Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Translation Tuesday: Dealing with Confusion

Happy New Year to you all, and welcome to 2011's first installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

A colleague of mine here at WLP related a conversation she had with a woman at a holiday party last week. During that conversation, the topic of the new translation of The Roman Missal surfaced. The woman had heard that some of the words at Mass would be changing soon and, knowing that my colleague worked at a Catholic publishing company, she was seeking more information. It was interesting, first of all, to hear the same question posed by this person, a question that has been raised by others: "Does God really care what words we use?" I treated this question, and some of you responded, in an earlier blog post. What interested me most, though, was something else this person had to say. She said something like, "I understand that there will be some words changed here and there, but I'm sure the creed will be the same; they can't change the creed; the creed is the core of our whole belief system." My colleague responded that the translation of the creed has changed, pointing out the new word "consubstantial" in place of "one in being with." The woman was quite surprised by this.

Folks, we need to be ready to deal with these kinds of questions. Obviously, the tenets of our belief expressed in the Nicene Creed will not change with the new translation. And people will need to be helped along in their own understanding about the new translation on the whole. But any word changes, especially in the Creed, are bound to raise some people's level of confusion.

I hope your day is a good one.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I am a simpleton, but it all seems so clear when one understands that the Mass is in Latin, the English is a translation of it, the guidelines for translating the Mass from Latin have changed and … viola!... we have a new, (mostly) better and more accurate translation. Some prayers needed to be phrased more precisely to better reflect what we believe. It really is not that hard.

I’m looking forward to our parish’s first workshop on this in a couple of weeks. Now that it is 2011, the long awaited light at the end of the tunnel is visible. And I, for one, am confident that it is not an on-coming train!

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello FJH and thanks for the comment. I hope that this will all be as simple as you describe. I have my doubts.

Paul said...

Maybe I am a simpleton, but it all seems so clear when one understands that the Mass is in Latin, the English is a translation of it...

Comment: Just remember, Jesus didn't say at the Last Supper "Do this in memory of me...and by the way, when you do it, it needs to be in Latin."

Those who are stuck in this tunnelvision of Latin and Roman power need to go outside and get some fresh air. It's alsmost like they worship the Latin more than God.

Jennifer said...

FJH said, "Some prayers needed to be phrased more precisely to better reflect what we believe..."

I hate to start throwing lex orandi, lex credendi around, as I sometimes think we do it a bit too often, but...

The thing is, we've been using a particular set of words after announcing that "we believe" what they say. When we change the words we say, what we are saying we believe is not the same thing we were saying we believed when we said the words we used to say.

(Did that sentence make any sense? Aren't you all glad I'm not in charge of translating texts?)

So in effect, we're not changing simple words to "more precisely" express what we believe, we are being asked to more precisely align what we say we believe with what Rome believes we should believe.

I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, to ask all Roman Catholics to be more clear about what it is we are about as Roman Catholics. But to imply that we're just changing a few words, and that this will not have any impact on the interior faith lives of those who have those words flowing in their blood and in the very marrow of their bones, is to neglect the reality that what we pray DOES shape what we believe.

Anonymous said...

As one of the two people in the conversation Jerry mentions, I think the hardest part for me to explain/answer was why, if the words weren't "right," what have we been praying at Mass this whole time? Sure, things change, get revised, we grow in our understanding, but for my family member, an actively faithful Catholic woman raised by actively faithful Catholic parents, who has sacrificed to send her two children to Catholic schools, she seems to feel that this re-translation has more potential to alienate English-speaking Catholics than inspire or form them more fully in the faith. I think she used the phrase "fiddling while Rome burns" to describe her thoughts about the Church changing words that have formed her faith and that she has prayed at liturgy almost her entire life, while there seem to be bigger fish to fry. She said she knows there were similar feelings when the Mass moved to the vernacular, but at least then, she understood that it was about, well, really understanding what one was praying at Mass, and not, like now, rephrasing and tweaking words so they were closer to some "magic" old language. I do know one thing for sure: the new translation is causing some people to pay more attention to the words we pray at liturgy, one way or another, and talk about it in less than usual settings. Maybe that is a good thing. Or maybe not. I guess we'll know soon enough.

Anonymous said...


Well, YES, we need to align our beliefs with "Rome" if we are to be Catholic!

And I didn't mean to imply we are changing a few words just for the heck of it. In many cases they are indeed changing to better state our belief.

