Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Translation Tuesday: A Simple Appeal

"New Translation Tuesday" greetings from a very, very cold Midwest!

On Friday evening, at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Winter Park, Florida, approximately 40 musicians from the Dicoese of Orlando gathered for a WLP choral reading session. This is one of my favorite things about working here at WLP; sharing what I believe is the finest choral and ritual music composed for the Church today. The musicians gathered were wonderful sight-singers, which made my job so easy. Orlando has a history of fine musical leadership and that was made evident on Friday night. Thanks to all who attended and brought the notes on the page alive!

I leave for Albuquerque tomorrow morning for the Southwest Liturgical Conference's 51st annual study week. I am delivering the keynote presentation tomorrow night, focused on the paschal mystery. The theme of the conference is: "Listen . . . I will tell you a mystery . . . and we shall be changed." My task tomorrow night, to set the tone by focusing on the paschal mystery, is a daunting one. Please pray that my words will help those gathered.

This past Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I tried to pay as close attention as I could to the prayers from The Roman Missal. My pastor chanted the preface for the feast:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,

always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For in the waters of the Jordan
you revealed with signs and wonders a new Baptism,
so that through the voice that came down from heaven
we might come to believe in your Word dwelling among us,
and by the Spirit’s descending in the likeness of a dove
we might know that Christ your Servant
has been anointed with the oil of gladness
and sent to bring the good news to the poor.

And so, with the Powers of heaven,
we worship you constantly on earth,
and before your majesty
without end we acclaim:

As I reflect on the text now, I can see the rich theology expressed in the prayer. But, for the life of me, I am having such difficulty at Sunday Mass grasping what the prayer is expressing because of the length of the phrases, all in one sentence. Can any of you help me? I am looking for ways to listen differently perhaps, or to prepare in some better way. This is a simple appeal from a pew Catholic.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anne said...

Jerry I'm just another " pew Caholic" chiming in with the same request for help. I listen, pay attention and try to make the prayers my prayer. Most of the time I'm confused by the language. I look around and wonder who else is with me in this. Or perhaps there's someone who loves it and understands. How is that possible?! Sadly, my guess is not many care.... At least in my parish. We're stuck with this awful translation.

Moya said...

The only way I can manage is to take my old missal to Mass and read the prayers from there. I have always found the old translation beautiful and easy to pray and understand. Sadly,I find the new translation confusing and not prayerful.

Austin Fleming said...

If folks need to take time during the week to prepare to understand the collects on Sunday morning, there's something amiss in the prayers, not in the pews.

Kate S said...

So much depends on how the prayer is led. Sometimes the presider's phrasing makes even a more complicated prayer clear and easy to understand. If the presider's phrasing is off or he stumbles over a word, we're done for, even on some of the simpler prayers. Wish I had a good suggestion for all of us listeners!

Paul Stark said...

While I greatly respect the views of readers of Jerry's blog and similar blogs which deal with the various opinions concerning the previous translation of the missal and the new translation, I am among those that greatly prefer the new translation. Those who express their views concerning the translation are very passionate while the average Catholic in the pew seems to care less. For the past year I've found myself wondering why involved Catholics seem to either believe the new translation to be incomprehensible or else they greatly admire it. I'm starting to wonder if it somehow depends of the style of literature individual Catholics prefer. For example, since I am a Professor of English and Humanities at a local state college in Florida, I often teach courses where students read novels by authors such as Jane Austen or Emily Bronte. The nineteenth century writing style employed longer sentences, more compound sentences and compound/complex sentences. It is more descriptive and utilizes more adjectives and adverbs than modern writing. In comparison, the modern writing style employs shorter sentences and is more direct. For example, think of the writing style used by Ernest Hemingway, newspapers, magazines, and most modern novelists. I suspect that Catholics who read a great deal for pleasure and who read works written in both older styles and contemporary styles prefer the new translation. To me, the older translation was too simplistic, direct, boring, banal and not an accurate translation of the Latin text. I found the new Collect and Closing Prayer of last Sunday's liturgy both beautiful and an accurate translation of the Latin text. I had no problem understanding it. I believe that too often, priests don't practice reading these prayers out loud as they prepare for Mass. This can lead to the priest not using the correct emphasis on some of the clauses, phrases, and syllables. If he prepares for Mass and practices reading out loud, the result can be quite beautiful and easy to understand. Granted, some of the texts of the new Missal translation are more difficult to pray than others. In my opinion the vast majority of the texts of the new translation are more beautiful and accurate than those of the old translation. Since few Americans read for pleasure anymore and even fewer are familiar with the great literary works of the last few centuries, I suspect that the majority of Americans prefer the writing style of the previous translation. Perhaps if "pew Catholics" attempted to read the Mass texts beforehand, they could come to appreciate how much more theologically sound and accurate they are.

