Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Take Me Out to the New Translation

Happy Tuesday to all. Welcome to another installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

I've been noticing more and more "from the pastor's desk" articles concerning the upcoming new translation of the Missale Romanum. Google searches are wonderful at finding these. Here is an excerpt from one I recently read:

In any case, in the not-too-distant future we’re
going to have a new English translation of the priest’s
and people’s parts at Mass. It’s going to demand some
serious attention by all of us to get used to them,
because it’s hard to “un-memorize” familiar texts and
learn new ones. I have to admit I have mixed emotions
about the whole project. It’s a much, much better translation
– more rich in its language, and especially faithful
to the Latin and to the Biblical and historic images and
phrases that are so fundamental to our prayer and doctrine
– and that’s all very good. I think most people will
identify it as “very Catholic,” and that’s good too. But
again, “unlearning” anything is tough, and nobody looks
forward to that! So we’ll have to do lots of preparation
and explanation as the new texts – and the music which
will accompany them – go into effect.

I think this pastor hits the nail right on the head with respect to the issue of "un-memorizing." At a talk I gave recently about these translations, I used an example from the non-sacred realm (although there are many Chicago Cubs fans who would say that this is indeed sacred ground!) At any rate, if you have ever been to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field here in Chicago, the seventh inning stretch is quite a moment. 40,000 plus fans get to their feet, hoist their beers, and sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame like you've never heard. Every time I've experienced this moment in person, it is quite moving (maybe because I am a musician.) Go to this link to see and hear the experience for yourself. Then I say to myself, "If all these people can sing this song with such full voice, why can't they sing the music of the Mass with the same energy? After all, baseball is not going to get them to heaven." Of course, we could talk about the influence of culture (including sports) on the lives of Americans and also talk about where people put their time, money, and energy. But that's for another day. 

My point in sharing this experience is that I ask people what would happen if, over the course of a season, the leadership at Wrigley Field let the fans know that about two-thirds of the way through the season, the words to the song were going to need to change. Say, perhaps, because there was an original set of words that were uncovered and the person who owned the copyright no longer gave permission to use the revised words. (This has happened in Catholic music publishing in the past—ask me some day about the hymn Seek Ye First.) Obviously there would be an uproar, but, in the end, the law is the law. So, on that fateful day, the new words of Take Me Out to the Ballgame are projected on the jumbo screens throughout the ballpark, the organist gives the intro, the leader begins "A one, a two, a three. Take me out to the ballgame . . ." What do you suppose would occur? What words would the beer-wielding fans sing?

Some of you might say that this is a ridiculous example, and I know that it is, in the extreme. But there is something about the example that does ring true, which is why the pastor's comments above are so critical: "Unlearning is tough, and nobody looks forward to that!" 

I'll say it again: music will play a pivotal role in the re-learning of these new texts. There is lots of work to be done, folks, as you are well aware. Here at World Library Publications, we are continuing to plow ahead with our revised settings and our newly composed settings. There will be much from which to choose. My hope is that you who are pastors and musicians out there will benefit from the hard work that our composers and editors have been engaged in over these years to bring you the very best. 

And let's once again keep in mind that what we are talking about here is the summit and source of our lives as faithful Catholics, which is the very reason why the pastor cited above has "mixed emotions about the whole project." Any time you change something that is at the core of peoples' lives (like faithful Chicago Cubs fans), there are bound to be lots of mixed emotions. I'm praying hard for the Church right now. Hope you are, too.

Thanks for listening. Looking forward to the comments.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

1 comment:

Chironomo said...

This is precisely the same issue that was to be addressed when in Liturgiam Authenticam it was said:

Sung texts and liturgical hymns have a particular importance and efficacy...If they are used widely by the faithful, they should remain relatively fixed so that confusion among the people may be avoided

I think of this every time I sing "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" out of one particular hymnal in which it was decided to replace "all on earth Thy scepter claim" with "all on earth Thy rule acclaim". Even if they are reading out of the book, everybody says "scepter".

But I also wonder if that could be easily overcome by singing the hymn for 8-10 weeks in a row, each time pointing out to the assembly that, for good reason, the words had been changed and we're all supposed to sing "rule acclaim" now. I'm fairly certain I could overcome the change in pretty short order.

Yes, there will be challenges precisely because the texts are memorized (although I'm still shocked by how many people in the pews have to read the Creed) but I like to think that in a country where most people have at least a High School education and many far beyond that, we can change from saying "And also with you" to "And also with your spirit". Give it a few years and we'll all wonder what the fuss was about.