Friday, November 6, 2009

Changes in the language of the liturgy

One of the principal goals of the Second Vatican Council was to initiate a reform of the Sacred Liturgy.

The goal of this reform was not a matter of simply revising texts. Even less was it a matter of abandoning the treasured traditions of the past. Rather, at its heart, the liturgical reform of the council was a divinely inspired desire to foster within us, the People of God, a renewed love of the liturgy, the source and summit of our Catholic way of life.

The goal of “active and conscious participation of the faithful” in the liturgy, so central to authentic liturgical reform, is not so much a matter of merely doing more things, but rather of actively internalizing and, in short, praying the liturgy.

Tremendous successes have been made in realizing this crucial goal, while much work remains. The church continues to invite all of her members to make her own liturgical life the source and summit of their lives, as she prays with Christ, in Christ, and through Christ in this service of love that is the liturgy.

In a matter of a few short years to come, the English-speaking church will receive a historic text that marks a special moment in the continuing implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This text is a new English Roman Missal, more commonly known as the Sacramentary.

A bit of history

This large, red-covered book is most often only seen from afar by most Catholics. Consequently, the idea of a new one being issued by the church can seem like a matter hardly worth any fuss.

But the fact is that every Sunday and, indeed, every time we attend Mass, we are impacted by this essential red book.

It is the book from which the prayers of the Mass of the Roman Rite are found, and it is from this book that the priest recites the church’s approved texts of prayer and blessing. While no specific date has yet been given for an official release, it is reasonable to assume that by Advent of 2011, we will be using this new translation for our eucharistic worship.

Some will ask, “Why a new translation?” In attempting to answer that question, I think it is helpful to remember that when the Second Vatican Council began over five decades ago, the Mass was celebrated everywhere in the Latin language.

Shortly thereafter, the bishops of the council recommended that portions of the Sacred Liturgy be celebrated in vernacular languages to help foster that conscious and active participation of the faithful that was at the heart of the council’s liturgical reforms.

That led in 1964 to the formation of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, commonly referred to as ICEL. The first full English translation of the Mass was published in 1974 and a revised edition was promulgated in 1975.

A second edition of this work appeared in 1985 and that is the translation we use today. All of these translations of the Missal were translations of the Latin original, which remains the official text of the Roman Rite.

Because the work of translation was so new, it was always presumed that there would necessarily be a learning curve and that the first translations, over time, would need to be amended.

In addition, it is important to remember that at the time of the first translation, the translators and editors were following a 1969 instruction on the translation of liturgical texts, “Comme le prévoit,” which suggested a methodology which has now become known as “dynamic equivalence.” This theory emphasized the translation of concepts over the more “literal” translation of words.

However, in 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated, with the permission and approval of the Holy Father, an important document on the translation of liturgical texts, “Liturgiam authenticam.” This instruction stated in part:

“The translation of the liturgical text of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the liturgical text faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language.

While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax, and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated intricately and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptations to the characteristics of the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discrete” (No. 20).

Comparing the texts

The differences between the old translation and the new translation can be seen most clearly by placing the texts next to each other.

Below are two prayers, or “collects,” taken from the texts of the first Sunday of Lent:

Current translation:

“Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of Your Son’s death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives.”

Proposed new translation:

“Grant us, Almighty God, through our yearly exercises in the Holy Season of Lent, to grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and to pursue their effects by a worthy way of life.”

Here we can at least begin to see some of the differences between “dynamic equivalence” and the more literal method of translation that “Liturgiam authenticam” calls for.

The expression, “our observance of Lent,” does basically mean the same thing as “our yearly exercise.” However, while it is more crisp and direct, much of the richness of the original Latin text is lost.

The same would be true of “riches hidden in Christ.” It, of course, does refer to Christ’s death and resurrection, as indicated in the first text, but again, a certain poetic expression has been eliminated from this first text.

There will also be changes in the responses of the congregation, for which some catechetical work needs to be done.

For example, “Et cum spiritu tuo” in 1985 was loosely translated, “And also with you.” But in point of fact, when the priest greets us with “The Lord be with you,” he is doing so in virtue of his sacramental identity as an “alter Christus in capitis”; the priest celebrant is making present Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, head of the Mystical Body.

So our response is not merely, “And with you, too, Fr. John . . . thanks for being here,” but rather, “And with you, too, Fr. John, in recognition of the wonderful sacred grace of Holy Orders bestowed on you by the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.”

Just the addition of that one word, “spirit,” which, in fact, is in the original Latin text, adds great meaning to our liturgical celebration.

Invitation to study

I do not presume that these changes will be easy for either priests or congregation. Certainly they will require great adaptation on my part as well.

Yet, if these adaptations lead us, as they are intended, to a greater sense of wonderment, a greater sense of the beauty and splendor of our worship, and a greater step closer to real contemplative prayer, then whatever effort is required will be well worth the sacrifice.

I invite the reader to study the formational materials on the new English Roman Missal available at the USCCB Web site:

This site is being constantly updated, and has within it many wonderful features meant to educate us all on the new translation. In the implementation of these historically important changes, there can be no substitute for good catechesis.
Catholic Spirit
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