Thursday, March 25, 2010


If you read this space regularly you know that there is coming a change in the Roman Missal. Actually, that is incorrect; there is coming a change in the English translation of the Roman Missal. Even if you think it is necessary (and I do) and even if you think it is positive (and I do) and even if you are looking forward to it (and I am) it is going to be DIFFICULT.
This came to mind recently reading over the changes in everything from the Gloria to the Institution Narrative. There is a familiarity with these texts – a comfort – a rhythm that we have become both accustomed to saying and hearing. For me, anyway, it is like reading a favorite book or watching a best loved movie over and over again. You know perfectly well how it’s going to end, what the next scene is, and can even quote the lines, but there is still something so incredibly satisfying in going through it again.

That is about to change. Not completely. And that might be the most difficult part of it. It will be ALMOST the same. You will be going along familiar passages and then – WHAM – there will be a turn of phrase or a new sentence or a clarifying adjective that was not there before. It will be like watching the director’s cut and asking, “Where did THAT scene come from?”

There are going to be those who are going to complain. Protest. Be angry. There are going to be accusations that “We are going back in time! We are becoming Pre-Vatican II!” (as if automatically that is something evil – but that’s a post for another day.) But such is not the case. It is interesting to note that these particular changes are NOT changes. This translation (for those who may not be aware) is only taking place in English speaking countries. The rest of the world is not going through this because when they translated their Missals it was already more in line with the official words of the Mass. If you went to another country in which the spoke another language it would not take much of a language scholar to realize that when they were saying the Confiteor they were already saying their equivalent to “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” or “through my fault, through my fault, through my own grievous fault,” which we currently translate as “though my own fault.” So far from doing anything new or “going retro,” we are merely bringing ourselves back in line with Church universal. (If somebody does know of some similar thing happening in another country please leave a comment.)

How we got here is a long and complicated story full of fighting and intrigue. But we are here and now we have to deal with this corrective phase. In a couple of years most everybody will be back to being comfortable once again. (Does anybody remember and is still aggravated that “This is the Word of the Lord” was changed to “The Word of the Lord”?) But the transition will be hard for many. Please pray for this transition and for those who will have a difficult time with it (clergy and lay alike.) Try to remain positive about it. And have this knowledge in your hip pocket to help those who will be struggling.

Here is the interesting question: Who will become the “Neo Traditionalists” who will want to preserve this old translation and will fight the changes? Now THAT will be fascinating.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent, timely column, Fr. V!

When my husband and I travelled to Sainte Anne de Beaupre in Quebec a couple of years ago, we attended Mass and it was recited in French (naturally). Anyway, although my French is extremely scanty, I do know that their response to, "The Lord be with you," is "And with your spirit."

Will the new translation also deal with "politically correct" language that has crept into the liturgy at some parishes? Our administrator routinely substitutes, "and peace to God's people on earth," for "and peace to His people on earth" in the Gloria (which I find terribly distracting and annoying.) He also changes the words to other prayers similarly.

When I asked him about why this was, he went into a long speech about how God is neither male nor female, and if I am distracted by this it must be the devil who is distracting me. I responded that Our Lord surely knew God better than anyone who ever walked the earth, and yet he always referred to His "Father" and seemed to plainly tell us that God is male. The administrator blew my reasoning off, saying that I need to understand that Jesus was addressing 1st century Jews who were very macho, and who would not accept the concept of a male/female Supreme Being.

Father, since I cannot pray comfortably to such a being, I am persisting in believing that God is truly our "Father." It is difficult enough for me to get my head around the concept of the Trinity and the awesomeness of God as it is. Please let me know if I am being prideful about this and if I am wrong to think this way. The whole explanation left me very uneasy.

Susan from Akron

Karen said...

Any idea how soon the new translation will actually be put into use? I'm really looking forward to it but, I know I'm going to get tripped up on a lot of the changes at first.

Cracked Pot said...

I'm happy about the changes because they reflect the original prayers more accurately. Who will be the "new conservatives," indeed! I think the people who complained about the changes in wording during the 1960s had a better rational for their concerns: the wording had been established for centuries. People who are complaining about changes to 40 year old texts need to think about the shoe being on the other foot.

Charles said...

Liturgiam Authenticam, the Vatican instruction on translation that requires "formal equivalency" rather than "dynamic equivalency" as was used in the 1970s translation, requires revisions to all vernacular versions of the Roman Missal. However, I understand none of the other translations are as distant from the underlying Latin as the English is. The revised Spanish translations for Argentina and Colombia, and the Indonesian translation, have so far been granted recognitio by the Holy See.

Anonymous said...

One reason the proposed new English translation is so techincal is that it is used by Third World nations (who do not have latinists) as a source document. From what I've read more priests seemed opposed to the proposed translation than are in favor of it. More to the point, it will be interesting to see how the Catholic faithful will react - they may well see this as fixing something that is not broken. The bishops (and pope) who seem to be pushing this have overestimated their moral authority, and have underestimated the degree to which the sexual abuse crisis (which continues and is even more widespread recently) has undercut their ability to sell this bill of goods to the church.

Anonymous said...

If more priests oppose it than favor it, that says more about the condition of our seminaries than the changes in the translation. As for the "faithful", well by that definition they should accept it. The not so faithful, who only show up when it's convenient, will probably not notice. And how is a more accurate translation a "bill of goods" that is being pawned off by bishops and a Pope who, according to you, lack moral authority? But I know where you are coming from: Keep the revolution going until there is no one left in the pews!

Anonymous said...

Not really, because you will find that most of the ones who oppose it have been out of the seminary for 10+ years. I suspect that most of those who are in opposition love the church and worship weekly, whereas those who come twice a year don't even know what's going on at this point. The new translation is a "bill of goods" in that it is based more on the personal piety and preference of the pope than anything else; it's really not a matter of dogma that "formal equivalence" is any better than "dynamic equivalence." It will be interesting to see how many are left in the pews two or three after the new translation is imposed upon the English-speaking world.

Matt W said...

Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Even a quick look at the Latin text of the Mass and the translation we now have shows it to be substandard in many respects.

Anon #1, where are you getting your sociological data (i.e. "the ones who oppose it have been out of the seminary for 10+ years")? In spite of your anecdotal claim, I will stipulate that many older priests who experimented in liturgical innovations in the 70's and 80's will put up staunch resistance.

An interesting question is, though, did these "innovations" draw more people to Christ and to salvation, or did many people interpret these changes as the Church watering herself down to be like every other ecclesial community with nothing special to offer?

I think the exodus from the pews has already happened. It will be interesting to see how many return to the pews in two or three years when the sense of mystery and awe begins to be recovered in the Mass.

Anonymous said...

There was a quite servicable ICEL translation completed in the late '90's that was relegated to the ash heap by Rome after many resources were expended in its making. It was an improvement over the current English translation, and was much less grating on the ear than the new proposed translation. Samples can be found in a three-column comparison on the website. Signatures are hovering just under the 20,000 mark; hopefully cool heads will prevail and the proposed translation will be recongized as the trainwreck that it is. The aforementioned website details the history of both ICEL's, the old and new, and their respective retranslations of the Roman Missal.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

New Mass or Old Mass in Latin, and no such issues exist :)

That being said, the Sapnish translations need a little work as well, for the most part it's excellent, but the por todos needs to be changed to pro los multos or something to that.