Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Translation Thursday: Looking Back at 2010

Welcome to 2010's final installment of "New Translation Thursday." I want to share what I wrote nearly a year ago, in the first installment of "New Translation Tuesday" for 2010:

Welcome to the first "New Translation Tuesday" entry for 2010.

As you may know from previous posts, at my parish, St. James, our parish worship and spiritual life director is moving on to another position in mid-February. The search committee for his replacement met for the first time last evening.

One member of the committee kindly drove me home after the meeting. I was grateful, since the temperature was nearing the single digits—sure beat having to stand on a train platform in the cold! During our meeting, the issue of the implementation of the new translation of the Missale Romanum was discussed. This conversation was in direct relationship to the kind of liturgy and music minister we want to hire. It was expressed by everyone that we wanted someone who would not be presenting a negative view of the new translation to our parishioners; we are looking for someone who can help us navigate our way through what will undoubtedly prove to be a challenging time for our community.

On the ride home, my fellow search committee member began to talk about the changes in the translation. He began by talking about a parish west of Chicago he recently heard about. Apparently, the pastor there has "turned the altar back around" and is "saying Mass with his back toward the people." My friend began to wonder aloud about where the Church was headed. He admitted that he is not a big fan of Church hierarchy in general, especially given his perception that many bishops never admitted any culpability during the continually unfolding sexual abuse scandal. It was within the context of this discussion that he looked at me and asked, "Can you give me just one reason why the translation is changing?" At that very moment, it dawned on me that there will be many, many of us who will be asked this simple question. But, I believe, it is the context that is probably more important than the question. One can never excise context. And herein, I believe, is where what would perhaps have been an easier transition is muddied by context. Whether or not we want to admit it, we are living in a Church that is still reeling from the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Recent events in Ireland (if we believe we are, indeed, all one body) should be affecting every single Catholic around the world as much as if these instances of abuse and cover-up had occurred within our very own parishes or dioceses. I have heard of at least one bishop who has declared the scandal over, and that all we need do is move on. My question to him would challenge his very notion of what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

Friends, we have to remember that, when we begin to move into praying new words and singing new or revised musical settings to these words, that there is much more going on in our Church right now than a change of translation. And we have to be ready to deal with issues that go beyond changed words.

My response to my friend in the car last evening? I simply told him that, for a variety of reasons, Pope John Paul II changed the rules with regard to the translation of the original Latin texts of the Mass into English. I explained the principles of dynamic equivalence that were at work during the translation back in the late 1960s. I told him that these were officially recognized principles for the translation of liturgical texts. Then I told him about John Paul II's changing of the translation rules to formal equivalence; the new set of principles used to re-translate the Latin texts. He's a smart man. He listened and absorbed. After I finished my explanations, he asked why the pope had changed the rules. I told him that I believed that the rules were changed in order to bring English-speaking Catholics closer to the exact meaning of the Latin texts; that there were some deficiencies with the current translation using the old rules; that our English texts would be expressing the Latin texts more like other non-English language translations of the Latin; that it was a move to render a more exact translation of the Latin so that we would all be in closer unity.

He said nothing, but shook his head back and forth. He then changed the subject.

Many, many, many conversations like this have been occurring and will continue to occur. Frankly, I am not sure if there will be a general level of satisfaction with any answers, whether stumblingly expressed as were mine, or those that will be eloquently expressed in parish bulletins, books, catechetical programs, and from pulpits across the English-speaking world. And I truly believe that this has as much to do, if not more, with context as it does the translation itself.

We continue to work hard here at WLP to make sure that you have appropriate and beautiful musical settings for the new texts. As I have said before, I believe that it is music that will be the greatest single factor in the implementation of this new set of words for worship.

Well, folks, I found it interesting to read this year-old post. I have spent a good part of 2010 crisscrossing this country of ours, talking to liturgists, clergy, catechists, musicians, and people in the pews about the new translation. I have been in places where I have felt like the sheep among the wolves. I have honestly expressed my own disappointments with regard to the way the process of this translation seemed to unravel in its last months. I have shared new and revised musical settings of the new translation and have watched many peoples' deep concerns transform into anticipation as they begin to "practice" the new and revised musical settings. I have advocated for the singing of the dialogues at Mass. I have urged bishops and priests to see the implementation of this new translation as an advent of a renewal in their own celebratory style at Mass. I have cautioned them that old approaches—like not even practicing the texts before Mass—will need to be jettisoned. 

