Another "New Translation Tuesday" has arrived. I arrived in Chicago late last night, in a snowstorm, but am safe and sound.
Many of you have undoubtedly read the reports about the priests in two vicariates in the Archdiocese of New York. They are petitioning the Archbishop to delay the implementation of the new translation of The Roman Missal. They have expressed the need to have more time to read the new texts and prepare to proclaim them. Their request is for a one year delay in the implementation.
This news item has surfaced a related issue. Many are now voicing concerns about the challenges faced by priests and bishops whose first language is not English. This is a legitimate concern. Those bishops and priests whose first language is English will need to spend much more time preparing to pray these newly translated texts. For those who experience challenges in English pronunciation, there will be much more work to do.
This issue was raised in the Diocese of San Jose, at a gathering of the bishop and the presbyterate a few weeks ago. The bishop and many of the priests of the diocese were born in a number of countries outside of the United States. This is an ethnically diverse presbyterate, serving an ethnically diverse diocese. The bishop addressed the issue of the praying of the texts by those priests for whom English is a second language. He said that people sometimes come up to him when he visits parishes and tell him how much they love their priest, but have a difficult time understanding him at Mass. The bishop told the gathered priests that the diocese is addressing this issue in seminary formation, adding programs to assist in the pronunciation of English. He also pledged his own and the diocese's support for programs to assist the priests of the diocese who have difficulty with English pronunciation, especially with the advent of the new translation of the missal. This is a laudable effort and one which would be wisely imitated.
In Father Eugene Hemrick's fine book, Habits of a Priestly Heart, the author shares some interesting statistics. "The 2007 study International Priests in America, estimates that we have approximately 5,500 international priests in the United States. Thirteen percent are religious priests, and 87 percent are diocesan priests. It is estimated that between 380 and 400 international priests enter this country each year . . . Other statistics of interest reveal that 28 percent of seminarians training for the priesthood are international students. One-third of the diocesan and religious international priests expect to stay in the United States more than five years, and a little more than 40 percent are uncertain whether they will stay or go home to their native lands."
These statistics show that the priesthood in the United States will continue to take on an international diversity as the years unfold. The implementation of the new translation of The Roman Missal will mean that these men, young and old, will need more training in English pronunciation. Someone remarked to me recently that it didn't really matter if the priest's English was up to par; "As long as he gets the words out, then the Mass is valid." I think this is a sad remark. The full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy, as The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says, is a right and duty of the baptized. In order for the laity to engage in this participation, the texts must be clearly understood. These texts change hearts. If they cannot be understood clearly, the potential of the liturgy is diminished.
It is my own hope that dioceses take this issue seriously as they begin (or continue) their pastoral plan for the reception and implementation of the new translation.
Here at WLP, we discussed the possibility of recording the Opening Prayers, Prayers Over the Gifts, and Post-Communion Prayers. There are already (or soon will be) available recordings of the musical chants of many of the celebrant's texts. However, I do not know if anyone has plans to record the spoken prayers. On a survey we conducted, 31 percent of respondents indicated that they thought this kind of recording would be of value. We interpreted this as indicating not enough interest to make the project worthwhile.
What are your thoughts about all of this? Do you know of plans in your own diocese specifically to help international priests with the new translation? I think this is an issue that needs more serious engagement.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.