Welcoming the New Translation

Welcoming the New Translation

With the posting of this blog entry on the First Sunday of Advent 2011, the new translation of the Roman Missal is now being used across the United States. Like many pastors, I’ve been busy in the last few weeks talking with people about this big change in the Mass. On Facebook, in workshops, in conversations with some of my parishioners, I’m still amazed that people have questions about the new translation.

The biggest question is still the “why?” question. As a guy at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid, I can only answer that question with, “It’s what the pope wants.” Depending on your view of how the liturgy is celebrated in the U.S. in the 21′st century, you may either applaud that reason or complain about it. (And your answer may not show any disrespect to the pope’s authority.)

Some folks believe that the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s and 70s have been carried too far. They believe a lack of reverence pervades our Sunday Mass. The translation made some 40 years ago was too free, losing the values contained in the Latin basic text, which is the basis of all translating.

Others do not see our liturgy as “broken.” They like the freedom from the rigid rubrics of the Mass as set forth in the first Roman Missal, used for centuries until Vatican II. They feel the translation made in the 1970s renders the timeless texts into workable contemporary prayers.

I’ve heard both sides—probably more times than any of my readers!

But guess what: The time for arguing is past. At a recent workshop, I listened to the second group listed above, and tried to provide a context for what we’re doing as of this first weekend in Advent. Then, we moved on to what I am much more comfortable doing—namely explaining how the new translation works.

At this point, I’m reminded of the times that I’ve acquired a new cell phone. Cell phones are always changing. There are flashy new features, which you see in the ads: touch screens, new phone apps that play music, check your bank account, take photos, and send email. But then, you get the phone home, and you find out it’s more complicated. You have to set up the e-mail, learn how to make a call, adjust the volume, keep it charged. You try to read the manual and that just makes it worse! It takes work to understand the technical stuff.

The new Mass translation is going to work the same way.

  • First, like someone who was really satisfied with the old cell phone, until you dropped it in a puddle of water, you really didn’t want to change. But you had to, and now you’re looking at the replacement. The new translation is a lot to digest—more for us priests than for lay folks. But now we have it.
  • Second, like the new phone, there’s stuff to learn about how it operates. Like it or not, if you want to call someone, you have to find out how that function works, probably before anything else. The new translation is about praying. So, take some time to find out how to pray the new Mass prayers. (I’m hoping some might find my DVD, The Catholic Update Guide to Changes in the Mass, helpful, along with all the other resources from Franciscan Media, available at CatholicUpdate.org/RomanMissal.
  • Third, there are some frustrations with a new cell phone—and with the new Mass prayers. There are changes some will find awkward. OK, “consubstantial” in the new version of the Nicene Creed is a mouthful. Let’s learn what it means, and use it. I still can’t find some functions on the cell phone I got last year!
  • Fourth, once you master the basic mysteries of a new phone you find some cool functions! In the new Mass translation, there are richer references to Biblical stories, which are beneath the text: the centurion’s plea for Jesus’ healing on the spot, because the official was unworthy to have Jesus “enter under my roof” (Communion Rite in the new translation). There’s more poetic language, such as “from the rising of the sun to its setting” in the new version of Eucharistic Prayer Three. And yes, the “tone” of many of the new prayers will introduce a note of reverence, hopefully pleasing that group that feels such was lost in the liturgical reform.

Finally, for many of you, the use of the new translation is really “no big deal.” (Pity us priest for just a moment, can you? We have dozens and dozens of new prayers to navigate through, especially ones we formerly memorized!) Like that phone I got last year, the new translation will eventually become the prayers we pray most without effort.

But hopefully, the experience of change will give us a deeper treasure: to experience the great riches of the Eucharist, the “source and center” of all Catholic life, all over again!



About the Author

Fr. Greg Friedman, O.F.M., is a Franciscan priest who serves as creative director on the media production team at Franciscan Media, where he produces audio and video programs. He hosts American Catholic Radio, broadcast and streamed to over 70 Catholic radio stations and available on the Web at Productions.FranciscanMedia.org. Fr. Greg is also pastor of St. Francis Seraph parish, a part of the Franciscans’ inner-city ministry in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine area.
  • Rwaller

    You do good work, Greg. Now the work is up to all of us who lead prayer from/at the altar. Last evening Mass was almost without a hitch, until I could not get through the chanted final blessing. It was like I was celebrating my “first Mass” as I did 37 years ago. I was kinda nice – and fun. It’s just like a lot of big changes in life. We become disoritented, thrown off balance, and find it difficult to pray. For w hile we focus on the words of the text and the notes of the chants, but in a while we will pay again. I was sad when I slammed the book closed on the words that we have used at Mass for 40 years, and the only ones I have used since my ordination. There was sadness in the parting. But we grieve with hope!

  • Zimmermannph

    We used pew cards at the vigil Mass on November 26 and we practiced a few responses before Mass. Priests have the most difficult part because, as you said, so many of the prayers and prefaces have changed. Our priest sang the Preface and stumbled a bit at one part, but praise God, he kept going. I think all of us who are over 45 are going to need to get new reading glasses–forget the cell phone. At the end of Mass, our priest said, “Pray for me!”

  • Sanorared

    Great comparison to the cell phone, Greg! And I will be praying that you soon pray the new prayers without effort!  

  • Smartuckus

    Maybe they should have just stuck with the original. Then no one would have to complain about the never-ending changes.
    Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.