The new translation: "A few years down the road, most people won't even remember it happened"

A lot of secular media are beginning to report on the new Mass translation — and here’s one report with some reaction and analysis from Pittsburgh that notes an effort to have the new missal delayed:

Catholics in English-speaking countries will begin using a new translation of the Mass next month with language more formal and closer to the original Latin, but the change is sparking protest.

“We probably won’t face changes of this size in our lifetime,” said Michael Aquilina of Bridgeville, who has written more than 30 books about Catholic history, doctrine and devotion.

The new translation will be used beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the liturgical year in the Catholic church. The Mass is the church’s central form of worship.

“We feel confident that our members are well prepared,” said the Rev. Brian Noel, a parochial vicar at St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon, where church members have been readying for the changes since August.

“Change is always difficult,” Agnel DeSilva, who volunteers as a Eucharistic minister there, said he expects some resistance. But these changes to the liturgy are good. The language is more precise,” he said.

More than 22,000 Catholics — including Sister of Divine Providence Rita M. Yeasted — have signed an online petition asking that the new translation be delayed. A group representing more than 400 of Ireland’s 4,500 priests has asked Irish bishops to postpone the introduction of the new English translation for at least another five years.

“Is this the most important thing the church has to do?” Yeasted said during a telephone interview. “Rome is burning and we’re saying my fiddle is a little out of tune.”

John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and the author of two biographies of Pope Benedict XVI, expects some churchgoers to grumble.

“Then, a few years down the road most people won’t even remember it happened,” he said.

Allen said there have been small changes to the liturgy in other languages, but the revisions in English are the most extensive.

“That’s largely because a segment of the English-speaking Catholic world, with influence in the Vatican — generally, the more conservative segment — has long been unhappy with the translation. They see it as too “worldly” and too fast-and-loose with respect to the Latin original,” he said.

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41 responses to “The new translation: "A few years down the road, most people won't even remember it happened"”

  1. When I introduced our parish to the new translation I said that some will love it, other hate it but most will say, “Whatever!” They laughed and nodded their heads.

  2. From one of the Mass-goers quoted the article: “It makes it more restrictive of welcoming people into the church.”

    Really? Someone is going to be disaffected and feel unwelcome by our Church not because of, say, how they’re greeted when they come into a church, or how they’re treated by their fellow human beings during worship, or in the day-to-day activities in the parish or school, but because of the words at Mass?

    I have to agree with John Allen- we American Catholics can be a sad lot at times, complete with a short attention span and an even shorter memory. Honestly…did Americans resort to Commonweal-level whinging when the liturgy was reworked in 1955, or even 1985? After a year or so with the new translation, given the inevitable “one year on” reports from the Catholic chattering classes in late 2012, most of us will move right on…and end up complaining about something else.

  3. ““Is this the most important thing the church has to do?” Yeasted said during a telephone interview. “Rome is burning and we’re saying my fiddle is a little out of tune.””

    More to the point, is this the most important Sister Yeasted and the other petitioners have to do? Even if it was a waste of time for the Church to do this, it’s an even bigger waste of time to try to stop it.

  4. I am really looking forward to it. I have enjoyed Father Z’s printing of the current prayers side by side the new prayers. The new ones are full of meaning.

    Are they going to change the readings back to say “this is the Word of the Lord.” Instead of “The Word of the Lord.” I still miss the old one.

  5. I agree that most of us will eventually get used to the new wording and we’ll all move on. In the meantime, people will be stumbling over the new words and befuddled by the meanings of others (consubstantial?) Many will find it annoying and you’ll definitely notice the volume of responses diminishing during Liturgy. There are a core of people, as John Allen says, who will probably be very happy with the changes…most, I believe, will either not care or be impacted in a negative way. If you were to ask the vast majority of the people in the pews (you know, the Church, the Body of Christ) most would have put revising the English translation of the Liturgy WAY down their list of “issues” which needed attention in our Church. At a time when people seek to make the Church more relevant and meaningful in their every day lives, this new translation will be another small push sending them in the other direction.

  6. “Are they going to change the readings back to say “this is the Word of the Lord.” Instead of “The Word of the Lord.” I still miss the old one.”

