New Translation Tuesday has arrived once again.
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.