Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Biggest Secret in the Catholic Church

The New Roman Missal
to Your Celebration
of Holy Mass
First Article in a Series

According to poll findings quoted in a recent national Catholic publication 77% of the Roman Catholics in the United States have no idea that when they come to Mass on November 27, 2011, the first Sunday of Advent, beginning of the Liturgical Year, all of the spoken parts of the Mass will have been changed, some in minor ways and some in major ways. At the very least, we will all be jarred out of our comfortable automatic response to the priest who says, “The Lord be with you.” We will no longer say, “And also with you,” but rather, “And with your spirit.” To be jarred out of sheer habitual response is not necessarily a bad thing. Much more thought provoking will be some unusual vocabulary, some unusual sentence constructions and, most importantly, changes in translation that will make us think more deeply and perhaps for the first time in a long time about just what it is we celebrate when we come together as the People of God and gathere around the table of the Lord for the Eucharistic Feast.

A bit of simple explanation for those to whom this is indeed big news. The words we say and hear at any Mass today are an English translation created in accord with the liturgical reforms instituted after the Second Vatican Council (1961-65). The translators were commissioned to produce an English version of the Latin Mass of the Missale Romanum. They were directed to translate for closest meaning into modern English the Latin in the Missale Romanum first promulgated in 1570 after the Council of Trent. In the four hundred intervening years minor changes  had been made in the Missale Romanum however the language of the Mass remained Latin and the rubrics of the Rite remained virtually the same from 1570 on.

There is a saying among those who carry out the arduous and thankless task of translation; “The translator is a traitor.” Unless you know two languages well enough to attempt translation, you cannot appreciate how difficult the process of translating for meaning as well as fluidity can be. Languages simply do not match and nuances of meaning often cannot be put into reasonable words in the second language, never mind the impossibility of idiomatic expressions that defy translation because they are so deeply rooted in only their particular culture. These days amazing translations of Russian literature into English are being done by a much lauded team of husband and wife, Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. A great article about them appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. She is a native speaker of Russian with a huge command of the English language. He is a native English speaker with a corresponding command of Russian. Each translates the Russian work independently and then they hash out all of the puzzles in the ways their versions do not agree. It takes years.

Prayers for Vigil Mass for Christmas

For years there have been complaints about our current English translation of the Missale Romanum. So, as you will find out if you go the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it was decided that a new translation be prepared, a translation closely faithful to the literal meaning of the original Latin and even to matching its sentence structure. There has been a great deal of back and forth about this New Roman Missal. But over a year ago it was announced that it would become the official translation for the Mass on the first Sunday of Advent this year. As a bit of trivia – the book the priest uses at the altar which contains all of these prayers has been called the “Sacramentary” since 1970. No longer will it be so. The book on the altar will be called the “Roman Missal”.

These changes have also had consequences for church musicians since the wording for the parts of the Mass commonly sung, that is the Gloria, the Holy, the Eucharistic Acclamation, and the Lamb of God, have been changed requiring adaptation to some Mass settings and composition of entirely new ones. We will have to learn them. Some parishes began this process weeks, if not months, ago. Here in our monastery we have been listening to an adapted Heritage Mass Setting on CDs.

More will follow here on this subject. Perhaps this explanation and the links provided will assist you in beginning your own transition to the new text and also promote a smoother process in the community with which you worship. That which we partake at the Eucharistic celebration, that which we remember so as to make Him present in this place and time goes far beyond mere words, whatever the language.

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