Is the New Translation More Reverent?

Will the new English translation of the liturgy make our worship more reverent? I doubt it. This doesn’t mean that I am opposed to the new translation. From what I’ve seen so far it has its good points and its bad points. No translation is perfect, and I reckon we’re swapping one set of problems for another. Don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of the new translation and have high hopes for its successful implementation.

However, we must imagine that a more dignified and more accurate translation of the Mass is going to automatically make Catholic worship reverent. Catholic worship isn’t reverent or irreverent just because of the words you use. This should be obvious to anyone who has attended a reverently and carefully celebrated Novus Ordo Mass.

What is more important than the words is how the Mass is celebrated by both the priest and the people. I am quite sure that when the new Mass is introduced that Fr. Folkmass will still celebrate Mass in his usual game show host style while other priests will celebrate the Mass casually and carelessly. Many Americans will still shuffle into Mass late wearing shorts and flip flops. Comfort hymns and crooners with hand held microphones will still lead the music and politically correct former nuns will still bully everyone into singing protest anthems instead of hymns.

Mass isn’t reverent simply because you start using lofty language that ‘sounds religious’. True reverence is the fruit of a condition of heart. Reverence in worship is a by product of a certain type of Catholic mindset. It is not the automatic product of a particular form of words.

This is why I am not that optimistic about the new translation making Catholic worship more reverent. To understand the irreverence in much Catholic worship we have to probe much deeper than the form of words we use for worship. Catholic worship is too often irreverent because Catholics (priests and people) have stopped really believing the Catholic faith.

I’m sorry to call a spade a spade, but far too many Catholics don’t actually believe in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They believe in the fellowship meal. They don’t believe in transubstantiation. They believe in ‘the real presence’ (a vague and flexible term which can mean practically anything) That’s why Mass is irreverent–because they’ve changed it from a participation in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, which takes them into the very presence of the throne room of the King of Kings to a cross between a protest march and a pot luck supper at which we sing campfire songs.

The new translation of the Mass will provide  more reverent language to those who are already reverent at Mass, but real change for the irreverent masses will come not with a change of words, but with a change of heart.

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    'Let us alwayes bear about us such impressions of reverence and fear of God as to tremble at his voice, to expresse our apprehensions of his greatnesse in all great accidents, in popular judgements, loud thunders, tempests, earth quakes, not onely for fear of being smitten our selves, or that we are concened in the accident, but also that we may humble our selves before his Almightinesse, and expresse that infinite distance between his infiniteness and our weaknesses, at such times especially when he gives such visible arguments of it. He that is merry and ayry at shore when he sees a sad and loud tempest on the sea, or dances briskly when God thunders from heaven, regards not when God speaks to all the world, but is possessed with a firm immodesty.'Revd Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living, 1659 A.D.. p.123{re the UK Catholic Herald of today- what do those Teutonic 'theologians' think they are playing at? Again, any former Orthodox Anglican Priest may obviate the matter by looking at the statistics that 'women's ordination' does not provide for more congregants in the 'audience'. Sheer elitist attempts to further 'hijack' the Church, just like they did the Cof E. They know the facts and figures and want their 'way' anyhow. Simply not Christian. NADA. Nyet.]

  • Peter Brown

    Thank you, Father, for the reminder that we shouldn't expect magical transformations from the new translation. Your point is well-taken that even a perfect translation (should one exist) could be badly done, and a poor translation can still be celebrated reverently.Unmentioned in your post—although I think not absent from your thinking, since you mention being in favor of the new translation—is the important fact that the change of hearts and the change of words are not entirely unconnected. Better liturgical wording can lower the "barriers to entry" for a change of heart, just as tasteless wording can raise them. What we all hope for, I think, is that the new translation, despite its new problems, will on balance lower those barriers in more places than it raises them.Peace,–Peter

  • Seeker

    It's a good start!!!

  • Gail F

    I think you hit the nail on the head. At best, the new translation will give us the opportunity for a more reverent mass — if the words are better (and in many cases they seem to be) then saying them reverently will sound even better, and the "loftiness" of the language will probably invite many people to do so. On the other hand, one can schlepp through anything, and I full expect many to go on doing just that.On the other hand (I have a lot of hands) the King James Version of the Bible remains perpetually popular because the language is so lofty and lovely. St. Augustine had a hard time with the Scriptures because the translations he had were so pedestrian and sounded dumb, not unlike our current Bible translation ("I have finished the race, I have competed well…"). Of course you CAN get over that, and obviously St. Augustine did, but what's wrong with making it more likely for people to do so?

