Roman Missal Translation Push-back

From the Jesuit magazine America comes this article. Some gems incude:

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas.

No! What? Liturgies being used a tool to advance agendas? I’m shocked–shocked, I tell you!

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

. . .

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful.

Now this is true…

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not.

Grammar trouble… Is the “them” in the second line the translations or the reactions of his friends?

What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

. . .

I offer the following modest proposals.

What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Web site www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Now since I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am, however, a person who cares deeply about liturgy, about the worshiping community, and how to connect the two in mutual reinforcing relationships for the edification of the Church.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a veteran of the post-Vatican II years. One of his greatest regrets is the way the “reforming” party shoved the changes down the throats of others with no regard to those whose liturgical lives they were altering. He said, “We knew so strongly that we were right—but at the same time there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that what we were doing was wrong.”

His fear and what he cautioned me against was the exact same thing happening from the other direction. Yes, good liturgy is a critical part of forming people in Christ and what we push for may well be absolutely right—but is the act of pushing absolutely right?

I don’t know what the right way to proceed is, but it is evidently clear to me that some of the methods of liturgical reform in the past century are examples of how not to do it rather than how to do it.

So, like I said, I’ll be watching these developments with interest.

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7 Responses to Roman Missal Translation Push-back

  1. Annie says:

    I must admit I find the call for restraint frustrating, given the lack of restraint shown in implementing vatican II changes to the liturgy to say nothing of liturgical abuses. Then again, I am not very pastoral. I don’t like the idea of market testing *at all*. The liturgy is not a consumer product.

  2. Joe Rawls says:

    This guy needs to get a life. I “test-drove” the Vatican II reformed liturgy for 15 years or so, then finally gagged. I wasn’t a big Lefebre fan and yearned for a more humane Catholicism that still had decent worship. So I jumped the Thames.

  3. rick allen says:

    As someone with a “dog in the fight” my reaction is that this is something of a tempest in a teapot.

    I am a Catholic layman with some amateur interest in liturgy, and can read, slowly, enough Latin, Greek and Hebrew to have some idea of the original liturgical sources. I’ve even read a few books on liturgy, and of course happen to pray it on a regular basis. If someone wants to consult me I’m happy to comply.

    But look, if maybe one tenth of one percent of Catholics were consulted, that’s a million voices chiming in on whether “And with your spirit” is better than “And also with you.” Is that really necessary?

    This is why we have a hierarchy. Maybe they’ll improve the English liturgy; maybe they’ll gum it up. The new translations I’ve seen strike me as a marginal improvement, but I wouldn’t go to war if they weren’t.

    These kind of changes can be irritating. But if the high-ups decided, in a moment of inspiration, that mass should be said in pig-latin, I’m sure I would dislike it at first, then get used to it, and eventually come to love it, if only because it would then be the prayer of the Church.

  4. Christopher says:

    Derek, it highlights differences in matters of authority. This is not simply about liturgy.

  5. Chloe Curry & Dennis Garrehy says:

    We are absolutely in favor of waiting on this publication. We think, as daily communicates, that the United States Clergy should have at least a time to test this missial effort. There is too much sound reasoning to not publish this missal now. Its immediate use in the USA will certainly help deplete our small congregations.

  6. brian m says:

    Ms. Curry, Mr. Garrehy, any chance you might share some of that sound reasoning, or your justification for the assertion that the new missal will deplete small parishes? (Are there any left? I thought they were all consolidated out of existence.) I wasn’t convinced by +Trautperson’s arguments, so please, let us know what else you’ve got.

  7. Kevin Montgomery says:

    First of all, let me just say that the new English translation of the Missal is, imo, an improvement on the one in current use, as it sounds to the ear. (Well, at least the Ordo Missae and the collects, which I had a chance to look at before the final approval by the bishops.) It’s definitely a better translation of the Latin, but it’s not, however, what I would consider to be fully English. (The current one is just very dull English.)

    Something else I’ve found interesting in this whole saga is that the Vatican recently took the job of translating the antiphons for Mass away from the bishops and did it themselves. One of the things that really struck me when I read Liturgiam Authenticam for a couple of classes was the section stating that the Apostolic See reserved the right to impose its own translation. The current situation in the RCC made me wonder if this weren’t what one might call a “sleeper clause” waiting to be activated, thus eventually taking the job of translation out of the hands of the regional bodies of bishops.

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