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James Martin, S.J.November 21, 2011

There has been a great deal of ink spilled (and pixels posted) over the new English translation of the Mass, that is, the new edition of the Roman Missal, which will be formally introduced into American parishes this coming Sunday.  Even the secular media has gotten wind of the changes, with the result that by now most Massgoing Catholics are aware of the changeover, as well as the discussions surrounding the new translations and the process that led to their approval.  (Surveys show that less active Catholics are much less aware.)  In short--depending on who you read--it’s a beautiful translation that preserves the majesty of the original Latin; or it’s not much of a change at all; or it’s an overly literal translation that sounds clunky.

Which is it? It’s probably unfair to judge until a few months have passed, and the priests and people have had the chance to hear and speak and pray with the changes.

Yet while there have been an enormous amount of commentary on the initiation of the new Roman Missal, there has been relatively less about the loss of the Sacramentary (the book of the Mass prayers) and an appreciation for the riches it brought to the church for the last few decades.

Any significant change is like a death; and so any change brings about the need for some grieving.  You sell a house and buy a new one; and you are sad about the loss of the old one--even if your new house is more spacious.  You move from one job to another; and you shed a few tears saying goodbye to old colleagues--even if you’re looking forward to the new position.  You graduate from high school to college, and even if it’s your top choice, you cry at your graduation. 

It would be odd, therefore, not to acknowledge some sadness over the passing of something so central to Catholic life as what will soon be called the “old” Sacramentary.  Even if you are eagerly anticipating the new translations, something significant is moving into the past, and is being lost.

So let me say something: I will miss the old prayers, even as I prepare for the new ones.  I’m 50 years old, which means that by the time I was conscious of the Eucharist--say, around 1967--the Mass was being celebrated in English.  I dimly remember saying things like “It is right and just” as a very young boy, which was most likely a holdover from the early Mass translations after the Second Vatican Council.  But, for the most part, my entire Catholic life has been shaped by the familiar prayers of the Sacramentary, the book that we are leaving behind this coming Sunday.

Those prayers accompanied me as I marched up the aisle, hands folded tight, for my First Holy Communion and Confirmation in our suburban Philadelphia parish; they helped me to pray during some confusing high school years in that same church; they taught me about God during my college days in Philadelphia when I dragged myself (sometimes hungover) to Sunday Mass; they challenged me during my stint as a wannabe executive in New York City; and they startled me at times, and eventually helped prompt me to consider the priesthood, when I was working in Connecticut in my late twenties.

As a Jesuit novice in Boston in the late 1980s, I listened far more intently to those prayers and grew to love their simplicity.  One virtue of the prayers of the Sacramentary was their clarity, their economy, their clean lines.  They seemed, well, natural, and sounded like the prayers I said when I was alone with God.  And in the novitiate, when I began to attend daily Mass (a first for me), it seemed as if I was hearing some of those old phrases for the first time: “You renew the church in every age.”  “Each year you give us this joyful season.”  “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” “Happy are those who are called to his supper.”   How wonderful that these prayers, which I had said as an eight-year-old, could deepen in me.  In this way my adult faith felt profoundly connected to that of my youth.

Over the next few years, during my Jesuit training, I would hear those prayers during philosophy studies in Chicago, when I prayed them with Jesuits from across the country; and in Nairobi, Kenya, where I would hear them said, and sung, with an East African accent.  Later, during theology studies in Boston, I began to wonder what it would be like to saythe priest’s prayers.  But I certainly didn’t need to “learn” them any more than I needed to learn the Our Father; I had known them all my life.  All I needed to do was grow in comfort at praying them in a new way.  A few weeks before my diaconate ordination, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a great gift: the Sacramentary, and I began to study it in earnest.  And on the day of my first Mass, I could barely believe that I had the privilege to say these words: “Father, you are holy indeed…”

As many priests will tell you, it takes a while to move from saying the prayers of the Mass to praying them.  From feeling like you are performing to praying with the congregation.  And at some point I know I will feel comfortable with the new English translation.

Last week I celebrated what was probably my last “public Mass” (that is, outside my Jesuit community) using the Sacramentary, and as I moved for the final time through the words that I’ve known since I was a boy, I became sad.  Most likely I would never hear some of these phrases again.  And as I stood at the altar, my mind went back to, oddly, my First Communion: I had heard these same words on that day.  Other priests have shared with me their sadness as we set aside these familiar words, phrases and cadences.