    I don’t think we will see that change. One of the reasons it was changed was to correspond to what the priest says at Communon–“The Body of Christ”. Jesus comes to us in word and in sacrament. Also the Word of God is not contained as it were in the Lectionary but in the proclamation of it.

  7. “At a time when people seek to make the Church more relevant and meaningful in their every day lives, this new translation will be another small push sending them in the other direction.’

    I don’t think the new translation will be pushing people away as you say. If the Mass is the most important thing we do as Catholics then it is fitting that the language be noble and not as blah as the current translation.
    I think people who hold positions in the Church should get on board and not add to the difficulty of the transition. It is going to happen whether people like it or not.

  8. Well, it’s here.

    As for the new vocabulary words in the new translation, that becomes a golden opportunity for the deacons and priests to discuss the meaning of the concepts that pass our lips without deeper thought about what it is we are saying. Yes, the new vocabulary will act as speed bumps, jostling us from our rote torpor, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

  9. Whether people like the changes or hate them, it’s no doubt true that we will all get used to them in a while. But the process by which this new translation came about may well have more lasting effects, some of them even less desirable than occasional awkwardness in our public prayers. Though the translations were officially “approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority” as required by Sacrosanctum Concilium, this formal approval amounted to a rubber stamp reluctantly given. In reality, the new translation was imposed on the English-speaking world by officials in Rome, a reversion to the ways of the pre-Vatican II Church. Updating and improving the English translation of the missal afforded an opportunity to put collegiality to work, but, sadly, that opportunity was passed by.

  10. Ron,

    Bishop Serratelli of the Patterson Diocese has been at the forefront of a large contingent of American bishops who have pushed for this revision. I am a subscriber to the Adoremus Bulletin and have been following these developments for a few years.

    This has been anything BUT a top-down imposition from Rome.

  11. Gerard # 10

    As I understood it from Msgr. Wadsworth at a recent workshop, Rome issued a new set of principles for translation about ten years ago. Since that time, it has been English speaking bishops from around the world and members of ICEL who have actually done the work of translation, which Rome finally approved.

  12. John Allen is most correct we will eventually get used to it.

    But that doesn’t change for one second that it is a translation with, as Mr Allen also precisely points out, an obvious agenda to impose literal latin on the english language translation to the detriment of clarity and understanding of those who speak and understand English.

    Then we have all the happy talk bulletin inserts and some of our honorable friends here who would have us believe that the existing liturgy translation we have been celebrating the last 40 years is so far off the mark that it is one step removed from a wicken mass. Seriously. And how terrible that anyone dare say anything other then “Alleluia” to this ham-handed translation.

    Fortunately, in my opinion, the Church will overcome this because what is at the center of the mass- the real presence of of Christ in the Eucharist and his real presence in the mind, body and soul of the faithful gathered around the table, so far exceeds our feeble attempts to define, translate or otherwise mess up the mass.

  13. Joe Cleary,

    Being 51 years old, I really don’t remember mass in Latin, but I do remember the earlier English translation, before the one we’ve been using for the past 40 years.

    This past summer, I attended the funeral mass of Faith Mcfadden, of the Human Life Review. It was celebrated in latin by Father George Rutler, and was the first latin mass that I can ever recall. I must say that I was struck by its beauty, as well as by another thought:

    Perhaps if we returned to latin, this endless liturgical anarchy would end, as few if any priests would be fluent enough in latin to ad lib, and fewer in the pews would be fluent enough to get the ad libs.

    I have witnessed this endless chaos my entire conscious life as a Catholic, and quite frankly, I’m weary of it. Latin is beginning to look pretty good, and that’s quite a statement from this guitarist who has played more folk/contemporary masses than I can count.

  14. Gerard

    History shows this “it wouldn’t happen in Latin,” to be grossly in error. Many times priests would mumble nonsense — no one else knew, so they thought, so they basically went blah blah blah. Ad lib? You bet it will happen. It happened.

    The reason why the Church promotes vernacular is because of the widespread abuse which happens when it is in a language most people don’t know and don’t follow. The liturgy becomes clerical as the people have their own separate sideshow going on. Liturgical celebration no longer is capable of catechesis, the symbolism basically lost to everyone.