  • Michael Hallman

    Mostly I agree with you, though I would add that reverence isn't the only factor to consider in the good that will come to the Mass as a result of this translation (even with its occasional awkward and poor translation efforts). For one thing, the current translation is, in my opinion, related to a movement that has entire eschewed any notion of sacred beauty and its proper and essential place in liturgy. There is no beauty in the language of the current translation, but rather it's all dull and insipid. Notably, the music that has been produced during this time is equally banal.The language itself of the new translation does a wonderful job, in most cases, of capturing the sense of beauty in language that is so proper to authentic Catholic liturgy. I've only heard a smattering of the work being done on new liturgical music to coincide with the translation, but much of what I have heard has been rooted in this important understanding of beauty.I don't doubt the Holy Father has played an important role through his lifetime of teaching and catechesis on the philosophy of beauty, and with the beauty of language and of music, I am hopeful that in time this will serve as a natural evolution to a more reverent celebration of the liturgy by all involved.Maybe I'm just an optimist :)

  • Robert

    I agree, but there is a larger issue.As I child, I was poorly catechized (not even knowing Jesus and Emmanuel were the same person) and homilies could have been cribbed from the Oprah Winfred or Jerry Springer show and second rate pop 60s guitar music took away any regard for the sacred or that any of the words in any of the mass should be taken seriously. It's little surprise that I and most of my generation fell away and stopped going after grade school.However, genuflecting and kneeling still remained with me, and I still had a soft spot for the statues (which unfortunately have been ripped out of that parish) and large cross behind the altar (which unfortunately has also been ripped out). When I married a Protestant and attended her church, it shocked me that there was no cross. It pained me that I could not kneel or genuflect. Even something about the "bread and grape juice" didn't seem right. When I later got to listen to the mass, I realized to my surprise, how full of scripture it was and how reverent it was…it was just the priests who were desecrating it.So yes, the new translation will help….especially those who have drifted away since it creates in them a hunger they don't yet understand.But as you state, it's just the first step. We need to ensure the cross is prominent, at least behind the altar, or better yet, just above the altar as Pope Benedict suggested (allowing the Priest to both face the Cross during the consecration and the people). And status or icons have to be prominent.If these things are put in place, the priest will have to work very hard to work against the mass, as he should. By default, the mass and everything around it should speak for itself louder than any person can. If you don't agree, then walk into an Eastern Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church. The icons spread throughout the Church make it obvious that all the saints are worshiping with the people in the parish during the mass.

  • Schloeder

    Good article, Fr.The changes in the 60s and 70s were rather behaviorist in thinking — rearranging the furniture and the language and the aesthetics to reprogram the participants, without regard for the internal (psychological) disposition necessary for "full, conscious' and active participation". The reform of the reform seeks to align the liturgical expression, langauge, music, architecture, sacred art, bodily posture, etc to be conducive and complementary to the internal disposition.It is not to manufacture the correct response, but rather to facilitate it — and certainly to not frustrate the internal disposition as the liturgical engineers have done through the bad architecture, grating music, distracting liturgical dance, lumpen language, phony intimacy, garish vestments, abstract art, and functionary roles for "active participation" that have been foisted on the lay faithful.

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    I guess suggesting actually including RUBRICS would be too radical or late at this point?

  • Lynn

    Truly, the new translation isn't magic, but I hope that the extensive catechesis which ought to accompany the transition will help to change hearts and minds. I've seen a couple of very well-written pieces that touch not on the changes in isolation, but also touch on major doctrinal points.

  • dylan

    Is there ever any good news with you people?

  • Fr Longenecker

    dear dylan, i post good news on this blog all the time. Stay tuned.

  • Anthony Brett Dawe

    Giovanninow what a good ideawho'd a thunk it…just wondering[prophets are most definitely without honour in their own country, which is why the Padre's 'secret weapon ' now must be working so well- his wife! ED]

  • Paul Rodden

    Last weekend, a Latinist friend and I were chatting about this, and he said, the key to translation is being able to understand and translate the idiomatic, but also, in the setting of the Mass, its cadency, so it flows, poetically, like the flow in the Grail edition of the Psalms, rather than sounding stilted and 'clunky'.Actually, he'd rather die first than use a word like 'clunky'! His word was 'cadence', and was talking far more lyrically and musically about the Mass, as if it were a symphony and this, he argued, is what has been sacrificed for literalism.His opinion was that in many places, the theological point and emphasis being made was the same in both translations, however the new translation, although more literal, had lost the cadence and idiomatic sense.The key example he gave was, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof", which is an accurate literal translation, but not exactly 'nuptial language' and sounds clumsy in the context.It misses the theological point being made. It's literally accurate, but ungainly. As 'raining cats and dogs' doesn't mean thousands of cats and dogs falling from the sky, and yet it conjures up an image, so one is distracted by the image of Jesus trying to get under a roof, and not its spiritual meaning.For him, the genuine errors where things were ambiguous or downright misleading in the original translation desperately needed correction and tidying up, but the literalism's at the price of the beauty. (Although there are plenty who'd say there's no beauty in the Novus Ordo anyway, so how could you make it worse!) :)

