A priest’s reflection on hearing the new translation of the Roman Missal

There are some priests and even bishops out there exhibiting their very best petulance about the new translation of the Roman Missal which will soon – and not too soon – replace the lame-duck translation now in use. 

I think the majority of priests welcome the new translation.

With that by way of an introduction, on the blog Adam’s Ale Fr. Valencheck has something to say about the new translation (emphases mine, as well as comments):

SAME FENCE; NEW PAINT

“There’s something worth paying attention here to.” This is what my cousin, a fellow priest, leaned over to me and said during a diocesan meeting of all priests yesterday. I am inclined to agree.

All the priests of the Diocese of Cleveland were together in a great hall at the seminary for a seminar on the new translation of the Mass. My thoughts have been that I was looking forward to the translation but not the implantation of it. It will feel like, and in fact be, the most significant and difficult change to effect in the liturgical lives of Catholics since the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Read: Teaching an elephant to walk a tightrope.

Then I heard the new translations proclaimed.  I am not a person that rides heavily on my emotions. I am just not built that way. But when I heard some of the texts read I felt a stirring inside. They are absolutely beautiful. [Tell that to a certain bishop not far from you.]  Knowing that it will still require great care in the introduction of this new translation and realizing full well there will be people who will resent it (probably exacerbated by my not presenting well to and for all parties) I have moved from having my first concern being the difficulties of introduction to anxiously awaiting the day we may pray these words.

The presenter spoke about why the English language translation is receiving such scrutiny. To begin with, English has become the new lingua Franca. It has become the new international language of common use. Should not then this most important of languages be treated with extra care? And not only that, there are many languages for which there are not scholars readily available schooled not only in their own language but in the depths and knowledge of Latin required to translate prayers going back to before 9th century. Therefore they use the English translation to translate into their tongue. The English translation then is extremely important and it is imperative that it be not only true (as far as translations go) but also beautiful. What is wrong with the English translation will affect the world.

But that does not mean that everyone is going to like it. Conversely there are those who offer numerous and constant complaints over my 12 years as a priest about the current translation. There are those who simply love the way it is (or are simply used to it) and there are those who will go gaga over the new translation. [That would be an exaggerated response.] In other words, when trying to please millions of people you are not going to win no matter what you do – damned if you do and damned if you don’t. [In that case, switch to Latin!]  But no matter what side of the translation fence you happen to think the grass is greener on, the implementation of the new Missal is going to happen. Individuals then can choose to be joyful in it – or at least cooperative – or minimally: obedient, or they can fight and scream, cry, “Foul!”, storm out, and in general make the inevitable as miserable as possible.

That is not always a bad thing. It keeps people on their toes and makes sure that what is going on is darn legitimate. But this is the Mass. It is what we have. We can love it in its latest form or we can choose to be miserable.

I choose joy.

 

Kudos to Fr. Valencheck!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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16 Responses to A priest’s reflection on hearing the new translation of the Roman Missal

  1. basilorat says:

    Hey [FATHER] John Valencheck!!!
    Great post! I miss you my friend. I remember well your first Mass and reception. If you’re in Chicago, come visit me!
    J. Basil Damukaitis

  2. Maltese says:

    The new translation may be much preferable to the last; but isn’t the system, inspired by Bugnini, going to require ever-new translations? [What "system" is that, precisely?]

    To put it more frankly (and I have quotes of our Holy Father on point) the new liturgy is a “manufactured” liturgy, or, a “liturgy by commission.” How do you right a crooked arrow?

    Basically, the new liturgy is an experiment gone wrong, but with good intentions.

    The Church and her councils aren’t as simplistic as you might think;

    for instance, in 787 there was a council in Nicea trying to address the prevalent iconaclism in Byzantiam; but then in 794, headed by Charlemagne, the council of Franfort condemned the previous council, with the Pope’s approbition!

    My only point is that, being a purely pastoral council, [Have a citation for "purely" pastoral?] Vatican II can be disregarded by faithful Catholics. Councils come and go: but the Church is eternal. Vatican II is a sad blip in the history of the Church…

  3. Ellen says:

    I’m looking forward to it. There are a few members of the parish who probably won’t like it all. They get all squinty eyed when we ring consecration bells and use Latin hymns occasionally.

  4. William Tighe says:

    “… but then in 794, headed by Charlemagne, the council of Franfort condemned the previous council, with the Pope’s approbition!”

    Rather, without the pope’s approbation, and despite the opposition of popes, both at the time and subsequently.

  5. TJerome says:

    Thanks for posting this welcome article on the new translations. When I first saw the headline, I thought, another rant similar to the one given by the “bishop who is not too far from Cleveland.” But this was a breath of fresh air.

    It is also consistent with a chat I had with 3 priests at a party recently who ranged in ages from 30-55. They all stated the current ICLE translation was poor, boring, and uninspiring. They are all looking forward to implementing the new translations. Ideologically, I would say these priests are liturgical moderates and very temperurate, mature individuals.

    As the author states, not everyone will be happy, but I remember when Mass was in Latin everywhere, all the time, and people didn’t crab about that. It was just the way it was. The crabs will soon pass on to their eternal reward.

  6. Athelstan says:

    Maltese is correct that Vatican II proclaimed itself as a pastoral, not dogmatic council. But that does not mean that its provisions, certainly those in the four dogmatic (a name which raises questions about that aforementioned status) constitutions, are due some assent by the faithful as an exercise of the Church’s magisterium. Nicaea II (787) is in fact recognized as the seventh ecumenical council by both East and West today, so I would be wary of citing that precedent; better to simply note that some past synods which have called themselves ecumenical councils ended up not recognized as such by the universal Church. And so far, the Church has not yet repudiated Vatican II. So it is still there.

