Q. What prompted the bishops to revise the Roman Missal from the way it was in the mid-1980s?
A. The initiative came not from the English-speaking bishops, but from the Vatican. The Vatican did not like the ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) translations, so it devised its own translations largely through the Vox Clara commission, a group of senior English-speaking bishops headed by Cardinal Pell of Sydney, Australia.
Q. What are some of the most notable changes?
A. There has been a move from “dynamic equivalence” translations to a “formal equivalence” rule. This finds its simplest example in the Confiteor, which states that I have sinned, mea culpa, mea culpa. mea maxima culpa (“through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”) – not just “through my fault” (dynamic equivalence ). This means that words are translated more literally.
Q. One change — from saying that Jesus is “one in being with the Father” to “consubstantial with the Father” — seems like inserting more difficult word for most Catholics to understand. Why not make it easier rather than harder?
A. The Vatican – and Vox Clara – were and are very doctrinally concerned. So they have made sure that all wording is doctrinally accurate, and as full as possible. “One in being with the Father” could be interpreted as saying that Jesus is a creature of the Father, the Arian heresy of the 4th century. Nicaea – the source of the Nicene Creed – says that Jesus is of “one substance with the Father.” He is not a lesser God or God in an incomplete way. So it chose the word ”consubstantial” as the best translation of the doctrine involved.
Q. Which revisions have been the most controversial and why?
A. The process was pretty murky, and – in some people’s minds – far too political, involving a “smoke-filled back room” process. However, I think the final result is good. It is more faithful to Latin and to doctrine. I like it. I didn’t think I would like is. Some of my colleagues like Peter Jeffrey, a conservative Catholic musicologist at Princeton, and Fr. Anthony Ruff at St. John’s in Collegeville, don’t like the way the principles were applied. However, most bishops and priests – and even originally hesitant liturgists – have gotten on board.
Some bishops in the U.S.–like Donald Trautman of Erie, have expressed strong opposition to the translations, calling them roughly-hewn and unspeakable. Some people, like Rita Ferrone, say they are unsingable, but I do not find that to be the case. When set to chant, they are eminently singable.
Q. How long have you been rehearsing the changes with your parish? How have people responded?
A. We introduced new musical translations in October, as the U.S. bishops allowed this. I have snuck in the new translation of the Confiteor at weekday Masses since early November. There was practically no comment. People got the hang of the new wording quickly.
Q. Do parishioners seem comfortable with the new wording?
A. Yes, when they get used to it.
Q. What will take place on Nov. 27? Any special celebration of the new missal?
A. No. We will simply introduce it and then after Masses hold “hearings” to get reaction and to answer questions. This is called a mystagogical approach – reflecting on the meaning of what has been proclaimed.
Q. I know you have done lots of work on liturgy. Did you have something to do with the new wording?
A. Actually I was a consulter to ICEL from 2002-2002. Then I got fired, like everybody else. Strange, because at the first meeting of ICEL, I was the ONLY defendant of the new translation principles set out in Liturgiam authenticam, the Vatican document of 2001, which called for a change in translation principles.
Q. Any further thoughts you could share that would help me write a balanced and information description of what is happening on November 27?
A. No. We hope it is like one more Sunday.