Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Translation Tuesday: The Pope and a Pastor: A Disconnect?

"New Translation Tuesday" greetings to all.

Pope Benedict, in his final videotaped address to those gathered for the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, reflected on the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's reform of the liturgy:

The Congress also occurs at a time when the Church throughout the world is preparing to celebrate the Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Vatican Council II, an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known. Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers’ expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church’s experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities. The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of His brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognise anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life.

I'd like to place Fr. Austin Fleming's comments from last week's post here, because I think there is a direct relation to the Pope's statement. Here are Fr. Fleming's comments regarding my post about the Collect for Corpus Christi:

Gerry, you wrote, "Sure, there is some awkwardness in the construction..."

What if the awkwardness in the construction thwarts whatever meaning and beauty is in the collect for those who have not studied and rehearsed the text ahead of time? What of those worshipers who, as many of us would prefer, do not follow along in pew books but who open ears and hearts to hear and pray the collect the priest offers?
Seems to me that no matter how beautiful the text and its meaning to those who study it, the same text has failed if those for whom it is intended fail, in the best of circumstances, to grasp its meaning and intent. 

I have great respect for Fr. Fleming's work and solid pastoral sense. His words gave me pause when I first read his comments and they have haunted me all week. Look again at what the Holy Father said in the statement above: "The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery." The re-translation of the Missale Romanum was indeed part of the continued "renewal of external forms." And here is a pastor, whose dedication to excellent liturgy is well-known, saying that this particular renewed "eternal form" "has failed if those for whom it is intended fail, in the best of circumstances, to grasp its meaning and intent."

Does the Holy Father need to hear from people like Fr. Fleming? I don't think any of us would argue with the points made by the Holy Father in this statement; actually it is quite inspiring. You can read the entire text here. I think what we see here is quite a disconnect between what the pope hopes is happening in the hearts of the faithful with this new translation, this new "external form," and what is actually happening in many of the faithful's experience.

I know I have opened a can of worms here, but a blog like this is a forum for all of us to share our experience. So, please hit the comments tab and share away. And, Fr. Fleming, thanks for your comment.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


FJH 3rd said...

Gerry, I probably sound like a broken record, but I have consistently found the new translation strikes me as superior to the old. Last Sunday's prayer over the offerings, for example:


Lord God, in this bread and wine you give us food for body and spirit. May the eucharist renew our strength and bring us health of mind and body.


O God, who in the offerings presented here provide for the twofold needs of human nature, nourishing us with food and renewing us with your Sacrament, grant, we pray,
that the sustenance they provide may not fail us in body or in spirit.

I'm sure many of your readers cringe because the new one is a bit challenging. But surely these words evoke greater depth than the overly simplistic previous version.

I'll admit I prefer using a hand missal, and did for the last several years with the old texts, so it was not that I feel the need due to the new texts. However, even on those occasions when I am without my missal, I find the new words much more "worshipful". And that's what we are there for, right?

Anonymous said...

Just a thought and a question. How many of those involved in the so-called new liturgy or Mass ever were pastors in a parish in any english -Speaking country. While the church always must have thinkers and planners they inturn should reach out to the leaders who actually teach people every day. Fr. Ryan in Seattle was quite correct in asking Can we wait ahile?.

Linda Reid said...

I come down squarely in Austen Flemming's camp! I am a pastoral musician. I minister at 3 liturgies every week-end. The convoluted expression of the collects (and parts of the Eucharistic Prayers) wash over me as just so many words that make very little sense, even though I hear them 3 times each week!! It has been over 6 months and I have yet to be able to really PRAY the texts spoken by the priest. It is a source of great frustration and, far from bringing me closer to the mystery, it has filled me with a sense of alienation.

Steve Raml said...

There was a word missing in the pontiff's quote of Sacrosanctum Concilium when he spoke of full and active participation - "conscious".

If the sentence structure of the missal is such that our people can not understand the collect, how can they consciously participate in the prayer?

If the text of the Institution Narrative tells us that Christ poured out his blood for "many", how is the assembly able to understand that Christ died for "all" - when they consciously know those are two different concepts?

Our assemblies were able to understand - and thus consciously participate in - the prayer of the Mass under the former translation. I believe the current translation is an impediment to conscious participation, which becomes an impediment to full and active participation.

