Wednesday, August 06, 2008

New Glasses for Our Souls

The USCCB has released the text of the Ordo Missae, the new English translation that will be promulgated for use at Mass upon approval of the full revised text of the Roman Missal. The text is being released in advance for study and formation purposes.
As a non-Latinist, I am in no position to offer a full critical analysis of the new text; no doubt there are deficiencies hidden from my unpracticed eye. Still, as a layman with a nodding acquaintance of the English language, I am in a position to state, based on my cursory reading, that the new translation beats the heck out of the one we've all been used to. For one thing, the style is superior to that of the old translation. For another, I see nuances and details in the new translation, the absence of which in the old translation no doubt contributed to the lack of reverence at and understanding of the Mass that is now so widely lamented. Whereas the old translation downplayed the mystical and the awe-inspiring, the new translation conduces to the restoration of humility in the face of the mysteries of faith. The Church is now described, for example, as "holy" and is referred to as "she," rather than as "it." The cup of Christ's blood is now the "chalice." And the priest will exhort us to say the Lord's Prayer as follows: "At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say...." If we had been saying that all along, would we now be suffering from the plague of imperious little old ladies grabbing our hands and trying to force us into unwanted intimacy during the Our Father?

It is as though one has been given a pair of glasses after a lifetime of nearsightedness and not realizing, until that moment, that one could not see clearly before. Consider, for instance, the scriptural allusion that for decades has been completely obscured in the short prayer we recite before Communion, but which stands out in stark relief in the new translation:
Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
As He entered Caper'na-um, a centurion came forward to Him, beseeching Him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And He said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered Him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, He marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment.
I for one am disgusted that, for so many years, we have been deprived of this Scriptural connection by a lousy translation, but happy that it -- along with many other gems and pearls -- is being restored.

Of course it is going to be painful and frustrating to have to unlearn texts that we have memorized over a lifetime of Masses. But since it is necessary to restore the liturgy to its proper dignity, and to restore us to a proper understanding of what is happening at Mass, this is a great teaching opportunity for our priests and bishops. May they make good use of it.

BY THE WAY: See Fr. Z's analysis of Cardinal Arinze's letter to the USCCB's president on the new translation.


  1. As a so-called Latinist, the new translation is a MAJOR imporovement, but no more "and also with you" and some actual attempts to translate the Latin are far greater than the minor mistakes here and there. :)

  2. Most of these "new" translations are the "old" translations given back to us. About time!!

    And don't worry - they'll still be grabbing for your hand at the Our Father. We finally started going to a different church in our three church cluster because of all the distractions.

  3. And don't worry - they'll still be grabbing for your hand at the Our Father.

    NOT what I wanted to hear!