Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Translation of the Mass

Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
The Damsel of the Sanct Grael
I arrived in Central Minnesota and began interacting with the monks of Saint John's Abbey back in 2005-06. In the spring of 2006, Bishop Donald Trautman gave a lecture on the proposed new English translation of the Roman Missal, a translation that changed again here and there as it made its way to approval in 2009 and was implemented in its final form for the first time today.

Bishop Trautman, and most of the monks at St. John's, as strong advocates of the Vatican II Church, have been greatly dismayed by the new translation. (For a good article on Bishop Trautman's critique, click here.) It is an attempt to translate the Latin text more literally, and one of the arguments for this is that it unifies the text with other translations throughout the world. They all begin in Latin and, if they are faithful to the Latin, should have more in common with each other. It is a great aspiration of the Mass that one can worship anywhere in the world with the same prayers and texts.

The English translation that was done in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (and never meant to be permanent), was done according to the prinicple of "dynamic equivalents." In other words, it used language that people in the pews would be familiar with rather than obscure Latin terms. So we get in the Creed the phrase "one in being with the father" rather than "consubstantial with the father." Since full participation of the people in the pews was the objective of having Mass in the vernacular, the translators went for clarity and, perhaps, simplicity. Father Godfrey Diekmann of Saint John's Abbey was an important part of the original International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) working on that translation.

In the decades that followed, ICEL worked further on the texts and submitted a "final" translation. There are various opinions about what this group came up with (finished in 2000 and published in 2002), but in the end (although approved by the bishops) it was rejected by Rome. Among other things, there was an attempt in this translation to use more gender inclusive language. Given the Roman Catholic Church's fear of anything that might lead to women's ordination, including removing some of the male pronouns for God in favor of gender neutral pronouns in the Mass, these suggestions were resisted. In the end, ICEL was directed to prepare a translation not by "dynamic equivalency" but as literally as possible, even preserving where possible the word order from Latin.

Today was the first day we used the new prayers and responses in Mass. From my perspective, the "people's parts" don't seem terribly changed. It is not difficult or onerous to respond when the priest says, "The Lord be with you" with the words "and with your spirit" instead of "and also with you." There are a few more "holy"s here and there. The prayer used for the Penitential Act, much like the former Act of Contrition prayer, now includes beating one's breast as we say "my fault, my fault, my  most grievous fault." But there are two alternatives to this prayer and I don't see us continuing with the current one for very long. (It will become, I predict, an occasional occurence, much like the prayer I knew as the Act of Contrition was at Mass before today.)

In all, the only thing that bugged me was the word "chalice" instead of "cup" in the Eucharistic Prayer. As we reenact the Lord's Supper, we hear that Jesus first took the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, "Do this in memory of me." Then Jesus took "a chalice," and repeated the direction. Hmmm. This part of the prayer comes directly from Scripture, and I know of no translation of the New Testament that says Jesus took a chalice at the Last Supper. For me, it changes the scene-- from a vision of Jesus in the upper room with his disciples celebrating that fateful meal, to King Arthur in search of the holy grail, that most famous of chalices thought to be the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper possessed of magic powers. We certainly don't want to go there, do we? I will say that I felt very conscious, for the first time in a long time, on that gold cup in the priest's hands, and the fact that it was gold and a chalice.

The words are not very different, but there was a big fight and many years of argument before we got here. For many, it is a question of the direction of the church. Do we want to go in the holy grail direction? Or do we want to go in the ceramic cup of wine and a single loaf of bread direction? I don't in the end understand the primacy of Latin. In scholarship and in liturgy, it seems to me healthy that the imaginative moment of the liturgy has gone to the early church (as in the 1st-3rd century church) more than the Middle Ages church. I don't think it's merely a matter of aesthetics, but I'm also not going to protest the changes.

NOTE: One of the more striking protests about the new language, though more about the integrity of the process than the actual end product, came from Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, a monk at Saint John's Abbey. Click here to read his open letter to the bishops published in America Magazine last February.

1 comment:

floridagirl said...

I've noticed where I live that every parish does it differently- at the Mass during my son's wedding a few weeks ago, the responses were very different than our home parish- although we are in the same county and under the same Diocese.
I have bookmarked your blog- very nice to read. I am a former employee of the Diocese of Orlando- worked for Catholic Charities for 7 years in accounting. I look forward to your posts.