Liturgy translation “surprisingly good”

Andrew Hamilton, writing for Eureka Street (a monthly publication of Australian Jesuits), is sanguine about the new missal translation.

My own judgment, based on a limited reading, is that, considering the narrow instructions governing its preparation, the new translation overall is surprisingly good. In less skilled hands the result could have resembled Inspector Poirot’s English. In fact it reads more like the English used in costume drama — workable, but with a slightly archaic and formal flavour.

Read his full article here.

26 comments

  1. Costume Drama is not worthy of the Liturgy.
    What is the objective behind giving us Costume Drama language? Is Costume Drama language the intent of LA?

    Is this translation a move back toward the Mass being performed by the priest “up there” and we are audience “out here”?

    Anything which turns the assembly into audience is working against the liturgy as full, conscious, and active participation of all present.

  2. But then he says
    In the Australian Church the formality of the texts will make great demands on the many celebrants and the members of congregations for whom English is not a first language. Communication of meaning will inevitably suffer.

    Most congregations will find it difficult to take in the meaning of the Sunday prayers as they listen. The translation retains the complex balanced periods of the original Latin text, and so demand a long attention span. To help comprehension, some celebrants will adapt what they read; others may precede the prayer with a commentary on its meaning. Neither expedient helps good liturgical celebration.

    These reflections are not intended to criticise the translators. They are faithful foot soldiers landing on a beach chosen in some one else’s battle plan. But my reflections do raise a wider question about liturgy. Should it be seen as a jewelled ossuary of precious symbols and words, or as a living resource to be worked with and adapted? The process of translation, following the long practice of the Roman and Eastern churches, regards it as the former.

    That doesn’t sound to me exactly like an enthusiastic welcome.

    1. I agree; his review of it is one of damning with faint praise. I was struck by his description of the translation process as creating a “jewelled ossuary of precious symbols and words.” Ouch! Perhaps the only way that could be more negative would be to call it a whited sepulchre.

  3. Should liturgy be seen as
    a jeweled reliquary of precious symbols and words,
    or as
    a living resource to be put to work and adapted to the situation?</i?
    [Paraphrase of Andrew Hamilton, 13 April 2011 in http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=25819 ]

    Even if one agrees that the Mass is not a reliquary for preserving something precious, but is more of a device to accomplish some work, one still needs to know, “What work is it designed or evolved to do?” This is why the earlier question is so important, “What is the Mass about?”

    It makes a great deal of difference if the Mass is designed to praise/adore/worship God or if the Mass is intended to nurture the congregation which has assembled.

    The two primary actions of the Mass are the people receiving Scripture and Communion from God. The texts of the Mass provide ritual responses to these gifts. They include adoration, repentance, thanksgiving, and intercession. It does not work the other way around, that people offer adoration and God responds with gifts. We can do nothing to cause God to do anything for us. Much of our prayer is actually thanks for the free [graced] gifts of God.

    While “What do I get out of the Mass?” is a mis-focused question. “What is the Mass intended to do?” is a way of focusing what we decide to do in preparing liturgy, either remotely through providing a missal, or generally through our training and study, or immediately in how we perform what is in the missal.

    The work of the liturgy is receiving God's gifts of Scripture and Communion and transmitting them to all present. It is neither a demonstration of preserved culture nor an offering of creative interpretation. The Mass is directed by God to Christians in order to nurture them for daily following the way of Jesus. All the other truths about the Mass are means to that end.

  4. Should liturgy be seen as

    a jeweled reliquary of precious symbols and words,

    or as

    a living resource to be put to work and adapted to the situation?

    [Paraphrase of Andrew Hamilton, 13 April 2011 in http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=25819 ]

    Even if one agrees that the Mass is not a reliquary for preserving something precious, but is more of a device to accomplish some work, one still needs to know, “What work is it designed or evolved to do?” This is why the earlier question is so important, “What is the Mass about?”

    It makes a great deal of difference if the Mass is designed to praise/adore/worship God or if the Mass is intended to nurture the congregation which has assembled.

    The two primary actions of the Mass are the people receiving Scripture and Communion from God. The texts of the Mass provide ritual responses to these gifts. They include adoration, repentance, thanksgiving, and intercession. It does not work the other way around, that people offer adoration and God responds with gifts. We can do nothing to cause God to do anything for us. Much of our prayer is actually thanks for the free [graced] gifts of God.

    While “What do I get out of the Mass?” is a mis-focused question. “What is the Mass intended to do?” is a way of focusing what we decide to do in preparing liturgy, either remotely through providing a missal, or generally through our training and study, or immediately in how we perform what is in the missal.

    The work of the liturgy is receiving God’s gifts of Scripture and Communion and transmitting them to all present. It is neither a demonstration of preserved culture nor an offering of creative interpretation. The Mass is directed by God to Christians in order to nurture them for daily following the way of Jesus. All the other truths about the Mass are means to that end.

