By Bishop Donald Trautperson
Why the new Mass prayers may be confusing.(U.S. Catholic) I was leading a group discussion on the merits of the renewed liturgy of Vatican II when John, a middle-aged businessman, commented, “I can’t imagine my life without the liturgy; it strengthens me each week—but I never understood the Mass until we had it in English.”
Some in the group said the liturgy was why they became Catholic; others said the liturgy was why they stayed in the church. All of these individuals had experienced the power of the liturgy to transform lives. That liturgy is about to undergo a face-lift with a new translation of the texts for the Mass.
What prompts this new translation? In 2000 Pope John Paul II authorized a new edition of the Roman Missal, the book that contains the texts of the Mass. The new translation of it is slated to be ready for use next year.
In 2001 the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued new principles and directives for translating from the original Latin into the vernacular in a document called Liturgiam authenticam. Following these new norms, the translation of the new Missal has intentionally employed a “sacred language,” which tends to be remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable. For example, the Preface, or opening of the Eucharistic Prayer, of the Assumption says of Mary’s delivery of Jesus: “She brought forth ineffably your incarnate Son.”
When the bishops at the Second Vatican Council made the historic decision that the liturgy of the church should be in the vernacular, there was no mention of sacred language or vocabulary. The council’s intent was pastoral—to have the liturgy of the church prayed in living languages. Translated liturgical texts should be reverent, noble, inspiring, and uplifting, but that does not mean archaic, remote, or incomprehensible. While the translated texts of the new Missal must be accurate and faithful to the Latin original, they must also be intelligible, proclaimable, and grammatically correct. Regrettably the new translation fails in this regard.
Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension? Did Jesus ever use terms or expressions beyond his hearer’s understanding? Jesus did explain the parable of the sower privately to his disciples in Mark (4:10-12) and Luke (8:9-10). In John 6 many of Jesus’ disciples found his Bread of Life discourse hard to accept. In these instances it is the message—not its vocabulary—that required further explanation...