Hello everyone. Welcome to this edition of "New Translation Thursday."
Recently I have been thinking about how the official prayer of the Church shapes our belief. I had a conversation about this issue yesterday with one of my insightful colleagues here at WLP.
The other night, during a fitful night of sleep, I wondered about this issue and began to think about how my own conception of God (Father, Son, and Spirit) has been shaped over the last forty-five (or so) years of having been a practicing Roman Catholic.
From most everything that I have seen, heard, and read, words like "elevated," "sacral," "loftier," and "nobler" have been used to describe the new translation. When prayed year after year, say, over the next five years, will my own conception of God experience a shift?
The question that kept coming to me as I tossed and turned that night was this: "Have you made my God more distant with your new translation—have these new words stressed the transcendence of God to the diminishment of the immanent?" In other words, as I am shaped by a re-shaped lex orandi, will my own belief, my own lex credendi be reshaped in such a way that I feel more of a distance from my God, who became flesh in Christ, and sent the Spirit as a companion on my life's faith journey?
Related questions arise. I think, for instance, of the son of one of my colleagues here at WLP— "Johann," I'll call him. "Johann's" dad is a talented music editor here at WLP and "Johann" shows much promise (at a very early age) of innate musical abilities. Say, for example, that this young man remains an active Catholic for the next twenty years and grows in his musical abilities. Eventually "Johann" chooses sacred music as a career path. He earns a masters in composition from a great music school, also earning a degree in theology, with a concentration in liturgical studies. "Johann" becomes a composer. How will Johann's week-to-week praying and listening to the official prayers of the Church—between now and twenty or so years from now—shape his creation of lyric, melody, and harmony? Will he paint images of God that will reflect a God far-removed?
This leads me to yet another question. Much Roman Catholic liturgical music (that does not "set" the Church's official texts) paint images of God for us. I remember sitting at a roundtable discussion a few years ago. When the musicians at the table were asked what piece of music they deemed "most beautiful," I was struck by two of the answers. One musician said that when he hears the Kyrie from Schubert's Mass in G, the music "transports him to heaven." Another musician said that as soon as he hears the introduction to David Haas' You Are Mine, he knows of God's immediate presence, knowing that the words "Do not be afraid, I am with you . . . I love you and you are mine" will soon be sung.
My question revolves around what may grow into a disconnect during our liturgies. Will there come a time when singing texts about the nearness of our God seem so out of step with the Church's official texts, that they will be abandoned?
I know there are some who would say that this is all easily fixed: sing the official entrance song, sing the official communion song, sing a motet at the preparation rite, have the organist play an instrumental recessional. In other words, bring no other texts into the liturgy other than the official texts found in the Missal.
There are others out there who would advocate for a continued support of composing and singing texts that paint a variety of images of God (Father, Son, and Spirit). These folks would argue that the lex credendi of the Church must be shaped not only by the official texts, but also by the gifts of ingenuity, creativity, and inherent richness in musical art.
I think these are important, not easily answerable questions. Of course, time will tell. Does the ultimate question in all of this come down to whether or not these newly translated texts will mean a strengthening of our relationship with the living God? The liturgy is God's work; hopefully we have not crafted a translation that filters that work in such a way that God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is made less accessible.
I know my thoughts here are not as fully developed as I would like but, like most of you, this is all very new ground to me. Being a mystagog, I can't help but focus on the experiential pole; and that's tough right now, because none of us has an experience upon which to reflect just yet.
Thanks for listening today. I am keenly interested in your reactions to all of this. Please feel free to join the conversation with your own thoughts.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.