plainly printed in our Eucharistic Prayer. So I don't see a panacaea here-- but I do see very real help.

    Peace in Christ,

    Taylor Burton-Edwards


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