Thursday, April 14, 2011
In one of the sillier criticisms of the Missal, some in the "ruin" category have gone so far as to say that the Missal we are about to get imposes "bad theology" on the worshiping community. I've heard that one--and so has the New York Times.
There are some new things in the 3rd edition of the Vatican II Missal, but basically it's the same book we're using right now. (Here one might be tempted to ask if it's really the Latin they take issue with, in which case they are objecting to Vatican II itself...)
The real issue for critics of the upcoming Missal is that it is such a strict translation from the Latin.
Back in 1969, a document outlined the translation principles to guide the work of putting the venerable Roman liturgy into modern languages. That document called for a lean, mean approach: find the overarching meaning of the phrase or sentence and express it succinctly, doing away with excessive repetition and aiming for a fresh, contemporary and easily-understood style. You don't have to be a liturgist to recognize that some concepts don't easily lend themselves to conversational language, or to acknowledge that "modern" speech forms can quickly become dated. (If only those who worked on the translation had followed the example of the Anglicans, who, after all, had been using the vernacular in their liturgy for over 400 years!)
After about 40 years of experience with the liturgy rendered in conversational language, the Church has been able to look back and see that, with all the benefits this translation approach offered (it has been very helpful in encouraging Catholics to identify with the action of the liturgy), at the same time, some core elements suffered. Biblical allusions (some of which were present in a single, very specific word) were lost; accuracy suffered; expressions of profound awe at God's overflowing mercy were truncated or replaced with psychological language; connections between the Scriptural revelation and our petitions (underlining the unity of revelation itself) were severed; the very powerful sense of our expectation of the Second Coming was toned down: all because the translation principles were not adequate to the "surpassing weight of glory" the liturgy contains and bestows!
So now we are getting a new translation, done according to very different principles indeed. It won't always be easy or fun. We may have to learn some new theological vocabulary, too. But perhaps one thing the occasional awkward turn of phrase will do for us is remind us that we are united in prayer with a universal Church; that we are, indeed, using a translation, and that these prayers we offer did not originate with us, but are part of the heritage of faith, and thus a form of interpretation of Scripture that we have received from the early Church.
In future posts, I will develop some of the characteristics of the liturgical Latin that we will begin to notice showing up at Mass, come Advent. I'll also post on the "new" things this Missal offers--and that we in the English-speaking world will be among the first to benefit from!
Posted by Sr Anne Flanagan at 8:56 AM