Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Translation Tuesday: Will We Comprehend?

Welcome to this installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

On Sunday our parish held a town hall meeting between the two Sunday morning Masses. The pastor led the presentation and discussion on the new translation of The Roman Missal, Third Edition. I was disappointed in the turnout, maybe 100 people, but I guess in a parish of just about 250 people, this was a good turnout. Father was well prepared and used a Powerpoint presentation to help make his points. He wove in some Benedictine history and amusing anecdotes (He is a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey). We practiced the various responses and he asked us to do so with vigor. People asked questions about the new words in the Nicene Creed, words like "consubstantial" and "incarnate" and "I."

I thought the morning went well. I am proud of the way my parish has approached the preparatory catechesis. Now we will see how all this shakes out when November 27 arrives.

On Sunday afternoon and evening, I gave repeated presentations at Our Lady of the Ridge Parish (which interestingly enough is in Chicago Ridge, Illinois and is on Ridgeland Avenue!). Great turnout for the afternoon session, less so for the evening session (the Chicago Bears were playing).

The talks went well and people were very attentive. John Black, the parish's fine music director, asked me to lead the people assembled in the singing of the new acclamations, which the parish will begin singing this coming weekend. John had chosen WLP's Mass of Wisdom by Steven Janco as the first set of acclamations the parish will sing. At the afternoon session, several members of the parish choir were present, so they came forward and helped us all with the melody of the Gloria. Later we sang the Holy, Memorial Acclamation 3, and the AmenJanco's Mass setting uses similar harmonic and melodic structures throughout, so people catch on quite easily. It is intuitive and interesting. Steve ends the Holy and the Memorial Acclamations on the "fifth" of the scale, which means that when you arrive at the last note, there is a sense of wanting to sing more. Steve did this because he felt strongly that these acclamations are placed in locations where there is indeed something more that follows, something to which the assembly should be anticipating: the unfolding Eucharistic Prayer. Finally, on the Great Amen, the final note is on the "one" of the scale, creating a sense of finality, a sense that the prayer is now completed. It is a wonderful musical device that supports the movement of the Eucharistic Prayer. Bravo Steve. Listen to the clips of these acclamations again by clicking on the links provided above to see what I mean.

One thing that my pastor said on Sunday was interesting. From his perspective, he has come to a conclusion about the style of English in the new translation. He told us that he feels that the current translation is geared for a second grade reading and comprehension level. He then told us that the new translation is geared more to the reading and comprehension level of someone in their senior year of high school or the first or second year of college. I hadn't thought about it in these terms and I am not sure that I agree. What I do agree with, however, is that the new translation is certainly not in a style common to everyday English speech and conversation. This new "sacral vernacular" certainly introduces a new and more complicated style of speaking and praying. After hearing my pastor, I wondered if there will be scores of people (whose reading and comprehension levels are not well developed) who will be unable to comprehend the meaning of the prayers. If this is the case, we've got a problem. What do you think? Here's an example of what I mean.

Here's the original Latin for the Collect for the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Deus, cuius providentia in sui dispositione non fállitur,te súpplices exorámus,ut nóxis cuncta submóveas,
ómnia nobis profutúra

Here's the current translation. Three simple sentences:

Father, your love never fails.
Hear our call.
Keep us from danger and provide for all our needs.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And here's the new translation:

O God, whose providence never fails in its design,
keep from us, we humbly beseech you,
all that might harm us and grant all that works for our good.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

I really do think that Catholics will need some catechesis on this newly translated text, in order to grasp fully its meaning. Someone said to me, "I thought providence was the capitol of Rhode Island!" The current translation is a beautiful and simple prayer, but it simply does not fully capture the meaning of the original Latin text. The new one does; but is it too much to grasp when we hear it at Sunday Mass?

Ah, these are the questions that we will be faced with as we begin the implementation of the new translation. I, for one, am ready to sink my teeth into more active listening. I am also excited, and not a little apprehensive about hearing and reading about peoples' reactions to the prayers, clergy and faithful alike.

Thanks for listening to this long post today. As always, feel free to comment by hitting the comments tab below.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

A lot will depend, I'm sure, on how well the priest prepares ahead of time to get the cadence and pauses correct. I trust we will hear these prayers proclaimed much more slowly. At least I hope so!

Over breakfast after early mass this morning, our pastor made exactly this point, that he will no longer be able to look over the prayers 60 seconds before Mass begins.

And, Jerry, I think your pastor's comment on the relative grade levels for comprehension of the current vs new translation has merit, except I don't think the new requires quite that high a level. Maybe 8th grade or early high school.

Anonymous said...

When reading the two translations of the Collect, it felt like I received two different messages.

I really like the way the first translation uses the word "love" and the way that it seems to be describing that God's love never fails.

