Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fisking an AP article about the new Mass translation

Here's an AP article about the new and improved translation of the Mass, that appeared today at For my amusement and I hope your edification, I'll offer some interlinear commentary...

New US Catholic missal to debut in November 2011

The Associated Press
Friday, August 20, 2010; 8:46 PM

-- Catholics in the United States will begin using a long-awaited English translation of the Roman Missal on the first Sunday of Advent next year, a leading American cardinal announced Friday.

Setting the missal's debut for Nov. 27, 2011, gives publishers more than 15 months to prepare texts, and allows American dioceses and parishes to educate members in the meantime, said Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The new text for the missal, which guides Catholics through the prayers of the Mass (yes, but to be a little clearer, it comprises the prayers of the Mass), was approved by the Vatican in June. In July, additional prayers were approved for certain rites, such as the renewal of baptismal promises on Easter, and celebrations specific to the United States including Thanksgiving, Independence Day and the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Pope John Paul II announced the new missal in 2000 and it was first published in Latin in 2002.

It's the first significant change in the English translation since the Mass was first celebrated in English after Vatican II in the 1960s, said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. (Start keeping mental notes on who is quoted saying what; and ask if this is balanced?)

"It will impact every Catholic in every parish because they will have to learn new responses in place of the ones they have been using since Vatican II," Reese said. "I believe that the new translations are a step backwards (howso?) and confusing to the people in the pews" (note the low opinion Father Reese seems to have of what "the people in the pew" can handle).

Proponents (note no one is named--only critics of the work will be named. Why is that?) of the new missal's translation into English have said its language is more poetic and true to the spirit (yes, but actually true to the text itself! Anyone--even someone who knows little of Latin--can easily see this, simply by laying the outgoing English translation, and the new English translation, beside the normative, Latin text of the Mass. You will see immediately in many places how much of the Latin disappears--nowhere translated! Where did it go? Would anyone accept a "translation" of the Declaration of Independence that dropped out whole phrases as legitimate?) of the original Latin. Critics contend the translation is too literal and includes too many theologically complex terms.

(Once again, notice the low opinion of what the faithful can handle. Aren't these the same folks who have said, over and over, that the hierarchy should "trust" the faithful, in particular because they are so well educated? Why don't these critics trust that the faithful can--and will want to--grapple with these things?

(It is quite true that our Faith uses "theologically complex" terms--because our Faith embraces "theologically complex" realities. The job of making them understandable belongs to teaching and preaching, not in rewriting the prayers themselves.

(Example: there are various editions of the Bible that attempt to do this--greatly expanding on the texts of Scriptures in how they are "translated"--but because of this, they really aren't "translations" at all--they are very free paraphrases, that build into the "text" of the Bible, the interpretations of the editors, as they attempt to explain the Scriptures. Sounds good--except that in doing it this way, every appearance is given that the interpretation they supply--their "spin" if you will--is actually part of the inspired Word of God. Not so! Far better to translate the Word of God "straight"--and then provide the explanations, however copious, separately--that way the reader can easily see: "here's the Sacred Text--hmm, that's challenging...okay, here's the explanation, let me see if that helps..." In the same way, the texts of the prayers should be translated "straight"--and then explained or amplified as needed. While it's true folks don't react well to change, and there are folks who don't want to be "unsettled" or challenged too much; there are many of the faithful who are hungering for solid meat, and welcome a challenge.)

Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., who formerly ran the U.S. bishops liturgy committee, criticized the new translation as "slavishly literal" during a lecture last year at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Those who have reviewed the translation say it requires new responses from church members in about a dozen places in the Mass. Generally, those responses are relatively simple, as when members will respond "And with your spirit" (oh no, so complex and confusing!) after the celebrant says, "The Lord be with you." The current response is, "And also with you."

Currently, priests dismisses the congregation by saying, "The Mass is ended; go in peace." Priests will now have four more specific options, including two suggested by Pope Benedict XVI: "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" and "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life."

Prayers offered by the priest will include more complex terms such as "consubstantial," "inviolate," "oblation," "ignominy" and "suffused." (Oh no!)

Critics like Bishop Trautman argue that Jesus Christ taught in the language of the common man (note that: taught. No one is dictating what style of language the celebrant of Mass will use in preaching; or what will be used in other forms of teaching. But the primary purpose of the Mass isn't to teach, but to draw God's people into the heavenly worship. Note that Bishop Trautman did not make any assertions about our Lord worshipping in a "common" language. Wonder why he didn't make that claim?) and, further, that Vatican II reforms that first allowed the Mass to be translated from Latin to the vernacular are being unraveled by the more complicated words used in the new translation. (How do "more complicated words" "unravel" the reforms of Vatican II? Remember that Vatican II gave permission for using the vernacular--but did not intend the Latin itself to disappear. A Mass offered 100% in Latin in no way is contrary to Vatican II--because Vatican II did not mandate the vernacular, but it allowed it. Further, Vatican II set in motion a revision of the Latin texts--and then, following the Council, a revised Mass--in Latin--was issued by Pope Paul VI as, if you will, "the Mass of Vatican II." So...exactly how is it contrary to the Council, to be faithful to the work they produced?)

Those who favor the new version say the original translation to English brought about by Vatican II was rushed and that the new version merely restores some of the richness of the terms used in the original Latin.

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year for Roman Catholic, and is always four Sundays before Christmas.

(FYI, I am obviously imitating the method of Father John Zuhlsdorf in commenting on this article. Biretta tip to him.)


Marc said...

Many thanks for this post.

While Father Z. is deservedly well-known for his method of commenting on articles and posts, the mediaeval theologians who glossed important texts (the Sacred Scriptures, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the Aeneid of Virgil etc) are also well-known, and it could very easily have been the case that you are following in their footsteps, albeit the subject writing is not of quite the same worth....

(You are the M. F. who sometimes comments at Althouse? how dare you have non-'Generic Diocesan Social Justice Commission' opinions, ha.)

Fr Martin Fox said...


I do comment at Ann Althouse's blog, but always with my full name and title, Fr Martin Fox, not "M.F."

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

I renew my as-yet-unanswered question, previously voiced of those who so vociferously opposed Summorum Pontificum, now in the context of those who so urgently oppose the new English translation of the mass:

What are these people afraid of?