The National Catholic Review
What to expect from a new translation of liturgical texts
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Catholics expect some changes to the words in the liturgy from time to time. But they will soon be using the first Mass texts since the Second Vatican Council that have been created according to a different theory of translation. The revision will have a noticeable effect on the style and sound of the texts of the Mass. Some Catholics are looking forward to these changes with hungry anticipation; others are hoping that the laborious process of translation and approval will drag on and never produce a result. Still others, including many priests, are blithely unaware of the changes to come.

The current Sacramentary is an English translation of the second Latin edition of a book entitled Missale Romanum. The third Latin edition was promulgated in 2002; its translation into vernacular languages is in progress. Many of the changes made will slip beneath the radar: new vigil Masses for the Epiphany and the Ascension, some new votive Masses, a rearrangement of the Masses for various needs and occasions, and the addition of several saints’ days on the universal calendar, to name but a few. The most notable changes are a consequence of the Vatican’s decision to apply a different theory of translation in preparing the text. So even though the Latin words have not much changed from the second to the third edition, the English words have. It will sound like a very different book, starting with the title: instead of calling it the Sacramentary, we will be praying from the Roman Missal.

Some Catholics are wary of the new translation because other recent changes to the Mass have been controversial, from the restriction of duties for extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to the revised translation of the lectionary. Those who worked on the first English translation of the Sacramentary 40 years ago now find their contributions criticized, often unfairly.

The new translation will affect the people in the nave, not just the ministers in the sanctuary. Everyone will notice alterations to the texts they say and hear. A church that has been praying the same English words for four decades may rightly wonder whether the revisions will improve its common prayer. Surely that is the intent of the new translation. Still, any new translation represents a change, and change is always difficult.

Some Proposed Changes

While this article quotes several draft texts of the revised missal, none of these has reached its final form, although a revised Glory to God and Holy Holy have been approved for limited use at World Youth Day this summer in Sydney, Australia. All the proposed texts are subject to final approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. That approval will probably come at the end of the entire project—not piecemeal—so that the missal may be reviewed as a complete unit.

Catholics will immediately notice changes to some of the most common texts of the Mass (see here for a few examples). What people hear—not just what they say—will also change. New translations have been proposed for all the presidential prayers, including the eucharistic prayers. The grammar will be more complex, the word order more varied and the vocabulary more expansive.

The draft of the opening paper, or collect, for the First Sunday of Advent, for example, reads, “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that your faithful may resolve to run forth with righteous deeds, to meet your Christ who is coming, so that gathered at his right hand they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.” The sentence is longer than we are accustomed to hearing in English, but it is the same length as the one currently in use for this prayer in French, Italian and Spanish.

The proposed collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is similarly complex, but it already enjoys popularity as the concluding prayer of the Angelus: “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we to whom the incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of the resurrection.”

The elevated style of these prayers will surely cause an adjustment in the way the priest speaks them and in the way the people hear them. Some fear that the prayers of the Mass that are already hard to comprehend will become even more remote. Others think that the richness of the vocabulary and style in the proposed translations will stand up to repetition, study and prayerful reflection.

The new translation strives throughout for texts that can be proclaimed in an understandable way. That is not always easy to accomplish. Some of the longer orations are being broken up into independent parts, and some words are being reworked to facilitate understanding. For example, an early draft of the collect for the Feast of the Visitation began this way: “Almighty, everlasting God, who inspired the Virgin Mary to visit Elizabeth while bearing your Son in her womb....” It was not clear here whose womb was carrying the Son of God. A later revision proposes: “Almighty, everlasting God, while the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying your Son in her womb, you inspired her to visit Elizabeth....”

Many of the texts will be sung, so their cadence and rhythm have received extra attention. The conclusions to the prefaces, for example, are drafted in a way that draws the text to a strong close and signals the start of the Holy Holy. Two examples are “forever crying out to your glory,” and “we sing the hymn of your praise and acclaim without end.” Phrases such as these are designed to produce a good sound when sung.

Inclusive Language

The use or avoidance of inclusive language can have a serious effect on the ability of some worshipers to pray. It can be argued that the Sacramentary brought these issues to the fore; before the vernacular translations, inclusive language was not much debated. But once the Sacramentary was published, people began reacting to its choice of words. The 1974 version of the words of consecration, for example, included the phrase “for you and for all men.” By 1985 the word “men” was dropped.

Almost all the current opening prayers address God as Father. Decades ago, this was thought to be a warmer word than “God,” which would have been a more literal choice for the Latin word “Deus” that begins these prayers. “Father” is more familial, but it also carries gender-specific freight. The new translation consistently uses “God” in these instances, a form of address that many worshipers will find more appealing. Almost universally throughout the draft of the missal, “brothers” now appears as “brothers and sisters,” and such words as “man” have been recast as “humanity,” “people” or “men and women.”

