Friday, August 20, 2010

Roman Missal: An Educational Journey

We’re about to embark on a great, broad-based education campaign in the Catholic Church. It involves the introduction of the English-language translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. The church has 16 months to get priests and people in the United States ready to pray reverently, intelligently and together at Mass. Those most affected will be the priests, who have to learn new words and cadences. People in the pews will learn new responses and hear new phrases, closer to the Latin originals.

The last major liturgical change was in the mid-Sixties, when Roman Catholics went from the Mass in Latin to Mass in the vernacular, with words and phrases common to our ears. For many, it was the first time they knew exactly what they and the priest were praying. While the Mass in English-speaking countries was essentially the same, the United States had one version, Great Britain another, Australia still another. Now we have a text that is the same for all the English-speaking nations. Seems appropriate as the world grows closer together.

We’ll also have language that is less commonplace, which will sound like church language, certainly not inappropriate given that this is for church. It’s not unusual for us to have different language styles in different parts of our lives. How we speak in the ballpark isn’t how we speak in the classroom or how we speak in oratory from a stage. Why not a different language style for church? Processing up to Communion isn’t sliding into home plate. “Give me five” on the basketball court isn’t the same as “Peace be with you” at Mass.

There have been jokes about words as scholars worked out the translation. One word church pundits laughed about is “ineffable,” a description of God. “Ineffable,” Merriam-Webster says, means 1. Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words, or 2. Too sacred to be uttered. As texts were being edited, the word became less popular with translators and now it is in the Roman Missal just once, in the opening prayer for Mass on December 20.

The word has captured my imagination, however. In prayer it is one of my favorites, my excuse for not quite understanding God, the reasons why God does something, or how God does anything. When I ponder “What does God want,” I realize that I have to live with the fact that I’ll never completely understand the “ineffable” God. It’s not lack of prayer that keeps me from knowing exactly what to do; it’s that the ineffable God holds his absolute knowledge from me. It takes the pressure off.

We Catholics are about to embark on an educational journey. We’ll learn a more exact language for prayer, we’ll deepen our theological roots, and we’ll gain a greater sense of the sacred. And if parishes do it right, we’ll learn this together.

8 comments:

Adam Rasmussen said...

I would prefer "unspeakable" but for the negative connotation it carries, like in the phrase "unspeakable acts." "Unutterable" would at least avoid the Latinism, but it's probably even less commonly used than "ineffable."

I wonder what reading-level the translators were shooting for. I would expect most college-educated, and many high-school-educated, Americans to know "ineffable."

Dr. K said...

Praise be to God!

stpetric said...

Whatever its shortcomings and infelicities, the new translation has got to be an improvement over the current version -- which manages to be simultaneously both banal English and a poor translation of the Latin!

One disagreement with you, though: If "processing up to Communion" isn't like sliding into home plate, it often feels very much like queuing up for the bus.

Jason said...

Very much looking forward to the new translation. It always irked me that "And also with you" was the English translation of the Latin "Et cum spiritu tuo" (hope I spelled that right).

But this new translation will be of little positive spiritual impact if the behaviour of the congregation attending the mass is not addressed. In the few Latin Rite (Ordinary Form) churches in my area that I've gone to Mass at, the casual, informal, and -- dare I say -- irreverent behaviour of the people is deplorable. To use Sister's metaphor, the people are almost *acting* how they would act "in the ballpark." How about chewing gum and blowing/cracking bubbles *in the Procession to receive the Eucharist* as a deplorable example (saw this yesterday)? This irreverent behaviour issue has gotten to the point where I've had to seek out alternative Rites (Maronite, Latin/Extraordinary Form) just to be able to pray the mass and avoid being surrounded by people chatting, chewing gum loudly (this happens all the time), playing portable videogames in the pew (saw this yesterday) and standing/shuffling around in the back of the church during mass!

Let's hope that this new translation and the efforts to teach it will also be accompanied by a renewed sense of reverence for the Eucharist and the Mass.

Finally:
"2. Too scared to be uttered."
-- Typo? 'sacred' vs. 'scared'?

Aaron said...

I'm new to Catholicism but I'm excited that we'll all be learning the new missal at the same time. Maybe once i won't feel so much like I'm a lifetime behind in my religious education.

Stephen J. Binz said...

Thank you for stating so well the challenge we have been given. This is an opportunity to not only teach the verbal changes but to provide people with a broad catechesis on the liturgy and to encourage a deepening liturgical spirituality God's people. You explained so well the appropriateness of different language for different contexts.
Stephen J. Binz

Resilient Tucsonian said...

"Now we have a text that is the same for all the English-speaking nations. Seems appropriate as the world grows closer together."

Pretty soon we will have grown so close together that we will be one, universal(?) Church, and we might need a single language for the Mass. I wonder what language that might be?

"For many, it was the first time they knew exactly what they and the priest were praying. "

I guess Catholics in that day were too stupid to read the translation in their Missal's or heaven forbid learn Latin. God knows the 7 year altar boy at my Church is the only one capable of learning the Mass.

Robert Waldrop said...

It is a tragedy of historic proportions that while the world burns in violence and war, much of it driven by the United State's militaristic approach to the world, the best idea that the US Catholic bishops could come up with is liturgical interior decorating. I think it is interesting that we are planning such a big catechetical campaign regarding said liturgical interior decorating, after 9 years of almost zero catechetical programs regarding war, even as the US conquered two countries that had not attacked us and furthered the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Surely our bishops strain at gnats, while swallowing camels.