Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Translation Thursday: "In these or similar words . . ."

Welcome, all, to this installment of "New Translation Thursday."

Several years ago, we at at WLP received a letter from a liturgical consultant to the archbishop here in Chicago. It concerned a few of our publications, which offer some suggestions, or patterns, for celebrants to use in those places in the Mass when the priest may use the proscribed text or is allowed to say something "in these or similar words." The theologian who wrote to us conveyed a concern of the archbishop: that the new translation of the Missale Romanum will include far fewer instances where the celebrant will be allowed to use "similar words." We are not talking about the core prayers of the liturgy; we are talking about the introduction/invitation to the act of penitence, the invitation to the Lord's Prayer, among others. I don't know about you, but I have always found it helpful when the celebrant is able to proclaim these invitations in his own words, words that draw from the rich imagery of the day's scriptures or general themes of the particular liturgical feast or season. It just helps me better connect with the whole of the Mass. I am not an advocate of the celebrant "ad libbing" his way through the Eucharistic prayers or the official "presidential" prayers of the Mass. You have heard me say this before.

When the new translation comes into use, I hope that the celebrant is not turned into a sacramental automaton. The General Instruction does allow for moments when there can be additional words added; for instance an introduction to the liturgy, an introduction to the liturgy of the word, an introduction to the eucharistic prayer. It gets my goat when I hear people quote the line from the General Instruction that states: "he [the priest] himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass." The implication here is that there is absolutely no room for any words other than those that appear exactly in the Missal or Lectionary. This is simply not true. In number 31 of the General Instruction, we read these words: "It is also up to the priest, in the exercise of his office of presiding over the gathered assembly, to offer certain explanations that are foreseen in the rite itself. Where it is indicated in the rubrics, the celebrant is permitted to adapt them somewhat in order that they respond to the understanding of those participating. However, he should always take care to keep the sense of the text given in the Missal and to express it succinctly."

Folks, we (at least I am not) in on what the rubrics will actually allow in this regard. The General Instruction in use before our current edition allowed more freedom. That freedom has obviously been reined in. We will need to continue to take a "wait and see" attitude with respect to the "in these or similar words" issue. Methinks most of these moments in the liturgy will disappear in the new Missal. I, for one, find this sad. I am sure there are lots of you out there who disagree. And much of that disagreement will be based on your experience of celebrants changing core texts of the Mass, or offering invitations that went on forever, or offering invitations or explanations that had some theological obfuscation associated with them. These are not the instances to which I am referring, obviously.

As always, comments welcome.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Adam said...

In a perfect world, I'd be all for "similar words" (although, in a perfect world, there would be no need).

I fear the reining in of liturgical freedom on this point is related to the widespread understanding that "similar words" usually means "grammatically unsound and theologically suspect word which aren't really related and don't make a lot of sense anyway."

Diezba said...

I, for one, am very excited about the Vatican "reining in" the opportunities for priests to ab-lib during Mass.

As a convert from the Southern Baptist tradition, one of the biggest attractions to me of becoming Catholic was being exposed to the rhythms and the consistency of liturgy—and the way that it helps us pray with the whole church.

When I go to my local parish, I'm not worshipping as a member of that parish (as though we are part of some sort of congregationalist denomination), but, rather, I'm a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: and we share the same liturgy around the whole world. A liturgy shaped by 2,000 years of growth and tradition. I don't think that Pastor So-and-so is really going to be able to add that much with his commentary.

Anonymous said...

I have grown in my use of this possibility over the years in my ministry. For example just before the Communion Rite during Masses of Christian Burial, especially when the person being buried (and large segments of the gathered family and assembly) have distant memories of Mass and Communion.

I could simply read those paragraphs out of the missallette. Personally, I find them hard on the ear. I've taken to the example of my predecessor to call on people to follow the discipline of their own faith community while also allowing for the desire or call of faith in the moment to see what what we see.

Nonetheless, I invite the whole assembly to come forward for a blessing from the ministers (extraordinary or not).

No statement is called for in the moment. Certainly nothing is scripted. But it helps a lot of people figure out for themselves what to do in the moment without just following the next person in line.

Heresy? Nothing said is heretical.
Hetero-praxis? Maybe even probably.
Helpful? For sure.

Liam said...

My own sense is that priests are inclined to overestimate the value of their subjective adaptations. For those of them who are going to mourn this loss of freedom or ignore the changes, it might be worthwhile for him to invite someone who can provide him truly objective and unsparing feedback (that is, not someone who feels any need to validate his basic assumptions and worldview about liturgical praxis) - and then to tell that person what how he would have used that freedom, and invite feedback about its true merit. If more priests sought out accountability partners in this way, they might find they can learn a lot more than by failing to do so.

The priest can then move on from liturgical to other, more pressing, pastoral matters in this vein.

Scelata said...

"disagreement will be based on your experience of celebrants changing core texts of the Mass, or offering invitations that went on forever, or offering invitations or explanations that had some theological obfuscation associated with them. These are not the instances to which I am referring, obviously."

No, but they are undoubtedly the instances which made this a necessity.

Stricter guidlines, or more stringent enforcement of those already existing, usually come into play when advantage has been taken of previous freedoms and leniency.

This goes for seventh-graders and Wall Street traders -- and I guess liturgically creative Catholic priests.
I don't ride, but does "reigning in" ever occur when the steed is going in the correct direction at the appropriate speed?

The priests whose own extemporized words would be the MOST worth hearing, IME, instead confine their inventions to the homily.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Liam said...

The issue is chronic adaptation versus occasional adaptation to meet a temporary need. The Roman legal sensibility - very much unlike the American - makes room for occasional non-compliance on incidentals, as it were, if there is sufficient cause. But the Roman view is that such situations never rise to themselves modify the norm or themselves become a norm of sorts. Unfortunately, the American sensibility is to make exceptions themselves into a kind of rule.