Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Translation Thursday: Texts in the Context of Liturgy and Life

Welcome to today's edition of "New Translation Thursday."

My own thinking about what I am about to share is not quite fully developed as of yet, so please bear with me.

Obviously there has been lots of talk, banter, blogging, facebooking, tweeting, writing, commentary, composing, complaining, lauding, and lamenting about the new upcoming English translation of the Missale Romanum. Most people (me included) have taken bits and pieces of prayers and analyzed them. What most of us have yet to do is to pray these prayers in the context of the liturgy. This came to mind last week, particularly on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The eucharistic prayer, prayed on Holy Thursday, when we had just washed each others' feet, took on a different kind of significance. When the celebrant prayed the words of institution ("Take and eat . . . take and drink . . .), I was brought back to that moment of the foot washing, when the Lord commanded us to do for others what he had done for us. And, on Good Friday, when my pastor lifted the sacred host and said "Behold the Lamb of God," I could not help but think immediately of Pilate's words to the crowds as he pointed to our bruised and broken Lord, uttered only several minutes before, "Behold, your King."

We need to remember that the words we use at liturgy are always connected to the ritual action; to what happened or was uttered just before; to what season we are in; to what feast we are celebrating; to what is going on in our hearts and minds. At least one scholar closely connected to the process of the ICEL translation has told me that, when prayed in the context of the entire liturgy, the newly translated prayers will be much more closely linked to the biblical images that have become part of our "Catholic DNA" and that are actually proclaimed at the given liturgy.

This gets me kind of excited, folks. I look forward to entering the liturgies that will employ the new translation with my ears and heart open to new possibilities. I know that I will probably be very, very analytical at first, but I hope that I will be able to catch the scriptural nuances to which my friend alluded. Only time and a deep experience with these new texts will tell.

I would appreciate your musings on my musings. Hit the comment tab below or email me here at WLP:

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Diezba said...

Jerry: for me, this is one of the main reasons that I'm excited about the new translation. One of my jobs as a parish music director is selecting liturgically appropriate songs and music for our Masses each week. My committee and I would spend (literally) hours each week selecting songs that fit the liturgical season, the readings and prayers of the day, and the special emphasis that our priest was going to highlight in the homily. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Graduale Romanum! My congregation isn't ready for melismatic Latin plainchant just yet, but I love the Graduale because it's so well-connected to the texts of the readings: even down to varying, sometimes, according to which cycle of the lectionary we're using (i.e., A, B, or C). I imagining that this new Missal is going to do the same things: draw our minds back to the Word of God that has just been proclaimed through Biblical allusions that are presently obscured because of an effort to make the text "dynamically equivalent." My take: if the faithful in the pews can understand it when it's read from the lectionary, they'll probably get it when it's prayed from the Missal, too.

Anonymous said...

Jerry, a really useful resource in this regard may be found here:

It is a scripturally annotated version of the new translation of the ordinary parts of the Mass. I imagine that a similar piece for the propers will be available once the "recognitio" is received.

Anonymous said...

"What most of us have yet to do is to pray these prayers in the context of the liturgy."

In the Episcopal Church, the major revision of the Book of Common Prayer was preceded by periods of trial use of various liturgies. These were not imposed, but used by priests and parishes who were interested in trying them out. And the responses and reactions were taken seriously. For example, in the psalms, people heard the phrase "blast of a horn" as bringing images of a truck in the street outside; revising to "blast of a ram's horn" brought clarity (and also historical accuracy) to one way of praising God. (Some people still don't like the "blast" part, but they may not have heard a shofar yet!)

Then, when the "types and shadows had their ending," because the newer rite was here, it was not strange, untested, or unfamiliar to the many who had been praying it (or its earlier versions) for a long time.

There was still fallout of various types--some of it major, much of it tied to some other issues--when the BCP was formally adopted in 1979 (had been in general use since 1976). But there was not tension about "what will it be like to pray this rite?"

Adam said...

As I mentioned in another comment (which you kindly used as seed for a whole post) and as I have written about myself (
I'm a bit excited about the prospect of a revival of a chanted Mass. I pray that all those who grumble about the awkwardness of the new texts (as I still do a bit) realize how helpful the chants are to smoothing this problem out, and what a great opportunity this is to re-introduce a practice mostly lost in English-speaking parishes.

Chironomo said...

Yes... I think that everyone involved needs to at least agree that there is no way to know what these new translations will be like until they are actually put into practice. We can deconstruct them and criticize distinct parts of them in isolation, but the fact is that we don't really hear or proclaim texts in that way. I would contend that there are parts of the current translation that, after 40 years, are still not understood by the faithful.

Just ask a group (I used my choir) what the phrase "begotten, not made" means. Or ask them how to discern the nature of the Trinity from the various references in the Creed "We believe in One God"..."And in Jesus Christ, His only Son"... "God from God"... "One in Being with the Father"...."And is seated at the right hand of the Father"...."And in the Holy Spirit...who proceeds from the Father and the Son" .... Oh's all sooooo clear in the current translation! Is theology really supposed to be readily comprehended by listening anyway?

I think the test will be what it SOUNDS like...what feelings it imparts and how it sets the words and their meanings within a context that is appropriate to their importance. That is really the function of Sacred Texts, wouldn't you have to say? That, rather than a clear immediate and apparent meaning as a newspaper would have.