Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Translation Tuesday: The Challenge Moving Forward

New Translation Tuesday has arrived once again.

Following my presentation on the new translation on Saturday at Saint Anthony of Padua Parish in Fairfield, Connecticut, there were two responses that I feel are worth mentioning.

The first came from a man who was probably in his mid-seventies. He raised his hand and simply said, "Jerry, good luck with this." When I asked him to elucidate, he said something like, "You know, I am a life-long Catholic and the language that we use at Mass right now is of a style that draws me into a close relationship with my God. What you have shown us this morning is a style of language that distances me from God. Good luck."

You know, this idea of a "sacral vernacular," which comes to us from Liturgiam Authenticam, is a tough pill to swallow for many Catholics who have become used to a more common or familiar style of vernacular. One comment on this blog of a few days ago:

Cherish the dying days of the Mass in the vernacular and delay the inevitable Roman juggernaut as long as you can. The new "sacral vernacular" (which denies the definition of vernacular) is clumsy, jarring and has given up entirely on elegance and subtlety, giving us, instead, mangled wording and unproclaimable proclamations. Enjoy the lull while it exists.

This is a sentiment that I have heard time and time again. Of course, we will need to wait for the actual experience of these texts prayed at Mass before making definitive conclusions. At Saint Mary on the Hill Parish in Augusta, Georgia last week, something interesting happened at the beginning of the presentation. After the pastor there introduced me, he told those gathered (200+) that if they had serious questions about the new translation or wanted to complain, they needed to contact someone in authority. He then held up a large portrait of Pope Benedict XVI and humorously quipped, "Call him." At the question and answer time, the pastor walked to the front of the church, with his new Missal in hand and told us that he had just received his new Missal that morning. He told us that he knows that he has a lot of work to do to prepare for the proclamation. He said that he wanted to give us an example. He then tried to pray the Collect from the Nativity of John the Baptist. Here it is:
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that your family may walk in the way of salvation
and, attentive to what Saint John the Precursor urged,
may come safely to the One he foretold,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

He shared the fact that he had never heard the phrase "Saint John the Precursor" before and he felt that people would not necessarily "get" the meaning at all. I had to admit that this phrase is awkward.
OK, back to Fairfield. After the concert on Sunday evening, a woman who had attended the new translation the previous day said this to me: "Jerry, thank you for the talk yesterday. It was very helpful. You know, you could talk an undernourished nation into adopting Weight Watchers." I smiled and thanked her. I should have pursued the conversation. I haven't been going around to dioceses and parishes in an effort to sell people on the new translation. My aim has been to help them gain some knowledge as to why we are where we are right now with respect to the new translation. I try my best to explain the shift in translation guidelines. I try my best to help people to situate this current change in the context of the history of the development of codified liturgical prayer over the centuries. I give people examples of how a new set of translation rules has resulted in a new set of translated texts. What I don't do is tell people that this new translation is the best thing since sliced bread. And I cannot do that because I have not yet had the experience of praying these texts. I tell people that there are beautiful prayers. I tell people that there are prayers that capture scriptural and other inspiring images that were deleted, glossed over, or paraphrased when the translators (using approved Vatican guidelines) gave us our current translation; there is much that has been recovered. I also tell them that there are places where the structure of the prayers is quite awkward and stilted. There are places where one has to read the text over and over again in order to figure out the meaning. And herein is the challenge. Take the example above, which uses the phrase "Saint John the Precursor." Without some kind of catechesis, some kind of explanation of the term "Precursor," the meaning will simply fly over the heads of the majority of Catholics, young and old alike.
We have a new English translation of The Roman Missal. It's here and we will start praying these texts in a few weeks. But in order for the meaning to be communicated, there will be times when praying the text well will simply not be enough. I am encouraging Catholics to take time before Mass (time they might normally spend preparing by going over the readings) to read the prayers that will be prayed at Mass. Someone asked me if it would be necessary to bring a dictionary to Mass with her. Everyone laughed, but there was something very serious about what she was suggesting.
We have quite a road ahead of us. I hope we are up to the challenge. We have a new English translation of The Roman Missal. That's a fact. It's going to take a lot of work as we move forward.
What do you see as the greatest challenge ahead?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Alan Hommerding said...

