Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Translation on a Wednesday!

I wanted to follow up on a comment made on the blog yesterday. Jeff Rexhausen wrote this:


I think that telling people that we should be using a more formal, "holier" language when we speak to God is the opposite of what Jesus taught. He said we should call God "Abba." How much more informal and intimate can you get. If that's the kind of relationship that Jesus wants us to have with his Father, by whose authority do we tell people the opposite?

Jesus says "I call you friends," so we should be speaking to him as we speak to a friend.

It's fine to say that we should be polite and respectful when speaking to God (and to friends), but there is nothing in the current translation that is impolite or disrespectful. By using this appproach in our catechesis, we are implying that there is something wrong with the language of the current translation, and that just ain't so.

I must admit that I am conflicted about this issue. Someone in attendance at Friday's gathering of Catholic school teachers in Birmingham, Alabama had something like this to say: "I am a convert to Catholicism. I think that the language that we use at Mass supports a Protestant view that God and we are 'buddy-buddy.' I like the new translation because it really sets the relationship correctly; we are put in our place, our subservient role in relationship to God." I couldn't help but respond. I said something like, "For the past forty years, most of my adult life as a life-long Catholic, I have been formed by the current translation and that translation has helped shape an intimacy with God. I am hoping that the new translation does not distance me from that intimate relationship."

The conflict within me arises from Jeff's final line, "By using this approach in our catechesis, we are implying that there is something wrong with the language of the current translation, and that just ain't so."

This stands in stark contrast to this paragraph from Liturgiam Authenticam:

6. Nevertheless, it has been noted that translations of liturgical texts in various localities stand in need of improvement through correction or through a new draft. The omissions or errors which affect certain existing vernacular translations – especially in the case of certain languages – have impeded the progress of the inculturation that actually should have taken place. Consequently, the Church has been prevented from laying the foundation for a fuller, healthier and more authentic renewal.
It seems that this document is saying that there is something wrong with the language of the current translation. There are places where one can easily see "omissions or errors" in the current translation. I do not blame the translators; they were working under a completely different set of rules. The rules changed because of the Vatican's perception that omissions and errors exist in current vernacular translations. This is where the confict comes in for me. I am a faithful Catholic, trying my best to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in this whole new translation business. I am reserving judgment about the efficacy of the translation until we actually begin praying it. I am disappointed in the process that led to the new translation; I do not understand what happened, and probably never will. But, I do echo something that Father Paul Turner has said, "I have reached the conclusion that those who worked on this translation had my best interests in mind." That may sound "pie-in-the-sky." It may seem way too naive. It may actually sound like I don't have a brain or the capacity for critical thinking. But I just can't spend my days and nights wondering why someone, or a group of people, "had it in" for people like me. Life is way too short.
When I am talking with people about the new translation, I simply lay out the history of its development the best way I can. People look for metaphors to help them teach children, teens, young adults, and adults about what is happening. And I think that is a good thing. I don't think it is wise to lambaste the current translation; this is simply unfair and doesn't help the majority of Catholics. What is fair is to say that Church leaders perceived that the current translation could have been improved; could have been brought into closer conformity to the original Latin, the translation that most clearly expresses our beliefs as Catholics. Whether or not the new English translation of The Roman Missal, Third Edition, will succeed is still a question.
Jeff, thanks for your helpful comments. Obviously you got me thinking. Others?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Lots of food for thought, Jerry. I guess one way to look at it is like a home improvement project. You buy a house and over time decide to "improve" the layout or the paint colors, rearrange or get new furniture. Doesn't mean it wasn't a comfortable, functional happy home until you did so...just that living with the tiny kitchen or one less bath lead you to realize that it could be better, that the investment would be worth the positive impact it would have on day-to-day living. I'm still not so sure that this translation "remodel" was handled well or even a necessary priority, but like you and Fr. Paul Turner have said, I can spend my time and energy assuming the worst or the best intentions of people who made the decisions. Assuming the best intentions seems like a better use of my time and energy at this point in time.

Geoff said...

I absolutely agree with Jeff (maybe it's because we share the same name!) This has always been one of my issues with the new translation. I don't believe it is just a matter of "faithfully" translating the Latin into English. If that were so, then it seems the job has been done. For me, this debate goes to the heart of what we see as one of the central tenants of the Christian faith: the incarnation. In becoming human, God literally stopped down to "pitch his tent" among human beings. He could have come as a mighty ruler expecting everyone to use high and lofty language when addressing him. Rather, in the incarnation, he chose to come as a little baby who grew up to be an itinerant rabbi from the sticks. I don't mean to make it sound so "un-holy" but that is what God chose to do. Personally I think he did this to show us that he is approachable. After all, isn't this the point of the veil being torn in two at the crucifixion? Having said that, I do believe there is value in using the type of language in the liturgy that we would use to address a dear friend. I am not for the use of slang and pedestrian language in worship. Why? Because I think that the liturgy is formative and ultimately, as we learn how to address God we are being taught something about how to address one another. We can be polite and respectful without being remote, which is what I find the new translation to be. It seems to me that many of the leaders of our church have forgotten the lesson of the incarnation and have made the correct translation of Latin into English more important than our belief that our God has become one of us!

