Thursday, May 25, 2006

New Mass Translation Coming

Forget the Five Ways--the real proof that God exists lies in the fact that folks are finally beginning to see what a banal translation of the Mass we've been saddled with for so long. In spite of the inexplicable opposition of some bishops, it looks like a new translation is in the offing (see the story at Catholic News Service). The new translation is, I'm happy to say, not so very new--many of the expressions are just revivals of traditional expressions that have been used in English for generations. For example, the greeting "Dominus vobiscum", which literally means "The Lord [be] with you", is supposed to be answered with "Et cum spiritu tuo", which means literally "And with your spirit" but which was translated in the Mass as "And also with you." The more literal version will be familiar to Episcopalians, since it is what they have traditionally said in their own liturgies. Considering how ubiquitous the greeting is, not only in the Mass but in the other liturgies of the Church, including the Daily Office, this change will be felt right away, as minor as it is.

One change that I particularly like is in the Sanctus, which used to start off with the insipid "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might" but which will now begin with the sonorous "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts."

I don't fully understand the reasons for changing the beginning of the Nicene Creed away from the Greek "We belive" to the Latin "I believe". The original Greek text stresses the communal nature of confessing the Creed within the setting of the Mass; I'm not sure what the point would be of personalizing the thing with the change to the first person singular, other than that is more traditional in the sense of translating the Latin rather than the Greek text.

The emphasis, clearly, is on literalness without a sacrifice of clarity or meaning, and that, in my opinion, is a very salutary goal. Too often translators assume an audience of imbeciles and, in our increasingly literate culture, that is a foolish assumption to make. The old slogan lex orandi lex credendi is worth remembering--we learn from our liturgies, and it seems plausible to me that improving the aesthetic value of what we do communally in our worship could have a positive effect down the line in terms of spiritual growth and holiness of life. Such things cannot be guaranteed, obviously, but I doubt very much that the proposed changes will actually make things worse. To what extent is it true that to get more literal (that is, faithful to the Latin original) is also to get higher aesthetic value? Often, I think, it will vary, because it will obviously depend upon the aesthetic value of the original. But the Latin text of the Mass is grounded in a much older tradition than the ICEL translations, and the closer we get to that older tradition the better off we will be doctrinally, even if we make no progress aesthetically. But as long as we assume a literate participant in the Mass we ought to strive for aesthetic progress as well.

Small changes can make a big difference. For this reason I often find myself irritated by apparently small things like changes in the calendar. Today should be Ascension Thursday, but in many dioceses Ascension is moved to the following Sunday. Although this has ostensibly been done to make it easier for Catholics to fulfill their obligation, it has the effect of ruining the symbolism of the period between Ascension and Pentecost--the First Novena is now nothing more than an ordinary octave. Maybe that is a small loss, but it is a loss nonetheless, and every loss costs us something. Given the fact that some Sollemnities are not moved it is very difficult for me to believe that moving the others really is all that necessary.

One way to avoid the banalities of translations, of course, is to say the Mass in Latin (and here I'm just talking about the use of the Latin language, not a return to the form of the Mass of the 1962 missal). I'm still hoping for the day when that becomes the norm again, though I doubt that my hopes will be realized in my lifetime. It would be nice, though, if it were at least an option in every parish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wise man!!!
God bless you