Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Translation Thursday: "What Does It Really Mean to Be a Catholic Parish?"

Welcome to "New Translation Thursday."

I have wanted for quite awhile to address a sensitive issue having to do with the translation of liturgical texts. I know some very good priests who have not been using the approved translations of The Roman Missal for the past several years. You may recall a series of books published by Liturgy Training Publications in the late 1990's: Prayers for Sundays and Seasons.  (These books are no longer in print; they are not part of Liturgy Training Publications' catalogue any longer.) For each Sunday of the three liturgical years, the book offered excellent sets of Prayers of the Faithful. Also included were Lectionary citations for the Roman Catholic Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary. There were also two collects based on the day's readings included; one was an original composition, the other was based on a translation from the Italian Sacramentary. I used these books in my own ministry, as I was entrusted with crafting the Prayers of the Faithful on a week-to-week basis for more than twenty years. I also used the collects in this collection for parish prayers services (penitential celebrations, for instance), prayers for parish staff meetings (at a meeting  during teh week following the given Sunday), and at meetings of the liturgy commission. I thought that these collects were well constructed and filled with inspiring scriptural imagery. This was a very good resource for those who needed to prepare prayer services of all kinds.

I know that there were priests who decided to substitute the opening prayers from the Sacramentary with the collects found in this resource. I know of some who have been doing this for years. I recently attended a Sunday Mass at which the opening prayer was one of these collects. I have to admit that I found the prayer to be inspirational and moving; it was proclaimed slowly and with conviction by a priest who cares for the Church and his congregation very deeply. I know there are those of you who would argue this point; saying something like, "How can you say that this priest cares for the Church when he won't even use the official prayers of that very Church?" He would tell you that he finds the collects he uses to have more power to shape the faith lives of his parishioners in a fuller way than do the opening prayers in the Sacramentary.

I spoke with this particular priest after Mass on that Sunday and we began to talk about the new translation of The Roman Missal. He said that he was going to need several months before November 27, 2011, to spend the time he needed to learn the new prayers an to commit them to memory. I asked him about the opening prayers and I had the feeling that he was planning on the continued usage of the texts he is currently praying. I told him that I had only one thing to say in response. He paused and said, "I don't think I am going to like what I am about to hear."

I told him that it was more than important to me that the prayers prayed at Mass in parishes across the world be the same prayers that all Catholics hear and pray. I gave him the example of one of my family members who is ill. She goes to Mass every Sunday and I told him how important it is for me, at my own parish of Saint James here in Chicago (or wherever I happen to be on the road) that the prayers I hear are the prayers my family member hears. This is what makes being Catholic catholic. When I listen to the opening prayer, for instance, I often wonder how those words are falling on the ears and heart of my family member; is her heart touched by the prayer in the same or different ways as the way my heart is touched? I often think about her during the Eucharistic Prayer, wondering how her own journey is being shaped and re-shaped by the words that recall the Paschal event.

These are difficult conversations to have, especially given the fact that this particular priest loves the people he serves; he loves a musical liturgy; he is a strong and vibrant celebrant. I guess somewhere along the way he became convinced that the prayers (at least the opening prayer) in the Sacramentary could be substituted with a prayer that was in some ways better.

I don't want to belabor the point; I don't want to get into a protracted discussion about this particular priest's actions. What I do wonder has more to do with what happens in the future. The newly translated texts in The Roman Missal are going to require very careful and deliberate preparation on the part of bishops and priests in order that they be prayed well and their meaning conveyed in liturgical proclamation. As I have said in this blog before, there are some texts, in my opinion, that are very awkward. Others are not so awkward; they re-capture the original meaning of the Latin prayers in a beautiful way and recover some of the expressions lost in the current translation. I just wonder if some priests are going to look at some of these new texts, make a decision that the meaning cannot simply be conveyed, and revert to using the prayers in the current Sacramentary, or continue to use other prayers (perhaps the abandoned ICEL translation from the 1990's)? I have the feeling that the vast majority of the Catholics sitting in the pews trust the celebrant; and I also believe that they may not have much interest in whether or not the opening prayer is from an approved source. I do not count myself as one of those Catholics. I believe that in most parishes across the United States, all of the prayers prayed are from the Sacramentary. Perhaps the situation I describe here is very, very isolated. Perhaps not.

The advent of the new translation of The Roman Missal will either be a moment of great liturgical renewal or a pastoral disaster, or perhaps something in between. This coming Tuesday, the entire pastoral staff from my own parish, Saint James here in Chicago, will be coming to our offices here at World Library Publications to discuss the parish's plan for the reception and implementation of the new translation of The Roman Missal. I am hoping that everyone will be on board with trying our best to make the advent of the new translation of moment of great liturgical renewal. We have some obstacles to overcome. We have some mis-information that needs to be cleared up. We have some personal feelings that need to be expressed, listened to, and addressed. What we need to cultivate, I believe, is something that has much, much more to do with ecclesiology than it does with liturgy. The advent of thh new translation will cause us to ask a fundamental question: What does it really mean to be a Catholic parish?

Thanks for listening today. Feel free, as always, to add your own comments.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

I have a very loving pastor who truly loves his people, but is not big on doing much preparation for catechesis for the new Roman Missal. He has left it mostly up to me to introduce and educate, but doesn't want to make too big of a deal of it. I am feeling overwhelmed as I read this blog and speak to others in the same ministry who have staffs and parishes who are in full swing in implementation programs, with many people contributing.

FJH 3rd said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Jerry! Regardless of their imperfections, the prayers set forth in the Missal are those which the Church Universal is praying at Mass all over the world.