The pronouns referring to God remain masculine. And sometimes the draft leaves the word “man” in place, largely because it was difficult for the translators to find a different solution, even after having discussed several alternatives. Still, those concerned about inclusive language will discover many improvements designed to ease their entrance into the spirit of prayer.

Some significant changes will probably never be evident to worshipers. For example, an early draft of the collect for the Mass for persecuted Christians prayed to God for those “who suffer because of your name.” The word “persecution,” which appears clearly in Latin, was missing from the draft after the word “suffer,” making the prayer sound tepid. Since the persecution of Christians continues in many parts of the world today, religious persecution demands the prayerful attention of the church. The word “persecution” was restored to make the intent of the prayer more explicit. Probably no one will notice the refinement, but the very unobtrusiveness of the phrase signals its success as a translation.

Editorial Improvements

Beyond the issues of translation, the third edition of the missal will include some editorial improvements that should make a difference in how the Mass sounds. The presider’s texts will be divided with greater attention to sense lines and page turns. The Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions, currently available only in a volume separate from the Sacramentary, will appear between the same two covers as all the other eucharistic prayers. Such accessibility should increase its usage. Single-use prefaces will appear on the same page as other presidential prayers for the feast in question. These small editorial matters will enhance the smooth celebration of the Mass.

The date for the release of the missal is still unknown. Over the next few months the work will pass from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy to the various English-language episcopal conferences, who will vote on it section by section. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments will give its approval, which it prepares in consultation with the Vox Clara commission. Pope Benedict will be involved, because the draft calls for changes to the formula of consecration: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body,” “the Blood of the new and eternal covenant; it will be poured out for you and for many.” The best guesses now put the publication date at 2010 or 2011.

The new translation will have a new style and will put different words into the mouths of both worshipers and ministers. The process of changing will be difficult for many Catholics. The hope is that it will be worth the effort. The missal will attempt to do better what no translation can do adequately: give us words to praise our God.

The Rev. Paul Turner is pastor of St. Munchin Catholic Church in Cameron, Mo. He holds a doctorate in sacred theology from SantAnselmo University in Rome, and assists the secretariat for the semiannual meetings of the International Commission on En

