Looking at the text…

Up until now I have primarily focused on giving background information on the Mass to provide some context for the changes we will be experiencing this Advent. Now I would like to begin looking at some of these changes specifically so that we can get into the nitty-gritty of just what you and I can expect. The differences we will notice will largely involve more poetic language, more theological language, more Scripture references, and greater fidelity to the original Latin texts of the Church.

First I want to give you excerpts from an interview with Fr. Paul Turner, a priest with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who is also a Latin scholar who worked for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) as they developed this translation. Fr. Turner says, “Anytime you translate you are doing your best. But it is nearly impossible to capture all the nuances and bring them into a new language.” Fr. Turner said that the ICEL committee was determined to render the meaning of the Latin original as faithfully as possible into English. “We want the liturgy to be understood,” he says, “But those who pray it have to know that it is the prayer being brought to us by tradition.”

The current translation we have been using focused more on making the text understandable to modern English-speakers, often times to the detriment of the nuances and beauty of the original. “It is not that the translation we have now is wrong or heretical,” Fr. Turner comments, “But what we gained in fluidity (in English) we lost in nuance (from the Latin).”

For example, the new translation sometimes uses the word “ineffable” to talk about the power of God. Ineffable is a perfectly good English word, though not often used in day-to-day speech. But then again, the power of God is not a day-to-day mundane topic. “Ineffable” means “incapable of being expressed in words.” Fr. Turner says, “It’s a great word when you talk about the mystery of God. It is a word that means we are speechless before God.”

Another change Fr. Turner comments on is the change in the Creed from the phrase “one in being” to describe Jesus’ relationship with the Father, to “consubstantial,” an English word that comes as close as possible to the Latin original, consubstantialum. Fr. Turner says, “It’s an unusual word. But the relationship between Jesus and the Father is unusual and needs a unique word.” He also adds that the ancient Church Councils worked hard to define this relationship as precisely as possible and we modern English speakers deserve to have the benefit of those insights.

Fr. Turner lastly points out that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we use the phrase “hallowed be thy name.” The word “hallowed” is not an everyday English word. But we are familiar with it and understand what it means in the context of the prayer. Nor does it seem odd to us to have a special word that we use just for prayer. The same should hold true for any unfamiliar words we may encounter in this new translation.

Most of the coming changes do not involve so much what we, the lay people, will be saying as what we will be hearing. Most of the changes to the Mass text involve parts which the priest or deacon says. Only a few involve the people’s parts of the Mass. In light of that I’d like to start first with a part that belongs to the priest, in order to give you a bit of the flavor of the new Mass translation. We’ll start with the preface from the first Sunday of Advent, the first time we will hear the new translation.

CURRENT: When he humbled himself to come among us as a man, he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago and opened for us the way to salvation. Now we watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in his glory.

NEW: For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.

The second is more evocative of the idea of Advent. Just to drive it home, here are all the phrases that are included in the new translation that are absent from the old: the lowliness of flesh; the eternity of salvation; the glory and majesty of the coming; the inheritance of the promise; the dare of our hope. It has so much more color and drama!

To give you another example, here is the preface from the first Sunday of Lent.

CURRENT: His fast of forty days makes this a holy season of self-denial. By rejecting the devil’s temptations he has taught us to rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil, and so to share his paschal meal in purity of heart, until we come to its fulfillment in the promised land of heaven.

NEW: By abstaining forty long days from earthly food, he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance, and by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent, taught us to cast out the leaven of malice, so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery, we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.

So in the new text, we see the relationship of Christ’s fast to our own, the parallel of the devil in the desert and the devil in the garden, the rejecting of sin and the need for our own repentance, and the final relationship between Christ’s resurrection and our own eternal life of which the season of Easter serves as a metaphor.

This is just to give you a taste of the flavor of the new translation. Next we will take a look at the people’s parts of the Mass.