Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The New Mass Translation...And A Fisking!

It's been said by quite a few people that you have to shut your brain off when reading or hearing anything the news media has to say about Catholicism, and this article from the Washington Post from last Thursday is no different.  It is in dire need of a good fisking here. So let's begin...
English-speaking Catholics are bracing for the biggest changes to their Mass since the 1960s, a shift some leaders warn could cause “ritual whiplash.”
Who are these 'some leaders'?
The overhaul, which will become mandatory Nov. 27, is aimed at unifying the more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide with a translation that is as close as possible to the original Latin version. It allows for less independence and diversity of interpretation in a church that in recent decades has tried to retain more control over how Catholicism is defined.
The horror! God forbid that the translation actually be faithful to what the 'original Latin version says'. Why do I get the sense in reading this paragraph that the author of the story believes the translation to be some kind of nefarious Romanist, Popish plot? Technically speaking, the Mass has never allowed for a diversity of interpretation and independence. One quick look at the Missal demonstrates that the prayers of the Mass are in fact 'universal', which is what 'Catholic' means.
The new translation changes the majority of sentences in the Mass. The prayers and call-and-response dialogue between the priest and the congregation are different, transforming the dialogue that Catholics under 40 have used in church their entire lives. Some leaders warn that the shift could cause “ritual whiplash” among those accustomed to a worship script so familiar that most recite it from memory.
Those 'some leaders' again! Let's get a couple of things straight about the history behind this. In the late 1960's, the Missal was revised from the Mass of Pius V, which had been in use since 1570 (sometimes called the 'Tridentine Rite') to the current Mass of Paul VI (officially released in 1970). It was hastily translated for the English-speaking world (which had been agitating the hardest for the vernacular) and the committee (ICEL - International Committee on English in the Liturgy) did so in a slipshod fashion that was more concerned with 'dynamic equivalency' rather than any kind of 'formal equivalency'; in other words, they went with how they thought it should be translated based on late 1960's linguistic tendencies. Thus the Latin phrase et cum spiritu tuo became 'and also with you'.

It's interesting because the New American Bible (the official liturgical English version of Scripture used here in North America) suffered through all the same defects of translation, and has been revised a few times since its initial release (also in 1970).
Reaction to the changes has been intense, in some ways fueling a Catholic culture war that began when the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s imposed far more sweeping changes designed to open up and modernize the church. Some traditionalists say the new translation of the ritual is richer and — because it’s less conversational — more mysterious and spiritual.
I will always maintain until the day I die that if they had taken the time to get it right forty years ago, we would have none of these issues occurring now. The problem arises that when you 'translate' words that have no equivalency to the original, you cease being a translator and you become an interpreter. ICEL was given free reign forty years ago with little oversight and put an interpretation forth rather than a straight translation. What we have now is an actual translation, which should have been done the first time.
But more modern Catholics, and some who are already disaffected, say the new language is an awkward imposition that will distance people from the church. The translation “wouldn’t affect me going [to church] or not,’’ said Vilma Linares, who was walking near St. Matthew’s Cathedral earlier this week with a friend at lunchtime. “But the less conversational the Mass, the more they will alienate people.”

Erie, Pa., Bishop Donald Trautman says that such words as “consubstantial” and “chalice” and a Jesus “born ineffably of the inviolate Virgin” won’t help Catholics get closer to God.

“We have to keep in mind these are prayer texts being used by priests at a Mass,” he said. “People should be able to understand them when they are heard.”

Others, including clergy, have protested that the new translation replaces ones approved by the U.S. bishops.
Finally, they name one of these 'some leaders'!

