Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Translation of Texts for the Mass - Thoughts?

I apologize for not posting yesterday. I was working with a parish team at St. Stephen's Church in Anoka, Minnesota. This is one huge parish—4400 hundred families, a school, and a staff of 65. The parish leaders invited me there to lead a day and a half workshop on the implications of the RCIA for parish life and ministry. It was an energizing time for all of us. I applaud this parish leadership team for all wanting to "be on the same page" with regard to the kind of parish envisioned in the RCIA. I hope that our days together opened up all kinds of new possibilities and ideas for them as they plan for the future.

Once again I'd like to thank those of you who have been visiting this blog. I've heard that some friends have been posting the link in their parish bulletins. A special thanks to those who offer your comments in a civil manner. The issues that this blog has raised are ones that elicit strong emotions. I appreciate the kind tone reflected in your comments.

As most of you know, within the next two to three years (hopefully), Catholic parishes in the English-speaking world will be asked to embrace a new translation of the Missale Romanum. In other words, many of the texts we pray at Mass will be changing. The National Association of Pastoral Musicians has been offering workshops at their conventions for the last few years on how we will deal with the changes. I've been privileged to have been asked to lead two of those sessions. Musicians in attendance were generally wary of the changes. They voiced strong opinions, saying things such as: "Why is Rome doing this to us?" and "Are you saying that what we have been praying for years are inferior or bad texts?" These responses, I believe, are understandable first responses. As humans, reaction to change is, at first, usually filled with negative reactions. I challenged them to try to move beyond these first responses. Whether we like to admit it or not, when the changes do occur, it is the clergy and parish musicians that will bear the brunt of the assembly's first reactions. I guess I would like to throw a question out there to the musicians, and faithful pew Catholics who read this blog. How will we negotiate this change of translation? 

Some have suggested that we gradually introduce new texts and new, or revised, musical settings of these texts. Others have suggested that we simply change everything at once. Others have suggested that we not pay any attention to the new translations and simply sing all the changed texts set to Latin chant. Others have said that, particularly with the dialogues at Mass (i.e. The Lord be with you. R/. And with you spirit., The Lord be with you. R/. And with your spirit. Lift up your hearts. R/. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. R/. It is right and just.) that we immediately, upon implementation, chant these texts, so that we appropriate them right away as essential musical elements of the Mass. The thinking here is that people will have less of a negative reaction to changing their response, for instance, to "And with your spirit" if they were asked to sing it right at the start, rather than reciting it (and probably fumbling over the words). 

Thoughts out there? You can find the new translation of the Order of Mass on the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Click here for the link.


byte228 said...

My worry about the changes is that in my experiences our Church is very bad at handling change management. Ministers and clergy are catechized thoroughly through things like NPM and other organizations, but for some reason most Parishes tend to make changes without explaining them to the everyday Parishioner in the pew. I have gotten a few questions and comments from Parishioners already about the changes as they have heard about them through magazines or on EWTN and there is definitely a lot of confusion as to the purpose of the changes. My personal take is that the new translations seem to be written in English that isn't as accessible to the average English speaker as the current texts. I've joked with a few Priests that we're going to need to put dictionaries in the pews to help people decipher some of the new text.

Beyond the management of the change within our local churches, my take is that the new texts do not seem to be as poetic or flowing as the current text. In an effort to understand the new text I read them aloud several times and to me they just seemed choppy compared to the current text. I know that the goal isn't how it's said as much as what is said, but that stood out to me as I read them.

I wrote more about my initial reaction in my blog as well.

Rebecca said...

Finally, something I feel sort of confident enough to speak up on. (I have been enjoying reading your blog very much.)

In the realm of change in large groups of people it is my experience that the more you can distinguish the new from the old, the higher the acceptance and comfort level. In this case, going directly to chanting/singing the new texts would probably make for a more successful transition. The new translations, at least the parts I've seen, are too close to the old for people to move smoothly through them without something to make it a 'new' rather than remodeled routine.

Anonymous said...

There is one slim hope: if musicians can implement them with the very best musical settings. Singing the dialogues and ordinary at daily Mass as well as Sunday would be a huge boon for good liturgy. Otherwise, it will appear we are trading in for texts that are questionable at best and significantly poorer in many ways.


My chief criticism of the effort is the clamping down on prayers composed in the vernacular. Having a set of presidential prayers harmonized with the new Lectionary rather than the pre-conciliar would be a huge advantage for deepening the connection between the liturgies of Word and Eucharist.

But, no. We are left with an esoteric value of "faithfulness" trumping the considerations of formation, sacramentality, and kerygma.

