Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Translation Tuesday: "The Translation Is a Flop" (Before the Curtain Rises)

Welcome to a new installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

We are all very busy here at WLP gearing up for next week's national convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Louisville. I am giving the final plenum of the convention on Friday; my presentation is all about catechesis and the new translation. I am also giving two workshops focused on the implementation.

There is a big part of me that feels like this, "For goodness sakes, how much more do we need to say about the new translation? Let's just do it!" Then I remember that as recently as last week at Notre Dame, a pastoral musician asked me how she should respond to questions about the new translation that come from concerned parishioners. Some parishes have yet to begin their preparations and catechesis for the transition. With the surprise announcement a few weeks ago--that our bishops had decided that the new translation could be sung beginning in September in dioceses where the bishop permits it--many parish leaders might find themselves re-inventing their catechetical program, kind of scrambling at this point. I do think we need to all take a collective big deep breath and realize that we will get through this. It's the music that will make the real difference for those of us in the pews (and in choir lofts and choir areas in our churches).

I want to share something that has been eating away at me for quite some time. Most of those who have been offering scathing critiques of the new translation are counted among my friends. One critique recently went so far as to urge that we should refuse to use the new texts and stay with the current Sacramentary texts. I guess I find myself confused about these critiques. I, too, have spent lots of time with these texts and have discovered some real problems with some of the translations. But I wonder about passing a judgment of condemnation upon them, as some of the critics have done. It's like a theater critic reading a script six weeks before opening night and declaring the play a flop.

When I was working with priests in Davenport, I chose some of the more problematic texts for them to work with. They divided up into small groups and I asked them to share their thoughts about the particular text assigned to the group. The complaints abounded. "This is all one long sentence." "I can't find the antecedent." "The grammar just doesn't look right to me." "What kind of English is this anyway?" "I don't think anyone will understand this prayer."

Then I asked a member of the small group, "Father, would you pray that text for us?" After these priests had spent time visually analyzing the texts and expressings their thoughts about the texts, the actual praying of the texts surprised everyone in attendance. We heard things like, "Wow, despite the fact that it appeared stilted on the page, I think you did a beautiful job praying that prayer." "Good job, Harry, that's a tough text but you conveyed it beautifully."

I was suprised by what occurred, which is why I think we really need to resist the temptation to condemn the text before "the curtain" actually rises.

Once the curtain does rise--as I have said before--each of us has a right and duty by reason of our baptism to really examine the ways the newly translated texts may weaken or strengthen our faith. And we have the responsibility to let our pastors and bishops and the congregation in Rome know just how this translation is working or not working to strengthen our faith; how it is helping or hindering us from giving praise and thanks to God at Mass. How can we determine these things months before the curtain rises?

I mean no offense to those, my friends, who have already posted their reviews. I just ask that they consider waiting until the play begins and gets into at least the middle of the second act before passing a judgment of condemnation.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

How sensible! I pray that your friends pay heed, Jerry!

Charles Culbreth said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Those among us, who like you, choose to remain at labor in the fields rather than the libraries, also have an appreciation for the vast seas of criticism of the process and product of MR3. However, the aesthetes and illuminati have failed to advance, save for "What if we just said wait?", a REAL strategic alternative to the REAL implementation on Nov.27/28.
You have arrived at a conclusion through the grace of that humble priestly gathering what many others of us have quietly predicted, if not hoped for. Namely, that a careful, prayerful study and preparation by presiders/celebrants (I'm playing nice!) ALSO combined with the cantillation of those same text orations will lower the trepidation blood pressure level and anxiety once put into practice.
Thank you, Dr. Jerry.

Bernadette Gasslein said...

Actually I think it's both/and. People need to wrestle with the texts, recognize the limitations and then prepare them in such a way that the limitations are minimized. This is the step that many presiders would not anticipate, because it hasn't been necessary with the current translation. But it is important to emphasize that step of preparation for performance of these texts; unrehearsed, many will be difficult to understand because they offer too many challenges.

There's yet another step: mystagogy. When I've worked with the texts in workshops here in Canada, I've asked people what were the ah-ha's - as well as the ouches (which are pretty predictable)as they listened to the text. Some of the ah-ha's have been really interesting, such as the comment that Eucharistic Prayer I has a strong sense of Eastern Divine Liturgy. That's been a very positive insight for me.

As with any good production, the strength will be in the preparation of the participants. (Oh, and BTW, the texts are really easily received when offered with music. Makes all the difference in the world.)

Moya said...

I am hoping that after a certain amount of time,possibly after Easter,each person in every church where the new translation has been introduced will be asked "Do you like the new translation?"so that we will know what the majority of people think about the new translation. This can be done by either a show of hands or a tick in a box yes/no at the end of Mass.

Chris O'Brien said...


Anonymous said...

I think "Do you like?" is a pretty vague question. While I would not support such a poll, perhaps better questions might be along the lines of "Has the new corrected translation helped reveal more of the scriptural foundation of the Mass?" "Do you find the texts more prayerful in the new corrected translation?"

JennyBird333 said...

What a fabulous reminder that the whole celebration is prayer. As for a survey, yes/no questions are meaningless. I suggest an open-ended question: "How has the new translation changed your understanding of the liturgy?" or "What have you discovered in the celebration with the new trnaslation?" and "What is missing from the celebration?" These questions are not a vote but rather a barometer of how well the translation succeeds. It would be instructive to liturgical ministers who would need to take people's catachesis into consideration when planning the liturgy.

As a choir member, I am looking forward to helping the congregation make the adjustment. So far my favorite is the Mass of St. Ann. I may have to make an anonymous donation to the church . . .