Comments

PAT LOVEJOY | 6/5/2008 - 2:13pm
The changes have already started. We don’t need to wait for the language changes. In the past weeks we have noticed that there is more emphasis on dogma in the sermons at mass. During one sermon our priest stated that there were people who came to church and didn’t really believe in everything the church espouses – things like the virgin birth and the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. The implication was that if you didn’t believe everything you could just leave. Rather unkind for those of us still struggling to find answers. Maybe we’ll have to go elsewhere for them. Here is a quote from the article, “The reforms of the Second Vatican Council teach that celebrating the Eucharist is not an action performed solely by the presider and watched by the congregation. Rather, the Eucharist is an action performed by a gathered assembly under the leadership of an ordained priest and with the assistance of a variety of ministers.” Last weekend we saw 40 years of inclusion come to a screeching halt at our mass. There was no one on the altar except the priest and the altar servers. All of the Eucharistic ministers were relegated to the front of the church but not the altar. My husband’s comment was that next week he expects the priest to come in from the side like they used to in our youth. I am not opposed to change and I believe in the mystery and majesty of the Eucharist. However, I really believe that inclusion in the Eucharist is good for everyone - priests and people. I sincerely hope that this does not mean all of the people in the pews will be ignored once again. I believe that the church that Christ founded included everyone – young, old, the infirm, sinners, saints and priests.
FRANCES ROSSI | 6/5/2008 - 12:42am
Rev. Paul Turner’s optimism regarding the new Roman Missal fails to convince me that this new translation will enhance the prayer of the Church. I would except the changes being made with respect to inclusive language, but those will not affect the actual prayers of the assembly. My concerns arise from my involvement with liturgy since the 1970s and my work with congregations in their acceptance of and participation in liturgical worship. I worked as a coordinator of liturgy and music in my parish for many years, and our goal there was always to facilitate full and conscious participation by the assembly . Since my first love has been music in the liturgy, I see a big problem looming for the sung masses being used throughout the English-speaking world. We have worked at teaching our assemblies to sing for 40 years now, and they finally know some mass settings well enough to join in confidently. Do we now have to rework those musical renditions in order to accommodate the changes in wording? Will it be possible to change existing music to be able to fit in the new words gracefully? Or will we have to come up with completely new settings? Do those advocating the new translation know how difficult it is for people to learn new music? Remember: our present mass settings are the OLD music now. People do not want to have to learn something new. Knowing human nature in these situations only too well, I suspect that we will continue to sing the old versions; there will be an actual sung version, according to the present Sacramentary, and the version that Father says when we have a quiet mass, following the new translation. Or maybe not even that. And the purists will begin beseiging Rome once more with their complaints about the”abuses.’“ Rev.Turner speaks of the “elevated style of language” that will presumably enhance the experience of prayer for many Catholics. Yet, if European Catholics have been enjoying such language for the past decades (as he says they have), this has not increased their numbers at Sunday Mass. Americans, for all our folksy translation, have had much higher mass attendance than have most other countries. I would also point out that the drain of Catholics to other churches goes generally to the evangelical/pentacostal denominations, most of whom use a simpler, more natural choice of language in prayer and worship. Such language tends to convey a greaater sense of immediacy and authenticity--as if one were addressing a God who is not distant, who is a reality in our lives--as opposed to ceremonial, ritualistic language, which may create awe, but also distances us from God. Speaking of the more complex grammar, more varied word order and expansive vocabulary to be used in the presidential prayers, Turner compares them to the concluding prayer of the Angelus, which, he says, enjoys “popularity” despite its complexity. I’m not sure in which circles this prayer is popular. I know it by heart, having prayed it daily as part of the Angelus when in grade school, but I would not count it among my favorite prayers. It seems formulaic, to me, and rather ineffective as any meaningful communication with God. It is more like a very concise creedal statement. I am almost never in a setting where the Angelus is prayed today, and this is regrettable, since it’s a beautiful prayer in its entirety. But the concluding prayer on its own is not particularly outstanding. Those who have undertaken to engineer this change in the Roman Missal must lack experience with human nature. People do not relearn a text once it has become ingrained. I use the Act of Contrition as an example. How many people ever progressed from the one they learned in grade school to learn a new one? As a DRE I taught many children to recite the new, simpler one, but never managed to learn it myself. Or how many people have tried to pray the Padre Nuestro in a group of Spanish-speaking Catholics and heard at least three versions being prayed simultan
Elias Nasser | 5/31/2008 - 6:37am
Anthony's comment alas will come not to pass. I have just been reading Archbp P Marini's new book on the reform of the liturgy following Vatican II. The only reason that we have vernacular in the liturgy today is due to the support of Paul VI, the curial offices did their utmost to impede the will of the council fathers on this matter. We do not now have such a strong advocate. The "reform of the reform" that has now taken over is in the firm control of reactionaries who have been responsible for amongst other things "Liturgiam authenticam" which mandated an almost literal translation of the Latin (how will they translate "Ite missa est"?). My only hope is that the process will be salvaged by the decent men in place at ICEL at the moment like Bishop Roche. My own bishop Cardinal Pell is head of vox clara whose role in this process is not at all clear (despite its name!). In any case having George Pell as head of vox clara ipso facto fills me with fear
ANTHONY ROSATI | 5/23/2008 - 6:32pm
I look forward to the American version of The Roman Missal. An American Episcopal Conference should be the final approval authority rather than an International Comm on English. We are as different from English as Italian is from Spanish.
Joe Mcmahon | 5/22/2008 - 2:45pm
My memory may be mistaken. However, I recall some debate in the past year or two over whether any consideration should be given to translations formerly agreed upon between Catholics and non-Catholics in, I believe, Germany and England. That is, I think a common Pater Noster translation was agreed in Germany, and also in England. I suspect that a Gloria translation was also agreed. As I understand it, a year or two ago, a Curial honcho instructed the translation committees to ignore such agreements or what other Churches used. Is this problem still in play?
John Feehily | 5/20/2008 - 2:21pm
While I have great respect for Paul Turner, I believe he has understated the impact that this translation is likely to have on those of us who are quite happy with the present texts, especially the prayers and responses of the whole assembly. In fact, I believe that one of the reasons for the long Vatican delay in promulgating the English translation of the Roman Missal is because they are hoping that the passage of time will cool the passions of the so-called "liturgy wars". I am wondering how church leaders will effectively preclude the use of the 1975 Sacramentary. They will, of course, require the use of the new missal as of a date certain, but short of some kind of book burning, individual priests may well be tempted to continue using some of the older texts with which they have become so familiar. And should priests be less than enthusiastic about insisting on "and with your spirit", what's to prevent people from using the familiar response? And how about the new and strange sounding phrases "consubstantial with the Father" and "was incarnate of the Virgin Mary" that occur in the Nicene Creed? How does one rationally explain such changes? I remember well in the late sixties the consternation experienced by so many older priests in having to make such a huge shift from Latin to English. But there were lots of very good reasons for those changes. I'm afraid I'm among the many who are unable to see the good reasons for these proposed changes.