    1. “It makes a great deal of difference if the Mass is designed to praise/adore/worship God or if the Mass is intended to nurture the congregation which has assembled.”

      I find it very, VERY hard to imagine these two as separable.

      Much of what you say here is bang-on, Tom. But this dichotomy is nonsensical.

      1. It is not non-sensical.
        If one can not distinguish purpose or priorities, then one can not choose well among alternatives in execution.

        If the main purpose is worship of God, then you end up with something which, at the extreme, looks like temple adoration.

        If the main purpose is communicating from God to people then you get, at the extreme, simple reading, preaching, and communion.

        The purpose determines the choice of means.

        This includes how one works adoration into the service, because establishing the main purpose does not eliminate the other purposes. Mass is BOTH primarily communication from God to Christians AND praise and thanksgiving to God in response.

        Still, recognizing the starting place is important.

        Try an experiment.

        Create three columns.
        Put every prayer and rubric of the Roman Rite in the first.
        Acknowledging that many parts of the Mass both communicate and worship, force yourself to distinguish between them.
        In the second column put those elements focused on worshiping God.
        In the third put those focused on God communicating to humans.
        Decide which of the last two columns has the elements more essential to the Mass for you.

      2. the idea that we have to choose between worship of God and the nurturaing of the assembly suggests a way of thinking about god that Jesus came to free us from. Chacedonian orthodoxy consists in the refusal to make this choice, and the recognition that what’s at stake in the Gospel, however hard to formulate, depends on our avoiding this kind of dichotomy.

      3. It is not a dichotomy.
        McConnell mis-read me and introduced that word.
        I never said it is either worship or nurturing.

        The worship is indeed very hard to separate from the nurturing, for it is a natural response.
        Yet, what the Mass does first is convey Scripture and Communion from God to people. Among many things this nurturing is the primary purpose and worship is a result, intimately related but a result of God acting first.
        As ministers and translators and artists and musicians, we need to keep this nurturing as our first objective, in accordance with what God is doing for Christians.

    2. Yes, Traditionalists seem bent on transforming the liturgy into a junk shop of past practice just for the sake of preserving old heirlooms,
      but something of jewel box has to be dipped into on
      occasion to ritually magnify or expand on the idea of a
      God-directed liturgy within a given cultural context. The
      liturgy, all liturgies, have to be celebrated within that context using symbols and ritual movements understood by participants are essential to their understanding and their response to God’s direction.
      When the old family jewels don’t work for a different generation or culture, new jewels will have to be designed to meet their needs.

    3. Sorry, Tom, I still can’t go there. I can’t run your experiment because I can’t separate out the various actions into one column or another. Of course the liturgy it ultimately God’s action, but that applies all around. In the liturgy we worship God because, and ONLY because we are given the opportunity to participate in the self-offering of Christ to the Father — God’s action. And when God communicates to us, it isn’t just communication; it’s proclamation within the community by members of the community of a word that forms and creates the community.

      The liturgy reflects the paradox of divine and human agency that salvation itself has: on the one hand, it’s empirically observable that we humans are doing everything. On the other hand, it’s all grace, and we’re ultimately incapable of really doing any of it. That’s the way it is when you’re part of a baptismal priesthood, in which it’s really only the one High Priest whose action counts.

      So I hope I’m being fair by standing by the word “dichotomy.” I know you’re not saying we can’t have both “worshipping” and “receiving”, but you seem to be saying that at any single moment, it’s one or the other. But I can’t see that. It’s ALWAYS both.

      1. Yes, it is always both.

        What I am trying to say, and apparently saying poorly, is that when liturgy writers, planners, performers, are trying to decide, as actors do, “what is my primary motive here”, then the answer is “to convey God’s word and communion to the assembled people.”

        I am not trying to define what the Mass is or is not, does or does not, as an either/or question. I am trying to get the human preparers and performers of the liturgy to look at their roles in terms of primary purpose, in order that they can make good decisions.

        I think that the primary purpose comes from God, the nurturing of Christians. We do worship God, but if we go to Mass thinking that our task is to worship God rather than to be open and receptive to what God is giving us, then we have moved the initiative to ourselves and our works instead of focusing on God’s work for us.

        I am not wanting to argue with anyone at this point, just to clarify what I intend to say. This basic outlook does have many implications in liturgical decision making, but the terms need to be clear before I or anyone else can go there. I hope this is clearer.

        I am open to others trying to paraphrase me, to say more clearly what I am trying to convey.

  5. Costume drama is what my young parish priest, a fanatic retro-liturgist, currently offers in EF and OF Mass forms. While he despises the OF version, describing it as “very bad,” he will surely continue EF 6 days each week, even when the new translation is mandated later this year.

