First, my apologies for not posting anything in many weeks. I could claim busy-ness. (I have been, but not that busy). I could claim writer’s block, but I’ve had many ideas. I just haven’t put fingers to keyboard. Let’s just say I procrastinate and have a bit of a problem with self-motivation and time management skills. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (striking the breast once while saying it).
Speaking of the triple “through my fault” with the accompanying breast striking brings me to the subject of my post, a reflection on the recent experiences involving the translation of the Roman Missal we Catholics in the U.S. began using 18 months ago. Two conversations, some liturgical faux pas and this weekend’s opening collect have me questioning if the “new” English translation of the missal is becoming a more accepted and heartfelt part of the prayer of the people.
Experience one: twice today (and last weekend, too) at a funeral and the Sunday vigil Mass, regular attendees at the Eucharist in my parish slipped and replied to “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” with “It is right to give him thanks and praise!” instead of “it is right and just!” What’s up with that? They haven’t done that for many moths. I usually sing the preface dialogue but have been speaking it during the summer, so perhaps that’s part of the issue of sliding back into a habitual response that was used for 40 plus years but scrapped for the more literal translation of “et cum spiritu tuo.” Curious…
Experience two: this past week an engaged couple who was meeting with me for pre-marriage counseling mentioned they had attended Mass in a parish in another part of the diocese where they had attended a pre-cana day. They were surprised that the congregation had different responses that what we use at our parish, something like “and with your spirit.” I had to smile and kindly tell them they had “outed” themselves as not being very regular in their Mass attendance. They were a bit surprised to learn that “and with your spirit” had been the norm for almost two years. Not exactly a translation issue, more of a “new evangelization” issue, but still a sign the new translation hasn’t quite become a prayer known by heart, prayed from the depth of our Catholic being.
Experience three: A conversation about the above experience two (anonymity of the couple was maintained) with a couple of parishioners at the funeral lunch lead to an elderly parishioner, with nods in agreement by others, to admit she’s struggling with the word “consubstantial” in the Nicaean Creed’s translation we now proclaim at Mass. “What does that mean, Father?” I know I had explained the meaning of the theological term and how it is more precise to what we belive on a few occasions at Masses that she had attended when we first began using it. This dear woman went on to say, “All I can think of when I say consubstantial is about the city of Constantinople.” Are you listening, Dear Bishops and Vox Clara members who gave us this translation?
Experience four: I admit I neglected to prepare for Mass by reading over the propers of the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, today. So when I opened the Missal to the opening collect, I chuckled and thought to myself (or maybe not to myself, because the server holding the book noticed my reaction to seeing the prayer), “O, it’s that prayer! Probably my least favorite of the new collects.” In the opening collect this weekend the priest prays, “O God, who through the abasement of your Son, Jesus…” I’m sorry, but it sounds like (especially if the priest isn’t VERY careful how he proclaims the prayer) that Jesus has a house with a basement that one must go through to get to God. I know that the church is saying that it was the act of Jesus humbling himself to become incarnate that enables humans to have hope of sharing divine life, but isn’t there a better word than abasement?
So, you can guess my opinion. The acceptance and arrival at the goals of the “new” translation is not happening very quickly or well. Over and over we were told and I have preached that this translation will help us more deeply realize “lex orandi, lex credendi” (the law of prayer is the law of belief or if you want to understand what we believe listen to how we pray). It is not. The translation is getting in the way of deeper understanding of the faith and praying the liturgy from the heart as much as it is enabling the nobel goals laid out by those who gave it to us.
I will also admit, there have been moments when I’ve gained a new insight into the meaning of the prayers because they are more nuanced, more precise. There are moments when I slip and slide into the “old” translation, because it is what I prayed for 32 years and I memorized. I can only smile and presume God doesn’t care. And there are moments when I just shake my head and commit the “liturgical abuse” of changing a word or rearranging the word order of a collect, so that it doesn’t sound like a person stammering and qualifying what he’s saying with conditional clauses. I was taught that clear, concise and short sentences get the point across better in writing and homiletic courses. My pet peeve is the insertion of “we pray” into the middle of so many of the sentences of collects instead of putting it were it was in the previous version, at the beginning of the concluding sentence “We pray through Christ our Lord” instead of the incomplete sentence of “Through Christ our Lord.” Where’s the verb? Maybe it’s supposed to be more poetic and solemn sounding. It is more literal to the Latin, sure, but does it distract and sound like odd English? I think so.
So, what’s my overall point? Be disobedient? Complain? No, that really doesn’t help anything. I will continue to use the translation, learn it, pray it to the best of my ability for I wish to be in union with the church. I will help my parishioners do the same. Changing habits takes a long time and persistence. Ask anyone who has tried to quit smoking or eating junk food. I trust God is at work in this bumpy praying of the translation we’ve been given, smiling at our attempts to honor Him who is beyond the ability of human symbol systems like words and alphabets to contain. God understands our hearts’ desire to love him even if we don’t quite understand what it means to be consubstantial. In the end, on the day of resurrection all will be set right with what is now a discordant humanity and well know a life of humanity in perfect harmony with each other and God. It will be right and just wonderful to give thanks to God for the saving deed of Jesus, forever.
By the way, dear reader, you may want to review my initial reaction to the “new” translation I posted back in November, 2o11 at Praying from Memory and the New Translation of the Mass.