Now that the English-speaking world has experienced the new translation, maybe it is time to pause. Initial reactions are rarely confirmed by the longevity of experience; sometimes we need to stand back a while to see just where we are.
Many of us have been highly critical in recent months both of the process of preparation of the new texts and of the outcome from those deliberations that has brought us to this point; I include myself in that group. After our experience in England over recent months since September I do not find myself wavering in that critical opinion.
The translation of an ancient vernacular, Latin, into 20th century English, may have had its problems after the Second Vatican Council but for many of us it became the familiar and acceptable norm. The contrast between the two languages was significant and clear cut then. Now that we have recently moved to a new translation that is within the same linguistic context as that of the last forty years, but varies in detail to match strict translation criteria from the Latin, imposed by Rome, is it no wonder that we are critical of the result. People pray within the language and culture of their time rather than in the holy comfort zone of words that had meaning many centuries ago. Language is a dynamic, lived experience. Scattering the text with which we pray the Eucharist with “graciously,” “chalice,” and a literal translation of the story of the centurion’s servant, to take but a few examples, does not help us.
However we must be realistic. This is where we are, the new translation is in use; now how do we manage?
We can take the short view that all is lost and walk away, grumbling – but to what end? And where do we go ? Our home is the Church, our parish families come together each week for the Eucharist; splintering that community achieves little other than upset and confusion.
We can stay and silently pray while around us unfamiliar words from both celebrant and people sound somewhat strange and we try to remember in our personal quiet spaces the words and phrases that have been familiar to us over years of Eucharistic prayer. That attitude, in itself, is fragmentary. Yet it is one that I find myself slipping into since we first started using the new translation this past September.
Or we can take a third option, that of expectation and hope. The words of Jesus as he approached his disciples by the lake “It is I, do not be afraid” (John 6:21) should speak to all of us when we are in circumstances of fear or distress. Just now, we are in such a time.
I have recently finished Robert Nugent’s book, Silence Speaks (Paulist Press, 2012) in which he outlines the positions of Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, John Courtney Murray and Thomas Merton in respect to church authority. Their experience is salutary.
Although they dealing with different issues, the vexed question of censorship, there is a lesson that we can learn from the experience of these men. To have an opinion is important, to pursue the argument in support of that opinion is valid, to act in conscience is essential. But it is also necessary carefully to choose language that helps rather than hinders and to be patient for the right time in which to make pertinent comment. Raising the temperature by intemperate words helps no one. In the present circumstance it will only serve to impede our experience of eucharistic praying.
Maybe in the coming months, our people will be heard by the bishops and revision of the texts will be considered. It would seem that the positive option would be for individuals and groups to write to their bishop, asking for appreciation and understanding of our difficulties. The hierarchies have been singularly silent in acknowledgement of honestly-held disagreements with the new translation. But then their own position has been undermined by Rome, collegiality has been over-ridden and local needs ignored.
It would be a significant sign of recognition if the bishop were to ask his priests and people for their views in the coming months. Listening is a sure sign of wise leadership just as much as the many pronouncements that we are used to hearing. Is it little wonder that we have problems with the results?
Above all, we must support each other and appreciate views that differ from our own. Some of the more hysterical comments that have appeared on the blogosphere in recent weeks do not sit comfortably with a pilgrim church seeking to meet the current missionary purpose of the people.
The discussion is about sincerely-held views on language and a recognition that English across our planet in not one universal language, but one that has tones and nuances. The episcopal conferences have been sidelined by the imposition of a translation that seeks to meet all needs, but doesn’t in fact do so. Local concern of bishops for their local church has been supplanted by a centralized statement from Rome that all must accept.
Henri Nouwen often writes of the contrast between fear and love. In his book Lifesigns (1986; page 21) he says “… the house of love is the house of Christ, the place where we can think, speak and act in the way of God-not in the way of a fear-filled world. From this house the voice of love keeps calling out: “Do not be afraid…come and follow me…see where I live…go out and preach the good news…”
Thomas Merton concludes his journal Woods, Shore, Desert (Museum of New Mexico Press, 1982) with the phrase “Hang on to the clear light.”
We could do well to remember both Nouwen and Merton as we struggle together in a difficult place.
Chris McDonnell is a retired schools head teacher living in the Midlands of England. This article is reprinted with permission from the January/February 2012 issue of SPIRITUALITY (Dublin).