Thursday, December 8, 2011

And with Your Spirit::Thoughts on the New Translation of Mass Texts

   A few weeks ago several readers of this blog asked my opinion on the new translation of the prayers for the Mass. I hesitated to respond because I wanted to wait and see.  We are now into the second week of Advent and are getting used to (or not so used to) the new prayers at Mass so  I thought that I might offer a few thoughts on the matter which I hope are helpful.
   Some explanations are in order.  There is not a new Mass.  The ritual of the Mass has not changed. What has changed is the wording of the prayers used.  What many don't know is that in Rome there is an official Latin text from which all the languages of the world translate.  In years gone by the criterion used for translation was what is called "dynamic equivalency". meaning that the basic meaning of the Latin was translated into English (in our case) or whatever other language.  The Vatican in recent years has called for a more literal translation.   Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Also, the English used until recently was a more colloquial or popular style.  Some wanted a more rich or elevated language for worship. Again there are advantages to both approaches.  My opinion on what has been presented to us is mixed.  Indeed there is a certain eloquence to some of the newer expressions used and there are more biblical references because some were unfortunately removed from the earlier translation.  At the same time I think that some of the texts are awkward and stilted and that there are words used which the ordinary person in the pew cannot understand.  I know that we have a more educated laity and that they can fairly quickly understand that the word "consubstantial" in the Creed means "one in being". Today. however, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception there was a reference to" prevenient" grace. Even I who am trained in theology had to stop and think about that one.  I also think that the prayers that the priest uses could have been smoothed off a bit and still have been faithful to the Latin.   What I do like is that there is more theological precision in a few places that never should have been missing.
   Before getting to those points I want to challenge people on both the left and the right who refer to this work as "going back."  I have heard some say that they are finally getting back to the way that things should be and other lamenting that we are retrenching to the old days. Neither is true.  I say Mass often in Spanish and occasionally in Italian and those languages have always had things like the triple "through my fault" in the Confiteor and have said "And with your "spirt", and not "and also with you."  In that sense we are not retrenching but just doing what everyone else is doing.
   Some of the theological points that I like are:

   1.  In the offertory prayers we refer to the bread, and later the wine, that we have received and which we now offer.  This detail exists in the other languages but has not been used in English.  The idea is that we offer back to God what God has given to us.

   2.  At the consecration we are invited to "take this all of you and eat of it" (the bread) rahter than just " it.  This subtlety suggest that we are not possessing the Body of Christ, but simply partaking of it.  It also suggests a communal sharing.

   3.  Several of the new forms for the dismissal rite make a clear link between the Eucharist and everyday life, eg.,  " Go in Peace and live the Gospel in your Life."

   One point that requires explanation is in the consecration of the wine into the precious Blood which is "poured out for you and for the many."  This does not mean that Christ did not die for all, but rather suggests the masses or the multitudes who would accept Christ.  He still died even for those who did not accept Him even if they have not taken Him up on it.
   In short I think we could have done better with this and hopefully some of the shortcomings can be corrected soon while still being faithful to the desired principle of a more faithful or authentic translation. A wise person once said that a translation is either faithful or beautiful, but rarely both.  I still think that we need to strive for both.


  1. Yes, I think that is right. We should strive for both. I do think the Latin was frequently more eloquent, however. The beautiful alliteration of "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" can just not be matched in an English translation.

    In any case, the Mass is beautiful in any language.

  2. The word of God is truly beautiful whether in any languages we speak of.. in most cases its our undying faith that help us understand and lived by it.
    Spiritual thoughts


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