Siobhan said...

Two thoughts: One, the new translation has been coming since about 1974 (ok, but easily since before 1982) for various reasons; Liturgiam Authenticam was late to the game. That is to say, Liturgiam Authenticam (language style, translation principles) is NOT the reason for the new translation. The 1974 Missal was an early attempt at the vernacular and a new edition has been eagerly anticipated since I was in high school. True, this is not the 1998 submission, but as Fr Ed Foley says, "It's time to anticipate the 4th edition."

Second, rather than setting intimate language at war with formal language, consider that God is imminent AND transcendant. The issue is not that God is "out there" or "in here." God is both/and. Even in the 1974 Missal, transcendance and immminence were always at play. I'm not familiar enough with the 3d edition to speak with authority, but I am enjoying (hah! no one is more surprised than I) the structure of the Gloria. I find the abundance of images spilling over one another in 3s and 5s really appealing.

Siobhan said...

A follow-up comment: I must have missed yesterday's post, and so I read today's post out of context. I would amend my comment today to say that I agree with Brent McWilliams: that teacher would best leave the editorializing (and accompanying angst) out of the explanation. It is inaccurate to tell the students that the new translation uses more "holy" language. It's not more holy. It's just different.

Alan Hommerding said...

In my view, one of the over-arching struggles we have as a church (and its making itself VERY evident during this time of transition) is the ability to be a both/and people.

We believe Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, is BOTH fully human AND fully divine. Yes, God became one of us, but did not cease to be God. Why can't our language reflect that two-fold richness? To focus on one or the other, especially to the exclusion of the other, is to impoverish the mystery of the Incarnation.

In our liturgy, earth unites with heaven, as they did in Christ himself. Why not reflect that unity in our prayer? The focus on all these dualities - including Protestant=Informal/Roman Catholic=Formal - do us and our worship no good.

Geoff said...

Alan, I actually agree with you about the incarnation being a both/and event. And, quite frankly, this is what I love about Catholicism...the ability to hold these things in tension. The point I was attempting to make was that it seems we have swung so far over to the "formal" side of things that we might be in danger of losing the sense of God as immanent. Of course, this is what the church has done for centuries: when we lose sight of one side we swing very far over to the other to make a correction. Perhaps this is what we are seeing now. Incidentally, I ran across an English translation of the Gloria from the late 1800's in England and it is almost verbatim what we are being given now. It seems that, as other Christian bodies are choosing to use "elevated language 21st century style" (my own description), our Church is moving back in time to a more archaic and stiff form of the language which no one uses anymore. I think there is a way to convey a theology that is timeless without uses language that, quite frankly, many will either find unintelligible or quaint.

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Sioban and Alan are absolutely right!

This is about both/and. Problems are created when we emphasize one TO THE EXCLUSION OF the other. My pastor talks about the swings of the pendulum; we need more people who want to bring it to the center, not to one of the extremes.

Let's all agree to be personal examples by appreciating "both/and" and gently encouraging others to do the same.

Anonymous said...

One comment about Christ having come down to us, become one of us: He did this so we could become more like Him. He calls us to rise to His level. So, in human terms, the Teacher doesn't speak to the Kindergardeners in their 5 year old language and syntax, she/he teaches them by example the more formal language of adult speach because they are to become adults. So for Holy Mother Church to tell us that we need to change the words we use at our Eucharist, our Communion with God, is a way, in this time and space, to lead us to our growing into/becoming Christ not bringing Christ to grow into/become us.
It is meant to LIFT us up to Him (don't some call it "lofty language"?). After all, it seems language matters or we wouldn't be making such a big deal out of this. There is a transformation expected and our eucharistic language is part of it. We are called to transform into Christ, not transform Christ into us. And this is one of the ways the Church is calling us to do that.

Becky said...

Jerry, I still really like the Brett Favre analogy you shared at one of your workshops at NPM. It took some time, but the Packers did just win the Super Bowl earlier this year without him. I find that this analogy resonates with most every day people and, at the very least, encourages them to give the new translation a chance.

Only time can tell what this new translation means for us as Roman Catholics. But, like it or not, we're moving on and giving it a try. In the meantime, I like Jeff's thoughts: "Let's all agree to be personal examples by appreciating "both/and" and gently encouraging others to do the same."