Here on the home front at WLP, I have watched a group of brilliantly talented composers, editors, designers, artists, music engravers, marketers, and customer service representatives serve the needs of the singing and praying Church. Good, solid, and beautiful musical settings have been composed that will address the various musical needs of the English-speaking world. First-class recordings of all these settings have been made. Hours have been spent researching appropriate art and photography for the covers of the various components of these Masses. Our customer service representatives have fielded countless calls from those we serve, fielding questions about the new translation and WLP's work to help the Church through the transition. Our marketing team has created ways to help make people aware of our new and revised Mass settings. Our rights and permissions manager has made sure that all notices are correct. Our editors have, at many times, agonized over all kinds of musical issues within these settings. We have all dealt with the frustrations associated with the last-minute changes to texts that had already received the recognitio—we have had to ask composers to re-compose parts of their Masses; we have had to go back into the recording studio several times to bring these recorded texts into conformity with the last minute changes.

As I look back at 2010, I am struck by what it really means when we say that our mission here at WLP is to serve the needs of the singing, praying, and initiating Church. It has certainly not been an easy year. Navigating a Catholic company like ours through these very challenging economic times has had its own challenges. It is our commitment to serving the Church that keeps us focused on the road ahead.

It is my hope that a year from now, the music that we have created here will be ringing in parishes across our country. I can't help but bring to mind a verse from one of my favorite hymns. This sums up this year for me:

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing.
It sounds and echoes in my soul;
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

Happy New Year.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Roger said...

Jerry, I have enjoyed reading your postings throughout the year. I reflect back and recall the numerous postings you’ve composed when you have mentioned your immense gratitude to the entire WLP staff for a job well done. You too, deserve recognition for your own contributions of WLP’s abilities to serving the needs of the singing, praying, and initiating Church. Your leadership, visioning, experiences, advocacy, and constant support of each individual here at WLP is deserving of a standing ovation. You are a very gracious leader not only here at WLP, but throughout the country where you are gathered with church leaders, ministry leaders, and all the faithful both ordained and the laity. You listen empathetically, speak with passion, and lead with conviction. I judge there are many, many others who would echo my sentiments. Suffice it to say that it is a privilege to be a member of the WLP staff working under your leadership.

Liam said...

And, for those who are interested, here are the original, beautiful, lyrics for How Can I Keep From Singing (these are in the public domain, as is the original 3/2-ish metrical setting):

1. My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation;
I catch the sweet, tho' far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul: how can I keep from singing?

2. What tho' my joys and comfort die? The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth: how can I keep from singing?

3. I lift my eye,; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it.
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his: how can I keep from singing?

Anonymous said...

"we wanted someone who would not be presenting a negative view of the new translation to our parishioners"

What a shame to approach it this way, itself "negative."

Why not, "we wanted someone who HAS and WOULD be presenting a POSITIVE view of the new translation to our parishioners"?

Maybe connecting "the principles of dynamic equivalence that were at work during the translation back in the late 1960s" and the "deficiencies with the current translation" for which their flawd application seem to have been responsible?

Chironomo said...


It has been quite a year, and while we certainly have our differences in view of where Catholic liturgical music is (and should be) going, I have great respect for your ability to address a variety of views here.

I have recommended your website here to many friends and musicians interested in the ongoing developments regarding the new Missal for the very reason that you simply report the facts, and then if you feel it necessary to do so, give your opinion in a separate statement. This is in great contrast to some other blogs and sites that cannot seem to resist combining fact and opinion in the same breath, resulting in facts (i.e - "Missal texts will not be released to publishers until December") becoming invective ("Missal texts remain secret and will be withheld from publishers until the end of the year"). Your ability and desire to just put the facts out there is refreshing.

I will continue to point out differences in our views and vigorously promote what I am passionate about as regards liturgical music, but be assured that I never intend any of my comments as an attack on your or this website's integrity. I have great respect for your work here.

Have a Happy New Year!