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New Catholic Mass Translation Raises Doubts

New Catholic Mass Translation Raises Doubts
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This Sunday, a new translation of the Roman Catholic Mass was introduced into parishes throughout the English-speaking world. The new English version of the Roman Missal, the book of texts and prayers used in the Catholic Mass, is intended to be more faithful to the Latin original. Reactions to the new translation have been mixed, with some wondering whether the more Latinate, more formal, somewhat stilted and still very unfamiliar translation might make it more challenging for the Church to attract young people while alienating worshippers who have, over decades, come to associate the saying of certain words with the Mass.

Roman Catholics worshipped in Latin until Vatican II in the 1960s, when the Church decreed that the Mass could be celebrated in the vernacular. The English translation used until this very weekend was published in the early 1970s and modified in 1985. While a new translation was completed in 1998 and approved by the the bishops’ conference, the Vatican never agreed to it. In 2001, Rome issued new guidelines for a new translation that would follow not only every Latin word, but also the Latin syntax, as closely as possible, “a dramatic philosophical shift from the more flexible principle of ‘dynamic equivalence’ that had guided the earlier translations.”

Emotional Reactions to the New Mass

Debate about using the new translation has been so heated that the Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, started an online petition on the website whatifwejustsaidwait.org to call for postponing the use of the new translation of the Mass. The requirement to use the new translation has led to a debate that

…has been angry and bitter, exposing rifts between a Vatican-led church hierarchy that has promoted the new translation as more reverential and accurate, and critics, among them hundreds of priests, who fear it is a retreat from the commitment of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to allowing people to pray in a simple, clear vernacular as they participate in the church’s sacred rites.

Danielle McGinley, 31, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, said she thought the new translation sounded “more like a Spanish Mass” and liked it. Lucy Teves, a vice-principal at a Catholic school in Kingston, Ontario, voiced other concerns:

“I think there’s a real disconnect for the young people. I feel this is a step backwards. The language is going to be difficult for them to connect. I’m just thinking about my 20-year-old son and others like him who are struggling anyway.”

73-year-old George Lind in New York said he became so “angry” when trying to say the words of the new translation that he actually stopped speaking and expressed frustration with the top-down imposition of the new Mass:

“I am so tired of being told exactly what I have to say, exactly what I have to pray. I believe in God, and to me that is the important thing. This is some attempt on the part of the church hierarchy to look important.”

But Frank Spezzano of the Toronto area, who can quote from the original Latin Mass used in pre-Vatican II services, said he found the new translation not so different from the older one.

The congregation of Corpus Christi Church in Morningside Heights on the Upper West Side in New York never fully adopted the more modernized version of the Mass that church authorities had required after Vatican II. As Brenda Fairaday, who has been worshipping at the church (the parish church of Columbia University) since the 1970s, “There are a lot of us who feel that the last 35 years of translation has been very banal and pedestrian, and the way that one wants to address God in a liturgy should not be pedestrian.” While she feels the news translation is an improvement, she still thinks it is in need of some “severe editing.”

Something Is Always Lost in Translation

As a college teacher of Latin, and a translator of Latin poetry to English, I’m inclined to find any translation of the original Latin to be in need of at least a little editing.

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152 comments

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4:03PM PST on Dec 21, 2011

Noted.

12:17AM PST on Dec 4, 2011

Thanks for the article.

10:52AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

Mumbo-jumbo.

5:24AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

The Catholics did not need a new bible to raise doubts about them. They have been doing that just fine all by themselves. Last edition, this edition, next edition - none of that will improve their standing. They are still just a bunch of grumpy old men who molest children and repress women. Hypocrites all.

7:03PM PST on Nov 30, 2011

I am not Catholic but I wish I could read Latin. Todays educational system omits the finer things and prepares students to get a broom pushing job. I am disgusted in how the English have to Anglicize every word, even the names of people. Mathius is not Mathew, Heinrich is not Henry etc. The English think anyone who does not speak English is uncivilized. Why is it so hard to learn what the Latin words are stick with the original?

11:17AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Thanks for this information

11:31PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Noted. Thanks.

5:05PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

I believe that unless people understand Catholicism from first hand experiences, they are unable to make a proper observation nor a reliable judgement. It would be expected that members of the church can speak of church life. The outsiders may have no experience of a church life from member's stand, so this makes it impossible to make correct and educated decisions about what language to use.

4:43PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

There's a reason that Latin is a dead language and the fact that Church Latin was a bastardization of Classical Latin to begin with begs the question why try to take a more literal translation of something that isn't pure to being with (says the Catholic girl from California)?

3:42PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Someone explain why this is important to anyone other than a Catholic?

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