    Some may say it will not always be so. But it seems hard to simply lump Vatican II in with (say) Sardica or Ariminum. Virtually all of the world’s bishops attended, and all its documents were approved by large margins. A future Council may well modify or make further dogmatic definitions which might effectively nullify parts of it; but I don’t think it will ever go completely away.

    But to get back to Fr. Z’s point, I do share Maltese’s view that even the best translation in the world cannot fix all of what is…impoverished in the Paul VI missal, since the fixed prayers (collects, propers, etc.) themselves (in the Latin) were frequently altered in unprecedented ways, often in abrubt and heavy-handed manner; as Lauren Pristas of Caldwell College has noted, “the revisers freely adjusted even the most ancient of the orations that they had selected.” (The Orations of the Vatican II Missal: Policies For Revision, Communio 30 (Winter 2003), 652). And more often than not, those revisions reflected a shift to a more anthropocentric theology. This does not make the new mass illegitimate, but it does make it, I would argue, theologically impoverished, and it is not unreasonable to hope that one day, we may expect that, short of the new mass being discarded, its revisions/reforms will go beyond fixing the translations (a worthy goal which I am relieved to see being met) to restoring in their original form many or all of the ancient prayers that were abrubtly altered by the Consilium.

    But until then, we must take the Paul VI missal as it is, and be grateful for the new translations, which at least eliminate an extra layer of theological distortion – to say nothing of banality. I usually attend mass in the extraordinary form, but I endorse Fr. Valencheck’s sentiment.

  7. Athelstan says:

    Oops – critical typo there. Should read: But that does not mean that its provisions, certainly those in the four dogmatic (a name which raises questions about that aforementioned status) constitutions, are NOT due some assent by the faithful as an exercise of the Church’s magisterium.

  8. robtbrown says:

    If it does nothing else, the new translation replaces “cup” with “chalice”.

  9. Thomas Francis says:

    “The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.”

    Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,…Pope Benedict XVI
    July 13, 1988, in Santiago, Chile

    Perhaps not “purely” pastoral but “merely” pastoral.

  10. JosephMary says:

    Our music director (likes “Song of the body of Christ”: “we come to tell our story…”, etc.”)is dreading the new words. I told him it is not that big of a deal. It is not like getting a whole new mass overnight or anything. Just a more faithful translation which is the least that should have been done when a new mass was formulated (following the book of common prayer of the Anglicans). It seems to me that there is more being made of this than need be. What do you all think? Sure a lot of hype.

  11. Frank H says:

    JosephMary, assuming the new translation is put into use in Advent 2011, my guess is by that New Years Day we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about. At least, I sure hope that is the case!

  12. MichaelJ says:

    Athelstan,

    I think you may be attaching too much significance to the term “Dogmatic Constitution”. Given that the Church first began using it (to the best of my knowledge) beginning with the Vatican I Council, it does not have the benefit of a long and organic understanding. I am not saying that the Vatican II Council defined no dogma (His Holiness did that) but that we should look at the contents of a Church document rather than at its newly coined title to determine what it contains.

  13. Traductora says:

    The presenter spoke about why the English language translation is receiving such scrutiny. To begin with, English has become the new lingua Franca. It has become the new international language of common use. Should not then this most important of languages be treated with extra care?…Therefore they use the English translation to translate into their tongue.

    This is an excellent point and one which had not even occurred to me before. I think the Vatican II rite itself has serious deficiencies, which really wouldn’t be helped by any language, but since it’s the rite we have, we have to make it as profound and beautiful as we can…because as English speakers, we really are setting the standard for the world in this millenium.

  14. TJerome says:

    josephmary, your music director sounds like a spirit of Vatican II has been. Tell him for me, that I suffered through 45 years of utter nonsense. No one cared about me or my sensibilities. Now it’s his turn.

  15. JPG says:

    Not to be snarky but quite frankly when I saw Cleveland I was in dread. A priest friend, when I was in Cleveland twenty years ago described one of the Seminaries as “Heretic Hall”. Thus the article was not what I expected. Often the current Liturgy is not celebrated with the Hermeneutic of Continuity in mind and many Sanctuaries have been laid waste with wreckovations. My Mother in Law’s Parish in Rocky River recently had a Baptismal Font/Baby pool installed near the Sanctuary in the main Aisle, perfectly placed for Weddings and funerals and over the objections of Parishioners.Thus this article was a pleasent surprise.
    The priest friend who made the reference was a convert with a truly inspiring Marian devotion on whom I think back fondly having learned quite a bit more positive things from him. His observations with regards to English are spot on. It is the lingua Franca (to bad for the french) of the world.
    JPG

  16. JPG says:

    A further comment. Although I would agree that the current liturgy seems and has been described by His Holiness as being manufactured and contrived,His Holiness rightly points out any sudden revocation or abandonment would only cause more consternation among the Faithful. His seeking to incorporate and implement traditional practice into the OF will allow I think a more frequent use of the EF. A “reform of the reform” would in my mind consist in a restoration of the older Kalender or rather giving the current OF temporal Cycle the same names etc along wiht restoring Rogation Days and Ember Days as well as and most impotantly the Octave of Pentecost. The restoration of Latin will take time. It may be spurred on by proper preaching that we as Catholics can only truly understand the Bible through the prism of the Fathers. This will mandate studying these Authors in their tongue. Often the impression has been given if not outrightly said that the Biblical roots of Catholicism were being restored by the current reform, giving the entirely false impression that the Pre-Conciliar Church was Not Biblical. This seemed to be a Lutheran outlook that has always been suspect. Thus preaching the bible through the Fathers will help restore an interest in Latin.
    JPG
    JPG