FJH 3rd said...

I thought I had posted a comment yesterday, but something must have gone awry.

I won't reproduce it. Let it suffice to say that I completely disagree with Fr. Fleming and the three comments above. I attend Mass almost daily and have found the new translation, particularly the propers, to be much more conducive to worship. The content is richer - especially the recovered scriptural references - the sentence construction is more interesting (prompting closer attention) and I find the whole atmosphere of the Mass much more ... well, Mass-like!

FJH 3rd said...

Odd. My original post has now miraculously appeared!

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

My apologies, FJH, my friend. I read your comment on the train going home last night and my phone wouldn't let me post it; hectic morning, so it took your reminder to get it on the blog. No malicious intent here. Hope you are having a good day.

Sam Schmitt said...

One can argue that the people could "understand" the old translation, but you have to ask - what exactly were they understanding? Not, it seems, the original meaning of the prayers.

I am particularly impressed by all the Scriptural overtones of the prayers that have been revealed in the new translation. The "fruits" mentioned in the Corpus Christi prayer, for example, harken back to the fruits looked for by the landowner of the parable of the vineyard, the "first fruits" of the Spirit, the fruit that Christ calls us to bear as branches when we are united to him, the vine, and so on. The previous translation left this word out completely.

Another example is the collect for this past Sunday. The previous translation had something like "without you we falter." But the new version says: "without you our mortal frailty can do nothing" - which is quite different! It is also rooted in what Jesus tells us "Without me you can do nothing" (not "without me you falter").

Yes, the new translation is harder to get right off the bat. But then the prayers are so meaty that they deserve to be savored and pondered. They are meant to form us in the long term, which may mean that not everything in them is understood right away.

May I suggest that we give the new translation some time? When we are dealing with a 2,000 year tradition of prayer, devotion, liturgical development, and reading of Scripture, perhaps immediate and total comprehension is neither realistic nor even desirable. I am looking forward to a whole lifetime of hearing these prayers and taking in all they have to offer.

Steve Raml said...

The conscious understanding I wrote about above is based on the assembly hearing the prayers and comprehending their meaning - and thus being able to join the prayer (full participation).

Sam admits that this new translation is "harder to get right off the bat". That runs contrary to what the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy insists upon.

Sacrosanctum Concilium 34 speaks of a ritual "within the people's power of comprehension". I don't believe this translation meets that criteria.

Sam Schmitt said...

If by "the people's power of comprehension" is meant immediate and total understanding, then the mass fails, even with the previous translation. There are things which after 30 years I still don't fully understand about the mass (why does the priest mix water with the wine at the offertory?) In this case, the problem seems to be not so much with the translation as with the reformed rite itself.

It is interesting to note that though some on the Consilium wanted to get rid of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), Paul VI insisted that it be kept, even with all its long sentences and obscure phrasing. I think he understood that the people's comprehension couldn't be limited to the moment they heard the prayers. As with Scripture and the catechism, our faith can be understood on a basic level, but on a deeper level it is quite mysterious and complex, even knotty. Certainly the new translation shouldn't be complicated or convoluted when it doesn't have to be (and sometimes it is), but the original prayers deserve better than the previous oversimplified rendering that we got used to over many years.

Simon Ho said...


"conscious" does not mean comprehensible or understable. I am conscious of the movement of God in my spirit, but that does not mean I understand or comprehend everything.

The problem with the position that the Collects and orations should be immediately accessible (like a news piece) is that the prayer is actually NOT directed towards the people. The prayer is addressed to God. And to the extent that the people live the faith, have a relationship with the Lord, put effort to deepen their appreciation of the Truth that has been handed to us once and for all, they will understand the varying shades of meaning present within the text. It is ultimately the work of God, not the work of man. Most of us would find the Lord's Prayer easily comprehensible - but how many of us are able to appreciate the depth and the breadth of it?

With St John Vianney, I stand firm in my conviction that we will never understand fully everything that God is doing for us in the sacred Liturgy, in Holy Mass. And that doesn't make me any less of a dignified Christian, taking a full, active and conscious part in that divine worship of Christ and his Church which is my privilege and duty arising from my Baptism and in which I encounter the living Lord, am strengthened by him and graced by him in measures beyond all comprehension, telling and expression.