I attend daily Mass, and through a volunteer ministry in which I am involved, occasionally attend a second Mass the evenings of our board meetings. Hearing the same propers and readings in a different church, from a different priest, always gives me a bit of a glimpse into the stable, universal character of the Church's liturgy.

I pray that all priests do their utmost to faithfully "Say the Black" when the new translation rolls out in November.

Fr. Jan Larson said...

One important liturgical principle is that unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. I am sure that it is not of great concern for the average Catholic that the Mass prayers may or may not be identical throughout the English speaking world. Also the liturgy is already filled with options and variations. For example, on a Sunday in Ordinary Time the Eucharistic Prayer has at least 96 variations, given that there are four Eucharistic Prayers and various Prefaces and Memorial Acclamations to choose from. I would never hesitate to exchange a poorly composed text or a poor translation with a better one. "Good liturgy nourishes faith, poor liturgy can destroy it."

LJ said...

I'm not a supporter of the new translation, in large part because of the aforementioned "very awkward" sentence structure and vocabulary of many of the prayers. However, that's not to say I don't agree that the current translation of the Mass in English could stand some massive improvement.

I know I'm in direct opposition to Liturgiam Authenticam when I say this, but I believe the meaning of a prayer is more important than the words used to express that prayer. If a priest wishes to slightly modify an official collect so it is more intelligible or easy to proclaim without changing the underlying sense or meaning of the prayer itself, I would not be opposed to that.

By their very nature, written/vocal prayers convey a deeper truth than the words that make them up.

Linda Reid said...

What Father Larson says makes eminent sense to me.

Todd said...

I think it's far more important to share a common Lectionary. The prayers of the Mass are intended to focus worshipers on the Word, and to a reflection on the Eucharist, moving people into the world. They are important, but they are not major parts of the Mass.

joeski5651 said...

"AWKWARD"? nothing can be more awkward than a not prepared lector reading (not proclaiming)St. Paul at a Sunday Liturgy. We have all been there.
As for preparation for the new missal -- there is so much out there. Just about every publisher has a program that will help do intriduce the changes. Try the USCCB webite, ICEL and, to start. We are running a weekly bulletin articles that will help introduce the reasons and rational of the third edition. One just has to start looking and decide at what level the catechesis need s to be done and its out there !

Chironomo said...

One important liturgical principle is that unity does not necessarily mean uniformity

I've heard this said frequently in relation to this very topic. My question is - What does unity mean then?

Traditionally, in the Latin Rite Catholic liturgy, unity has meant at least the use of the same Mass texts... a simpler proposition when the Mass was in Latin across the world. Translation introduces a fragmentation of that unity, as is evidenced by the variety of language-specific liturgies in some parishes (mine has 3-English/ Polish/ Hungarian).

One of the tricky aspects of "unity" is that it has to be evident...visible... in order to be perceived. It's not enough to be unified by a "sense of prayer" or theological concepts. Vestments/ music/ language... these are the elements that make unity apparent. Otherwise it is simply an academic concept. People generally do not feel connected to others by concepts.

Simon Ho said...

"I would never hesitate to exchange a poorly composed text or a poor translation with a better one."

I can only support this statement as long as the text being used is an approved text still.

I'm reminded of my family gatherings. Rarely do you have everyone agreeing that a particular activity is the best/good thing to do for the gathering, but we all still take part in it because that's what it means to be a family.

Using an unapproved text wounds the unity of the Church. Rationalising it as somehow being better for the community is an oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

My first thought was exactly with what Fr. Jan wrote - there are variations of the prayers anyway so they are not the exact prayers. I have a 2008 missalette from WLP, and it has the two variations of the opening prayer that can be used. (Please know, this is not to minimize in anyway your experience with your sister.) Priests use different Eucharistic Prayers etc. At my parish, it's nice when we know as a parish, that the priest (we have four who could preside) are each using the same prayers, even for the Eucharistic prayer. And that's only because they are using a presider binder and not the sacramentary. (That topic could be for another column.) :) I think there is some level of "unity" as we all listen to the same scripture, singing the same psalm (well, even the psalm can have its own variation).

John Black said...

I read Jerry's post a few hours ago, and have been troubled by the comment chain since. I mean no disrespect to Fr. Larson, but I believe that the presiders should be the first ones following the directives and precepts of the church. The leadership can say that a parish is about the people and its staff all they like, but the reality is that the priests set the tone and, often, the personality of a parish.

How can we ask the faithful to understand and follow doctrine when the presiders choose otherwise as their tastes dictate?

A colleague recently described to me how their pastor adheres to a prior text during the Mass, saying "he doesn't like the new way." He also doesn't want much said about the upcoming new translation. If the leaders don't do as they are expected, what are we to expect from the faithful when we try to fulfill the directives of our ministries?

One of the reasons for this whole decade-long translation process, as I understand it, was to achieve greater unity through greater uniformity.

If the Sacramentary has so many options for variety, why must we step outside it to deliver quality liturgy? Presiders regularly add their own touches to the Ecce Agnus Dei. Deacons often embellish both the invitation to offer a sign of peace and final dismissal. Why can we not serve the people with the texts provided?

I think we can. I was recently introduced to the Liturgy of the Hours. Part of its beauty, comfort, and spiritual guidance is in the repetition and uniformity.

As we continue to read that the assembly's acceptance of the new translation is dependent largely on the delivery of the new texts by the clergy, I find myself greatly discouraged by Fr. Larson's position. Again, should the priests not be the first to spearhead and implement the mission of the church?