Seriously though, if you are already 'disaffected', then nothing can be done to please you. People will always find things to alienate them. If you feel offended that we will use words like 'consubstantial' and 'chalice', I would bet my last dollar that those are just covers for whatever other issue you might have with the Catholic faith. The good bishop, unfortunately, is operating under the assumption that 'relevance' needs to be the key feature of the Faith. I find his comments to be a tad condescending, as if the faithful are too stupid to figure things out, especially when the solution is merely going to a dictionary to figure out what particular terms mean.
Perhaps the most basic change will be when the priest says: “The Lord be with you.” The congregation will no longer say “And also with you.” The new response is “And with your spirit.”
Which is what we should have been saying all along in the first place!
Some changes are more controversial. The line that said Jesus died on the cross “for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven” will change to “for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
There is nothing controversial about this in the least. Look up the actual words that are found in Scripture - Matthew 26:28: this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. If you have a beef with the line, take it up with the Lord, not the Church. What the Post reporter left out, or was too lazy to figure out, is that salvation is not a one-way street; it's not imposed by God, but also requires, nay, DEMANDS a response from us. Not all will end up in the Kingdom, as many of Jesus' parables make plain (i.e. 'many are called, but few are chosen').
Other changes emphasize the difference between common English and Latin: “When supper was ended, He took the cup” becomes: “In a similar way, when supper was ended, He took this precious chalice in His holy and venerable hands.”
I like this. It's a lot less profane (in the literal sense) than what we will have until November 27th. It gives us a sense that the Eucharist is, you know, sacred. I know, the horror!
A poll of Catholics done early this summer by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showed that 77 percent of respondents were unaware of a forthcoming new translation. Catholic dioceses and schools began preparations a few months ago, running workshops and podcasts and updating Web sites to lay out what’s happening and why.
Don't know who this is more reflective on...probably those who don't attend Mass with any regularity, because I know that a lot of parishes have been running inserts in their bulletins lately preparing for the translation. My parish has already implemented a lot of the musical settings that reflect the new translation and we have read and heard about it coming up. If the number is indeed that high, then I just can't get worked up over people who are shocked, SHOCKED (and chagrined) about this new translation.
Millions of books are being replaced; each parish must buy its own. (What becomes of the old books? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends burying them on church grounds or in a parish cemetery.) While parishes wait for the new ones, laminated cards will be put in the pews as a guide for worshipers.
Snarkiness ensues from the usual suspects: oh look at those silly superstitious Catholics burying books!! Actually, I don't know why anyone would have a problem with this - it's stimulating the economy, much more so than any plan put forth by our current political masters (yes, I went there).
Still, church officials say they expect serious confusion when those Catholics who aren’t connected with Catholic institutions and attend church only on big holidays, show up for Christmas. The Rev. Michael Wilson of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Solomons, Md., said he will offer this advice next month to his congregants: “Okay, folks: Everyone take a deep breath.”
Msgr. Wilson provides good advice (disclosure - he was my pastor for three years when we lived in Laurel and he was at St. Mary of the Mills). I have no doubt that I will probably spend a good three months reading off a card to make sure I get the statements right.
The new translation has been in the works since a decade ago, when Pope John Paul II called for a full replacement of the one that came out of the 1960s Second Vatican Council. The thinking that came out of Vatican II was that the Mass script should be contemporary and paraphrased, that people should pray the way they speak in regular life.
I want to know whose thinking that came out of Vatican II said that the Mass script 'should be contemporary and paraphrased'. It certainly didn't come from the actual documents of that council. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy - December 4, 1963) actually said that Latin should 'retain the pride of place' within the liturgy. Not exactly an endorsement of 'pray the way they speak in regular life', is it?
As a result, pivotal changes were made. Mass was no longer said in Latin, and priests began facing the congregation (instead of standing with their backs to the crowd) and preaching more about the Bible rather than only on church doctrine.
Quick little pet peeve: I absolutely cannot stand it when the ad orientum posture is referred to as 'standing with their backs to the crowd'. A little research can go a long way - especially since Papal Masses at the main altar of St. Peter's have long been ad gentium (toward the people). So not all Masses prior to 1965 were done ad orientum. Ok, I digress...

The use of vernacular is not quite the 'pivotal' change the author of the article makes it out to be. Can it help? Absolutely. However, it wasn't as if the prayers were changed or as if the Mass was fundamentally altered. A sense of perspective is needed and historical ignorance needs to be shed. Consider that until the rise of the colonial powers and nationalism as a movement in the 17th century, Latin, ahem, was a vernacular language. To imply that worship had never occurred in the vernacular until 1965 is just sheer ignorance (or worse).
When asked this week about the issue, several priests repeated an inside joke: What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.
Trust me, this is not an inside joke. It had been repeated around my home for years - by my father especially. 
Catholics who speak other languages are on a later schedule and won’t see any changes immediately. There is no timeline yet for Spanish-speaking Americans. But the English version is perhaps the most important to the Vatican, because booming areas in Asia, including China, use it, not the Latin one, as the basis of their translations.
That's because all the other translations aren't quite as messed up as the one that came to the English-speaking world in 1970. They actually had more literal translations and just need slight tweakings here and there rather than wholesale overhaul (or rather, an actual translation) that we needed here.
Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the commission in charge of English translations of liturgy, said the reforms will promote unity. “The way we worship is what we believe,” he said. “If you want to have unity of belief, texts used in worship need to be the same.”

Several priests in the region said the controversy was being overblown.

“There are other things more important to focus on,” said the Rev. Gerry Creedon of Holy Family in Dale City, “like drone bombings.”
Interesting take by the good Father there at the end about the drone bombings. But anyway, I do believe that a lot of this is overblown, but stories like this one in the Post are contributing to the overblowing. Unity of text is important - we are a Universal Church!

As you could tell, I am a big fan of the new translation. I have my own copy of the revised Missal and have read through it - it's 1) a lot more reverent, 2) gives a much better feel of the sacred, and 3) is much closer to the words that we have in Scripture. The sense of meaning is better preserved with the new translation.

I just wish that the Post reporter(s) had done their homework a little better.


Anonymous said...

WOW, that is all I can say... This brings my profession disgrace.

Joshua Lattanzi said...

And the saddest part, as I said above, is that much of this could have been avoided with a little bit of research. Instead, it had the feel of 'well, this is what I remember, and that will go into the story'

Tom Red said...

This is a very poor translation. It may be closer to the literal meaning of the Latin, but it is so awkward and poorly done it will be another boondoogle for the church.

I had six years of Latin, the very first thing I was taught was that a translation must be accurate and must also be in free following english. This translation is not. I am wondering how long before the Church comes around and allows its local bishops conferences to make the translation as tVatican II specified.

Joshua Lattanzi said...

Can you cite actual examples of this. I don't see a whole lot of this alleged 'awkward phrasing'. The idea of 'free-flowing English' is part of the reason we got into this mess to begin with. Words have meaning and thus we should be faithful to what is actually said.