  15. an obvious agenda to impose literal latin on the english language translation to the detriment of clarity and understanding of those who speak and understand English.

    If you can’t understand words like “ineffable” and “consubstantial”, then your command of English is pretty limited, let alone Latin.

    Besides, the official text of the Mass is in Latin, Yes, it’s high time to “impose” a more literal translation in place of what we have had for the past 40 years, which is more of “based loosely on an idea by” rather than “a translation of”.

  16. Often a “more literal” translation is not too helpful, and can actually detract from the meaning of the text itself. This is something those who have not studied linguistics do not understand. There are false ideas behind a “one for one” “literal” translation — because, of course, a word in one language will have different semantic values when translated into a different language; idioms are a perfect example of this. It’s poor linguistics to demand an over-literal presentation and it leads many people to errors.

  17. I agree with those who say people will adapt to the changes. Most people don’t like change, but soon it becomes the norm. I think the changes will push folks to pay a little more attention to what they are saying – at least for a while – after all, Latin responses became rote after a while back in the day. Frankly, I think those who have already decided that people will flee the Church because of the changes, should stop and take a deep breath. Have they noticed how much Mass attendance has dropped over the years?

    If there are words that we don’t understand, it is a great opportunity to increase our understanding of the faith. And, really, I don’t think the critics give the laity enough credit when it comes to pronouncing and understanding “big” words.

  18. BTW, I love the word, consubstantial, and I love, “with your spirit,” both words used in the translations of my liturgical tradition as well. “With your spirit” can be a bit of a confusion based upon modern understanding of the word “spirit,” to be sure; quoting classical mystagoges here might help.

    However, there are many instances in the translation where it is really, really bad English. That is going to hinder prayer and hinder proper understanding of the prayer.

  19. In the talks I have been giving at my parish I have told the people if they were there to hear my opinion of the translation then they were going to be disappointed. My opinion did not matter, because this is what we are going to be expected to use and we can either fight it and be miserable, or accept the changes and find the good in it and be happy. I choose to accept and be happy. I have found a great deal of good inthe new translation, but wish that they had used a more balanced means of both litteral and dynamic equivalence to do the translation. But be that as it may, what we have is what we will use and it is a wonderful opportunity to catechize the people on the liturgy, what we do there and why we do it. I think that it will be awkward for a while, and then people will be able to respond. The priests will have a harder time of it, as they will not be ablet o just show up and say mass, they are going to have to practice many of hte presidential prayers for specific days to be able to say and pray them well.

  20. “Is this the most important thing the church has to do?” Yeasted said during a telephone interview. “Rome is burning and we’re saying my fiddle is a little out of tune.”

    Some might reasonably suggest that the new translation is a powerful hose.

  21. Total non sequitur but I was just at the parish for Mass this morning! ’tis a gloriously beautiful church and a very vibrant parish!

    But now, onto the article, while the the changes in the new translation will seem awkward at first, soon they shall become second nature and as was said, no one will even remember all the hullabaloo that some created out of this.

    Besides, this is just a new translation. This is nothing compared to what happened following the Council when the new edition of the Missal came out when it went from Latin to the vernacular. Now, that would have been something to which it was hard to adapt.

    I believe the new translation has more pronounced connection to the transcendence of God and thus in turn in persons as individuals made in the Image and Likeness of God. It’s not just mildly-elevated dialogue between priest and people. It is more indicative of what the Church participates in when she worships at Mass.

    Also, words like “consubstantial” are amazing and people should learn their meaning and why they are so much better than the present “one in being” which is not equal philosophically.

  22. This is the third major Mass revision for me; I’m not too worried, it will become rote before too long. In grade school we used to have the Dialogue Mass, in Latin, with our big daily missals, the English on one side and the Latin responses on the other. I could still say the Confiteor and a lot of the responses in Latin if I had to. People think the Mass has stayed the same until the last 45 years; in the important ways of course it has; but the form has been evolving long before that. My dad is really happy about the upcoming changes, and I am happy for him; his generation has had a lot to put up with over the years.