    Since we are an elderly and aged parish, most of us attend only on Sundays to “get our ticket punched.” Those of us who try to persevere with daily English Mass (when available) are treated to a style, attitude, mind-set and parish control that is a cause of deep discomfort. I also believe the priest’s approach is contrary to the spirit and hopes of Vatican II.

    1. I also believe the priest’s approach is contrary to the spirit and hopes of Vatican II.

      I find that it’s getting harder and harder to pin down what the “hopes” of Vatican II were. Do you mean the hopes for the transformation of the Church that were held by many who supported the reforms that followed the council? And what would a “young parish priest” know about the “spirit” of Vatican II or the hopes that it raised among some Catholics of that time? These are remnant of a generation to which he doesn’t belong… and by your description it seems that he’s moved on.

  6. Andy Hamilton’s piece is typically judicious and reflective. The headline focuses on something other than his main message.

  7. It makes a great deal of difference if the Mass is designed to praise/adore/worship God or if the Mass is intended to nurture the congregation which has assembled.

    Or if the Mass is intended to redeem the world, the few present and the many who are not.

  8. Philip Endean SJ :the idea that we have to choose between worship of God and the nurturing of the assembly suggests a way of thinking about god that Jesus came to free us from. Chacedonian orthodoxy consists in the refusal to make this choice, and the recognition that what’s at stake in the Gospel, however hard to formulate, depends on our avoiding this kind of dichotomy.

    Well said. Again it is a both/and rather than either/or kind of thinking which we need to have.

    Yet, in selecting language, vesture, music, gesture, almost anything in preparing and performing the liturgy, we make very different decisions if we see Mass as God nurturing humans and us responding or if we see Mass as humans worshiping God.

    How does the Mass function?
    To say that it functions as God nurturing people does not deny that people worship God. It moves the focus, however, for the ministers, perhaps, more than the assembly, to looking at how well the ministers are serving the people rather than how well they are worshiping God, which they may feel like the do if they follow a minimalist route of pronouncing words and following rules.

    Or if the Mass is intended to redeem the world, the few present and the many who are not. JMcK

    This can be a mis-placed focus. The Mass does not redeem. Jesus did that already. The Mass is united with these things, but the role of the service and its ministers is to nurture those present.

    How you use the Mass depends a great deal upon whether you see Mass as a ossuary or a tool box, to return to…

    1. Tom, when the people of God are nurtured in their faith and in their solidarity with one another, God is glorified.

      The first letter of Peter : (Whatever you do, do it) so that, in all things, God may be glorified.

      Irenaeus of Lyons: The glory of God is human beings fully alive.

      The dichotomy you are suggesting may serve a purpose if you are trying to analyse the meaning of mass. But, in reality, existentially, there is no dichotomy.

      1. Why do you insist that I suggest a dichotomy?
        I have never said either nurture or worship.

        It is a focus within the both/and.

        It is a focus for the purpose of deciding how to go about doing what is there.

        I have said that the worship follows from doing the nurturing well.

    2. The Mass is how Jesus redeemed us. He is doing it now as He did it then.

      The focus is not on God, or on the congregation, but on the many who are not present. We are fed so that we can carry Christ to them.

      If we do not have that focus, we have not grasped why God sent His Son to save us, and so we cannot worship God nor be nourished by Him. It is not just for those gathered, but for the many who are not.

      1. The Mass is not how Jesus redeemed us.
        The Mass is related to how Jesus redeemed us by becoming incarnate, teaching, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending.

        The Mass is not focused on those not present.
        Where do you get that idea?

        The Mass is also for those who are not present, but that is not primary.

      2. I agree with all that these things are inseparable, but felt that we should include the action of the Holy Spirit, which is equally inseparable. You catch me completely by surprise when you suggest that the Eucharist is only a thing of the past, and not a moment of today and of the future. Can you grasp what I say if I say Eucharist instead of Mass?

        The literature is immense on this, but here are some basics:
        For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

        Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will bepoured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me. EP 1

        The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his “hour.” “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” Jesus “draws us into himself.” The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). Benedict XVI SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS 11
        (now I go to see if he credits Teillhard de Chardin in the notes)

  9. Whatever happened to the idea of the Mass as a “transitus” using the metaphor of the “passage” exemplified in Christ’s resurrection; his passage from life to death and back again; it’s recollection in the Mass as the bridge uniting earth to heaven ? Transforming us by joining the communion of saints reaching to God and He, through the mysteries reaching to us as we reach out to Him?

    Just how and by whom does all of this take place has never been universally agreed to, has it? Has the Church (east and west) ever had a single, comprehensive way of transmitting this passing from heaven to earth and vice versa easily comprehended by the faithful liturgically speaking?

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