  • Athelstane

    Schloeder is correct – a better translation does not guarantee reverent, sincere worship, but it *will* better facilitate it than the current translation. After all, the TLM in the years before the Council – in the Latin, and in the common vernacular missal translations (which were as reverent and noble in syntax as you could ask) did not always guarantee such worship, and indeed did not keep the liturgical reformers (who had grown up with the tradition mass before 1965) from implementing the many problematic changes we have seen in the liturgy since. Much will depend on how the new translation is implemented. If priests present it positively, work hard on accompanying it with good catechesis, faithfully celebrate the mass as required in GIRM – "do the red, say the black" – and work to ennoble the arts, music and vestments of the mass at the same time, we would be at least maximizing the chances for reverence.

  • Brennan

    I agree with Fr. Longenecker’s conclusion, for the most part, but not his premise. He writes, “Mass isn't reverent simply because you start using lofty language that 'sounds religious'. True reverence is the fruit of a condition of heart. Reverence in worship is a by product of a certain type of Catholic mindset. It is not the automatic product of a particular form of words.”While reverence certainly is a condition of the heart, the liturgy (which of course includes the gestures, symbols, prayers, music, and even the setting) will either help lift people up to true reverence or lead them to irreverence (which they must fight against). Again, I am reminded of this quotation from Dietrich von Hildebrand where he writes about reverence in the context of the liturgy:“When St. Bonaventure writes in Itinerium Mentis ad Deum that only a man of desire (such as Daniel) can understand God, he means that a certain attitude of soul must be achieved in order to understand the world of God, into which He wants to lead us. This counsel is especially applicable to the Church's liturgy. The sursum corda-the lifting up of our hearts-is the first requirement for real participation in the mass. Nothing could better obstruct the confrontation of man with God than the notion that we "go unto the altar of God" as we would go to a pleasant, relaxing social gathering. This is why the Latin mass with Gregorian chant, which raises us up to a sacred atmosphere, is vastly superior to a vernacular mass with popular songs, which leaves us in a profane, merely natural atmosphere.”

  • Bender

    'the real presence' (a vague and flexible term which can mean practically anything)A vague and flexible term? Really?I always got the impression that it meant exactly what it says — that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ. "This presence is called 'real' – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present." CCC 1374 (quoting Pope Paul VI)That's how I always took the term. But, I suppose, like almost any other term, if someone insists on twisting it to mean something else or watering it down to mush, they will do so.At any rate, the "Real Presence" is less problematic than terms like "conscience," which have been so corrupted as to give license for people to do whatever the heck they want.———–In other news . . . I would agree with the main points. The new translation will bring as much greater reverence as did the expansion in use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which all the trads said, when they were advocating for it, that would lead to a mad rush of people streaming back into the Church. Didn't happen.If anything, the clunkiness of some of the new language will lead to less reverence, as people will be more conscious of simply trying to say the right thing, reading the words from the page, rather than reverently praying from the inner recesses of the heart.

  • Judy

    Well, Father, I, too, will call a spade a spade. It is not a NEW translation, it is bringing back the translation of my youth. Also, as a priest, I am sure you are using the homily as a teaching moment, too, as our does, so those that have been poorly cathechised have the opportunity to learn more about their faith. Too many are lstening to news and thinking they are "learning" about it. Being 63, the years since Vatican II have been horrible in so many ways, but now I see the young priests, here in St. Louis, coming forth with a true love of the Church and hope to hearts. Our society is "casual" in nature now, and the "faithful" have adopted that with great ferver. Catholic Radio, EWTN, many good tryly Catholic apostlates are opening so many eyes, yet when we go down that slippery slope so easily, it takes a very long time to climb back up. I see the "traction" needed being offered by good priests, such as yourself, our Holy Father, and some bishops.To me the biggest problem has been the bishops not standing up for Holy Mother Church. When a real backbone comes forth from more of them, and the Bishops "committee" takes second place, then things will really start that upward climb!Christ's peace!

  • Patrick

    My own opinion is that the Novus Ordoand irreverence are for the most part inextricably bound together. The whole NO culture that has grown up in the last forty plus years witnesses to this: casual dress, talking in the Nave, very little silence, almost no Latin, never the Roman Canon ( the 1st Eucharistic prayer) and fewer Holy Days and that is just a small sample. It would be better if the Church would just admit that it took a wrong turn and go back to the Old Rite. I doubt that that will happen however.

