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.
Photo by Bowsk
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