As we move to the new, let's not forget the value of the old.  After all, tradition is an important part of the church, and we would be remiss if there was not an elegy for the old Sacramentary, the prayers of our youth: simple, clean, clear, direct, unadorned, beautiful. 

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Thomas Jordan
11 years 2 months ago
Fr Martin, your reflection and experience are felt by many priests in the English speaking world. It would not suprise me if a 'Society of Paul VI' were not formed so that the Sacramentary we have been using for the past 40 + years can be used alongside the new translation. If our Tridentine brothers can use their rite why can't we? 
Robert Carter
11 years 2 months ago
Put me in the camp of those who whole-heartedly support the new Mass translation.

I understand the attachment that some have to the old translation.  We have grown accustomed to the words we have lived with the past forty years.  For my part, I still expect to hear “John Paul, our Pope” during the Eucharistic Prayer.

We are members of the Latin Church.  The language of our Catholic rites is Latin.  The Second Vatican Council, in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), provided that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites,” though “the use of the mother tongue … may be of great advantage to the people.”  We may, therefore, celebrate our liturgies in the vernacular.

The vast majority of commentators here fail to acknowledge that the fundamental purpose of the new translation - to more perfectly translate the words of the Latin Rite into English.  Emotivist claims of “abuse” and “power” are self-serving and have no place in this debate.

Indeed, if any abuse has occurred, it was by the members of the ICEL committee who used “dynamic equivalence” rather than a literal approach that more faithfully manifested both the meaning and intent of the original Latin words of our Rite.

This is manifestly evident in familiar words of address and greeting in our rite, “Dominus vobiscum/Et cum spiritu tuo”  What is a more proper translation of “et cum spiritu tuo” - “And also with you” or “And with your spirit”?  I argue the latter is far more proper.

There are multiple examples of how the new translation improves upon the old translation.  They are presented cogently by Anthony Esolen in First Things magazine (available at: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/11/restoring-the-words)  

In reading the examples, it appears that the true abuse was that of the original ICEL translators, who gutted the language of the Latin original and presented us a painfully dumbed-down and linguistically impoverished English translation.
As for me, the First Sunday of Advent can’t come soon enough.
Sunil Korah
11 years 2 months ago
I probably identify myself as a 'progressive' Catholic (America Catholic, Commonweal Catholic?). So I feel disappointed and annoyed with the process ( or lack of a proper one) of introducing this new translation. But at the same time, whatever may be the shortcomings of the translation, how does it take anything away from the actual Mass itself? I live in a place (Kerala, India) where I attend Masses in 3 different rites and 2 different languages. Obviously, the prayers are different and even the forms of the Mass are different. But they are all equally valid. If I allow my discomfort with the externals affect my devotion and participation in the Mass, then I think I am failing to appreciate what we are really doing there. I feel especially pained at the reaction of Fr.Endean - that a priest, and that too Jesuit [ I studied in Jesuit college :-)] can take this as the Church being not welcoming to him. 

Fr. Robert Barron in an article ''Why the new Missal Will Be Good for the Mass'' says ''What marks these new texts? They are, I would argue, more courtly, more theologically rich, and more scripturally poetic than the current prayers — and this is all to the good.'' Now, I don't agree with him. But that does not mean that I think he is lying. So as long as there are enough people who like or or comfortable with the new translations, I don't see why we should make such an issue of it. 

[Of course, to be fair, I also have to admit that the issue is of purely academic interest to me. There has been no talk of the new translation being introduced here and Masses in English are few here] 
11 years 2 months ago
Thank you for illuminating the feelings of many!
11 years 2 months ago
I was ordained June 10, 1961 with the old Latin Roman Missal.  I began my life as a priest saying the Latin Mass, and gradually moved into praying it meaningfully, even if I did not fully understand the Latin.  I experienced the gradual changeover to the English, and even to celebrating Mass facing the people.  It was a lot easier to pray the Mass in English, even memorizing much of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Now I will be challenged once again to keep my eyes on the book.  I pray that I will learn to pray these prayers that seem to be very challenging in their style. 

I thank Fr. Martin for reflecting on the Sacramentary and all that it has meant to us as priests.
Stephen Taylor
11 years 2 months ago
The litrugy changes and it is liturgical history.  Nothing is every truly lost.  We could revise the missal every twenty years and never run out of material for liturigcal history is a treasure trove too seldom delved.
Cody Serra
11 years 2 months ago
Thank you, Father for sharing these feelings with us. Change is always difficult, even when it is the only constant in life.
As a child and in my younger years, it was the time of the Latin Masses. It was really a "sacrifice" to be there in body, but certainly absent in mind and spirit. Christ sacrifice was in Latin, far away from our comprehension and attention.
Attendance was fostered by the fear of mortal sin only. At the time, God was a Judge.

