If you follow Catholic news at all, you probably know that the Vatican has approved a new English translation of the Roman Missal. It will be implemented throughout the States starting Advent 2011. This new translation is not without controversy, however, so I thought I would address five of the most common objections to the new Missal:
1) The new translation is not needed
Many complain, “where is the need for this translation? who is calling for it?” I think the fact that we have seen a tremendous drop in regular Mass attendance over the past forty years should be reason enough. Of course the existing translation is not the only – or even main – reason Mass attendance has plummeted, but it surely doesn’t help. And the new translation is more catechetical: it teaches more deeply the truths of the faith, and we should not underestimate how much impact hearing the same words every week of our lives can have on a person.
2) There will be too much confusion with the new translation
I have heard numerous people complain that the changes will cause much confusion in the pews, as some people respond “and with you” (the current response) and others respond “and with your spirit” (the new – actually old – response). I have to admit – I have a hard time taking this seriously, considering the fact that forty years ago the Mass was radically changed overnight, from Latin to English. If the Church survived that change, I’m sure it will survive this relatively minor one. There are sure to be some hiccups along the road, but I’m willing to bet that by Lent of 2012, just about every parish will no longer have any problems with implementation.
3) The new translation is too literal
Many don’t realize that the translation currently in use at the Mass isn’t exactly a translation; it is more of a paraphrase. When a Mass is promulgated, there is one “official” text: the Latin. Then it is translated into all the languages of the world. When the English translation we use was made forty years ago, the translators actually paraphrased the text in many places, and thus replaced the official words with what they felt was more appropriate. Advocates of such a process believe that this allows the language of the Mass to more fully reflect the culture of each particular people. The problem with this is that we no longer had a truly unified worship across the Latin rite, as our “translation” did not always reflect the same realities as other translations, or as the Latin. By sticking more closely to the Latin, we are more in tune with the mind of the universal Church, not the mind of some group of 1970′s liturgical gurus.
4) This is a “step backwards”
Some (notably Fr. Thomas Reese) have argued that this new translation is actually a “step backwards.” By this they feel that by having a more faithful translation we are moving back to a pre-Vatican II day. Frankly, this is their argument about any change that incorporates more traditional elements of the Church. What they do not understand is that very few Catholics want to go back to the 1950′s, but we do want to incorporate the whole of our tradition. One of the great annoyances I had as a Protestant was that we didn’t appreciate history at all; to us, Church history was the first century, the early 16th century and the last 20 years. But as Catholics we incorporate all of our tradition into our practices, and this new translation is taking us out of the 1970′s time capsule we have been in and better incorporating all of our tradition.
5) The new translation will be too hard to understand
Another argument against the new translation is that it uses words that are too difficult to understand, like “ineffable.” On its face, this is a very demeaning attitude. America is the most educated nation in the history of the world, and some people don’t think we will understand a word like “ineffable?” And even if someone does not, they can just look it up that week and for the rest of their Mass-attending life they will know what it means. Furthermore, “dumbing down” the liturgical language can have many negative side-effects. The Mass is not something we experience once and then never again; we celebrate it every week (even every day). If we use dumbed-down language, we are likely to be easily bored with it (as has in fact happened), and we are going to see the Mass not as something that lifts us up to heaven, but that keeps us here on earth. Language that is more lofty than everyday language can remind us of the solemnity of the mysteries we are celebrating.
Pray for our bishops and pastors that they might be able to properly implement this new Missal and that it might help the faithful to more fully worship our Lord in spirit and truth.