In the U.S. I think it will be particularly difficult to keep people from forming opinions based on personal tastes and/or viewing the new translation as a commodity, since this is how our consumer-driven society approaches most everything.
At a session I led a couple weeks ago, I asked people to express their opinions or critiques, but not to use the words "I" or "me" - replacing them with "we" and "us" instead. It was very difficult for them to do so.
Also, I've noticed a tendency with people who dislike the mere fact that this IS happening, or dislike one particular feature of the new translation (the opening of the Creed) tend to reject the entire enterprise, not being open to places where the new translation is actually an improvement, or places where the current translation actually left out portions of the Mass.
In short, I think the biggest challenge will be to get folks to think of themselves, the baptized faithful, as "the Church" - the ones who offer themselves AS Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice of praise. The same challenge we've faced for a generation, but now with a different focus.

Deanery Five said...

I don't know if you've referenced this already or not, but I found the commentaries for the new Missal's prayers during Advent to be quite inspirational. (I'm working hard to try to appreciate the new translation.)

They can be found at http://old.usccb.org/romanmissal/advent-christmas.shtml
Just click on the prayer title, and the commentary will appear. I've heard that this site will disappear soon so now's the time to get this info. (Some of it is being published.)

They said...

Re: the term 'Precursor' ... I've personally heard this term since I was a kid and when I read the prayer, it made sense. Must admit that the comment surprised me... I really believe that if these prayers are well chanted - proclaimed, our lives will be enriched...

Anonymous said...

Where can Catholics read the prayers prior to mass (especially during the Daily Mass)? I tried briefly to find a website with this and other than one that seemed to indicate that the text was leaked, was unable to find a site for this?

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Last Sunday, my pastor asked me to give a short presentation during the announcement time about the changes in the Nicene Creed.

It went well and I received VERY positive comments from a lot of folks. They especially seemed to appreciate receiving an explanation that didn't take the "party line" approach of all of the official material. One person said it was much better than any of the bulletin inserts our parish has used.
Here are the highlights of what I said about “consubstantial” and the “men … man” passage.

Consubstantial. This is the big one [laughter], the most difficult change. It’s from the Latin word in the creed – consubstantialem. Okay, you say, but what does it mean? Well, most directly, it means “of the same substance,” but NOT in a physical sense. This is not like the altar and the ambo both being made out of wood. This is a technical philosophical term from metaphysics. (How many of you took a philosophy course in school? Would any of you who did like to get up here and take over for me?) [laughter]

It means “of the same essence.” Perhaps the best explanation is that it is another way of saying “true God from true God.” This word, consubstantial, works very well in the catechism, where you can take three pages to explain it, but it can be challenging to use in prayer. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding and will be able to use it with at least some level of comfort.

After explaining “incarnate” of the Virgin Mary, I then went on to “men … man:”

Initially, the translators actually changed “for us men” to “for us” but they wanted to emphasize the parallel in the Latin. They probably could have done a better job of it, but the point of this parallel is: Jesus is also of the same substance or essence as us; Jesus is consubstantial with us, which is what the incarnation is all about.

In my parish of very active Catholics, many of whom have expressed strong reservations about the upcoming changes, this seemed to connect with people.

peregrinus_sg said...

Isn't the title "Precursor of Christ" well used by the Eastern Churches? This should be celebrated as an ecumenical progress! Now, where are the champions of ecumenical translations now? They should the in the frontlines promoting the meaning of this text.

Anonymous said...

We need to be open minded, and we need to be able to allow the Spirit to work through us and the new texts. Let the texts speak for themselves and we'll see what happens. I am anxious to read the comments and your blog once we begin singing and praying the new texts.

Steve Warner said...

I have been walking with this new translation, up to my eyeballs, for the past three years. And in less than a month, we will be bringing the entire project to our campus – a grand day of liturgical exploration for our priests, our students, our musicians, and the rectors who staff our residence halls. We have thirty chapels on our campus, and we have to get them all ready.