A good example from the Creed is "by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" vs the more accurate "...was incarnate of..."

The Catholic belief is that the second person of the Trinity became human at the Annunciation (that is at conception) not at Christmas (birth)(CCC 461-466). So, the last 40 years we have been proclaiming an incorrect (or maybe incomplete) belief. Pity those who, hearing "born of the Virgin Mary and became man" all these years have come to mis-understand this article of faith.

Words DO matter.

Anonymous said...

So, FJH 3rd, how would you answer the question/concern of someone who has, over the course of their entire faith-life, prayed the current texts and now think/feel/are told that what they have been praying has been incorrect and has likely formed them improperly? When I think about some (actually many) of the Catholics I know, that is the issue that I think is going to cause the most confusion, doubt, hurt, and distrust when the new texts are implemented.

Chironomo said...

So, FJH 3rd, how would you answer the question/concern of someone who has, over the course of their entire faith-life, prayed the current texts and now think/feel/are told that what they have been praying has been incorrect and has likely formed them improperly?

I would rejoice in the fact that this will no longer be the case...

Chironomo said...

And BTW... I have yet to attend a Christmas party where the topic has been liturgical translation...and I hang out with a lot of people for whom this is a topic of prime interest. What a strange rest of the night that must have been!

I think much of the content of this woman's question could have been simply responded to with the reply "they haven't changed the Creed at all, just the translation of it". If an individual can't discern the difference between a text and it's translation, then I'm not sure how fruitful it would be to continue trying to explain...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response, Chironomo. I wasn't being snarky...I seriously wanted some insight as to how to respond.

I can assure you that this conversation happened, and not initiated by me (and the rest of party was quite enjoyable and not odd at all, excpet for this one jello dish and soem of teh white elephant gifts...).

My family member said that they had heard about a new translation coming soon and thought maybe I would have some insight to share, as an employee of a Catholic publishing company, as Jerry explained.

It is hard to read the tone of comments on a blog, but I have to say, you seem to be a bit dismissive to this person's concern and intellectual capabilities. I don't think for the average Catholic out there, the difference between text and translation is as clear cut as you think it is. As said in a previous comment, words DO matter.

I am genuinely, honestly curious: how would you feel/what would you think if you were told several years from now, by a future Pope and future leaders of the Church, that this new translation of the Roman Missal was a huge mistake, and thus your faith has been sorely damaged as a result? Would you really just think, "oh well, okay then. As long as you give me something 'better' everything will be fine. No worries. No questions. No concerns. No confusion." If so, then I think you are very rare and blessed individual indeed.

Chironomo said...


I wasn't being "snarky"... I assure you I am quite serious.

The concept of "we've been praying wrong for so many years" is a red-herring... if for no other reason than we can safely assume that God has an understanding of any problems with our translation! You are right that words DO matter, but one might have to go further and say that understanding our prayers and the teachings of the faith concerning those prayers is of even greater importance.

I don't intend to be dismissive of this person's concerns... but it's important that those who are responsible for the implementation of the new translation present it in the proper context... it is a new translation... not a new Missal. There are no new prayers or changes in any of the texts from what we are using now, but rather changes in the way that those prayers (in Latin) are translated into English. A person who understands what the prayers (the Latin versions, that is)actually mean have no problem of changing meanings to deal with... the meaning hasn't changed one bit.

As for your hypothetical situation of future change, I fully expect that such a thing will happen. I have no problem with what you describe (partly because I have learned the NO in Latin as well, and feel more comfortable in Latin rather than in English, but I digress...). Just as with this new translation, I would understand that any future translations don't change the content of the faith. I have known for a long time that when we say "We believe in one God.." it is actually supposed to be "I believe in one God..". I have understood since I was in my early teens that this was a problem with our translation, and that the actual Creed says "I", not "WE". I knew that "one in being" was at best an incomplete translation of consubstantialem and so I took the time to read the catechism and come to an understanding of what the Creed really was saying. I hope that such a desire to read, study and understand prayers doesn't somehow make me exceptional... it's part of living one's faith I would think.

And so what many see as a weakness (having our prayers in Latin) is actually the very thing that keeps statements of the faith intact and constant. We can translate, re-translate in many languages, but the prayers always remain the same, at least until the Latin is changed which does happen from time to time as well! Understanding that frees one up to view translations not as actual statements of theology or doctrine, but as attempts to capture the actual meaning of our faith in a temporal language for daily use.