Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Translation Tuesday: "Not Too Bad At All"

Welcome to this latest installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

Today I am headed to Marquette University in Milwaukee to speak with a gathering of Jesuit pastors from the Midwest. The subject, of course, is the new translation of The Roman Missal. I am looking forward to an afternoon of lively discussion.

I wanted to share some thoughts about the two gatherings of people in Saint Louis this past Friday night and Saturday morning. These were sessions on the new translation.

Both groups were made up of a few members of the clergy, some vowed religious, some music directors, some parish choir members, some catechists, and some "pew Catholics." I asked each group how many of them had not seen any of the newly translated texts. It surprised me at first to find that about one quarter of the people said they had not seen the texts. (There were roughly 60 people on Friday night and perhaps 80 on Saturday in total). I had prepared three handouts for the participants. One was an historical sketch of the translation process since the Second Vatican Council, including sections from The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Comme le Prevoit, and Liturgiam Authenticam. Another was the Order of Mass (Peoples' Parts) as available from the US Bishops' web site on The Roman Missal and another was a small sampling of new and revised musical settings that will be published here at WLP.

For the first hour of the presentation, we focused on the historical sketch. There is one particular paragraph (6) from Liturgiam Authenticam that we spend quite a bit of time with.

"Ever since the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the work of the translation of the liturgical texts into vernacular languages, as promoted by the Apostolic See, has involved the publication of norms and the communication to the Bishops of advice on the matter. Nevertheless, it has been noted that translations of liturgical texts in various localities stand in need of improvement through correction or through a new draft. The omissions or errors which affect certain existing vernacular translations – especially in the case of certain languages – have impeded the progress of the inculturation that actually should have taken place. Consequently, the Church has been prevented from laying the foundation for a fuller, healthier and more authentic renewal."

I remember bristling when I first read this paragraph years ago. I remember having a discussion about it with a relative of mine who said something like, "You mean to tell me that what I have been praying at Mass all these years is wrong?" The people with whom I have shared the sections of both Comme le Prevoit and Liturgiam Authenticam often bristle at first when they read paragraph 6 from the latter. But I do have a sense that some people are open to finding wisdom in these words. There are others who openly question whether or not the Holy Spirit was at work at all in Liturgiam Authenticam. I watch the faces of those in these gatherings as we move through the differences between the two approaches to translation espoused in these two documents. I can see them grappling with the issues raised.

What is the general reaction for the majority of those that have gathered these past two weekends, both in Milwaukee and in Saint Louis? Gratitude. People are just grateful to be able to have their questions addressed. They are grateful to be able to read through these documents. They are grateful that what they thought was going to be a completely non-understandable Order of Mass is not actually so. There was an elderly woman at Friday night's presentation. At the end of that session, she told the others in attendance how grateful she was that she had come. She said that she came to the meeting very frightened about the changes in the Mass; but now she felt that "this was not too bad at all."

I think that when people gain knowledge, they become more open to the possibility that the new translation will do a number of things. People generally agree that this will be a real "wake-up call" for many Catholics who mechanically move through the celebration of Mass. Others say that this new translation will be a real call to bishops and priests to pay much more attention to the words that are entrusted to them.

I guess I remain hopeful that these things will happen. There is still that part of me, however, that is suspect. A great new translation could have been that catalyst. It remains to be seen whether or not the translation that we will begin praying soon is a great new translation. We will need time to pray these texts; we will need time to sing them. Then we will need to take the time to analyze just what effect they have on the singing and praying Church. I venture to guess that the majority of people doing post-graduate studies in liturgy over the next several years will be focusing their thesis work on the effects of the new English translation of The Roman Missal.

I think it is an incredibly exciting time to be a Roman Catholic. It sure is shaking me to the very core. How about you?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Jerry, I agree that it is an exciting time for Catholics, (and in more ways than just liturgically.) As to the large percentage of attendees at your presentations who have not seen any of the new texts, I have to scratch my head. Granted, I am something of an obsessive both for things liturgical and things internet, so I have been following this whole translation saga for years. But this stuff has been pretty frequently discussed in our diocesan paper, and occasionally on popular news media as well. It baffles me that any Catholic who had caught wind of this wouldn't have done a little googling to find out more.

Keep up the good work!

PS I am a reader at our parish, and just picked up the new 2011 lector workbook (LTP, sorry!) and realized that the new, corrected translation is really just around the corner! I can't wait until Advent 2011!

