Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Why Did the Pope Change the Rules?" - New Translation Tuesday

Welcome to the first "New Translation Tuesday" entry for 2010.

As you may know from previous posts, at my parish, St. James, our parish worship and spiritual life director is moving on to another position in mid-February. The search committee for his replacement met for the first time last evening.

One member of the committee kindly drove me home after the meeting. I was grateful, since the temperature was nearing the single digits—sure beat having to stand on a train platform in the cold! During our meeting, the issue of the implementation of the new translation of the Missale Romanum was discussed. This conversation was in direct relationship to the kind of liturgy and music minister we want to hire. It was expressed by everyone that we wanted someone who would not be presenting a negative view of the new translation to our parishioners; we are looking for someone who can help us navigate our way through what will undoubtedly prove to be a challenging time for our community.

On the ride home, my fellow search committee member began to talk about the changes in the translation. He began by talking about a parish west of Chicago he recently heard about. Apparently, the pastor there has "turned the altar back around" and is "saying Mass with his back toward the people." My friend began to wonder aloud about where the Church was headed. He admitted that he is not a big fan of Church hierarchy in general, especially given his perception that many bishops never admitted any culpability during the continually unfolding sexual abuse scandal. It was within the context of this discussion that he looked at me and asked, "Can you give me just one reason why the translation is changing?" At that very moment, it dawned on me that there will be many, many of us who will be asked this simple question. But, I believe, it is the context that is probably more important than the question. One can never excise context. And herein, I believe, is where what would perhaps have been an easier transition is muddied by context. Whether or not we want to admit it, we are living in a Church that is still reeling from the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Recent events in Ireland (if we believe we are, indeed, all one body) should be affecting every single Catholic around the world as much as if these instances of abuse and cover-up had occurred within our very own parishes or dioceses. I have heard of at least one bishop who has declared the scandal over, and that all we need do is move on. My question to him would challenge his very notion of what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

Friends, we have to remember that, when we begin to move into praying new words and singing new or revised musical settings to these words, that there is much more going on in our Church right now than a change of translation. And we have to be ready to deal with issues that go beyond changed words.

My response to my friend in the car last evening? I simply told him that, for a variety of reasons, Pope John Paul II changed the rules with regard to the translation of the original Latin texts of the Mass into English. I explained the principles of dynamic equivalence that were at work during the translation back in the late 1960s. I told him that these were officially recognized principles for the translation of liturgical texts. Then I told him about John Paul II's changing of the translation rules to formal equivalence; the new set of principles used to re-translate the Latin texts. He's a smart man. He listened and absorbed. After I finished my explanations, he asked why the pope had changed the rules. I told him that I believed that the rules were changed in order to bring English-speaking Catholics closer to the exact meaning of the Latin texts; that there were some deficiencies with the current translation using the old rules; that our English texts would be expressing the Latin texts more like other non-English language translations of the Latin; that it was a move to render a more exact translation of the Latin so that we would all be in closer unity.

He said nothing, but shook his head back and forth. He then changed the subject.

Many, many, many conversations like this have been occurring and will continue to occur. Frankly, I am not sure if there will be a general level of satisfaction with any answers, whether stumblingly expressed as were mine, or those that will be eloquently expressed in parish bulletins, books, catechetical programs, and from pulpits across the English-speaking world. And I truly believe that this has as much to do, if not more, with context as it does the translation itself.

We continue to work hard here at WLP to make sure that you have appropriate and beautiful musical settings for the new texts. As I have said before, I believe that it is music that will be the greatest single factor in the implementation of this new set of words for worship.

Thanks for listening and, as always, feel free to comment.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

The problem I have with the translation being forced to be literal is that there are nuances in EVERY language that do not translate well into another language. My mother-in-law spoke Italian and would use Italian expressions. When I asked her what they meant, she always said she could only get close because the meaning was wrapped up in the culture and traditions of Italy which would not mean the same thing in a literal translation of the Italian. I am sure the same applies to prayers written in Latin in the early years of the church--Margie G.

Chase said...

The "closer to Latin" argument vexes me. The Liturgy is not Divinely inspired (unlike Scripture) so a literal word-for-word translation from the Latin is unnecessary.

In fact, one would have a difficult time finding a translation of the Bible that's as clunky as a new Mass translations!

Indeed the question of "why?" is a big one, and the answers to this question, I have found largely deficient. Perhaps that's part of the reason why these new translations are such a hard pill to swallow.

Chironomo said...

And so is the argument that there can be no liturgical initiatives in the church until the clergy sex-abuse scandal is "resolved"... whatever that might mean? I understand the context (I grew up in Boston ) but don't really see the connection between that and the new translation. If one takes the point of view that the Bishops are "doing this to us", then there could certainly be resistance if one distrusts all Bishops in general. But nobody is "doing" anything to anybody. Just as when our Mass texts changed from Latin to English, they are now changing from one kind of English to another kind of English. One can argue that this is bad or unnecessary. Many argued the same about the change from Latin, in fact many still do.

When somebody asks "why", there is a presumption that there is some single reason, when in fact the question begs a contentious answer. Why did Vatican II happen? Why has the Mass developed as it has in the past 40 years? Why were the texts translated according to comme le prevoit? Why were they NOT literally translated to begin with? Why did John Paul II promulgate Liturgiam Authenticam? Why was the initial translation of the Missal revision rejected?

There are an infinite number of "why" questions that can be asked, all of which are a part of the big "WHY is this being done?" question. I'm not saying that everyone should just sit down and shut up, but rather that the question itself presumes a point of view that will reject any answer, even those made in good faith.

Consider what answer would satisfy the questioner. There is none...