Bishops have a huge obstacle ahead of them: convincing their priests this is a worthwhile effort. That is where I think we will see the biggest cracks in the implementation. Bishops will have cathedral rectors and music directors to implement, but in every other parish, the pastor's neck will be on the line.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jerry,
Well, unlike the translation work that emerged first after V2 and then after _Comme_le_Prevoit, this re-translation did not arise from a hundred years of liturgical movement and the authority of a council, but by the work of a single dicastery in Rome. Lots of us think that it is flawed from the outset because of its rigid insistence on formal equivalence, rather than the more sensible and pastorally appropriate dynamic equivalence. From top to bottom in the English speaking world, from professional liturgists and scholars to bishops to befuddled people in the pew (in South Africa, for instance, where the translation had an inappropriately early launch), the language of the new translation has been scorned both as unspeakable on one end of the communication trail to incomprehensible on the other.

However, there is always the principle, for those who need this sort of thing, that God tends to use the weak to confound the strong. Just as the apostles and prophets weren't chosen for their rhetorical skills, this goofy translation may just end up helping us understand that worship is not primarily a thing that is accomplished ritually, but an offering that is of the heart, of which the ritual is a symbol. Real worship is the love of neighbor, particularly of the helpless, strangers, and enemies.

Whether or not we can keep that kernel of truth alive in a liturgy whose language is the work of ideologues rather than pastoral theologians and poets remains to be seen. "How can they believe if they have not heard," one might say!

What we might need is a new St Joseph's missal, with the "official translation" in the left column, and a comprehensible prayer in the right. Maybe WLP ought to look into that. ;-)

Accessibility may be overrated, but I can say from my own life experience that it was the "mystery" of the current ICEL translations with all their faults, along with the English lectionary, that led me to the faith that I have today, and not the "mysterious" unintelligibility of the Latin. Insight generally follows comprehension; "agape" follows "eros". I have a hard time seeing young people, or anyone, "falling in love" with God through the latinisms and relative clauses of the new translation. But love is a strange thing.

Priests? All I can say is, from the conversations I've had in this diocese, good luck. They don't even use the translation we have now, opting for improvisation and ego-soothing hyper-individualistic adaptations. I don't expect these guys to buy into the new sacramentary at all.

Chironomo said...

Two observations.

First...The new English translation is actually much like the translations of the Missal in other languages used now. Isn't it unusual that there wasn't a call for a new translation into Italian? Or a new French translation? Why was the English/ICEL translation singled out? Our Parish Masses in Hungarian, Polish and Haitian Creole all say "and with your spirit" and make use of a literal translation of the Confiteor complete with the three strokes to the breast at the threefold "mea culpa...". The Hungarian and Creole Masses both use the Latin settings for the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei and have apparently always done so. Given the enthusiasm of our faith for embracing all that is done throughout the world, there should be great excitement about these new texts since they will bring us into greater unity with Catholics throughout the world. may now become more obvious why the new USCCB document Sing To The Lord encourages the primary sung texts within the Mass for the assembly (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei)to be sung in traditional Latin settings, beginning with Mass XVIII and introducing other settings once those are learned. Now might be a good time to follow that advice:

The Second Vatican Council directed that the faithful be able to sing parts of the
Ordinary of the Mass together in Latin.70 In many worshiping communities in the United States,
fulfilling this directive will mean introducing Latin chant to worshipers who perhaps have not
sung it before. While prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress are
encouraged to achieve this end, every effort in this regard is laudable and highly encouraged.

75. Each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all
ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII, all of
which are typically included in congregational worship aids. More difficult chants, such as
Gloria VIII and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned after the easier chants
have been mastered.
Perhaps the Bishops understand that making use of these constant and unchanging texts is a good way to overcome the "why are we always changing things" issue, and it really isn't all that difficult to teach these chants to an assembly...our parish took about a month to get them down solid.

The Responsorial is another issue altogether. Since we don't currently have one translation used for these texts anyway, there should be no issue with adopting The Grail texts as a single translation - it's all "upside" on that one save for the copyright issues that come with it!

Twenty years from now, my 1- 1/2 year old son will come across an old Missalette in an organ bench or something, and wonder how strange it must have been to have to say those awkward texts that we now use. And he'll perhaps wonder why we were singing the Gloria and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in English rather than in Latin as it's supposed to be. He'll look back with a curious fascination at all of those things that we call normal, much as we might when coming across an old copy of the Pius X hymnal today!

Things change and we get over them.

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, regarding, "Why was the English/ICEL translation singled out?"

Two things. First, English wasn't singled out. Liturgiam Authenticam is a universal document, not something directed at the US.

Second, politics. The Vatican lacks people with facility to translate Latin to other modern languages with only a few million to several tens of thousands of speakers. LA conceded as much when it seemed to advocate the use of colonial languages in Africa.

English and German translations are utilized to direct or assist translations into African, Asian, and Eastern European languages. One might suggest we need an "accurate" English translation for study, and a "poetic" one for worship.

"(T)here should be great excitement about these new texts since they will bring us into greater unity with Catholics throughout the world."