Chironomo said...


There is a difference between having heard about the texts and actually having seen them. Most Diocesan papers, etc are not publishing the texts in their entirety for the people to peruse. I would say that most Catholics in the US have still not seen the texts, or at most they have seen the selected snippets.


I'm going to ask a loaded question here, but I really don't mean any harm by it. Who exactly is at fault that people like the older woman you mentioned would be under the impression that we were getting a totally incomprehensible Order of Mass? Does the fact that she (and soon everyone) is discovering now that such is not the case mean that those who were circulating such opinions (lies actually) might at some point come out and admit that they might have been exaggerating just a bit? Is it any wonder that those who advocate for the New Translation have a strong feeling that there are certain individuals or interests that have been intentionally trying to torpedo the project and have been from the start? Perhaps someone will write their thesis about that...

D. Brinker said...

As an attendee at one of the St. Louis sessions, I want to express my gratitude for Jerry's excellent presentation, his patient and pastoral responses to a -- shall we say, wide range -- of questions and opinions expressed, and his good sense of humor.

It's not all good, it's not all bad, but it is certainly what we are given to work with for the foreseeable future. It helps to have nuanced and levelheaded leadership like Jerry's to guide us through it.

Scott Pluff said...

Jerry, thanks again for coming down to give these two talks. I have heard from several participants who appreciate that you gave a balanced presentation. I think it is good to acknowledge the pros and cons of this translation process while embracing all that is good in the new text. Many thanks!

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Chironimo, my friend. Most people with whom I have spoken have heard the word "change" and drawn their own conclusions. The Peoples' parts of the Mass, for the most part, especially when sung, do not represent a huge change when people actually sing them. However, we have not yet had a direct experience of the orations nor the eucharistic prayers, which is where the major changes do occur, and these are major, which I don't think is a lie. I am finding that people need time with these texts; they need experience and once they have that, they can form a more informed opinion. Time and experience will tell.

Anonymous said...

"She came to the meeting very frightened about the changes in the Mass; but now she felt that 'this was not too bad at all.'"

My experience so far jibes with yours -- 1) surprising numbers of people, (and simply surprising people in some cases, priests, for instance!) really haven't looked at them at ALL.

But, 2) truly discouraging numbers of people know little about it yet are approaching this with more than a little trepidation and in some cases hostilty.

It is hard not to think the blame for this lies with people who have opposed the new translation all along, some of whom seem to have deliberately provoked this fear.

Articles in America, posts on blogs, petitions of resistance - we must admit there's been an awful lot of hand-wringing over what doesn't need to be any big deal to the average person in the pew, when you get down to it.

Ever since I first heard about the coming changes, without having read anything more than the ones that applied to the people's music, (I'm singing in a choir,) I started listening more closely to the various prayers - are they "collects"?

I couldn't help thinking that almost ANYTHING would be an improvement to some of them.

Looking forward to some new music! even if its just the notes in the missal itself.

Chris B

Chironomo said...


The claim by some, even some prominent Bishops, that the New Translation would be "gibberish" and "incomprehensible" to the average Catholic in the pew is a lie. They know full well that of course there will be some who don't understand the new translation (there are quite a few who don't understand the current translation), but to say that the average person will be dumfounded or unable to make sense of the texts is simply untrue and smacks of an attempt to posture and influence popular opinion. I have to agree with "Anonymous" here... it's hard not to conclude that it is part of an overall effort to derail the new translation. Their claims of the New Translation's failure will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if it isn't exposed for what it is.

I'm not, by the way, disparaging your efforts... I admire anybody who works hard to "get the job done", even when it may not be a job they wholly believe in. After 30 years of having to implement the musical visions of more than a few "Spirit of Vatican II" parishes, I know just how you feel...

K.D.Snyder said...

I am a church historian (although not a specialist in liturgy)and a regular reader of your blog. Just wondering if the first handout you mentioned in this post that gives a historical sketch of translation process since Vatican II is something that I could access.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello K. D.,
Thank you for visiting the blog.
You can find this, with explanatory notes, on the US Bishops' web site. Here's the link:
Hope you find this helpful.

K.D.Snyder said...

Thanks. I had seen this time-line on the USCCB site once before; I thought perhaps you had your own handout highlighting specific passages from noted documents to guide the discussions you lead during your speaking engagements. This does provide good, albeit brief, summaries of the key developments & documents. Thanks again.