Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Translation Tuesday: The Tough Question

Welcome to this installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

At my parish's liturgy committee meeting last night, I did a presentation about the new translation; basically a "how did we get here" kind of presentation.

I had created PowerPoint slides, with some helpful quotes from both Comme le Prevoit and Liturgiam Authenticam, the documents that created the so-called "dynamic equivalence" (former) and "formal equivalence" guidelines to translation. The basic point of my presentation, of course, was to drive home the fact that the words we use at Mass do make a difference, because they express what we believe, pure and simple. I did a side-by-side comparison of the Latin text of the Gloria with our current translation, then did the same comparison with the new translation. Heads nodded in agreement as they saw how much closer and more faithful the new translation is to the Latin text. I then did the same thing for the Opening Prayer/Collect for the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Again, heads nodded in agreement.

Then came the tough question. Someone pointed out the fact that my presentation was missing an important piece of the history, namely the thousands of changes that someone or some people had made to the texts that the English-speaking bishops had approved and then sent to Rome. This person said that several parishioners who read the Catholic liturgy blogs and read Catholic newspapers and periodicals have been asking pointed questions about these changes. They have read the opinions of some scholars who say that these changes have, in many cases, distorted or misrepresented the original Latin texts. "How," they ask, "can you say that this new translation is a better one, more faithful to the original Latin, a better expression of the truths of our faith (lex orandi lex credendi) than we have right now, when it is obvious that last-minute changes were made that actually made for a worse translation?"

I believe that a new translation was warranted. I believe that our current translation needed improvement. But I find it difficult to try to answer the questions posed by these parishioners. There is, I believe strongly, a satisfying answer to the question about why we needed a new translation. I just don't know if there is a satisfying answer to the questions posed by these parishioners. What I said last night in response to the question echoed what Father Paul Turner said in an address at this year's Southwest Liturgical Conference in Salt Lake City. He said something like, "I must work under the supposition that those who crafted these texts, as well as those who made the changes, have my prayer life in mind." Too simplistic an approach? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Basically I have a choice to make. I can do one of two things. I can spend the next few years, and perhaps the rest of my life, bemoaning the new translation; I can join together with groups of Catholics who will continue to express anger and frustration about the many thousands of perplexing changes. Or I can name my own frustrations, name the fact that I am still perplexed by all of this, but still do my best to try to pray the liturgy. I told those gathered last night that it will take a few years before this new translation is tested in the real lives of people like us. I also said that if I find that the translation hinders my own engagement in the liturgy, if it weakens or distorts my faith, then I have a right and duty by reason of my own baptism not to remain placid, but to voice my objections. And if the new translation strengthens my faith, I will share the ways that this strengthening is being accomplished. I cannot make any of these judgments until I have the actual experience of praying these texts in the context of the liturgy.

I am jumping into the new translation with my eyes wide open, with an open heart and an open mind. Frankly, it's a bit scary, because I do not know what my Catholic faith is going to look like in a few years, for it is the celebration of the liturgy, the praying of these texts, that fundamentally continues to shape and re-shape our lived Catholic faith.

On my way to work this morning, someone in my carpool asked me how long I was going to continue writing about the new translation on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I responded that this will probably go on for a few years. The most important work regarding the new translation remains to be accomplished: the actual praying and singing of these texts. And there must be reflection spoken and written about our actual experience of those texts. That is what I hope to do in the coming years, God willing.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


PrayingTwice said...

Dr. Galipeau,

My apologies for a somewhat irrelevant query: is your e-mail address somewhere on the site and I can't find it? Not even sure you've shared it . . . I'll be giving a presentation here at my church on the new translations, and I wanted to send you a private e-mail regarding your own presentation.


Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Heath,
You can e-mail me at
Thanks for reading the blog.

Chironomo said...


Hope all is going well with you.

We have to be careful not to let the "2008" text become something of a red herring the way that the "1997" text was and still is in some circles. I have to laugh a bit when everybody calls for "open-ness" and "transparency" in the process, but then gets bent out of shape when that open-ness allows us to see things and make judgments when it really isn't our place to do so.

If the process had been "closed", and we had not seen any drafts, preliminaries, or pre-revision approved texts, the first text we would have seen from the translation process would be the one we have now, so the "2008" text wouldn't even exist...just as it doesn't really exist now except as something we wish might have been. It was merely another draft along the way, no matter how we would like to cite the fact that it was "approved"...apparently it wasn't "approved" by the person or persons who ultimately had the final say. The fact that some individuals or groups judge the final version as inferior to a preliminary version of the text...and that is by no means a unanimous judgment...has no real bearing on what we need to do now.