Anne said...

Professor Stark,
Not all Catholics have the advantage that you have with an understanding of the literary styles of past or present or the English language. Many of us prefer speaking, reading and praying in the vernacular English. We no longer speak, read or write in the nineteenth century English style.
The goal given to us in the liturgical documents is for "full, conscious and active participation". To my knowledge that goal has not been revised. It has only been pushed away from us and is not attainable with the new prayers. I echo Austin's comment. If we need to study before going to mass,, something is wrong with the prayers, not the people. The Sacramentary was not perfect but the new translation is far from perfect.

Moya said...

Ref Paul Stark's comment.
Paul you find the language of the new translation and classic literature similar. I disagree - for me the language in classic books is usually beautiful and easy to understand but the language of the new translation is clumsy and ugly with incorrect grammar and at times it is difficult to understand.

John Nolan said...

Moya,can you give an example of 'incorrect grammar'? As for the Collects, when the Mass was revised in the 1960s, prayers from some of the older sacramentaries were restored because of their theological richness. However, this could only be appreciated by those who understand Latin, since the 1973 'translation' gave only a vague, distorted and abbreviated version of the text. The problem is, if you've been used to a diet of baby food, you'll find a T-bone steak hard to digest.

Anne said...

John, Jerry gave us a good example of incorrect grammar...a long run on sentence difficult to follow or understand. . I assume you approve of such terrible English. Good for you! Many of us believe we deserve better.

Simon Ho said...

There is a difference between a long sentence and a run-on sentence (which doesn't even need to be long). I might be mistaken, but if Anne is referring to the Preface of the Lord's Baptism, then the error lies on Anne for the grammatical syntax there is completely in order. The only challenge there is the unusual flow of ideas.

In 21C newspaper English, the norm is to avoid dependent clauses for clarity of thought - so we would say something like "so that we might come to believe in your Word dwelling among us through the voice that came down from heaven". If we mentally switch the 2 sets of clauses, the long text is a no-brainer to read and understand. The challenge then is how the Roman prayers are constructed - they usually end with the effects on humanity and thus end with a sense of immediacy and impact. The improved translation sought to recover this style in the English language - only time will tell if this is successful. To be fair, we are so used to newspaper English that many would reasonably find the new style, gramatically correct as it is, odd-sounding on the ear. But to be just, let us also give the text time and effort to allow it to sink in and captivate us.

John Nolan said...

Sorry, Anne, but I have read the Preface in question, recited it out loud, and sung it (and it's supposed to be sung). It's perfectly good grammar, perfectly comprehensible, and even elegant, with the repetition of 'we might'. It's all very well to render liturgical texts in a language immediately accessible to a five year old, someone who is simple-minded or someone who does not have English as his first language, but if by doing so you do not properly convey the meaning, you might as well not bother.

I assume that as a Catholic you are familiar with the 'En ego' or 'Prayer to Jesus Crucified'. The commonly used English translation consists of one sentence of 104 words, including the quotation from Ps 21 at the end.