Monday, July 28, 2008

Some further thoughts on liturgical revision

The attempts by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship to arrive at an English rendering of the Novus Ordo that is actually an accurate translation of the Latin rather than an ideologically-rooted free paraphrase are certainly commendable, but to Melancholicus such efforts feel like trying to keep the Titanic afloat by bailing with a teaspoon.

If one is going to tinker with the New Mass at all, one should take a look at its several problems and correct the most glaring of them in one fell swoop. But Melancholicus supposes that the Holy See, following the time-honoured practice of the most successful liturgical revisers, wishes to proceed with this project slowly and piecemeal, lest Jesuits and other hippies be incited into open revolt by the sudden proscription of the banal and horizontal community love-fest that is their interpretation of the current ordo.

Definitive judgement must of course be reserved until we have seen the final, definitive text, but so far, judging especially from the favourable reports given it by certain trustworthy members of the clergy, the revised ordinary seems to be a vast improvement upon the original of 1970.

Two pertinent criticisms, though: the first of these is really outside the remit of translators, since Melancholicus is now talking about making adjustments to the Latin editio typica. This, of course, is beyond the competence of ICEL to arrange. But I notice we are still stuck with the exceedingly banal adaptation of a Jewish grace before meals that passes for an offertory in the new rite. No amount of accurate translation will repair a text which is likewise deficient in the original Latin; it has to be replaced instead. Perhaps this will be done at some point in the future, but as it is more than a simple matter of translation, we shall say no more about it here.

A second criticism, though, is within the remit of ICEL, and Melancholicus is disappointed that the committee has not seen fit (or has not been permitted?) to take a leaf out of the book of our Anglican cousins, for in the revised rite no provision whatever is made for the use of traditional language in the liturgy. The new version is certainly more elegant than its earlier incarnation, but almighty God is still addressed as you throughout, never as thou, except in the Our Father, a prayer which every practicing Catholic knows by heart—at least one hopes that some standardising zealot will not try to impose a “modern” version of the Lord’s prayer upon us, which would be absolutely intolerable.

An option for what the Anglicans call “traditional language” would go a long way towards creating a style of solemn, hieratic, liturgical English—which we completely lack in the Roman Catholic Church—and which could be used alongside the more pedestrian vernacular, with some Masses celebrated in English, and some in vernacular. The faithful could fulfil their Sunday obligations at one or the other, at their preference or convenience. Melancholicus thinks this an excellent idea, at least in principle—but he suspects that bishop Trautperson and his fellow travellers would suffer apoplexy at the prospect of Masses being said in liturgical English in their backyard.

*ENDNOTE: Melancholicus has seen what purports to be a copy of the proposed text of the “New New Mass”. In any case, he reckons this must be a now obsolete working draft at a much earlier stage of development, especially since the mistranslation of pro multis—which is supposed to have been amended if the reports are correct—is still present in its rendering of each of the four eucharistic prayers. Can anyone reading this vouch authoritatively for this document or the website on which it appears?

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