Non-Catholic, progressive, ecumenical site hits one out of the park about the new translation

A long-time reader alerted me to an interesting article on the non-Catholic site The Christian Century (“a progressive, ecumenical magazine based in Chicago”).  The writer, Carol Zaleski, professor of world religions at Smith College in Northampton, MA, makes some comments on the new, corrected translation of the Roman Missal which be in use pretty soon.

Here is the last part of her piece with my emphases:

If reception of this new translation is as generous as it should be, the period of adjustment will be a chance to rediscover the shape of the liturgy and the essentials of Christian belief and hope. The biblical concreteness of the liturgy and its humbling, exultant, awe-inspiring notes, muted in the old translation, are about to be restored. Thus, for example, when the celebrant echoes the angelic and Pauline greeting, “The Lord be with you,” the congregation responds, “and with your spirit,” a more vivid and theologically interesting translation of et cum spiritu tuo than the functional “and also with you.” In the Gloria, “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory,” replaces the tepid abridgment to “we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory,” so that the summons to adoration may come across as clearly as in the biblically based original. Threefold petitions and rhythmic repetitions, once stripped from the English in the interest of simplicity, evoke a sense of mystery that surpasses prosaic speech.

The Credo duly begins “I believe,” spoken in unison to convey at once the individual and corporate character of faith. In the account of creation, “all things visible and invisible” maps the material and spiritual cosmos more adequately than “all that is seen and unseen.” Speaking of Christ as “consubstantial with the Father” and “incarnate of the Virgin Mary” plumbs the divine-human nature more deeply than the abstract “one in Being with the Father” and “born of the Virgin Mary.” In “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts” the angels return, having been exiled for no fault of their own from the English Sanctus. Just before communion, the centurion’s voice rings out again: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”—living words that transport the worshiper into the gospel environment. Best of all, we get to reclaim the beautiful and dignified word soul from the dustbin to which a passing fad in theological anthropology had consigned it; “only say the word and my soul shall be healed” universalizes the centurion’s petition and intensifies the communicant’s prayer.

Change can be unsettling, but in this case the change is right and just. The postconciliar Catholic mass has found its English voice. The best response I can imagine is a Hebrew word that survives intact in all tongues, the final word of the New Testament—Amen.

Great comments.  Well written.  Fair-minded.  Properly informed.

Prof. Zalesky is decidedly more positive than many I have read from Catholic writers of a certain persuasion.

Also, some time ago she wrote a terrific article for First Things about the long “dark night of the soul” experienced by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta.

WDTPRS kudos to the writer from this self-described progressive ecumenical site!

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  1. Geoffrey says:

    I am reminded of the words of our Lord that go something like “you are not far from the kingdom of God…”

  2. jarthurcrank says:

    I’m guessing that Ms. Zaleski was raised as a Protestant. Back in the days when I grew up in the Episcopal Church in an over-educated “broad church” parish in a university town, the English translation of the Catholic mass was not infrequently derided as insulting to their intelligence. (Truth be told, they also tended to hold their noses at the Episcopal “Rite II” for the same reasons.) Issues of inclusive language (and infelicities identified by “Xavier” at the other site)aside, I suspect rank and file educated liberal Protestants who are not part of the “ecumenical liturgical establishment” will have a far more positive reaction to the new translation than liberal Catholics. Ms. Zaleski will not be alone.

  3. Andrew says:

    If I had to bet my money on it I would say that the person who wrote this is a Catholic.

  4. MarylandBill says:

    I have not seen more than a few small pieces of the new translation, but I am for it. Even if it is not a better translation than the current translation (and I have no reason to doubt that it is a better translation), it will serve an enormous purpose; it will force all of us to actually think about what we are saying. We might have to use the Missal to properly say the prayers and responses, we will certainly have to pay attention in a way that we have not had to since we first learned what to say and do when we were little children (well those of us under the age of 45 anyway :)). I certainly hope it will help me be more fully present at the masses I attend.

    Heck from that perspective, it might be a good idea to have a serious revision every decade or so :).

  5. PostCatholic says:

    I seem to remember in Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton talking similarly about the sense of meaning conveyed by the word “I” vs. “We” in the Nicean Creed. I think it’s an episode when he visited Cuba. Perhaps someone can provide the relevant quote.

  6. Dennis Martin says:

    I do believe that Professor Zaleski is a Catholic, indeed, a Catholic who is quite well attuned to things liturgical and ritual. She just happens to have written this for the old warhorse mainline Protestant Christian Century. Which is not a bad thing to have done.

  7. The Credo duly begins “I believe,” spoken in unison to convey at once the individual and corporate character of faith.

    I brought this up at a diocesan training session on the new translation several months ago, in response to much wailing and gnashing of teeth among attendees over the change of “we” to “I.” It is the “we,” not the “I,” that breaks us all up into individuals; the “I” signifes not just my precious self, but the Mystical Body of Christ, of which I am a member. The speaker for the diocese basically patted me on the head and told me how cute I was for coming up with such a creative interpretation of “I believe.” It is a Protestant who gets this, and the Catholics who do not.

  8. jarthurcrank says:

    I looked again at her essay and the “qui tollis peccata mundi” was an instrument in her conversion. Conversion to Catholicism? Perhaps. Even still, her reaction will probably be not much different than educated liberal Protestants, many of whom resent dumbed-down texts. Besides, as a professor of world religions, she presumably has a rather cosmopolitan viewpoint, more so that probably 95 percent of liberal Catholic liturgists, so she knows full well how “thin” the current English translation of the mass as compared to the richness of writings and worship of other religions, not just other translations of the mass which she mentioned in her essay.

  9. Dennis Martin says:

    Listen up, folks. Don’t just assume things about people based on one or two items about where and what they teach. Professor Zaleski is a Catholic who has written insightfully on Mother Teresa’s dark night for First Things. Her book on near death experiences bucked the trend to use these accounts to whitewash hell and make the afterlife all rosy and pretty. She’s a Catholic. She loves the Faith, she is attentive to the Catholic tradition in ways that many of you might actually appreciate if you took the time to make an acquaintance of her writings. Catholics can be professors of world religions at secular colleges without abandoning the Catholic faith. People like that might even have things to teach WPTRS readers.

    Would y’all agree with her on everything? Do y’all agree with each other on everything?

    It’s a good article, one that we agree with. Can’t we leave it at that without deciding that “hey, Protestants ‘get it’ on the translation issues better than deracinated Spirit of Vatican II Catholics”? She’s on our side. Can’t we be happy about that?

  10. Father John Horgan says:

    Dr Carol Zaleski is a remarkable scholar and a convert from Judaism. She and her husband Philip teach at Smith College. They have published or edited a number of very important books, both individually and together. Check out the entries on them in Wikipedia for links to an excellent interview on prayer and spirituality.
    When Carol was a teaching fellow at Harvard in 1980, she served as one of the readers for my own BA honours thesis on Saint Gertrude the Great and the Christology of the Sacred Heart. I have always been grateful for her encouragement and insightful comments on that first thesis.
    Carol’s contribution on the new Missal translation will have very powerful echoes in the scholarly, academic, and non-Catholic communities. — But all of us who share the same Faith should join in a rousing “Te Deum” in thanksgiving for her work, particularly this little piece.

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