Praying the new translation

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.

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8 comments

  1. Thanks Clare – that’s very useful. I can just imagine slipping into “And also with you” for a while after the change. We usually attend the EF for the past few years and only now am I less self-conscious about the breastbeating for “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” although it does make me pause to examine my conscience and remind me of how it is still common to do that at the OF in Ireland where I grew up. I am also now used to the EF “Domine, non sum dignus…” but at the English OF will probably still reflexively say “to receive you” for a while. No doubt many will, to make a point or out of habit.
    On the objections to “to receive you” instead of “that thou shouldst enter under my roof”, I actually think both work – in French and in (older and French-influenced, e.g. Quebec) English, “to receive” by itself may also mean to receive visitors at home. Anyway, thanks again.

  2. My suspicion is that for most of us who sing in the pews, our reception will depend very much on the music not the text.

    If music settings that we have liked work well with the new words, we will conclude that nothing much happened.

    If they work poorly we will conclude that the new translation is poor. If we are no longer able to sing settings that we have liked without gaining good new settings we will conclude that the new Missal has been a failure.

    If we get new music settings of the Mass that we really like, we will conclude that it has been a great success.

    If we no longer have to sing a music setting that we really hate (yes there is one!), we will wonder if there wasn’t an easier way.

  3. Interesting observations. This may help those who deem implementation of the new translation to be an extreme pastoral challenge to realize that compared to what we did in 1969/70 this is practically (in the pastoral sense) nothing.

    A generous supply of laminated Mass cards in the pews with the Mass ordinary together with the seasonal missalette will be more than enough for most of us. After all, don’t forget how often we’ve been told in matters of moral decision making that today’s lay faithful are the best educated laity in the history of the Church. We can’t continuously lament intelligibility while also declaring how well educated today’s faithful are.

    1. Yes, perhaps today’s laity are the most educated in the history of the Church. Many of us have college degrees. Even though some of us are gifted in specialized academic pursuits, none of us are exempt from learning more about the faith. It’s not enough to hand someone a laminated card and have them figure it out for themselves. It would be better if a publishing company printed a text of the ordinary with margin notes (perhaps an annotated ordinary could be bound into missalettes). This annotation would help answer people’s questions, provide a refresher on liturgy and theology, and form a conversation starter for priests or catechists. Just handing people a sheet with the new responses doesn’t necessarily reinforce belief or comprehension.

  4. What I would like are laminated cards that give the text and music to the settings of the Mass if they are not in the missalette or music book. And some information that tells me which musical setting we are using.

    I go to several different parishes. Almost never is there any information given out about which musical setting is being sung, or where it is in the missalette or music book. Maybe they are not there. Maybe we are just supposed to know them by heart? They seem to expect that we will just know which one we are using, even if they use several different ones

    I don’t even know who wrote the setting that I hate! Or what it is called.

    Forget about all the catechesis, and explanations. I just want the basic materials that I need in handy form. Oh, and an opportunity to practice before Mass.

  5. I wonder about the expense of lamination. Parishes strapped for funds could perhaps just photocopy the few pages with the new translation of the people’s parts.

  6. Pew-cards will be necessary to help the assembly to learn their new parts of the translation – lamination will enable the cards to be used over a longer period of time than if we were to use just photocopied sheets. If they are bulk-produced (as I am sure they will be by one of the big publishers) the cost could be minimized for local parishes.

  7. 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.

    If it was sanctioned, what possible reason is there to not specify where and when? The Mass is the PUBLIC prayer of the Church, it is not celebrated in secret except in the most unusual of circumstances. I assume your celebration with the new English missal did not take place in a Chinese underground Church or the like?

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