The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released the Vatican-approved new translation of the Mass, after years of research, debate and controversy The new translation, now available on their website, means that both priests and parishioners will soon find that the most familiar part of Catholic worship, the Mass, has been changed for the first time since the Second Vatican Council. According to Robert Mickens of the Tablet, none of the proposed changes made by the U.S. bishops were accepted by the Vatican.
While the changes are small, they are significant, since they present the Mass in more "elevated" language than before. Critics of the old translation, in place since the Second Vatican Council allowed for Mass to be celebrated in the "vernacular," argued that the English language translation was too conversational to be reverent. On the other side were those who have criticized the new translations, arguing that a conversational language enabled parishioners to participate in a "full, conscious and active" way, as Vatican II had intended.
Language is important in the spiritual life: the way you relate to someone influences the way you speak to someone, and vice versa. It’s the same with God. The way you relate to God influences how you speak to God in prayer. And the language used in the liturgy will, over time, influence your image of God. Moreover, the way we worship influences what we believe. As the ancient saying goes, "Lex orandi, lex credendi."
The changes start at the very beginning of the Mass. In answer to the familiar "The Lord be with you," the people will no longer say, "And also with you," but "And with your spirit.” In the Penitential Rite, the congregation’s response reverts to the older, pre-Vatican II, formula, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” And, significantly, the Creed no longer begins “We believe,” but “I believe.”
While most of these translations are also taken directly from the original Latin, critics have long argued that looser translations actually do a better job of conveying the original meaning, and may better fit the needs of the local church. So, for example, while supporters contended that “Credo” is more accurately translated as “I believe” critics felt that the “We believe” more accurately reflects what happens when an entire congregation speaks these words together.
One easy place to see the decided change in tone is when the priest prays a blessing over the bread and wine, in one of the most important moments in the entire Mass.
Compare the old translation: “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts, to make them holy.”
With the new one: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”
What will all this mean?
First, almost all priests and parishioners will have to struggle through the new translations for a few months, perhaps even a few years. (This will mean more parishioners loudly flipping through missalettes, and fewer priests knowing the prayers by heart, since most churchgoers can say these prayers by rote, as can their priests and deacons). Some parishioners will likely find it odd to have to consult a booklet to remember a prayer that they’ve had memorized for forty years. Second, while some may find some of the newer translations jarring--like the "dewfall"--others may cheer what they see as a more reverent tone. Third, for some time, many will reflexively say the old responses, especially with the more familiar phrases like, “And also with you." Rumors are that some more liberal-leaning parishes may stubbornly stick to the old books, but this will become increasingly difficult, as the old Sacramentaries, the books used by the priests during Mass, wear out.
Eventually everyone will grow accustomed to the new language. But for a time, the most familiar thing in Catholic life--the Mass--will be, at least in parts, unfamiliar.
James Martin, SJ