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.