September 18, 2011

Today we begin the gradual introduction the new translation of the Mass at all those Masses with singing (all but 7am and 7pm). We begin with singing the “Holy, Holy,” which has only a minor change in wording (see last week’s bulletin, available on the website), but in the next few weeks the changes to the “Mystery of Faith” and the “Gloria” will prove much more challenging. Please make every effort to learn the new prayers and chants.

BACKGROUND OF THE NEW TRANSLATIONS. Many of you have been asking why the new translation of the Mass is necessary—why not leave well enough alone? Let me try to briefly answer that.

Most of you know that the “original source” book for the Mass is the Latin Missale Romanum. Since 1964 this Latin Missal has been translated into the native tongues (“vernacular”) of the various countries throughout the world by the Bishops of those countries. The English translation is entrusted to the International Commission for English in the Liturgy, “ICEL,” composed of bishops and “experts” from the English speaking countries. In 1973 the current English translation was fully implemented throughout the dioceses of the English speaking world.

To many it was readily apparent that there were many important deficiencies in the 1973 translation: “something was lost in translation.” Eventually these deficiencies drew the attention of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). This became very clear in 1997 when the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) rejected the ICEL proposed (and U.S. Bishops’ approved) new translation of the “Rite of Ordination,” criticizing it for “failure to adhere faithfully to the Latin …and to convey accurately in English its contents, … the translation is not without doctrinal problems.”

In the year 2000 Pope John Paul promulgated a new edition of the Latin Missale Romanum, with some new prayers, feasts and instructions for the celebration of Mass. In 2001 the CDW, in cooperation with Ratzinger and with the explicit approval of the Pope, issued a new instruction with norms for translating the Missal. That instruction, Liturgiam authenticam, was the equivalent to a liturgical earthquake, as it not only laid down new norms but also ended the substantial debate over translations and completely restructured the translation process, organization and personnel.

To more clearly see the problems of the old translation, and to help identify the importance of the new translation, let’s consider some of the key provisions of Liturgiam authenticam (LA).
The key problem in the 1973 translation was the use of translating principle called “dynamic equivalency” which seeks to convey the underlying meanings of phrases without emphasis on the exact/precise meaning of the words translated, allowing for a certain creativity and innovation, as well as vague paraphrasing. This was profoundly problematic on various levels, and so LA 20 addressed this, noting the problems, prohibiting this approach, and replacing it with what is sometimes called “formal equivalency”:

The Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, while drawing on centuries of ecclesial experience in transmitting the faith of the Church received from the Fathers, are themselves the fruit of the liturgical renewal, just recently brought forth. In order that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries, it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the 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. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the 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. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.

Another problem addressed in LA 32 was sort of the “dumbing” down of the language, which would often reflect an overly narrow context or ideological interpretation. (Sometimes you will notice a prayer in the 1973 translation that seems stuck in the pop language of the 1960s).

The translation should not restrict the full sense of the original text within narrower limits. To be avoided on this account are expressions characteristic of commercial publicity, political or ideological programs, passing fashions, and those which are subject to regional variations or ambiguities in meaning. Academic style manuals or similar works, since they sometimes give way to such tendencies, are not to be considered standards for liturgical translation. On the other hand, works that are commonly considered “classics” in a given vernacular language may prove useful in providing a suitable standard for its vocabulary and usage.

In a similar way, the 1973 translation often omitted language that in the Latin had clear connection to Scripture or to theological or pious language of the church’s ancient tradition (see last week’s column’s discussion of the “Holy, Holy”), thus robbing the translation of its context. So LA 39 provides:

Characteristic of the orations of the Roman liturgical tradition as well as of the other Catholic Rites is a coherent system of words and patterns of speech, consecrated by the books of Sacred Scripture and by ecclesial tradition, especially the writings of the Fathers of the Church. For this reason the manner of translating the liturgical books should foster a correspondence between the biblical text itself and the liturgical texts of ecclesiastical composition which contain biblical words or allusions. In the translation of such texts, the translator would best be guided by the manner of expression that is characteristic of the version of the Sacred Scriptures approved for liturgical use in the territories for which the translation is being prepared.

This is only scratching the surface of the topic, and I plan to expand on all this as I discuss the individual prayers in the coming weeks. But I hope this introduction helps you to understand a little better why so many, including Popes John Paul and Benedict, saw the need for a radical change in the translations.

I know all change can be challenging. But be patient and open to the Holy Spirit’s movement of the Church in this direction, and as times goes on I’m sure you’ll be grateful for the changes as they bear fruit in a more profound participation in the mysteries of our faith.

Webpage on the new translation. For more information on the new translation go to the parish website, http://www.straymonds.org/ , and click New Translation of the Roman Missal. In particular, there you will find a link to the full text of Liturgiam authenticam, as well as links to listen to audio recordings of the various new sung Mass parts (“Holy, Holy,” “Gloria,” etc.).

ACTION ALERT: FREEDOM OF RELIGION. In today’s bulletin you will find an insert regarding the federal government’s new proposed regulations implementing part of the “2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”—what some call “Obamacare.” These proposed regulations are problematic in many ways. In particular they require almost all private health care plans to provide contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization services to employees, with only minimal and largely meaningless “conscience clause” protection for churches that hold such “services” to gravely immoral.

I urge you to take immediate action against this unprecedented assault on religious freedom. See the insert, and our website (“Respect Life” page), for more information on these terrible regulations.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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