Thursday, April 14, 2011

Roman Missal: In other words

Depending on who you talk with in Church circles these days, you could walk away with the impression that the coming translation of the Missal is either the ruin or the rescue of the Church. In most such conversations, the assumption seems to be that what is coming is something on the order of a complete break with what we have right now.

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!


Anonymous said...

For those of us who yearn for a return to reverence and holy awe in the Mass, and who have felt driven to seek outside the "mainstream" Church for alternatives to the banality of the post-Conciliar liturgy, these changes are most welcomed. I must confess that it is difficult for me to empathize with those Catholics who actually like the quasi-Protestant atmosphere that has crept into the Mass during the past 40 years. Yet empathize I must, for, as you have noted, an important goal of the new translation is to more closely unite us all as a universal Church.


Anonymous said...

Actually one of the biggest criticisms of the new translation - e.g. by Xavier Rindfleisch at - is that it is NOT as faithful to the Latin as was the text ICEL prepared and the bishops approved. Someone in the Vatican or at Vox Clara made over 10,000 changes, many of them clear mistranslations of the Latin.

The other problem is that the translation theory in "Liturgiam authenticam" (2001) simply doesn't work. By following Latin syntax - which works in Latin but not in English - the awkwardness obscures the meaning and, ironically, makes the English less faithful to the Latin.

Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB

Sr Anne said...

Thanks so much for weighing in, Father, as someone who worked closely on this project.

Sr Anne said...

By the way, Father Ruff, have we ever really engaged with the Anglicans on the issue of liturgical translation? Or is it a totally moot point?

emeL said...

I so appreciate this conversation. No matter what, it is a real opportunity for much needed catechesis on the little understood and GREAT treasure of the Church

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ruff, can you please supply a few examples in support of your contention that the ICEL translation is more faithful than the new translation?

I'm neither a liturgist nor a Latinist, just a guy in the pews who is tired of the banality of post-Conciliar worship.


Anonymous said...

Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata ...

How is "these gifts we offer you in sacrifice" (1970 Missal) a faithful translation of "haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata"?

A more faithful translation, it seems, would be:

Therefore, most gracious Father, we humbly beg of Thee and entreat Thee, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, to deem acceptable and bless, these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unspotted oblations.

Do we know how the Te Igitur will be translated in the new missal?

Sr Anne said...

According to the version I have (2008 study draft printed by the Archdiocese of Atlanta), the Roman Canon begins:
To you, therefore, most merciful Father,
we make humble prayer and petition
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:
that you accept
and bless these gifts, these offerings,
these holy and unblemished sacrifices.

Anonymous said...


Thanks, Sr. Anne. That is wonderful to hear. Why would anyone complain about that beautiful and faithful translation?

Interestingly, the Latin text (and now the English translation) anticipates the consecration of the gifts, which of course has not yet occurred when the Te Igitur is prayed. The same is true of the Offertory in the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII, which is unfortunately omitted in the Missal of Paul VI -- and still remains so, I assume, in the revised Missal.

The important thing here is that the essential structure and meaning of the Mass as the propitiatory Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is being recovered, brick by brick.