For the second translation, I did not seem to find the message as soothing when first reading it, since I did not know what providence means. Upon looking it up, I found that it means "God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny." From this definition, it seems to mean guidance, which makes sense, but still means something different from love.

Without looking up the definition, I would not have understood the first part of the Collect and might have misinterpreted it. I doubt that it would work well for most people to look up words during mass, so I think that it is going to be difficult for most Catholics to understand the new translation.

My guess is that many Catholics are just going to tune out a lot of what the priest says during mass.

I also have the concern that the new language will make some people find mass to be more boring.

Anonymous said...

The current translation (for me) is easy to understand, but too simple and limiting. The new translation is deeper in the sense that I can feel God's omnipotence. It's not just love, it is God 'as the power sustaining and guiding (our)human destiny'. Not just danger, but from ALL harm - as in; damaging/hurtful words, thoughts and actions. 'Needs' puts in mind the physical/survival or the wants (things I may think I need). But to ask 'all that works for our good' is to leave life in God's hands and to trust!!
I'm just saying........

Anonymous said...

From my English standpoint, some of the words in the new translation need degree-level theology to even begin to break open. Whilst I accept that the great mysteries of the church deserve careful study, there is a reason why there are not many 8-year-olds attending our universities.

Personally, I find the outright clumsiness of the translation, where the priest, annoyingly, keeps having to interrupt himself before, eventually, getting to the point to be so jarring that I lose the fact that it is a prayer and not something from engrish.com.

Give me catechesis for a hundred years and I'll still be left with trying to find the prayer within the stilted phrases that have obviously started in a foreign language and look to have been translated by someone with a dictionary but no real idea of how to communicate in English.

Paul Robertson.

Scott Pluff said...

Speaking of the reading-grade level is a good point, but may miss the point that these texts are not for reading with the eyes but hearing with the ears. Unless you are going to pass out copies of the Roman Missal to everyone!

Yet this gives me an idea... might we print in our weekly worship aides the prayers of the day? They are easier to comprehend when you can read and re-read them to sort out the complicated word order. How would copyrights work to do this? Thoughts?

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Scott,
Thanks for your comment. I think a simple call to ICEL could clear this up.

Anonymous said...

To address TappingCow's point, it should be possible to capture the meaning of the Latin without a clumsy translation.

How's this:

"O God,
you order the course of our lives
with unfailing providence.
Remove from our path whatever is harmful
and grant us those things that work to our good."

And no, I didn't just make it up, that's taken directly from the 1998 ICEL translation that the CDW rejected.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I don't expect parishes to pass out copies of the Roman Missal, but I certainly plan to buy my own copy to replace my current one. Alternatively, the Magnificat monthly missal is pretty affordable, I see lots of folks using it (even with the current second grader translation) and it has all the propers even for daily Mass.

This all kinda depends on how important the Mass is to you. Like many things, what you get out is in proportion to what you put in.

Anonymous said...

Reading or hearing the texts, it still requires a level of attention and comprehension. I find it interesting that the ones who are making the decision or comments about the new translation being great are usually individuals with a higher level degree of education. I have commented before that I struggle with a reading challenge myself, began throwing words that I don't understand, how is hearing it suppose to make it better? I recently read a post from Fr. Anthony Ruff where he stated that he thinks about the prisoners to whom he presides at mass and wonders, will they understand? This is not a matter of marginalizing anyone or is it? I don't have a PhD or even a master's degree. It is frustrating because I consider myself intelligent, but what about those of learning disabilities? mental challenges? English as a second language? Let the text speak for itself and we'll see how the church responds.

Mary said...

In the country where I live, a recent study showed that 17% of 15 year olds are functionally illiterate. And we know that 1/3 of people over 65 never went to secondary school - it wasn't compulsory until 1967.

On a recent Sunday during the notices, my parish priest said that we didn't have a musician today, but had sung well anyhow. He asked if there was anyone who might be willing to play once every month or six weeks. Afterwards, he was approached by a man who wanted to play. But it took some time to discover that WHAT he wants to play is table tennis! This man is an immigrant, like 25% of the parish. His English isn't great, but isn't dreadful either. Mass in his own first language isn't possible - there are just too many different languages. Mass in his first "other" language (French) may be possible, but would lead to various them-vs-us issues, with little pastoral gain. Basically, he's stuck with English.

I'm not sure that the "new" language will be any worse than the "old" for these people.

jdonliturgy said...

I would have to dig into the archives, but about a year ago, the Pray Tell blog had a post about a priest from Ireland who ran a portion of the current translation through a computer program that determines reading level. His conclusion: about Grade 8. Then, he ran the same section through using the new translation. Result: 2nd year graduate school. This was supposed to be based on sentence structure and vocabulary. Since the Eucharistic Prayers and collects now resemble the 110-line opening sentence of Milton's "Paradise Lost" I think that perhaps this test was pretty accuarate.