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August 07, 2008

In the beginning was the Word, and it was confusing

: Cacophony :: Catholicism :

At a retreat I attended a decade ago, a priest was delivering a talk on the liturgy. He was firing off an explanation and said, “The Lord be with you.” Almost immediately, in a nearly involuntary reflex that would make Pavlov proud, everybody interrupted and chimed in with the response, “And also with you.” He paused, and then quipped: “Wow. If I rang a bell, would you all start salivating?”

Two days ago, the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship finally released the new translation of the Order of Mass (800kb PDF). It’s not for use in worship yet—Rocco Palmo says the earliest it’ll be rolled out is 2011—but it’s being provided for study and formation.

So, start unlearning 35 years of ingrained congregational responses like “And also with you,” and get used to “And with your spirit.” Other responses, as quoted from Whispers in the Loggia:

The more significant changes of the people’s parts are:

A few years ago, John Wilkins wrote an excellent article for Commonweal chronicling the painstaking and painful history of ICEL’s translating process. It’s a fascinating and disturbing history of clashing interests and church politics, of literalist translation versus dynamic equivalence, and of authority over collegiality.

I’m not happy with the text, but that’s not for me to decide. I will finally be able to work on either creating or updating the Mass settings I’ve composed, and hopefully prepare them for publication.

Posted by c2 at 01:58 PM • PermalinkComments (5) • Trackbacks (0) •


  1. (grin)

    I know where you got that retreat quote, C.  I think we were both laughing hard about that one for a while!

    I just finished my read of the changes as well.  So far, certain parts of it just sound klunky and arhythmic.  My brain can’t process how that’s gonna sound/feel as a whole item from start to finish.  And I’m not sure that I’ll ever quite get used to “and with your spirit”.

    I was glad to see, however, that the bishops seem to be allowing some time for composers to work with the text before it’s implemented.  Based on preliminary comments from varied sources, I was beginning to wonder if they were going to start using the new translation before any musicians had time to transition.

    Time will tell, I suppose…

    (BTW, In Paradisum still blows my mind!)

    Posted by Pablo on 08/12/08 at 09:00 PM

  2. As a writer and a lector, I agree with Pablo. Some of those lines are just clunky. They don’t make great sense in English, either.

    I just can’t wait to retrain my two older kids on the responses. Some of these are going to go over like a lead balloon with the laity. I know, not for us to decide, but sure would have been nice for us to have more of a say.

    Posted by Sherrie on 08/18/08 at 02:11 PM

  3. Also, this one:

    The response of the people at the Ecce Agnus Dei is “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

    Is one that annoys me most. It’s not that much different from what we say now. Does it truly make that much difference in the grand scheme of things? The phrasing of this makes a dense concept even more dense for those of us who have to explain the Mass to children.

    Posted by Sherrie on 08/18/08 at 02:16 PM

  4. Sherrie, re: the whole “roof” thing, I agree. I wrote the following in a Facebook comment a week ago. A copy-and-paste, for the most part, with a few edits:

    “And with your spirit” is goofy. Goofiness alone, of course, isn’t a reason in and of itself to reject it. But it’s only a single example of the awkward phrasing, archaic language, and frankly, congregationally-unfriendly vocabulary that permeates this translation. Let’s just take a look at two other examples:

    A. The Creed: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, CONSUBSTANTIAL with the Father...” What was wrong with “one in being with”? It’s theologically the same, and changing the vocabulary (1) makes it less accessible to the congregation at large, (2) is less poetic than other English translations (there’s “of one substance with” or “of one essence with"), and (3) introduces a controversial theological confusion with the term alone. On that last point, remember, Catholics believe that the Eucharist transubstantiates, but Lutherans and some other Christian denominations believe in Eucharistic consubstantiation. Now, in the Creed, we’re talking about the nature of the Son and the Father RATHER than the Eucharist, but even reintroducing that term is problematic--ESPECIALLY when there are other words that communicate the idea perfectly without having to resort to multisyllabic pedantry.

    B. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”? Awkward, terrible poetry, and passive voice. The 1973 translation we’re currently using is “not worthy to receive you”; why not “Lord, I am not worthy to shelter you”? Because the aesthetic (if you can even call it that) is not only to preserve the Latin, but even Latin’s awkward grammatical structure. Dumb.

    I get the sense that they just plugged the Latin into Babelfish and took whatever it spat (and I don’t mean “spat") out. To top it off, the awkward translation isn’t the least of my frustrations. It’s the way ICEL was manhandled and forced to throw out 20 years of work and scholarship. Read the Commonweal article; that crap just gets me hopping mad.

    Posted by c2 on 08/18/08 at 02:27 PM

  5. “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, CONSUBSTANTIAL with the Father...”

    Oh, I can’t wait until my son’s class gets a hold of that one! Can you imagine a bunch of elementary school kids trying to spit that out?

    And you are right, it throws a huge theological issue in there that is really complicated and difficult to explain. Heaven help me, I can’t wait to try and explain that change to my Protestant in-laws. I’m going to lose, no matter what I try, when explaining that.

    Posted by Sherrie on 08/18/08 at 04:09 PM