  23. The Mass has changed so much from when I was a child it is no longer recognizable from the way it was back in my parochial school days.

    Why these folks insist on changing a beautiful thing is strange. It is like a group of folks who insist on improving the Mona Lisa every ten years until the point it no longer looks like the original painting.

  24. In a year, 10 % will say the change is horrible, 10% will say the Mass is much more full of meaning, and the rest will will not notice much difference.

  25. Re. #10 and #11: I am down with “And with your spirit,” and I sure I will learn to live with this translation (much as I have learned to live with the New American Bible). I am also aware that Pope Benedict praised the preparation of the new missal as an example of collegiality. However, I think it is a real stretch to describe the process by which this translation came about as an example of the collegiality envisioned at the Council. I cite in particular the point made by Fr. Michael Ryan in his 2009 America essay, “What If We Said, ‘Wait’?”:

    “We can see the present moment only as one more assault on the council and, sadly, one more blow to episcopal collegiality. It was, after all, the council that gave to conferences of bishops the authority to produce their own translations (S.C., Nos. 36, 40), to be approved, it is true, by the Holy See but not, presumably, to be initiated, nitpicked and controlled by it. Further, the council also wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation (S.C., No. 40)—something that has been noticeably missing in the present case.”

    As I read about the process, I kept wondering what effect it might have on our relations with the Eastern Church. If this is what we call collegiality, I suspect the Orthodox will resolve once more to keep their distance from it.

  26. @25 Ron,

    As I read about the process, I kept wondering what effect it might have on our relations with the Eastern Church.

    Well, it’s my understanding that what had already happened to liturgy in the Latin church in the last 40 or 50 years has been an added stumbling block to relations with the eastern churches (plural here is more precise, no?). If anything, the further liberation of the older form of the mass and the ongoing efforts to restore dignity to the newer form will only *help* east-west relations.

    And really, the notion that the torturous process by which the new translation is finally, praise be to God, to be implemented cannot possibly be seen as anti-collegial, unless by that you mean the various national bishops conferences basically dragging their feet, ignoring Rome, and otherwise doing everything in their power not to cooperate. Somehow I have a feeling THAT behavior is what was non envisioned at the Council.

  27. It’s difficult to know how this will affect relations with the Orthodox. Actually, if you read 19th century Orthodox commentary on the Latin Mass, much of what happened post V-II fixes those criticisms. But then the Orthodox always seem to want to have something to complain about. Well, not all — by any means, many don’t, but those who would complain will always complain…

  28. Henry Karlson
    From your discussions, one would get the feeling that back in the days of the Latin mass, folks did not know what was going…”The reason why the Church promotes vernacular is because of the widespread abuse which happens when it is in a language most people don’t know and don’t follow.”

    Everywhere you went to mass, it was consistent and as a 77 year old lifelong Catholic, I knew the mass in latin very clearly. You have to remember that from little on, most kids started attending mass 6 days a week from the 1st grade throughout their grade school years. Nuns were there to make sure we knew the mass. The reason for the changes had nothing to do with abuse, but with the desire of those seeking change to create their own form of liturgy which included the destruction of many Catholic Churches. None of that was part of Vatican II. With the first sign of abuse, the persmission should have ended and we would have avoided much of the garbage we have seen over the years.

    What is being done now is a correction of the errors and those who seek out the beauty of that which is being changed will find new understanding and meaning. As stated above, Father Z and others have done a magnificient job of producing information for the corrections. Those you see whining have devoted zero time, effort, and or desire to understand these corrections.

    Out Church has fully adopted the changes, we have had weekly sessions on each change and the reason for the correction with a full understanding of why the new is better. But once again, we see something that the Catholic Church in Rome and the USCCB have put forth, and yet dissent flows forth. SAD

  29. Greta:

    “I knew the mass in Latin very clearly”

    So did so or I I thought. When I was struggling as a new reader with the words in my missal, my father had to point out to me that I was reading the Latin words on the left page of the missal.

    I don’t think that the Latin Mass of those days, as reverant and uplifting as it was and is, contributed to a full, conscious, and active participation in Mass.

  30. My pastor was really fretting about the missal changes and expressed to me personally about his dissatisfaction and his doubts that they would even come to pass.

