The New Mass Translation

So, those of us in the States were exposed (and I use the word with all of its implications) to the New Mass Translation.  For the most part the changes were largely inconsequential--intellectually accurate, but without art--resulting in a Mass that sounds a bit like two lawyer magpies discussing some pretty bauble.  This is directly the result of the usual tin ear demonstrated by the American Bishops in any translation they put foward.

I judge the language of the mass by the ability of those serving to read everything as it should be and there are some tortuous and awkward constructions that everyone I saw tripped over.

However, there are some very nice restorations.  What I do wish had been restored along with "And with your spirit" is the return of the Priest standing at the head of the congregation and facing the altar with the rest of us.  As it stands now, the way we celebrate mass, the altar stands between the people and the priest and it seems less like the Priest is presiding than that he is talking at us.  Additionally without the change in position, the "and with your spirit,"  sounds rather like an "isn't that nice, he gets something special for all that he's given up" rather than an acknowledgment of the unity of the people under one Head standing in persona Christi.  While possibly true, in the instance, it is irrelevant.

I was mercifully spared the new language around consecration (for a week--which, even so, I view as a spiritual balm and vindication) because the elderly Priest we had serving could not read the new sacramentary well and so used the words of institution, at least, as they were before.  (He stumbled through much of the rest of the altered and very cerebral and thorny Eucharistic prayer, but I guess just finally gave up.)

I am a little worried about the change to the Credo (which largely I find one of the less clunky things done in the new translation) because of the use of "consubstantial."  While highly technical and accurate it has two problems that I can see. The first is that its meaning is more elusive and diffuse than the former "one in being."  Even so, it is more technically accurate  (and that is why I have the impression of magpie lawyers--one can't quibble over the technical accuracy of the language, and yet is sounds much less like a form of worship and much more like the initiation of a contractual agreement) and therefore not really problematic in that sense.  Where I see serious problems is with its striking similarity to the Lutheran "consubstantiation."  But perhaps I worry too much over so small a point because many Catholics haven't a clue about transubstantiation and I get the feeling have a system that is perhaps closer to Lutheran than to Catholic anyway.

One other major problem occurs with the "worthy that you should come under my roof,"  while awkward enough and entirely unnecessary (explain the substantive difference between "come under my roof" and "receive"  the latter having a rich resonance in light of what is about to happen), I'm puzzled by and disturbed at the limitation of the healing power attributed to  the Eucharist, "my soul will be healed."  Am I to understand by this that the Eucharist would have no efficacy with regard to emotional, psychological, or physical healing?  It certainly does severely limit God's purview, and, I might add, unnecessarily.  If "I shall be healed,"  then that includes, in pride of place. "my soul"  as well as every other aspect of my being.

Anyway--the new mass translation is predictably ugly, clunky, technical, and in a few weeks our ears will get used to hearing it and it will all seem like that's the way it has always been.  Unfortunate--with each new turning into English the Mass become less exalted and less the language of worship and more the language of technical philosophers--not much to encourage the spirit here.

However, I was spared the worst of these degradations for a week and for that I can truly praise God.


  1. "A bit like two lawyer magpies discussing some pretty bauble" indeed!

    Now that I know what an English mass with lawyerly Latinate diction sounds like, I've developed a new appreciation for the "old" English mass I grew up with, particularly how solid and lucid and Anglo-Saxon most of its vocabulary was: "Father, hear the prayers of the family you gather here before you; in mercy and love, unite all your children, wherever they may be." Nearly all of those words are derived from Old English, while the handful of Romance-derived terms (prayers, family, mercy, unite) are also plain, essential English. Even if it wasn't an accurate translation or particularly poetic, the "old" mass was, in its attention to how people actually speak, deliberately and thoughtfully humble.

  2. A friend of mine works in the liturgical office at an archdiocese in the Midwest. Her brief review of the new missal: "It makes God sound like the Chairman of the Board."

    I, for one, don't like "and with your spirit" because it does add to the wall of separation between congregatation and priest. "And also with you" kept him at our level, which was a good thing. The new translation is just an esthetic shambles. I agree with Jeff's last sentence except that I thought it did have poetry.

    --scott gf bailey

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