Monday, July 28, 2008

A new translation for the New Mass

From Catholic World News:

Vatican approves new English translation for Mass

Vatican, Jul. 25, 2008 ( - The Vatican has given formal approval to a new English translation of the central prayers of the Mass for use in the United States.

In a June 23 letter of Bishop Arthur Serratelli, the chairman of the US bishops' liturgy committee, the Congregation for Divine Worship announces its recognitio for the translation, which had already won the approval of the US bishops' conference, despite strong protests from some liberal prelates.

The new translation adheres more closely to the Latin of the Roman Missal. Since the 2001 publication of Liturgiam Authenticam, the instruction on the proper translation of liturgical texts, the Vatican has pressed for more faithful translations of the official Latin texts.

Alluding gently to the fierce debates over English-language liturgical translations in the past decade, the Congregation for Divine Worship reports "no little satisfaction in arriving at this juncture." The letter from the Vatican is signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze (bio - news) and Archbishop Albert Malcom Ranjith, the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the Congregation.

The Vatican's binding approval covers only a portion of the entire Roman Missal. The entire process of translating the Roman Missal is expected to take at least until 2010. However, the prayers given the Vatican recognitio are the most common texts for the Order of the Mass.

The Vatican approval comes just after the US bishops' conference voted against approval of another installment in the series of translations that will be required to complete the overall project.

The new translation is not to be used immediately, the Vatican letter indicates. Instead the US bishops are directed to begin "pastoral preparation" for the changes in the language of the Mass. During this same period, the Congregation for Divine Worship notes, some musical settings for the text could be prepared.

Among the noteworthy changes that Catholics will notice when the new translation goes into effect are:

  • At the Consecration, the priest will refer to Christ's blood which is "poured out for you and for many"-- an accurate translation of pro multis-- rather than "for all" in the current translation.

  • In the Nicene Creed the opening word, Credo, will be correctly translated as "I believe" rather than "we believe".

  • When the priest says, "The Lord be with you," the faithful respond, "And with your spirit," rather than simply, "And also with you".

  • In the Eucharistic prayer, references to the Church will use the pronouns "she" and "her" rather than "it".

  • In the Agnus Dei, the text cites the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world," rather than using the singular word "sin".

  • In the preferred form of the penitential rite, the faithful will acknowledge that they have sinned "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault".

Throughout the translation of the Offertory and Eucharistic Prayer, the traditional phrases of supplication are restored, and the Church is identified as "holy"-- in each case, matching the Latin original of the Roman Missal.

This is, strictly speaking, good news, but Melancholicus finds himself unable to summon up even a modicum of enthusiasm for it.

In broad agreement with the words of a tired commentator over at the New Liturgical Movement, we might say these developments are (however positive), “too little, too late”.

It’s like a band-aid trying to cover an open and gushing wound. Like tackling a forest fire with a water pistol. Or better yet, like bolting the stable door after the horse has fled.

It is of course refreshing to see that the tendentious mistranslation of pro multis—which has exercised the spleen of many a trad at least since 1969—will now finally be corrected. Has it really taken them forty years?

But there remain so many other problems and difficulties lodged within the new rite that Melancholicus seriously doubts that it will ever be fixed—at least in the limited time left before there is no-one going to Mass any more.

The Novus Ordo—at least in its current incarnation of 1970s ICELese—is intimately familiar to those who attend it, week after week, Sunday after Sunday. They have absorbed and internalised its language, its rhythms, its outlook (and as a consequence they are no longer Catholic, but that’s a story for another day). They know it forwards, and backwards, and inside out. To start making changes—yet more changes!—will serve only to confuse and upset the faithful who have grown accustomed to the current order. This is a criticism made vociferously and repeatedly by bishop Trautperson of the Erie diocese. Now this same Trautperson (or Trautperdaughter, or whatever his inclusiveness wishes to be called) may be a screaming Amchurch liberal, but Melancholicus must admit that in this instance, he has a point. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The fact is that even if the celebrant sticks scrupulously to the text of the revised ordinary, congregational responses such as “and also with you” may turn out to be wellnigh impossible to suppress. The current incorrect ICELese is simply too deeply rooted in the consciousness of Mass-goers. Some more liturgically-aware (or slavishly obedient) persons may embrace the new form, but the rest will continue to mumble “and also with you”, even if only out of habit. A case-study should bear this out. Back around 1968, when Irish Catholics were adjusting to the vernacular Mass for the first time, the approved translation of Habemus ad Dominum was “we raise them up to the Lord”. In the official ICELese promulgated in 1970, this text was changed to “we lift them up to the Lord”. But Irish Catholics in the pews failed to make the ICEL-mandated transition once they had accustomed themselves to the original translation, and in Ireland to this very day when the priest says Lift up your hearts we respond we raise them up to the Lord.

This and similar congregational responses are likely to remain stubbornly in use despite the best efforts of lawful authority to correct them. Such is the power of habit and custom—and the power, also, of the vernacular.

Instead of trying to fix the deficient ICELese we have been sufficiently unfortunate to inherit from the groovin’, jivin’ and swingin’ decades, we should treat this, rather, as an opportune moment for starting to sneak bits of Latin back into the new rite. Extemporising entire prayers and gratuitous departures from the text of the missal are commonplace wherever the Novus Ordo is celebrated. These abuses are facilitated by the Mass being said in vernacular. How many celebrants and liturgists could be so “creative” if they were required to compose their nonsense in Latin? Similarly with congregational responses—we have no hope of replacing the vernacular “and also with you” with the vernacular “and with your spirit”, so why not simply go back to Dominus Vobiscum / Et cum spiritu tuo in Latin? Everyone either already knows—or can very quickly learn—the proper Latin response et cum spiritu tuo. By constrast, nobody knows the Latin for “and also with you”.

And now after all that, what point is there in Melancholicus trying to make this reasoned argument? The foolish boy. Doesn’t he realise that the Novus Ordo changes all the time, even the words used in its celebration, at the whims of the celebrant and whoever else happens to have a speaking part? And that it is fair to say that most Catholics in the pews either do not notice these aberrations, or are not disturbed by them?

So what is the point, even, of trying to fix the many infirmities of the Novus Ordo? Is it not better to let it die a natural death?

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