    However, when we looked at the new translation side-by-side during a parish council meeting, he was shocked at the favorable response of the lay members. They especially appreciated the clearer connection to scripture in the new wording.

    One thing that dismays me about some of the concerns of those opposed to the changes is the low opinion they seem to have of the laity.

    We can handle this.

    It’s gonna be OK…really.

  31. My goodness, like it or not I can’t believe those people are making such a big deal. There will always be people who gripe, but reading that was very disheartening, especially this:

    ““Is this the most important thing the church has to do?” Yeasted said during a telephone interview. “Rome is burning and we’re saying my fiddle is a little out of tune.”

    First of all Rome is burning? There are issues yes, but hardly any more than any other religion. Second, even if it were, what does implementing a new translation have to do it one way or the other? I can only conclude this man is just throwing stones at the Church to hurt her.

  32. HMS,
    So, I stand for the processional and continue standing while I sing the Asperges, then I kneel for the Sign of the Cross and the prayers at the foot of the altar, pray the Confiteor silently with the servers, sing the Kyrie, sing the Gloria, stand up for the Collect, sit for the Epistle, stand for the Gospel, making the proper responses all along, then listen to the sermon, then sing the Creed…

    You see where I’m going with this, right?

    How is that not full, conscious and active participation?

    Not so much up and down at Low Mass, of course. But an attentive mind is still, you know, active.

  33. Sal #33

    What you describe may approach full, conscious, and active participation, but it is far removed from what typically happened before 1962. Back then, people changed posture as required, but very few made the Latin responses, only the choir sang the chant portions, and very many — so far from being consciously involved in the actual prayers and actions of the Mass — prayed the rosary. Some followed along as best they could with their Latin-English missals, and a very few participated in dialogue Mass by making responses (that was the altar boy’s job). That’s how it was in my parish in eastern Massachusetts in the 1950’s.

    If people at EF Masses nowadays participate beyond changing posture, they can thank the habits they learned from the OF for that.

  34. @25 Ron: As I read about the process, I kept wondering what effect it might have on our relations with the Eastern Church.

    It’s a very welcome change for many of us Eastern Catholics, as a more orthodox expression of the theology of the Latin Church. Fr. Loya actually devoted his weekly program this morning “Light of the East” to talking about the new translation and his great enthusiasm for it.

    That program hasn’t been archived yet but will be, here:

    We of course use other liturgies, not the Roman Rite. In my church we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The new translation of the Roman Rite is closer to the comparable texts of our Liturgy in a number of ways, two obviously ones are the response “And with your spirit” which we use, and in the Symbol of Faith/the Creed which we say as “I believe…all things visible and invisible…was incarnate of the Virgin Mary…” etc.

  35. Greta

    It wasn’t the “same” everywhere. Different priests would treat it differently, some zipping on by real quick, some not. And the different parishes would have different action/reaction. You do know there were cultural parishes, right, and they differed, right? How did they differ? If they were all the same, there would have been no force to try to remove the ethnic distinctions.

    And in the parishes, as HMS stated, people would be doing all kinds of different things. Some might be doing the rosary, some just drifting in and out, etc. It really was not universal. That’s a romantic myth.

  36. First, my original reply was a little defensive and snarky, and for that I apologize.

    What would be most helpful, I think, is for each to stop assuming that the other is buying into a myth.
    None of us are dealing with universals here- there’s always going to be a bell curve.
    Only a vocal minority are claiming that everything was rosy prior to 1969- I’m leaving out experimental liturgies b/c they were experimental- but to argue that all/most Catholics were lost at Mass before the OF is just as innaccurate.
    “We had to change the Mass b/c Catholics are dumb as a bag of hammers” may not be what you mean to say, but that’s what’s implied.

    A purely personal observation, fwiw. After twenty years of on and off, but mostly on, attendance at the local indult, I note that the level of crankiness, for which Trads are notorious, almost entirely disappeared after we got our own parish.
    Those who were never going to satisfied, irregardless, moved on.
    That’s all most EF attendees really want- a chance to live out that particular tradition without stepping on the toes of those who don’t subscribe.

