Have the New Translations Brought Us Closer to God?

So I’ve now been to three masses with the new translation being used. I haven’t posted much before now because I wanted to have the experience myself and honestly, because I was hopeful that this just might be something interesting and perhaps more prayerful for the faithful.

However, I’ve heard much vitriol and anger from people across the United States regarding the New Roman Missal–and it comes from both ends of the spectrum. One end argues that it’s fantastic and that they love the words being closer to the original Latin. Others saying that it’s not helpful to them, that the words are a series of long run on sentences and so beyond our everyday vernacular that they’ve removed them from any kind of helpful prayer experience.

As usual the truth is somewhere in the middle.

In general, people are resistant to change and therefore many folks will not like this for that reason alone. Those aren’t the people that I’d like to focus on. There are certain liturgy geeks who will jump for joy at these new translations who can’t imagine why this took so long to begin with. I’m not going to address that group either.

Then there are people who don’t mind the new translations. They’re not hooting and hollering about it, but one of my friends reported that she thought it was nice and she was glad to pay closer attention to the words she says at mass. This will be addressed.

Lastly there are the people who just could care less about the whole thing. They can’t believe that we’re spending money and time and effort in this project at all. They ask good questions about this and bring a fresh perspective to the inner church culture wars. They’ll come to mass and basically go with the flow–occasionally stumbling and perhaps even preferring some of the old translated words to the new–and they might even quietly or not so quietly say the old words anyway. We’ll especially talk about that.

The latter two groups are people who I believe consist of the majority of people going through this experience. And my question to them is whether or not this has brought them closer to God? Has this also drifted us apart as one body in Christ? I think to the latter, we can clearly see that the answer is yes.

Does this mean that we’ve been praying “wrong” for the last 40 years? A good question that someone raised recently. Does this mean that our prayer necessarily has to move beyond the language we use in our everyday life? Another good question from a young adult.

One Latin Scholar weighed in on the proceedings in today’s New York Times.

The Rev. Anthony Ruff, a scholar of Latin and Gregorian chant at St. John’s University and seminary in Collegeville, Minn., worked on parts of the latest translation with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, but he left after he became “increasingly critical of the clunky text and the top-down secretive process” with which it was being created, he said.

“The syntax is too Latinate — it’s not good English that will help people pray,” he said in an interview. “Rome got its way in forcing this on us, but it is a Pyrrhic victory because it is not bringing the whole church together around a high quality product.”

This is not bringing us together—which is driving us further into individualism–the exact opposite of what this is trying to achieve, I fear.

Here’s a legitimate question: How many lay people were consulted about this change? Did they ask a number or groups of “regular” people if this would be helpful to their prayer–and more importantly help them pray as a community better? Or was this just an “order is order” decision–meaning that the prayers should be closer to the original Latin and therefore that is what the committee decided was going to take place. It seems like the decision was the one made.

I’ve been to three masses that have used the new translations thus far: Here’s my take on the three experience quickly:

1) At Christ the King Seminary: The pastoral team made a very concerted effort to lead the community in prayer. Granted it was a small group of people and mostly people who would know about the changes well in advance and maybe even were preparing themselves for them. They had several worship aids and a lay leader would hold up which one to use. They were patient with the process and led us well. I like that the priest chanted “The Lord Be With You” which made it easier to remind myself that the response was new “And with your spirit”. The rest of the mass was pretty seamless. I nearly forgot the “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof” line–but made a valiant recovery.

2) 11:30AM at St Joseph University Parish: A packed house. The pastor came out and led the community in knowing where the worship aids were (embedded on either side of the hymnal’s inside cover. The liturgy of the word on the left and the liturgy of the Eucharist on the right). I actually used my iPhone because I wanted to read along during the Eucharistic prayer. It was a mostly awkward experience. A good deal of people didn’t bother to pick up their worship aid, preferring to either not respond at all or to simply utter the old words. My wife and I would even slip up, if we didn’t pay close attention or have a reflex reaction to the call “The Lord be with You.” In general, it was fine and didn’t distract me too much.

3) 8PM student mass at St Joseph University Church: A low-key vibe in the evening for students primarily but many others come. People paid closer attention in general but, it was still awkward at best. I know I said “And also with you” twice.

So the question begs us to ask if this is bringing us closer to God? I’m not seeing that reported thus far by the majority. Perhaps time will tell, but also we should note that it’s not exactly like mass attendance skyrocketed more than any other first Sunday of advent.

My opinion throughout this process has been a simple response: “Yeah, because that’s the answer.” I doubt that the new translations will be the reason that people suddenly start returning to the pews on Sunday. I think there are lots of things we should concentrate on instead. (like feeding people in poverty as Catholic community–for instance and then sharing a prayer experience together around that).

We’ve got a long way to go as a Catholic community of faith. Perhaps looking more deeply at which experiences are bringing people closer to understanding and relating to the God who loves us is where we need to head next.

And we lay people and clergy don’t need a committee to start doing things like that.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Interesting…I too was at two masses. I think unlike many changes, it felt like a hiccup and not really a drastic change. Maybe even that is part of the problem? Maybe it is that the changes are so slight that we really don’t understand the need for it? Maybe it will make me more spiritual and to bring us closer together. We certainly helped one another find our place a couple of times in my pew. Maybe that is the why. To connect with one another. Maybe we have forgotten to even acknowledge those wiht whom we pray everyday and this is to just make us a little uncomfortable, like a pair of jeans that got too tight after a big meal?
    I can’t pretend to be a deep theological thinker like the Doctors of our church, though I have read a lot on this. I am more of a doer. I will do the changes and I will help others around me do them too and I will let the Holy Spirit move me and hopefully we WILL grow in faith as a community, even as we laugh or mess up or choke on a word or two.
    I will try to be positive about the changes and I will continue to worship and pray more observantly so as to gather us in and not divide us. There are too many forces trying to usurp our parishes and be negative which are out of my control. I refuse to allow that into my own space and I will try and not take things so seriously that I forget to let the Holy Spirit in. I will go where HE sends me even if it means opening my book again and feeling foolish if I say the wrong thing.

    Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: