Recently I had the opportunity to be a part of a Mass celebrated using the latest version of the new translation of the Roman Missal. I will refrain from specifying where or when this occurred, but it was a sanctioned celebration. Actually celebrating Mass utilizing the new translation was a most interesting and instructive experience, and one which (I daresay) most lay people (and many teachers of liturgical studies) have not yet had the chance to have. So, with one eye on the text, one eye on the ritual and a ‘third eye’ keeping tabs on my own reactions to the experience, I went in with as open a mind as possible, as I wanted to see what it would be (and feel) like to pray the liturgy using this text that has exercised so much intellectual space for such a long time. To be frank, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. This is faint praise perhaps, but having read so much vitriolic opinion about this major change to our way of praying, it was something of a relief not to feel as bad as I had anticipated about actually praying the new translation. What made it somewhat easier was that we sang what could be sung (using most of the new chant settings from the Missal), only speaking Penitential Act A (yes it did feel strange to repeat ‘through my fault’ complete with breast beating…), the pre-Gospel Dialogue, and Creed (saying ‘consubstantial’ was not so bad – explaining it to an average congregation may take some time…) Singing ‘And with your spirit’ was certainly easier than saying it, as the marriage of text to music helped me not to revert to my automatic spoken response. When the Gospel invitation: ‘The Lord be with you’ was spoken instead of sung, it elicited a mélange of ‘And with your spirit’ and ‘And also with you’ responses from the congregation. It was obvious that it is going to take some time to train ourselves (and our congregations) out of automatically reverting to our well-ingrained habitual responses.
We prayed the Roman Canon, which went fairly smoothly. The presider prayed it at a somewhat slower pace than that at which it normally would be prayed, which I believe, helped the congregation to apprehend the meaning of the text more easily (and undoubtedly helped the presider to proclaim this as-yet unfamiliar text ‘sensibly’). Hearing the word ‘chalice’ prayed three times in quick succession in the Institution Narrative rankled somewhat, but on the whole the language of the prayer seemed neither overbearing nor incomprehensible to me. (It is somewhat difficult to determine just how comprehensible the translation is going to be for the average pew-dweller.) Having the text in front of me helped with its comprehensibility (but this also meant that my head was buried in my booklet for much of the liturgy). The altered presidential prayers definitely felt different in the ear, eliciting a feeling similar to that felt when I have attended a liturgy in a Christian denomination other than my own – a feeling of slight disorientation and distance from the prayer – in places it just did not yet feel like my way of praying. The celebration certainly demanded a different level of concentration both from presider and congregation. There was no opportunity for ‘drifting off’ in this liturgy, as can happen when the liturgical text and rhythm is as familiar as is the present translation.
It may be that the novelty of praying the new translation for the first time (while also knowing that it is not yet officially what we have to pray) will wear off upon weekly/daily repetition. It may be that concentrating on singing the chant correctly distracted me somewhat from concentrating on the text as much. It may be that some parts of the translation that rankle slightly on a first praying will become more (or less) abrasive as time progresses. Only widespread use and experience of the new translation will determine such things for each of us as we learn to adapt ourselves to this new way of praying.