Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Translation of the Mass--A Mixed Reivew

Mass in the Grotto at Lourdes, always a simple,
straightforward, faith-filled, and prayerful experience
I had been planning on returning to the theme of the Gregorian Reform of the 11th century as we still have considerable material there to look at, but the last several days I attended a workshop on the upcoming implementation of the new Roman Missal, famous (or infamous) for its revised translation of the Latin Prayers.  I have not been a fan of this new translation.  I  believe that the principles for translation laid out in Liturgiam Authenticam are flawed.  Anyone who speaks several languages (which admittedly excludes most Americans) knows that you cannot translate directly from one language to another.  Each language has its own idioms that are woven into its daily use and which the language into which an idea is being translated becomes confused by these idioms which make no sense in the new language.  As an example: I remember once saying in Italian to some European friends of mine: “well, that’s a horse of a different color.”  They stared at me blankly.   What did horses have to do with the subject at hand?  Of course, the liturgical texts are not replete with idioms (ah, but the scriptural texts, especially the New Testament ones, are).  Another problem is syntax.  I remember from Latin III (I go all the way through Latin VI) doing Cicero.  What a nightmare.  That boy could talk.  I remember one sentence, I think it was in the Catilinarian addresses, that had 105 words in fourteen separate phrases.  I would hate to have had to diagram that sentence.  Latin and English are constructed very differently and it is not easy to be faithful to the syntax and still have good English.  I was pleased to note, however, that in the collects and prayers which the presenter showed us, the final product was actually quite beautifully translated—very rich in its language and elegant in its construction.  I hope these examples are typical and not exceptions to the Rule.  I was actually somewhat soothed after the presentations.  Then we had Mass using the new translation and it all fell apart.  The Presider used Eucharistic Prayer III and it was horrendous—clumsy, almost impossible to render intelligibly much less prayerfully. 
     I intend over the next few months, interspersed with entries on the various Church Reforms in History—the Gregorian, Innocentian, Protestant, etc.—to do a number of postings on the upcoming liturgical revisions.  But what struck me most about this workshop—not only from the presenter but from a number of officially produced videos featuring Bishop Arthur Serratelli who chairs the Committee on the Liturgy for the American Bishops Conference, but also Monsignor James Moroney from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgy Committees, is that the emphasis is definitely on ritual/text rather than on a prayerful celebration.  These texts will be very difficult to pray, especially aloud.  They do not facilitate one’s entering into the deepest chambers of one’s heart and expressing what is found there.  The Presider will have difficulty in moving beyond an externalized fixation on the words; the congregants will have difficulty in absorbing the words much less in allowing the words to move the individual to prayerful attention (I won’t say recollection).   That is unfortunate as the texts, at least the ones we were shown, are deeply beautiful and rich but it would take a Shakespearean elocutionist to say them with any measure of poise.  It may be that the texts are too rich to use in vocal prayer.  I will need to look at Eucharistic Prayer III in more detail to see what caused it to come across as somewhat of a hodgepodge (to use an American idiom rather than the Irish: a dog’s dinner) of so many disparate elements.               
     English, at least American English, is a clean and simple language.   We tend to favor short sentences and we are sparing—perhaps too sparing—on both poetical imagery and literary (in this case scriptural) illusions.  We pray openly and frankly.  I agree that we need to use an elevated tone of language—but we are not given to the verbal baroque.  Read Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg or his second inaugural, Franklin Roosevelt “Day that will go down in infamy,” or John Kennedy’s address to the Houston Ministerium or his Inaugural Address.  Our English is short, crisp, current. That is how we know how to speak.  For that matter, read Winston Churchill’s addresses to the British Nation during World War II and you will find that same terse and to the point language.  It is eminently suited for prayer—and for those with the mindset of English speakers, far more suited than the courtly baroque of the new translation.  For those for whom prayer is words and pomp  and taking a stance before God, it might work.   For those for whom prayer is standing in the Presence of God, naked in one’s own truth with open heart and open hands—this ain’t going to cut it.  The very blessing of this new translation is its curse.  It will make our ritual less bland but I fear it will make our prayer more stilted           

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