I'm not sure we will ever know exactly why there was an "approval" given to a project that was apparently not completed yet, but the question I would ask is whether it is really important for us to know in the first place. Will knowing the answer help us in our work? Will we be able to implement the new text any better if we have the answer to that question?

Or rather, do we want to know the answer just so that we can continue to use that information to beat down that illusive "hierarchy" that dares to "impose" its views on the rest of us? For many who keep beating the dead horse that is the "2008" text, that seems to be the motivation.

jdonliturgy said...

Thanks for sharing this concern and your response. This is indeed one of the questions that is hardest to deal with. (Along with the report on 250 translation errors that were ignored.) Like you, I have decided to choose my attitude. However, the students in the sections of the University of Dayton online course on implementing the Missal have not always been able to do this.

In the end, all we CAN do is wait and see how we really feel as we begin to use and reflect upon the texts - and be honest with those who have these "advanced" concerns. Thanks for articulating it so well.

Anonymous said...

It's a translation, good people; as with any translation, not perfection come to earth. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit will guide and protect the Church. Sorry, but all this lamenting is getting rather tiresome if not irritating. I think the folks in the pews are much more flexible, sophisticated, intelligent and receptive than they are being given credit. And there will always be those individuals who will never be satisfied unless the translation comes down from heaven itself on a cloud of light. And no offense, but publishing companies (both music and book) show of concern regarding how parishes/the faithful are going to handle the changes after a while comes across as a bit cloying (and possibly grating), when one considers the economic benefits companies stand to enjoy. (Not a condemnation; just an observation.)

No, I did not get up on the wrong side of the bed. I just think this blog can serve a better purpose than a platform for whining and playing the martyr.

'The Church' will be fine. It's time to welcome the good aspects of the latest/new translation. Perfection? We are all mere mortals on a journey. Perfection is for a future time, a future existence.

Onward and upward.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Anonymous,
Thank you for your comment. This is what you said: "No, I did not get up on the wrong side of the bed. I just think this blog can serve a better purpose than a platform for whining and playing the martyr." I do not intend this blog to be such a "platform." I was just reporting the real comments by real Catholics in my parish. A "platform for whining and playing the martyr?" Wrong assessment. Let's be honest and open to what Catholics are feeling and thinking; the liturgy is closer to Catholic hearts than anything else.

Anonymous said...

The point is that the so-called experts at Vox Clara made the translation WORSE... and then rather than fixing the errors (not just differences of opinion on how to best translate a word or phrase, but true errors to the point that one has to question if these folks know Latin, English, or even basic theology) when they were pointed out to them fired the messengers.

Compare 2008 and 2010.
(By the way, 2008 Order of Mass was approved by the CDWDS... it was not "just another draft" ... that is what allowed publishers to begin preparing music... that had to be undone when VC did their end run around ICEL and the Bishops.)

Yes, we are stuck with 2010 and will need to make the best of it.
But, considering the expertise that we COULD have brought to bear and listened to... and the millions of dollars that we are spending... and the thousands of hours that have already spent on preparing for impelementation and will continue to spend... is "make the best of it" really what we want? Does that really give glory to God? Is that really what is best for the people of God? Honestly?

What does it say about a church that only abrbitrarily follows its own rules - making ridiculous decisions like not allowing pointing of the prayers because it is not in the original Latin while at the same time making egregious changes to the text that are not in the original Latin? (Cardinal Pell's infamous change to EP II... the word in Latin is STAND, whether he likes it or not....)

What does it say about a church that it would rather fire people and ignore critique in order to save face rather than deal with things hionestly?

And it is really offensive that someone would suggest that we should be LESS transparent... it is that kind of 'church' that gets away with abuse... and financial misdealings... and....

Simon Ho said...

I wonder if the whole story of the changes made to the texts that the Bishops proposed have been fully and completely told yet. What we know currently about these changes seem to come from specific sources which compared the final text against what the US Bishops proposed to Rome. The texts proposed by the other Bishops' Conferences are, as far as I know, unavailable at the moment. As such, the reasons for the changes could not be fully known at this moment, and it would not be right to ascribe political reasons solely to the changes. We could perhaps help people who were upset by the process in which the changes were made to recognise that people making a lot of noise might all be guilty of premature judgement.

Of course, being a Church made up of sinners in ceaseless need for repentance and continuing conversion, we should not be surprised if imperfections slip in along the way. Even the smoke of Satan has made its way into the sancturay through nothing less than an ecumenical Council; what more can we say about our work and the work of the Curia? We could humbly acknowledge the challenges still present in the text, and recognise our own brokenness and woundedness in the texts, without resorting to triumphalism or wanton criticisms.

Doug Peltak said...