  37. I agree with Gerard Nadal and others who suggest that this can be a teachable moment, an opportunity to explore why we say what we say when we pray–one example being the fruitful discussion conducted here in response to Deacon Greg’s post about the return to the scriptural language of the first line of the Gloria. Sadly, there’s not much real catechesis going on around the translation, at least where I am. Because the change is being interpreted as political (a victory by trads, a bitter loss by libs), very few parishes are willing to open up discussion that would threaten the crockery. Many pastors are hoping to let it slip under the radar, and framing it as more a question of learning new musical settings (something parishioners struggle through regularly) than anything more far-reaching. As an example of how desperately a close-reading catechesis is needed, I did attend a workshop on the changes in which there was near-universal horror at the return to the wording “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” Many (too many!) believed this was a reference to the roof of one’s mouth, and was a harbinger of some directive to return to Communion on the tongue only. They were astonished when I pointed out that it was simply a return to the scriptural language of the centurion. Most were mollified by this, but one woman insisted she still wouldn’t use the prayer, because she said it was “elitist” to intimate that anyone was unworthy to receive!

  38. Sal #37

    “That’s all most EF attendees really want- a chance to live out that particular tradition without stepping on the toes of those who don’t subscribe.”

    Couple of comments:

    –I am old enough to remember the Latin Mass prior to Vatican II very well. In fact, I served that older mass on a regular basis when I was in both grade school and high school. My memories support the general observation that while the larger congregations were universal in postures, and maybe 50% of the attendees had their own Missals that helped them follow-along, there was very little additional participation. Choirs sang — not congregations; servers responded to the priests — not congregations. And — of course — no lay-folks assisted in the ceremony itself as readers or EMHC’s.

    –That being said, I also had the opportunity to participate in a Novus Ordo Latin Mass twice: once at the National Shrine in Washington DC where me and my family were tapped to bring up the offertory and once in Cambridge England where I was the deacon of the altar and preached. Although I was glad I was attending mass, the emotion of the moment was — for me — primarily nostalgia. The thing about nostalgia is that it always is temporary.

    –If you would have asked me ten years ago (I was also a deacon then) I would have said the “Latin-Mass” folk were a genuine pain in the neck. For a few short weeks, we had a layman who was a visitor to our parish but who stayed in the vestibule and on the sidewalks and would engage anyone who would listen trying to convince us to bring back the “Latin Mass” in our parish. (I never understood if he was looking for the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin — or the pre-Vatican [what we know call the EF] variant.) All of us in any official capacity (pastor, me, ushers) were generally courteous but I cannot say the same for that “carpet-bagger.” At times, he could be down right rude.

    –When the Extraordinary Form was approved, our local bishop also established an inner-city parish as the primary site for that celebration. That specific parish was on the well-known urban track of declining membership (and had the chance of being closed several times in recent years) but the “EF” experience gave them a boost in attendance and contributions. I have never been there but my estimate is that there is a core who — like you suggested — simply “want the chance. . . “. I also suspect that as the presence of the EF there becomes better known, a fair amount of “curiosity seekers” will continue to roll in-and-out.

    I would not at all object — in fact, to this day wonder why it was never done immediately after Vatican II — if the Vatican would create a separate “prelature” or “ordinariate”for the dedicated “EF” folk similar to what Universal Catholicism already has with the “Eastern Rites.” Maybe that is the answer — maybe not.

  39. James #40

    It is my understanding that the “International Commission on English in the Liturgy” (noted at places as the “ICEL”) did not use a translation service so much as they used themselves.

    What no one seems to appreciate is that this commission was INTERNATIONAL. It consisted of — and received reports and consultations from — all of the English speaking cultural “churches.”

    The overall conventional wisdom of the “Ugly American” is still a problem in some circles in our universal church. There is such antipathy against things American that when translators from England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, East India, Canada, and other countries that use English as an everyday language gathered to re-work the English of the Liturgy, we “Yanks” were likely ignored. OR If we were not ignored, we were certainly out voted. The problem was — those very diverse committee members were not really able to agree with any other culture’s English nuances either. The end result, they stuck to “Latinisms” for translations which most of the committee members found awkward but at least they could agree to them.

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