Vatican II opened up the mystery of what was going on the stage (altar).  We saw the priest's face, the vernacular language spoken offered to us the opportunity to learn, and live, and savor the Supper at the table of the Lord during Mass. What a difference language can make, joining us in a meaninful community of prayer.
I'm mature now (old?) and really feel sad when reading the "new" translated prayers that did not kept the "noble simplicity" suggested by the Council.
Will I ever master the new wording and twisted sentences that do not mean much to me now?  Time will say. For once, I'm glad I'm not a priest.

I pray the Spirit may help us, celebrants and faithful, to mourn the loss for those of us who feel sad, and perhaps, in time, find our niche again in a celebration that should be inspiring, joyful, and a prayer of  thankgiving.

I know the Eucharist has a deep place in my heart, and I can talk with God in "our common" language of love anywhere, even during Mass.  
11 years 2 months ago
Aahhhhhhhhhh!  That was so soothing.  Thank you,Fr. Martin for sharing your feelings and experiences.
Stephen Sanchez
11 years 2 months ago
Like Fr. Martin, I too feel a bit of sadness at the end of this sacramentary.  I'm not a priest, and I have nothing against the new translation, but there is a bit of sentimental attachment in me to the words of the mass, which at this point, at 33, I have practically memorized.

What I would add though, is a certain awareness that has grown in me recently with respect to both the ever-newness of God that I continually discover.  I have been a bit in awe lately at how Christ is constantly re-proposing himself to me, not different from the Christ I know, but as more, always more than I thought I knew.

I see this new translation in that light.  Christ is once again asking me to grow up, to take another step, to see that he is inviting me to grow more and more with him.  All of my sentimental attachment to my ways, to what I've always known, doesn't seem particularly important to Him.  At least, it seems less important than the fact that he is proposing something more to me right now.  With respect to the liturgy, it seems he's asking me to learn new words, to see him in a new more mysterious way.  I feel as if what is being proposed is to learn what impact these new words can have on my faith, and on my life with him.

Rather than start trying to understand this new sacramentary from the view of the translators, the sacramentary, or even the pope (as important as all are to my faith), I start from Chrrst and ask myself "What are you doing in your Church?  What are you asking of me with this new thing?"  I find myself uniquely comforted in this change, like my old friend is revealing something more to me, which will help me to know him and to know myself more.

What a gift it is to belong to a Church where nothing changes more than me! 
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
11 years 2 months ago
So beautifully and movingly put. At 54, I have memories of the Latin mass and my little white missal with the words in both languages. I have that missal still!  At first I was skeptical of the changes we about to implement, but now I see them with different eyes. Eyes - and my heart - which mean that I stand somewhere between those who are in the full-on-great mode about the changes and those who decry these changes so. I have spent no shortage of time thinking about how Christ calls us to transformation (change) and yet change is the hardest thing for so many of us! Especially around Church!

It is like death - I am sad and will mourn, but new life awaits us, (ahem) <i>in all things</i>, thanks be to God. So I will welcome what is being born and I will grieve what has gone before us and I will try to be thankful all the while.

Thank you for your words and reflection.
Philip Endean
11 years 2 months ago
Though I appreciate what Jim and Stephen have written, it seems to me they miss a point. I would have no problem saying goodbye to the 1973 Missal that has shaped my prayer life since I was a teenager if I had the remotest sense that we were being given something better, and that its riches were being given us in a new and richer form. This is not the case. We are the victims of an abuse of power and of gross incompetence. That said, the world is not lost. We are indeed being led into something new. But this new reality has the character of no longer feeling at home in a Church that, for all its faults, I have loved and tried to serve as best I can. Now it's as though a spouse has left me, as though I simply have no ecclesial home. The Kingdom of God in some ways will have to be found beyond, outside the liturgy-perhaps exclusively so. God will still be there for me somehow, I have no doubt-but the Church has finally said it's not a welcoming place for me and for right-thinking people.
Robert Dean
11 years 2 months ago
I'm sympathetic, Fr. Endean, Somehow, these days, I just get the impression that the Catholic Church could care less whether I stay or go. ("Don't let the church door hit you on on the butt on your way out.")
Frank Gibbons
11 years 2 months ago
Father Endean wrote -

"God will still be there for me somehow, I have no doubt-but the Church has finally said it's not a welcoming place for me and for right-thinking people."