Hi Jerry
Read your blog but never joined in. Not real skilled on the computer. In response to anonymous and your answer, when we become so complacent as to believe that, the church will be "fine" it becomes rather easy to discount whatever it is that Catholics may be thinking or feeling. Have we not already witnessed a great exodus, by those who have become so frustrated by this kind of reasoning? That we in Boston have only 17% of the Catholic population worshipping with us, speaks volumes to the import of what Catholics may be thinking or feeling(Jerry you touched on this in an earlier blog). So to create places of worship that are welcoming and life-giving, it would seem to be crucial for us to, as you say, be open and honest particularly with those who still join us at the Lord's table. I am certainly aware of how the church works and that it is not a democratic institution, but, respect for the thoughts and feelings of others which is also lacking in society in general, appears to be a real concern of Jesus in the gospels. With everything the laity has had to deal with, not to recognize or acknowledge their thoughts and feelings concerning the impending revision might be the equivilent of bidding adieu to even more of the remnant. Thanks Jerry and keep up the good work, you and others like yourself are a great example of the giftedness that the laity can be to this wonderful church of ours.


Siobhan said...

Regarding Anonymous: "And no offense, but publishing companies (both music and book) show of concern regarding how parishes/the faithful are going to handle the changes after a while comes across as a bit cloying (and possibly grating), when one considers the economic benefits companies stand to enjoy. (Not a condemnation; just an observation.)"

That's a little like saying that, as a parish Music Director, I am benefiting from having a new translation to implement next November. I would have plenty to keep me busy without this new translation. The same would be true for our colleagues in the field of publishing.

For my part, I appreciate the publishers' care for colleagues in the parishes, their attention to endless detail, and their exercise of faithful humility in this project: the hurry-up-and-wait for the recognitio, the second recognitio (who knew?), the date before which books could NOT be published, the recent surprise announcement from the USCCB moving the implementation date up two months, the identification of typos in the given text, the negotiations over typefaces for heaven’s sake, and lots more to which I am not, praise God, privy.

I assume publishers did not recoup their investment for all the work following the first recognitio, which had to be scrapped.

All the while, they still have the rest of their jobs to do, just as the rest of us do.

In my world, the recent early implementation announcement would be a disaster except that I think we are going to be able to skirt it. No such luck in the publishing world, I'll bet. My sympathies to all of you as you adjust your deadlines AGAIN.

I don't mean to attack Anonymous, and I've tried to edit my remarks very carefully to avoid that. But I do think it's necessary to point out that the publishers are working for a fair profit. Furthermore, that they are giving above and beyond, as we are all called to do in service of the kingdom of God, whether we work for the Church or not, by virtue of our baptism and from our love of the liturgy.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Galipeau,

I very much so agree with you that "the liturgy is closer to Catholic hearts than anything else". Very true; I can identify. But that was not the point of my previous comment. What is also true (and closer to my point) is that people are not always so welcoming when it comes to change (even if the change corrects errors or insufficiencies). That is why I feel it is important when confronted with change to not play into the human tendency to 'whine and play the martyr'. (Doing so can have a detrimental snowball effect.) Have compassion for those struggling, a resounding yes; granting continued voice to false justifications for going contrary to what the Church has officially presented, a booming NO!

Preparing the faithful for the upcoming changes to the Mass, explaining those changes is very important, as this will help to ease the pain of some and increase the understanding of all who seek information on this subject. Talk of what didn’t get changed; what got changed, then change back; what got changed, then changed to something else, should not be a main focus/dwelled on. (Increases the heat; gives off little light.) The official version has been given us; it is time to embrace it.

Any further changes to the Mass are for the next revision occurring in the future. This being, of course, only after much discussion by the Church about this most recent version. I am sure that at that future time, the same discussions taking place now will take place then, the difference being this latest revision (we are about to implement) will be ‘prized’ and the new version (yet to be experienced) will be ‘suspect’. It happened in the 1960s(70s); it’s happening now; and it no doubt happened when the Tridentine Mass was promulgated oh so many years ago.

Just hoping to keep the sunny side up and looking forward to a rather momentous event in the Church’s history.

Simon Ho said...

Anonymous at 8:01 pm:

Through the grace of God in my life, I have come to realise that odd decisions from a person's point of view usually do rest on reasonable principles - though make no mistake, knowing it cerebrally does not necessarily make it more easy to accept odd decisions sometimes. Prudence and humility are virtues, both for those in authority and for those who are bound to obedience to authority.

I don't think the decision not to allow pointing of the texts and the deviation from the Latin text in EPII that you cited are necessarily ridiculous. Do I prefer the decisions to be otherwise? Perhaps. But for the latter, I have heard arguments made by supposedly-trained laity that we should stand for the entire Eucharistic Prayer, because EPII said so.