[Note: I started this post five days ago, then decided to let it go. But I've decided to post it because I'm curious—see the end of this post—for reader's reactions to the approaching changes to the Missal that will take effect at the start of Advent.]
Is it? Really? I guess it depends somewhat on one's perspective.
Here is a longer quote from the post titled, "Big changes to Catholic Mass spur confusion in the pews", on the CNN blog:
The Roman Catholic Mass is undergoing a major overhaul. In an effort to unify how the global church prays, the English translation of the church's worship service is being modified in order to more accurately reflect the Latin from which the Roman Missal is translated.
The Catholic Church is known by some as a bastion of permanence that has not often yielded to the forces of change in the modern era. In many ways the changes harken back to the Mass spoken in Latin, as it was in the United States prior to the 1960s.
“There is an Italian proverb,” said the Rev. Msgr. Kevin W. Irwin, a professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, “that ‘every translator is a traitor.' "
“Every translation is less than the original,” he said.
The liturgical changes are “all within the responses and the language of the Mass. In the grand scheme of things, they’re fairly minor,” said Mary DeTurris Poust, whose book on the subject came out in March.
Frankly, I'm of two minds on how to approach this claim of "big changes" and "major overhaul" and "confusion". On one hand, I wince a bit when reading the Mass is "undergoing a major overhaul", especially since what is happening is certainly not as much of an "overhaul" (or "underhaul") as what happened in the early 1970s.
As most readers know well, what has happened and is happening is that a revised version of the Missale Romanum is being implemented in a few weeks, at the start of Advent on November 27th. The changes, especially for the assembly, are not numerous or radical, but are much (much!) better translations from the Latin text. (In many cases, they are now the same or very close to the same as what is heard at Divine Liturgy in a Byzantine Catholic parish, such as the one I attend.) And, frankly, if people are "confused" about what is happening, it causes one to wonder just how capable of clear thought and baseline attentiveness is the average Catholic?
On the other hand, the changes are not simply tweaks or mere revisions, but are part of a focused and important effort to regain the liturgical riches and glorious language of worship that was lost (or tossed aside) forty years ago. Anthony Esolen has written well of what the translators did four decades ago:
Thence came the mischief. They ignored the poetry. They severed thought from thought. They rendered concrete words, or abstract words with concrete substrates, as generalities. They eliminated most of the sense of the sacred. They quietly filed words like “grace” down the memory hole. They muffled the word of God. They did not translate. Or if they did, it was not into English. A more obedient reading of the Vatican instructions would not have produced the thin, pedestrian, and often misleading version Catholics have used these last forty years, one that depended, for whatever reasons, upon the destruction of words, and images, and allusions (particularly biblical allusions) and the truths they convey.
In their work, the wonderful dictum of Thomas Aquinas, bonum diffusivum sui, “the good pours itself forth,” was inverted into malum diminuendum alterius, “evil seeks to diminish the other.” Among other things, that meant the petty withholding of words of praise, presumably because they were considered redundant. But is that the mark of love? Is a second smile, or a second kiss, redundant, because there has been a first? And if there has not been a first smile or kiss, are such things unnecessary, because they seem to serve no strictly utilitarian function?
I have searched the 1973 Order of the Mass alone (a mere fraction of all the prayers that have been retranslated) and found thirty instances of such laudatio interrupta. Most of the time an adjective of praise, such as sanctus, gloriosus, beatus, and a few others, simply disappears: sancte Pater becomes Father, dilectissimi Filii tui becomes your son, beatae Mariae becomes Mary, diem sacratissimam, on Christmas and Epiphany and Easter and all those glorious days in the history of salvation, becomes that day. Sometimes, though, a whole phrase is simply dropped as too hopelessly cast in the language of holiness: sanctas ac venerabilis manus, when Jesus blesses the wine in Eucharistic Prayer I, vanishes; so, in the same prayer, does sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam; so also in conspectu maiestatis tuae. No need, apparently, to dwell upon the holy and venerable hands of the Lord, or the sacred sacrifice and immaculate victim we offer in the Eucharist, or the presence of God’s majesty, which we hope one day to enjoy.