This is a patently narcissistic statement and not atypical of the solipsisms sometimes expressed on "progressive" Catholic blogs.  So, Father Endean thinks those of us who are accepting of the new liturgical changes are "wrong-thinking" people?  "Thank you Lord, that I'm not like the rest of those dull-witted sheep!"    

Vince Killoran
11 years 2 months ago
Thank you Fr. Martin-I am 50 years old as well and have experienced that same trajectory through the post-Vatican II Church.

It seems to me that the things that are wrong with our liturgy-the over-amplified voice of the presiders, the cheesy music, and the loss of communal singing of the Mass (not that there was much of that pre '65)-have been ignored.  In its place we have a hamhanded translation that seems punitive in nature. 
Anne Chapman
11 years 2 months ago
It doesn't matter what any of us think. The PTB in Rome don't give a fig about what the people of God think. In fact, they are doing the best they can to forget that particular Vatican II definition of ''the church'' since it includes the people in the pews as well as the hierarchy. Rome has no concerns about anyone outside the hierarchy.

In practical terms, the translation is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if people like it or hate it. It has been decreed, I am old enough that I remember very clearly the Latin mass (through high school), the early translation into the vernacular (college and early adulthood years - almost word for word that was the same as the ''new'' translation that starts officially on Sunday) and the later English translation.

The ''new'' translation can be thought of as a kind of symptom that gives evidence of the illness that has dramatically weakened the church during the last 33 years, and could reduce it to simply one more Christian denomination among thousands (smaller for sure. Purer is questionable) in another century or so.  The issue that is much more important than the changing the wording from one translation of Latin to an even worse (way too literal) translation of Latin comes down to the very meaning and definition of 'the church.'' Is the church (1) a few thousand bishops and cardinals and a pope?  Or is the church (2) the  people in #1 AND the 1.1 billion other Catholics in the world?  Rome usually defines the church as #1. There is another, even more restrictive definition of ''the church'' that more and more frequently seems to be the ''working definition'' of church (3) the church is the Curia and the papacy.

In this case, given that the bishops' conferences in the English speaking countries were not consulted for their agreement or approval (which is against Rome's own process and rules), it seems that Rome now defines the church as #3 - the Curia and the papacy. 
Laura Fanucci
11 years 2 months ago
Thank you for this meaningful reflection of gratitude for good prayers that have served us well. In this week of transition, I find myelf melancholy about the changes - grieving what is lost and trying to celebrate the good that can come. As I have to let go of some of the well-loved turns of phrase and prayer from my growing-up in faith, I look to my two young sons and realize this is the Mass they will know. I have to help them learn to love what is, to remember what was, and to never lose sight of the essentials that do not change.
C Walter Mattingly
11 years 2 months ago
Truth be told, I am older than 50 by a dozen plus years, and in most cases tend to be resistant to change. I was formed under the older translation, and I did miss some of that, and see this as partly another change, and partly as a coming home.  For example, the line returning, if I am correct,  "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof," in addition to conveying, as the "old new" translation stated, that I am unworthy for what I am receiving, it also places me in mind of the wonder of faith, of the centurion, a man of combat and military order, whose direct, simple, and blind faith, no need to strike the rock twice nor show the wounds in His side, but rather "Say only the word," was so much greater than others in the eyes of Jesus, mine included. It personifies the experience and provides me with a sense of solidarity of those come before me that "I am not worthy to receive you" did not as fully convey. So welcome, some things; and, well, welcome the rest, too.
Matt Nannery
11 years 2 months ago
I don't mean to downplay feelings on either side of this issue. They are real and valid. But I remind myself that the essential action of the Mass remains unchanged. That's gotta be the most important thing.
Philomena Ewing
11 years 2 months ago
I live in the UK and we have had the revised liturgy for a few weeks now.
 I am in my mid 50's and the experience of Fr Martin is very close to my own. I found the old sacramentary  eucharistic prayers very beautiful and I am really struggling with the revisions.

When Fr Martin says the old sacramentary seemed
'' natural, and sounded like the prayers I said when I was alone with God.'', it hit the nail on the head for me.
I love language and am familiar with poetic form but I find these revised eucharistic prayers are overwrought, grammatically awful and leave me ''cold''.

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