Sunday, 4 September 2011

New Translation of the Mass, Shaftesbury

As is pretty obvious by this stage in the Mass, we’re now using the new corrected translation of the Mass. I, and other parish priests, have been referring to this for some time now, in the newsletter and in a series of parish meetings we had earlier in the year, and we had the letter from all the English bishops that was read at all Masses across the nation on the 29th May this year, but I’ve not yet SPOKEN to you all about it. Like any change, not everyone wants it and not everyone is going to think it’s a good idea. And, like any change, it’s going to be hard work –we’re going to find ourselves saying the old words we were familiar with for a LONG time! The reason I’ve been using it on week days before starting with it on Sundays is because I too have been struggling to change. And our bishops have given us between September and Advent to get used to this –so it will be used in different parishes in different ways in that time, though in all of North Dorset all the parishes are doing the same thing and changing all the PEOPLE’s parts of the Mass at the same time, because that seemed simplier than having different cards every Sunday.

Today, I want to say a few words about why I think this change is a good thing for us, what this change is about, and what was wrong with the old translation. Well, the new translators have been keen to say that they are not so much calling the old translation ‘wrong’ as the new translation ‘better’. The old translation, which was issued in 1973, that we have been using for the past 38 years, was produced in something of a rush after the Second Vatican Council, and it was always planned that it should be revised and improved. It’s taken a while for that to happen, and, as the handout I gave you earlier in the year indicated, the new translation uses new principles for translation rather than the old ‘dynamic equivalence’ theories that were in fashion in the 1970s. But, what does this mean in practice, and how can it be said to be ‘better’? I want to offer you 3 examples to show this.

First, the new translation aims to more clearly manifest the link between the liturgy of the Mass and Sacred Scripture, the Bible. For example, before the congregation get ready to receive Holy Communion the priest raises the host and in the old 1973 translation we have been saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you”. Instead, the new translation says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof”, clearly quoting the words of the Centurion to our Lord (Mt 8:8).

Second, the new translation aims to be more precise in its accuracy, which will include the restoring of words that were lost in 1973 translation. The “I confess” or Confiteor in the introductory rite gives two examples of this: Whereas the 1973 translation had the phrase, "I have sinned”, the new 2010 translation says, “I have GREATLY sinned”. In addition, whereas the 1973 text said, "through my own fault", the new 2010 text restores the threefold repetition that is in the Latin text, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”.

A last example I’d like to give you also relates to the matter of accuracy. I saw a very clear example of this when I was going over the Latin and English in Lent this year, the kind of example that occurs again and again in the new texts. In one of the weekday Masses, Thursday of the 2nd week of Lent, the Latin of the first line of the opening prayer reads, “Deus, innocentiae restitutor et amator”. The out-going 1973 translation rendered this as “God of love”, a ‘translation’ that bears no resemblance to the original Latin! In contrast, the new 2010 translation translates the text as “O God, who delights in innocence and restores it” –that new version is not only more accurate but actually says a lot a more and reveals that there is more going on in the liturgy.

Now, all of these changes might possibly seem very slight. But the net effect of all of them taken together will be considerable. One of these effects should be a better sense of a sacred ‘FEEL’ to the Mass. In the Mass we are addressing God, not mere humans, and the feel of the language we use should reflect that there is something special, something sacred, going on. The official version of the universal Missal is Latin, and the Latin prayers that the English is translated from mainly date from a time when Latin was a living language, and there was a specific style of Latin that was used for prayers, a ‘sacred’ style, and this is what the new translation will hopefully convey to us in the new English too.

Finally, I want to make a general point about how this change can remind us about something that the liturgy is: the liturgy is something we RECEIVE as a congregation -it is not something we invent for ourselves –just as whole church received and receives it from the Lord Jesus (c.f. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), pp.159-170). Jesus gave us the Mass at the Last Supper, the ritual and form for this are handed on to us from those who first received them, with some organic growth and development, but nonetheless as something RECEIVED –to be accepted as a precious gift. The form we receive is thus not something to be altered at whim, and it is something we need to be seeking to say in continuity with the sacred Tradition that as preceded us –and accuracy in translating the original Latin is a part of this.

So, the new translation will be a big change, it will take a long time for us to get used to it, but it has a purpose, and its purpose is to better express what the liturgy is about. And, for ourselves, our accepting it is part of our accepting the manner in which the Mass is a gift we receive, receive from Christ THROUGH the Church, and a gift to be grateful that we have.

The newsletter handout from earlier this year can be viewed at:

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