I have reviewed hundreds of pages of Latin text, with the first Novus Ordo’s rendering beside me. I defy any English-speaking Catholic in the world to defend the work, on any grounds whatsoever, linguistic, poetic, scriptural, or theological. Eventually, the Vatican, noticing that the liturgy had in fact not been translated into English, ordered that the job be done. Hence every prayer said at every Mass for every day of the year and every purpose for which a Mass may be said has in the last few years been translated, an immense undertaking.
This recent article in the New York Daily News does a good job of outlining, in terms accessible to non-specialists, the basic issue at hand:
A decade in the making, the new Mass is a more precise translation from Latin than the current version, peppered with more theological words and Biblical images.
Supporters say it will bring a more reverent, solemn tone to services, while detractors think the new language is too obscure or stilted.
However, it includes this vague statement, without supporting quotes:
Others say the translation is a step backward because of its grammatical similarity to the Latin-language Mass and its use of unfamiliar vocabulary.
If you're keeping score at home, some of the alleged failings of the new translation are:
1. The language is too obscure and stilted
2. The language is too similar to the "Latin-language Mass"
3. The language includes "unfamiliar vocabulary"
Here's one simple (and hardly original) take, which isn't offered as a complete theory or explanation, but I think makes sense: The original English translation of forty years ago, as Esolen documents well, purposefully simplified—or "dumbed down", in my view—or eliminated biblical images and theological terms deemed too complex, or confusing, or whatever. Throw in forty years of mostly mediocre to horrible catechesis and you have a generation of folks who are, generally speaking, historically, biblically, theologically, and liturgically illiterate. Then, when it becomes evident that the new translation is in fact going to be enacted, the same people who were largely responsible for this mess (or their faithful disciples) begin whining and complaining about how difficult, stilted, challenging, outdated, unfamiliar, irrelevant, and so forth is the new translation. In sum, the cult of liturgical experimentation and expertism is finally being put in its place, and those running the silly (but serious) show are throwing hissy fits.
Here is the most telling quote from the Daily News piece:
The theological precision of the new translation got a thumbs-up from schoolteacher Timothy Thomas, 29, of the upper East Side. “There’s more meat on the bone — something you can really sink your teeth into,” said Thomas, a parishioner at the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer.
We all know that many Catholics are sick of mediocrity and banality; they want meat and richness and fullness and beauty. Which is why the theologically challenging works of Benedict XVI are being read rather widely and why Fr. Robert Barron's "Catholicism" has been so successful, to give just two prominent examples.
To come full circle, I don't think the new translation is a "major overhaul" in the sense it is going to demand some sort of superhuman, radical effort on the part of the laity to learn. In that regard, the number of changes are relatively few (I know they are more substantial for clergy) and, in my opinion, easily managed. But, again, the nature of the changes are indeed substantial and significant—and in a very good way. That said, I'm curious to hear from readers on this topic; specifically:
• What do you think of the new translation?
• What have you done to prepare for its implementation?
• What is your sense of how the implementation will go in your particular parish or diocese? (I'm not looking for dirt or trying to play liturgical police, but am hoping to better understand how this is actually working.)
Related Links, Articles, and Book Excerpts:
• The Adoremus Missal website
• A New Translation for a New Roman Missal (DVD)
• Mass Revision: How the Liturgy is Changing and What it Means for You, by Jimmy Akin
• A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, by Dr. Edward Sri
• The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
• The Spirit of the Liturgy page
• For "Many" or For "All"? | From God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• Music and Liturgy | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | From The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• On Saying the Tridentine Mass | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• Reform or Return? | An Interview with Rev. Thomas M. Kocik
• Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy | Martin Mosebach
• Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
• Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
• The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
• Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
• The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.