  • naturgesetz

    I think it is highly regrettable that you have chosen to drag the new translation into the fray about the deficiencies of catechesis and the resultant deficiencies in understanding of the faith. I cannot imagine anything positive coming from this. All this will do is feed dissension within the Church, and that over a matter which is settled.But perhaps we can at least remind people of the corollary: using Latin would not automatically make the Mass more reverent.

  • Bender

    It would be better if the Church would just admit that it took a wrong turn and go back to the Old RiteActually, it would be better if obstinate traditionalists would just admit that the Church, being guided and protected by the Holy Spirit from error, does not take wrong turns, and for them to go back to full communion with the Church in both mind and heart, rather than continually criticizing her.

  • Michael Hallman

    Bender wrote: Actually, it would be better if obstinate traditionalists would just admit that the Church, being guided and protected by the Holy Spirit from error, does not take wrong turnsDUDE, have you studied Church history??? The Church doesn't make wrong turns? REALLY???

  • Patrick

    Dear BenderSince you quoted me you should be a little more careful about labeling someone a traditionalist. In fact I am a fairly recent convert and while I have traditionalist leanings I try to hold my views with a moderatespirit. What seems pretty clear to me is that the liturgical changes that took place after VII have encouraged the irreverence many of us decry. On the other hand the whole problem of irreverence goes deeper than just the problems with the Liturgy. I might recommend the book, The Mass and Modernity which treats of this matter. Fr. Robinson is not for returning to the Old Rite by the way.

  • whowantstoknow

    Dear Fr.,How can the needed change of heart be brought about?PAX

  • Brennan

    Bender wrote:"In other news . . . I would agree with the main points. The new translation will bring as much greater reverence as did the expansion in use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which all the trads said, when they were advocating for it, that would lead to a mad rush of people streaming back into the Church. Didn't happen."First of all, where the Gregorian rite is practiced, there is more reverence. That is one of the reasons people go to it.Second, I don't know of any traditionalist who said that if we only expanded the use of the Gregorian rite people would stream back into the Church. After all, in places such as where I live, I don't think there has been a single addition of a Gregorian rite Mass. It's not as if the Church has mandated that every parish celebrate a Gregorian rite Mass or, as with the introduction of the New Mass, the Novus Ordo was replaced with the Gregorian rite.We must recall that, as in all revolutions, the goal isn't just to replace the old ways, but erase them from people's memories or at least make them seem noxious.But let's give it more time; it's much easier to destroy than to build.

  • Robert H

    A key feature of Christianity is the come as you are approach. Jesus accepted all sorts of folks without expecting them first to toe the line. However the intent was to bring them along in the process, much as the Hebrew bible takes Abraham as he is, then acts to bring his descendants to higher and higher levels of holiness. The issue is that not enough priests are willing to call people out to grow in holiness. Our faith calls for spiritual growth. I can empathize with the priests, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, or chase them away, but it is still their job to call them, as Jesus did, to grow into holiness.

  • Robert H

    @Robert: I agree, the reverence and holiness one feels in a traditional orthodox church is overwhelming and a welcome relief from the sanitized faith reflected physically in too many of our churches. Even the sign of the cross is done in such a way as to necessitate a high degree of reverence.

  • Robert H

    Father: will you be explaining the reasons for the changes during homilies?

  • Paul Rodden

    One of the commonest reasons I hear given by my Protestant friends about why they belong to a particular congregation (not even denomination) is that the 'worship', 'Meets my need'.I wonder how much we're just lucky that the Magisterium's view of Liturgy coincides with ours, and so 'meets our need', rather than being a good in, and of, itself?How much do we judge 'reverence' (or could it be merely sentimentalism) as something external? What would we do if it didn't? Join a neighbouring – or commuter – congregation?Ex opere operato. Thank God.

  • Paul Rodden

    I realised my phrase 'as something external' didn't convey my meaning.I meant 'as simply a response to a stimulus'.

  • Paul Rodden

    Well, Father, looks like William Oddie over at the Catholic Herald's running with your piece, if you didn't know already!

  • Jewel

    Weighing in as a neophyte convert from Protestantism, here. As with the many denominations in Protestantism, it seems that the Church is looking to be ‘relevant’. I love the beauty and depth of expression found in liturgical language, and what I’m finding, as I found with the church I left, is that real language is swapped out with catch phrases and lines that could have been crafted by ad agencies.
    Even the music has become this way. One of the more disappointing things about listening to the hymns in the church I now attend as a new Catholic, is that the squishy songs sound like commercial jingles, or worse, hippy songs.
    I didn’t join the Church for any of that, though. I’m only in it to draw closer to Christ and to follow His commandments to eat his body and drink his blood. Regardless.