At the risk of sounding a bit like I've got rose-colored glasses on, I'd like to actually commend the translation for something I think has often been overlooked in all the grousing of the last year. For as I've worked at our own launchings, I've studied many of the presider's prayers. And they seem to have found a beautiful – in fact, in places edifying and eloquent – way of working around exclusive language. Take a look at the old Preface for Christmas III, and a rewrite of the new one. This pattern of dumping the exclusive "Man" (which permeates this Preface, almost in an obnoxious manner) is rendered artful in the new.

So, at the risk of, shall I say, being a bit positive, can we all be a little bit more upbeat! I'm tired of singing the same mass parts that I've done for 28 years! Good will come of this!

Steve Warner

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Anonymous,
Obviously for Sunday Masses, you can use a missalette. For weekdays, please look forward to publishers (WLP included) to publish study editions of the Roman Missal (easily held in the hand) in a few months.

Robert Noble said...

I think it's easy for American Catholics to forget that the Church is not a democracy in the way our government is. As one of our receptionists said, "I guess I'll just have to accept it and get used to it." And on a basic level, yes. I went on to try to explain and reason, but for her it was simply just having to get used to it. Jerry, as you have said over and over again, there are indeed many beautiful prayers with rich scriptural imagery found in RM3. There are too some prayers that should be prayed, studied, disected, and prayed again just to understand what they mean. As we draw closer to the first Sunday of Advent, I think it's important to remember that we trust that the Holy Spirit has been at work in this translation process; has been at work in all of the presentations given around the country; and the Holy Spirit will continue to transform us as we begin praying with RM3.

Anonymous said...

I believe the greatest challenge is not the missal itself, but rather ourselves, the people in the pews, when we refuse to be receptive to the new prayers, therefore not allowing our spirits to be lifted and nurtured by the revised phrases. The ride is whole lot more enjoyable if we take a seat, enjoy the ride and allow ourselves to experiencing it for what it is meant to be, rather that constantly looking at the back door wondering when we will be able to get off.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -

Perhaps Jerry does not want to hype the competition, but the popular Magnificat monthly missalette is a great, affordable way to get ALL the Mass propers.

As for me, I'm looking forward to my new Daily Roman Missal from OSV!

Moya said...

Here in England,after 8 weeks of the new translation for the Ordinary of the Mass,I still don't like it. During this time I have discussed with many friends about the new translation and the majority do not like it either. We think it is clumsy,awkward and does not flow. We are so sad. At the beginning of Advent it will be even worse,as then,the prayers will be in the new translation as well.

Anonymous said...

Doctor Jerry, it is always gratifying to be quoted. Thank you.

One Anonymous person suggested that it is easier to enjoy the ride if you are sitting down. Personally, having sat through an ever growing number of Masses here in England, I find my bottom is getting rather sore. Sitting is not really an option when you're driving across a rutted field in a tractor with no suspension...

The Collect you quote is a good example. Although "John the Precursor" is not impossible to decipher, if the language used was vernacular English, we wouldn't have to pause to decipher the term. As I am sure you have noticed, priests don't usually come with PAUSE buttons, so the choice we have is to lose the prayer and stay with the Mass, or to lose a chunk of the Mass as we try to understand the prayer. Not ideal in my book.

By way of comparison, here's the ICEL '98 version:
"Grant, almighty God,
that your people may walk in the way of salvation
and, by heeding the summons of John the Baptist,
may follow faithfully Christ our Lord,
whose coming John foretold."

I feel it flows rather better. But that's just me, I guess.

Paul Robertson

kkollwitz said...

I really like referring to John as the Precursor per comments already posted. I've taught 6th grade catechism for 8 years; each year the kids have learned John is the Baptist, the Precursor, and the Forerunner. It's no big deal.

I'd expect new terms such as Precursor would be briskly explained in the parish bulletin. At my parish of 2400 families I have only heard one negative remark about the new translation; we may be unusual in that respect, but everything so far has worked out fine.

BTW, here's an article on the new translation I like: