This post is in response to the survey released yesterday at Pray Tell showing that a majority of U.S. priests do not like the new Roman Missal translation.
When it debuted in Advent 2011, the Third Roman Missal was seen as a “top down” project. The Vatican, rejecting the hard work done by ICEL, the USCCB and others, foisted upon unsuspecting Anglophones a text that was aimed at restoring some semblance of awe and reverence to a liturgy that had become, in the view of some, far too familiar and pedestrian. Setting aside the clunky syntax and ponderous words (prevenient grace, consubstantial) it was seen as a repudiation of Vatican II, a retrenchment. This, I think, is what concerned priests the most – not the text per se, but what it represented.
As pastors, we see our congregations dwindling, our parishioners disconnecting, become less “Catholic” even as they still fill a pew on Sunday. We objected to anything that would make the Mass less approachable for those who did attend. Compared to the Third Missal, the Sacramentary now sounds like “mass for simpletons” – with short, choppy declarative sentences utilizing a sixth-grade vocabulary. In hindsight, maybe the 1970 Sacramentary was a little too “dumbed down.” And so the shift from middle school to college-level texts has been a jarring one.
Meanwhile, our youngest priests relish in the fidelity and conciseness of the third edition Missal, knowing that the words they say are the exact English translation (sic) of Mother Church’s native tongue. For young men, raised in an uncertain world where everyone’s opinion was equally valid, a definitive text linked directly to the Latin with no room for interpretation or opinion is a welcome anchor.
So here we are, 28 months later. The initial shock and wholesale rejection has passed and we have begun living with the text. It is only now that we can to point to what works and what does not. Our response turns from condemnation to constructive criticism.
Enter Pope Francis with his call for us to turn away from a rigorist mentality and exhorts us to go to the margins. How many people in our pews are being marginalized by our use of unapproachable language? What of those people in the pews for whom English is their second language and they struggle to understand everyday words? Armed with the latest data, we can take this opportunity to help craft a revision that stays true to the text and at the same time is accessible to all.
Fr. Anthony Cutcher is president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils.