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.