July 10, 2011

This last week marked one year of service for me at St. Raymond’s. It has been an interesting year for me, a very good year in many ways, and certainly a challenging one. I’ve learned a lot about how to run a parish, and how not to, and how much more I still need to learn. I hope that it has been a good year for the parish as well, although only heaven really knows that. I thank all of you, especially the parish staff and the heads of committees, for your patience and assistance.

Looking back at my first column from last year, I see I wrote: “I am an enthusiastic supporter of Pope Benedict’s call for liturgical renewal, especially his emphasis on reverence and sacrality in the liturgy.” The year ahead promises some big changes in the liturgy consistent with His Holiness’s call. In particular, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, the new translation of the Roman Missal will be put into use in all the parishes of the United States.

This translation will effect almost every prayer we pray at Mass, and so will necessitate some serious preparation on everyone’s part. Although most changes in the prayers of the people in the pews will be minor, they will nevertheless take some getting used to. For example, after years of responding to the priest’s greeting “The Lord be with you” by answering “And also with you,” parishioners will have to get used to saying “And with your spirit.” This more closely and faithfully translates the original Latin “et cum spiritu tuo,” and coincides with how the phrase is translated into all the other major languages around the world (e.g., in Spanish: “y con tu espirito”). You can see that even though this is a small change, it will have a real impact and require some adjustments on our part.

Another important effect of the new translations will be on the music at Mass: changes in words, syntax and sometimes the addition of whole phrases (omitted in the old/current translation), will mean that the melodies we currently use for singing the prayers of the Mass will have to change as well. I’m afraid this will be the hardest adjustment for most of us—the new words can be handled by simply reading the new texts from the missalette or the prayer cards we will be putting in the pews, but learning new melodies is much more challenging for most of us. To make this easier, we will begin by learning the simple and basic chanted melodies for these prayers that the Church has developed over centuries. As contemporary composers propose new melodies, and with proper time for sorting out the good from the not-so-good, we will work these into our “repertoire” as well.

In any case, all this will take some preparation. For us, this preparation will go into full gear beginning in early September, when everyone is back from vacation. We will provide various opportunities to help you to learn about the changes and become familiar with them. For example, I will use this column to discuss some of the changes in prayers, as well as propose several online resources that you can refer to at your leisure. I hope to also make available CDs, DVDs and books for those who would prefer those media. I will also be teaching some classes and holding meetings for those who are interested. And I have authorized our music director, Elisabeth Turco, to take a few minutes before Masses to begin to practice the new hymnody for the prayers. All this, again, during the Fall in anticipation of the changes that will come into effect at all Masses beginning November 27, 2011. If you want to get a head start, check out: http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/

Some folks ask, why all the trouble—why the new translations? First of all, let me remind everyone that the prayers used throughout the Catholic world are taken from the liturgical book called the Roman Missal (RM). The official editio typica version of the RM is written in Latin, and the vernacular RMs used around the world are all translations of the Latin RM. But ever since the current English translation of the RM was published in 1970 (in what is called “The Sacramentary”) it has come under strong criticism for it’s lack of fidelity to the original Latin. Most of the criticism comes from the method employed in the 1970 translation, called “dynamic equivalency,” which seeks to translate thoughts rather than words, not merely rendering accurate translations but provide meaningful interpretations. These translations which often involved paraphrasing and omitting words or whole phrases deemed repetitive, archaic, or atypical for common English usage. All this, critics argued, led to an English text that was not only often very different from the Latin, but also theologically imprecise, spiritually tepid, poetically challenged, lacking in sacred language, and linguistically “dumbed down.”

Pope John Paul II was sympathetic to this criticism, and his chief theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was one of the principle critics. In response, on March 20, 2001, Bd. John Paul approved and ordered published a document from the Congregation for Divine Worship called “Liturgiam authenticam” which set out new principles for new translations of the Roman Missal. This document provided, in part:

“[T]he translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. …[T]he original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.

After a major Vatican supervised reorganization of the institutions responsible for translating, a careful retranslation, applying the principles laid out in Liturgiam authenticam, was finalized last year. For many, myself included, it is like a fog or a veil lifting from face of the text, to more clearly reveal the beautiful and timeless prayers of the ancient and sacred Roman liturgy.

Although the new texts will take some getting used to, I think, in the end, most will agree that it will be well worth the effort.

More to come…Stay tuned…

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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