And With Your Spirit

The hot topic for our priest’s convocation is the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. We’ve had sessions from our diocesan liturgist explaining the rationale of the new translation, and going through the texts. We’ve learned about the Scriptural basis and practiced singing some of the ‘priest’s bits’.

The new translation of the Mass is designed to be more faithful to the original Latin, to re instate allusions to the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church where they had been lost, and to bring into the liturgy an ‘elevated’ or more ‘dignified’ language. The problem with the texts that we have looked at is that in being more faithful to the Latin the translators have sometimes chosen a syntax that is unwieldy and awkward. This is not so much in the parts of the Mass which the people say or sing. I think the faithful will get their tongues around that pretty easily. Instead there is some downright awful ‘clunkiness’ of style in the Collects and prayers. We seem to have exchanged the banal and dumbed down version from the seventies with stuff that sounds like an eighth grader trying to write Shakespeare.

Well, it’s a done deal. We’ll have to live with it, and on the whole I trust the few examples I have seen this week are unrepresentative, and that most of the prayers will still retain a noble simplicity which is also characteristic of the Latin. One of the most interesting things about the new translation in my opinion is the shift away from it being quite so people centered. So before the acclamation of faith the celebrant no longer says, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” Instead he simply says, “Mystery of faith” and the people reply, “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” This shifts the attention to what has just happened on the altar rather than it becoming an affirmation of faith centered on the congregation there present.

This is my first look at the new translations, and people are surprised that I’m not already spending my free evenings poring over Mass texts and Gregorian chant variations. They’ve got me wrong. I’ve never been that interested in liturgy for liturgy’s sake. I simply want to turn up, say the black and do the red lead the flock and focus on Jesus. Excessive fuss about liturgy (either to make it all happy clappy or to make it high falutin’) has never really had an attraction for me, although I’m glad there are people out there who do like to pay close attention to these things.

  • Ryan Ellis

    With all due respect, Father, that probably explains your rather dismissive attitude last year toward the Traddies (I am more ROTR).I would suggest we remember that the Second Vatican Council called the liturgy the "source and summit of the entire Christian life." It's the job of Catholics to be "into" liturgy before we're "into" anything else (including the moral law).

  • Old Bob

    I hope we're not going to see a holy-old row between Fr. L. and Fr. Z. But if we do, I want st should be in Latin!

  • Shaughn

    As a sort of "inside outsider" having gone to a Roman Catholic school, studied the Medieval and early liturgies, and become decently familiar with the Novus Ordo, I'm fairly happy with the updated and amended edition.I'm very pleased that the church will return to a more literal translation of the salutations, because they are either direct quotations or paraphrases of scripture."The Lord be with you." (Ruth 2:4)"And with your spirit." (2 Timothy 4:22)You're right, Father, in that it is very clunky. The use of the English word "chalice," for example, while technically an accurate rendering of the Latin calx, is also a bit misleading without proper catechesis. Nowadays, a chalice is usually a gold or silver goblet, occasionally studded with gems. "The" cup Christ used was almost certainly not so fancy, and so "cup" actually works as a better signifier for Latin calx than English chalice. Similar things happened with the more recent editions of the Psalter. Sure, blowing on a "ram's horn" is more accurate than "trumpet," but "trumpet" is more easily comprehended.I was reading a study recently which observed, however, that humans remember texts and phrases that are archaic or awkward (that is, which take more effort to remember) more readily than texts which are facile to read (and thus easily forgotten). Shakespeare stays lodged in the head for a reason. ("Dost thou think that because thou art virtuous, there shalt be no more cakes and ale?" — Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night.) Likewise, New York Times articles are quickly forgotten. And thank heavens for that.

  • Old Bob

    Shaughn, having been exposed (thank God) to Judaism and Yiddishkeit from an early age, I wonder why they can't just call it a shofar and go from there?

  • torculus

    A very instructive presentation (audio, video; transcripts) by Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, member of the Vox Clara commission. Well worth the listen. The iTunes link/podcast info is worth the download – it's free!

  • Joshua

    You touch, Father, on a real concern: of course we need and deserve a more accurate translation, and of course any such will take time to get used to, but – such the limitations of our present age – even a better translation may well be clunky and awkward; which unfortunately will turn some people off.Ironically, Cranmer (when not being all heretical) proved himself an excellent translator. There is a reason why the BCP endured for so long, whereas in Germany the Lutheran equivalents were always being changed about.