Posted by: Christine Johnson | June 23, 2006

Mass Changes

Today Opinion Journal has an article today on the new (actually the back-to-the-old) Mass translation.

I actually had someone tell me that it is not a good translation, that the proper translation depends on the scholars you read, that it’s a good thing that we’ll have two to three years before it comes, so we can have music to go along with it.

I was struck by her words. As if the Holy See isn’t capable of telling us the proper translation of the Holy Mass??!!??

Anyway, back to Opinion Journal.

Here’s a sampling of the article, which I highly recommend that you read in its entirety.

Today opponents of the new translation cite concern over the effects the changes will have on congregations, which have grown accustomed to ICEL’s old renderings. While change can certainly be destabilizing, there is a difference between changing in order to move away from tradition and changing in order to return to it. And it is odd for those who pushed for a radical shift in 1970 to be now making the same arguments about continuity their detractors once did.

The current controversy is also interesting because it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding over the nature of liturgical language. The Rev. Lawrence J. Madden, director of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy, dislikes the new and more accurate translation because “It isn’t the English we speak. It’s becoming more sacred English, rather than vernacular English.”

Yet that is precisely the point. When Vatican II permitted translations of the Mass in 1963, it spoke of translating into the “mother tongue,” not into everyday speech. Contrary to widespread belief, there has never been a tradition of the vernacular in Christian liturgy, if by “vernacular” you mean the language we speak on the street. Many of the earliest Masses were offered in a language the congregation could understand, but not in the language that could be heard in the marketplace. Before a native language was used in divine worship, it was first “sacralized”–its syntax and diction were gingerly modified, archaisms were deliberately re-introduced and even new rhythmic meters and cadences were invented. All of this was done in order to produce a distinctive mode of communication, one that was separate from garden-variety vernacular speech and capable of relaying the unique mysteries of the Gospel.

Thus, if English is to convey sacred mysteries, there should be a “sacred English.” The very word we use for everyday speech, “profane,” comes from pro-fano, “outside the temple.” If Catholics wish to make the world Christ’s temple, as Pope Benedict recently put it, they must first be careful not to make Christ’s temple the world.

And then there was this part, too.

While the bishops made important progress last week, their improvements fell short of the ideal. Approximately 60 of the proposed changes were rejected, we are told, including the recommendation to replace the nebulous line in the Nicene Creed “one in being with the Father” with the more precise “consubstantial with the Father.” According to one report the bishops kept the former version because “‘consubstantial’ is a theological expression requiring explanation.” Quite so, but isn’t explaining theological expressions one of the reasons we have priests and bishops?

And this is my thought, as well. All it takes is a bit of explanation. And I believe that the way people take these changes will depend greatly on how their pastors present it. If the priest stands before his parish and talks about how the Church is changing this without asking people what they think, if he talks about how the language is strange and unfamiliar, if he complains that it will be uncomfortable for everyone…his parish will believe him and follow his example.

On the other hand, if the pastor carefully explains that our translation was lacking, highlights the importance of the Mass as our highest form of prayer, talks about how we enter Heaven itself during Mass, comforts people who are upset by explaining the wording they don’t understand…his parish, too, will believe him and follow his example.

May God give our priests and bishops the graces necessary to bring us all closer to Christ. May He sustain them and give them strength in their spiritual battles. May our priests all be protected and be able to go exactly where Christ desires them to be to do exactly what He desires them to do. Amen.

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