Sunday, March 28, 2010

Changes in the Mass

Catholic Answers is possibly my favorite site for getting new and amazing information about what's going on in the Church. Click the post title to go to's appraisal of the changes about to appear in the English translation of the Mass.

As many probably are already aware, the English translation of the Liturgy is going to change beginning at Pentecost, 2011. That's just under a year from now. It's a revision of the current Liturgy, bringing it closer to the original Latin. Being one who prays his rosary in Latin, I was naturally very curious when I first heard this. And I was excited as it coincided with a renewal of the Tridentine Mass being practiced in many more parishes throughout the world. However, the more I paid attention and the more I read, the more I began to question what's going on.

Most Catholics of my generation aren't aware of what happened in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II. Latin was discarded, altars were turned around, etc. etc. We all know this. But what we don't know and what our parents probably try to forget are the insane amount of liturgical abuses that entered into the Mass. Priests were empowering themselves to change wording and prayers and a lot of people left the Church. Well, by the time my fabulous self rolled out of the confessional for the first time, I was pretty aware of a rather standardized form of the English Liturgy. With family in various parts of the country, I had the opportunity to attend Mass in many states, and apart from some slight almost imperceptible differences, the Liturgy was almost universally the same.

So...why the hullaballoo? According to Catholic Answers, it's the "traditionalists" versus the "progressives," something anyone who listens to Catholic Answers Live on St. Gabriel Catholic Radio or pays attention to the forums would get bombarded by all the time. You have the traditionalists on the forums ranting against the Novus Ordo and the progressives ranting against outdated traditionalism such as limbo and the passivity of the Tridentine Mass. It's exhausting to go through the Traditional Catholic forum and read what people say to each other. But I digress.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was nice enough to give us a preview of some of the approved textual changes. You can see them here. While looking at my mom's old missal, I can definitely see an almost direct translation from the Latin, but I have to agree with the National Catholic Reporter when they say that it is awkward and often grammatically incorrect in English. Latin is just one of those languages whose grammar and syntax does not translate directly into English. Being a Russian language major, I'm aware of the difficulty in maintaining purity of meaning while at the same time keeping the text clean in translation. Often times you have to simply get the closest approximation and leave it at that. I mean, how long have we been bickering over what different passages of the Bible mean? It's proof of the difficulty of translation between languages that are separated by centuries in their development.

While I like the idea and the intent behind this change in the Liturgical language, I'm not happy with the way it's happening. The USCCB which originally had jurisprudence over this kind of thing is having to have Papal sanction on the translation. This seems more appropriate concerning the sanctity of the Liturgy, but if Vatican II was supposed to make the Mass available to the people and created the USCCB in the first place, why in a post-Vatican II atmosphere is the Mass being rearranged at the highest level? According to NCR, it's because the traditionalists have finally trounced the progressives (the NCR is generally opposed to the traditionalists and rather biased in favor of the progressives--an obvious bias at that). I think it's that no one really anticipated the long-term impact of what Vatican II actually did, and now that the generation that came of age during Vatican II is in charge of the various councils and diocese, they're trying to revise some of the less desirable effects of Vatican II.

"Reform the reform" in a way is the message of the Papacy of Benedict XVI. He has revived many trappings of the Papacy that had long been discarded (I still want to see him adorn the Papal Tiara), he has revived the Latin Mass, and he has continued John Paul II's work in reigning in the regional CCB's and rebuilding central authority within the Church. But now he's going further and targeting one of the most progressive regions within the Church--the US. Revise the Liturgy, revise the Missal, revise the way the message is sold and received. That's what's going on here, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. In an earlier post I discussed how politicized the American Church really is, and it's really unfortunate that American Catholics have to feel pressured to merge politics with their faith. Faith should inform politics, not the other way around, and sometimes it seems that Americans allow their politics to inform their faith (how many remember the people during the height of the sex-abuse scandals saying that it had destroyed their faith? Poser Catholics if you ask me). This is a noble exercise by the Vatican in an attempt to reign in a problem area, but I'd be interested to see what Roman Rite Liturgies in other non-Romance language-speaking countries look like. It's easy to translate Latin into French and Italian. Not so easy to do so for Welsh or Gaelic or English or Russian (though the Russians are usually Eastern Rite if they're not Orthodox, which is based on the Greek Liturgy). So what does the Roman Rite look like in Finnish? Are there similar problems that need to be addressed? If so, why aren't they being addressed? If Liturgical errors exist only in the English translation, then there's not a problem. But my suspicions lead me to believe that this is largely in response to the politicized American Church, and it is being targeted by traditionalists primarily because of how progressive the American faithful tend to be. If this is so, then the motive is wrong and I can't support any changes made in the name of this "reform of the reform." If there are no Liturgical errors elsewhere or they have already been dealt with, then there's no problem.

The problem is that I haven't seen anything discussing German, Polish, or Latvian errors in the Roman Rite. Given that Vatican II was a complete dismantling of the universality of the Liturgy, I would expect there to be some. But, apparently, there aren't. So we'll see what comes out of the woodwork in 2011. It'll be interesting watching some of the more liberal Bishops' responses to this reigning in from Rome. Rome is always calling her faithful home. Let's see how we respond.

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