There was excitement back in the 60's and 70's. What is less exciting to Catholics today is the curial dial-back of the liturgy. What we need is quality and beauty, and not accuracy for its own sake. When I attend a concert, I get excited about the music, not the program notes. When I go to an art gallery, I get excited about the paintings, not the explanatory notes. Sure, notes are interesting and contribute to the overall edification. But the CDWDS has lost an ability to keep the focus on the essentials.


Anonymous said...

Several thoughts: our pastor is has one of the worst singing voices I have ever heard. It is painful enough to hear him try to chant "through him, with him, in him.." much lest the Gloria.

Why are we so insistent on congregational singing in Latin? Will we even understand the words were are stumbling over? When our choir sings in Latin, the director is always having to remind choir members what the text means - people who are committed to reheasing every week outside of Mass. Yet we will expect Catholics who don't attend daily Mass, much less Mass every Sunday, to join in an unending hymn of praise in a language they've never spoken nor studied?

If we are only striving for a beautiful song, bring on the Latin. If we want the prayers to fill our hearts, keep it in English.

jdonliturgy said...

Most non-liturgist Catholics I have spoken to about the changes, not only think they are another pointless burden from Rome, but are mildly nervous about having to make the changes at all. While it certainly is a laudable idea to create all this new music, even in a singing parish this may well create an added burden for parish musicians. They will be perceived as the "bad guys" introducing the new texts as what appears to be a musical change. That may also give an excuse not to be involved for pastors who are reluctant to catechize about the reasons for the text changes. These are the same pastors who ignored the last round of posture changes, because they could not be bothered and did not want to try to convince people to change. Let's not sluff off the teaching about these new changes on parish musicians!

I have posted more on the need to prepare priests to catechize about these changes in my blog -

Anonymous said...

What is less exciting to Catholics today is the curial dial-back of the liturgyAhhh.. the real issue comes to light!

Chironomo said...

"If we are only striving for a beautiful song, bring on the Latin. If we want the prayers to fill our hearts, keep it in English."It's astounding that nearly the entire communion of Saints were raised to their State of Grace with prayers that failed to fill their hearts. Do you REALLY believe such nonsense?

Anonymous said...

Can you give out the password so that we can see the new ICEL pages?
Also, there was plenty of whining in the '60s and '70s about the unnecessary changes.
If priests and liturgists want, they can certainly see to it that the changes are badly received this time around,too.
It's kind of up to them.
If we read enough articles from bishops telling us that the words are too hard for us, I am sure some people will be convinced they aren't smart enough.
If music directors roll their eyes when they present new settings of the ordinary, they can transmit their contempt to the choirs and assembly.
meanwhile, first year language students have been noticing for years that the English settings and the Latin settings, (and the Spanish settings and the French settings,) not only don't use the same words, they don't say the same things.

I think WLP, OCP and Liturgical Press, and anyone else who publishes disposables can go a long way toward facilitating introduction of the new missal if in the Order of Mass, instead of publishing something they'd like to sell octavoes of, they print the Sacramentary chants.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. We cannot release the password. We at WLP are working very hard to ensure as smooth an introduction to the new missal as possible.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your answer.
I wonder why only the big publishers seem to have access to the new settings. (I have inquired at some smaller publishers.)
If it were only to get lead time to print them in disposable and permanent missals that would make sense, but it also allow them to prepare accompaniments, which will presumably be sold.
It just doesn't seem fair.
I didn't mean to be anonymous.

Chironomo said...

"Two things. First, English wasn't singled out. Liturgiam Authenticam is a universal document, not something directed at the US."I am well aware of LA's application to the universal Church. That being said...there is no other effort comparable in any other language to the complete re-do of the Missal translation as is being done in English. Now why exactly IS that?

Why did the CDW and the Holy See NOT have to reject initial submissions for translations from the commissions in charge of the translation for any other language? Why did the resistance to LA have it's greatest manifestation in ICEL? While the provisions of LA are universally applicable, it is quite naiive to not see that the conflict between ICEL and the CDW dating back to comme le provoit is at the core of the document.

Many of the issues addressed seem to be strangely applicable only to the English language translation, specifically the gender-neutral issue and the use of "dynamic equivalency" translation technique promoted in Comme le Provoit, a disaster in any language, but particularly so in a language which mutates quickly and frequently as does English. I don't think that it's going out on a limb to say that LA was aimed at ICEL.

There was excitement back in the 60's and 70's.Surely you are kidding about this.

palaeologos said...

Phrases like "curial dial-back of the liturgy" betray an odd teleological assumption; as if the current Missal represents "progress," and the proposed changes represent "regress". This is a very odd thing to imply, because it is a fact that the newer translations are more accurate representations of what the Latin text really says. I am fully in support of corrections of the pedestrian flatness and infelicities of the ICEL text, and even more in support of a translation that re-sacralizes the Mass.

If you're afraid of losing your felt banners and guitars, don't despair; the UCC probably has a church very close to your home, and you'll be able to safely ignore anything about Christianity that offends your modern sensibilities.