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.