Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Translation Thursday: Deepened or Weakened?

Welcome to another installment of "New Translation Thursday."

Thanks for taking the time to visit Gotta Sing Gotta Pray.

These past few weeks have been a real whirlwind for me as I have given five presentations on the new translation. As I have said, reactions to the presentations have been mostly marked by a sense of gratitude. I am convinced that people need as much information as possible as we prepare to receive the newly translated Roman Missal. 

At my meeting with the Jesuit pastors at Marquette University earlier this week, one of those pastors spoke to us, and he spoke deeply from his pastoral heart. His comments were so genuine and cut to my own heart. He told us of his own love for the way that the current translation, in its employment of an accessible English, helps him pray and helps those who hear those texts pray as well. To hear a pastor talk so passionately about the texts that are entrusted to him was quite moving. Listening to him speak made me want to attend Mass at his parish and experience the way he prays the texts of the Missal. He is resigned to the fact that the new translation will happen; he laments it deeply. And then he told us that he would need to grieve the loss of a translation that has been at the center of his priestly life for the entirety of his priesthood. Folks, we need to listen to these laments. For many of us, we will need to grieve the loss of texts that have shaped our life of prayer and belief over these many years. On a deeper level, we will need to let go of the "accessible English" that was employed in the current translation.

It will take years for us to begin to know if and how the new English translation of The Roman Missal will shape our life of prayer and belief. I remember the words of Sister Nancy Swift, my first liturgy professor in the seminary. She described the Church's liturgy as a locus theologicus; or the site or locus where the Church's theology is expressed. This is where the adage Lex orandi, lex credendi is situated. When I speak with groups of catechists, I remind them that the liturgy is really "first theology." In other words, I tell them something like this, "If you want to know what Catholics believe, attend a parish celebration of the Triduum." I urge catechists to trust that the liturgical texts and gestures express what the Church believes.

The Church, at this moment in history, is asking us to accept the judgment, made forcefully in Liturgiam Authenticam, that some current vernacular translations of the Latin texts of the Mass fall short in expressing the beliefs of the Church, that certain "omissions and errors . . . have impeded the progress of the inculturation that actually should have taken place." The instruction goes on to that the "the Church has been prevented from laying the foundation for a fuller, healthier and more authentic renewal."

As I said, it will take some time for the Church's current solution (the new translation) to this perceived problem to stand the test or time and actual practice.

It is my hope that liturgical scholars will seize this opportunity to usher in a new age of exploration. We don't need to know whether Catholics like or don't like the new translation. We will need to explore ways that the new translation may or may not shift their beliefs. The Church's hope, of course, is that what is espoused in Liturgiam Authenticam, which has in turn guided the new translation, will result in a deeper expression of the faith at the liturgy; that a "fuller, healthier and more authentic renewal" will take place.

In my own doctoral work in liturgical studies at Catholic Theological Union here in Chicago, my professors urged us to pay close attention to the experience of the liturgy. We studied various ways to analyze this experience; we drew on principles from sociology and ritual anthropology to get to the heart of peoples' experience of the liturgy. This is work that will need to be done as the Church in the English-speaking world begins praying in a new translation; in a "new" English language, if you will.

I, for one, am looking forward to the kind of scholarly work that will undoubtedly emerge in the next several years.

And you who read this blog know that I am a man of hope; I hope that the reform of the liturgy continued by the Church at the Second Vatican Council will be made fuller and healthier as a result of the new English translation of The Roman Missal. Since we do not yet have an experience of this new translation, we cannot yet make this determination. Each of us will need to make that determination in his or her own heart and mind in the coming years. I come to Mass every Sunday with great expectations that God has a miracle of transformation to work in my own life. That transformation is made possible through the words we pray, the texts we sing, the gestures we perform, and through the persons gathered at the tables of word and sacrament. I will be on careful watch as the new translation is implemented; will that transformative power of the liturgy be deepened or will it be weakened? Words do matter.

And, on a lighter note. Some newcomers to Gotta Sing Gotta Pray may not know that I am an avid hockey fan; more to the point, an avid Chicago Blackhawks fan. I was at last night's game at the United Center here in Chicago. The 2010 Stanley Cup was won by the Blackhawks and the banner was hoisted on Saturday night. Last night was my first glimpse, so here you go:

The 2010 championship banner is the slightly longer one of the four large banners.

Thanks for listening. Feel free to comment.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

My 25 year old daughter is in her first year as a teacher of religion at a Catholic high school. Just this week she attended a presentation on the new translation by our bishop and she is completely enthused about it! I think wide acceptance is quite likely where it is presented faithfully and positively.

Frajm said...

I enjoy your blog, but most of all your ability to promote the new translation in a fair, very positive and comprehensible way without feeding the negative factions out there who want to derail this new liturgical renewal or feed the animosity of factions that already exist towards the bishops and the Holy Father. Your positive assessment of things as well as acknowledging some of the more difficult aspects of the new translation should be a great help to those of us who want to promote and implement this new translation in the most harmonious way possible without politicizing it from the point of view of encouraging more factionalism and division in the Church. Thanks so much for your ministry in this area!
Fr. Allan McDonald