Well, the new translation of the Mass is no longer quite so new. It's been one year since we started using it. When the Church in the U.S. was gearing up for it, many who opposed it were predicting dire consequences--none of which transpired. I particularly recall the predictions that the first Christmas, with the new translation, would be disastrous, because the return of "C&E Catholics" (who wouldn't have heard all the instructions the regulars had) would bring pandemonium.
None of that happened; the sky didn't fall, and folks are continuing to come to Mass. Some folks--such as me!--are still using helps for the Gloria and the Creed, but life goes on.
Now, let me acknowledge that the new translation isn't perfect. There are certainly some ways it could be worded better. If ever anyone in charge of such things calls (I'm not sitting by the phone), I'll be ready to offer some suggestions.
And, it is true that the prayers the priest prays are worded in a more complicated way. The reason is that the underlying Latin sentences are expressing complex thoughts. While there is a way to break up these Latin sentences into multiple English sentences--it's not hard--it also breaks up the thought.
And this is an opportunity to reflect: is that really necessary? Is it wise?
After all, any priest who wishes can preach on a particular prayer, and explain the content of it. I've certainly made use of some of the Mass prayers in my homilies this past year. The prayers, being richer in content, lend themselves better to that now.
But let's acknowledge that the sentence structure is complicated. In fact, the bishops chose an expediency that I don't quite approve of; however, it was a concession in view of this complexity. Many of the prayers insert a period near the end, rendering a concluding sentence that frequently goes like this: "Through Christ our Lord" or "Who lives and reigns forever and ever."
Those are not proper English sentences; they are fragments.
But what I think is happening is that the period is functioning as a semi-colon; and it's being used, instead, so as to facilitate proclamation of the texts, for those priests who struggle with carrying through a very lengthy sentence the right emphases for subject and verb. Here's an example...
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Now, without diagramming the sentence--which is too much work and this is a day of rest!--I will simply highlight the underlying structure of the sentence:
Grant your faithful
, we pray, almighty God
to run forth to meet
with righteous deeds at his coming
, gathered at his right hand, they may
be worthy to possess the
our Lord Jesus
Christ, your Son
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever
OK, let's re-arrange it to simplify it:
God, grant your faithful the resolve to meet Christ at his coming,
so that they may possess the kingdom through Jesus your Son...etc.
Now, don't misunderstand: I'm not suggesting that the omitted words don't matter; I'm simply using a simpler way to show the basic structure of the sentence. But go back to it now, and try reading the prayer aloud, giving emphasis to the bolded terms; and notice I changed the period to a semi-colon.
Does that work better? It does for me at least.
Here's another example. This prayer is used at every Mass, so I've had lots of time to think about it.
Lord Jesus Christ,
who said to your Apostles:
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you;
look not on our sins,
but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity
in accordance with your will.
Who live and reign for ever and ever.
Now, at first this prayer's wording bothered me, well before I got to the fragment at the end. But praying it day by day, I figured out what it's saying, and thus how to proclaim it. Let's see if some playing around with the word-order or the punctuation, I can show you what I saw.
Lord Jesus Christ
, who said to your Apostles, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you":
Look not on our sins
, but on
of your Church,
graciously grant her peace and unity
ance with your will
Who live and reign for ever and ever
Let's re-word it for clarity:
Lord Jesus Christ (who said thus-and-so), don't look at our sins, but at our faith, and grant your Church peace and unity according to your will...
Whoops, what about that last part? How do you fit it in?
Well, in reality, if this idea were originating in English, I don't think we'd ever end up with this sort of sentence; we don't say things this way. But Latin-speakers did. What's happening is this: a statement about the Lord--who is mentioned right up front--is being saved all the way to the end. We just don't do that in English; it's too complicated a sentence. So how might we write it, if we composed this in English?
Maybe this way:
Lord Jesus Christ--you live and reign forever and ever!
You said to your Apostles, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you";
Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.
Now, maybe that would have been better in one regard, but it makes the prayer awkward in another way; I suspect that by putting the flourish of "forever and ever" up front, the idea being expressed--the actual thing being asked for--is not highlighted. One advantage of concluding with, "who live and reign forever and ever" is to emphasize that all things originate in our Lord, all things happen in him, and are complete in him. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The old translation would frequently say, "for you live and reign forever and ever"--and, while others who are more expert in this area may have some good arguments to add here and correct me, I think that was a reasonable way to handle this.
But it's not the end of the world. One advantage of the new prayers is that, while they are chock full of content, they are expressed with a certain economy of words. Some of the awkwardness could be fixed by starting new sentences that refer to ideas expressed in the prior sentence; and the prayers could conclude--as they often did in the old translation--with, "We ask this
through our Lord Jesus Christ..." etc. Again, that "we ask this" wasn't itself a terrible feature of the old prayers, but in adding some clarity and flow, it flattens the grandeur of the statement somewhat.
I am finding that if I spend some time thinking about the prayers before proclaiming them--and in the case of those I use daily, I am thinking about them while I proclaim them--then the idea being expressed becomes clear. No question, some of the ideas are complex--but that's the nature of the Roman Mass.
Remember: these are the prayers that were produced by those directed by Pope Paul VI to carry out the reforms called for at the Second Vatican Council. This point cannot be stressed too much: translating these prayers accurately means accurately implementing the Council's plans. The "concilium" of experts who did all this work could, after all, have restructured the prayers more than they did; they chose not to. Shouldn't we respect their work?
Meanwhile, I think there is so much more meaning and clarity in the new translation that these adjustments are well worth it.