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Lost in translation

The new Missal's meandering grammar has made worship a burden

  • Fr Bill Grimm, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • November 21, 2012
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Next Sunday, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (formerly Christ the King), will mark the end of the Latin Rite’s first year using the Roman Missal (formerly the Sacramentary) translation (formerly in English).

Befitting a translation that despite papal calls for opposition to "relativism" begins the Church year by slavishly following Latin word order to pray that "as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by them to love the things of heaven," it ends the year with a 93-word sentence in the Preface. Since the norm in modern English is to speak sentences in a single breath or two, oxygen tanks and oils for anointing the dying may become standard liturgical accoutrements to mark the end of the Church year.

Lately, I have been asking English-speaking priests about their experience of using the Missal for a year. Just about all admit to editing the texts to make them more comprehensible and more easily proclaimed, since the Missal itself declares that "the primary purpose of the translation of the texts is not for meditation, but rather for their proclamation or singing during an actual celebration."

However, those priests also admit that they are fearful of doing very much because of what they call "the temple police," people who go to Mass not to join their fellow Catholics in worship, but to nose out "crimes" they can report to the Vatican or (as a seeming second choice) the local bishop.

Laypeople have complained about their prayers and the wordy incomprehensibility of the priest’s prayers, and I have yet to be at a Mass where "Lord, I am not worthy" has not turned into a mumbled jumble. 

A year’s worth of familiarity has bred increasing contempt for the translation and for those who have imposed it upon the People of God.

Though no one to whom I have spoken personally has admitted to liking the Missal, one priest did mention that he knew a cleric who claims to favor the new translation. He added, though, that everything the man says and does is calculated to advance his goal of one day being a bishop.

Earlier in the year, a priest writing in the English Catholic journal The Tablet asked, "How do we priests recover our enthusiasm for celebrating the liturgy?" Good question.

Personally, every time I "celebrate" Mass in the new form, I am reminded once again of the high-handed chicanery that produced the translation in spite of there already being a generally acclaimed new translation that had been unanimously approved by the English-speaking bishops of the world in 1998. It gives a painful depth of meaning to the phrase "distractions at prayer." Mass has become a cross.

In the year that we obedient ones have endured being forced to "proclaim" Latinate gibberish, the pope continued to woo ultra-traditionalists with promises that they can celebrate the liturgy in whatever form they choose.

Well, Your Holiness, what about the rest of us? If we were to start refusing to use the Missal, could we expect the same solicitude that you are giving the disobedient ones? Or, would our predisposition to obedience be used as a weapon against us?

Judging from the treatment of ultra-traditionalists, there seems to be no other way to be heard.

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