Friday, 29 October 2010

An exchange of letters on the "new" Missal translations

A young acquaintance from my time in Rome, a fellow pontifical student, has also returned to the United States, and is (unusually for a young person) rather upset about the forthcoming corrected translation of the Roman Missal. I am very fond of him, and do not want this to reveal his identity; so I am changing a few things in our exchange of e-mails that I hope would conceal his identity. His side of our exchange is dwarfed by my side of it, but I would rather post these ideas as they were, as e-mails traded, rather than attempt anything "editorial." I have made a few changes, but the conversation is for the most part as it happened, choppy and unpolished as are many e-mails.
The young man alerted me to the "What if we just said wait" petition and asked my opinion. He e-mailed me this:
Check out a recent article in “America” magazine written by Seattle
Cathedral pastor, Fr. Ryan. He comments on the translations coming
soon. Some would call them bold:

He even set up a web site:

The best line: "Nor do I want to belabor the fact that those who
prepared the translations seem to be far better versed in Latin than
in English."

Your thoughts?
I sent him this:
You know, I never cease to be amazed at our brothers and sisters who get all worked up over this stuff BELATEDLY. The ball got rolling on this, albeit slowly, with Liturgiam Authenticam, nine years ago, and as recently as a year and a half ago this was the state of things:

It's as if they don't even bother to keep abreast of things happening in the Church UNTIL AN ARTICLE ABOUT IT SHOWS UP IN THE NY TIMES. THEN they are outraged. It just stuns me every time. And, on the basis that they are good, faithful, totally involved Catholics, they then demand a belated hearing, or want to start a 'grassroots' effort.

Ok, fine -- but where have they been all this time? What do they normally do to stay current with the Church and all that is going on? Do they EVER think to read, once or twice a month (a year?) l'Osservatore Romano's English edition? Do they browse the USCCB website on a regular basis? Once a month, say? Browse the Vatican website? I'm guessing not. So it's both funny and sad for me. More sad than funny.

It's like when Summorum Pontificum came out --"Pope allows Latin Mass" or some such idiocy was sprung on everyone from the pages of the NY Times. Or with the SSPX -- as if it all happened overnight, instead of over 20 years. Same with the Anglicans who want to join the Church (but not have to subject themselves to our -- sigh -- 'ordinary' liturgy. I don't blame them on that one....). All of this has been years in the making -- and I think everyone actually does know that the Church works at a snail's pace -- so why is all this a surprise to them?
He wrote back this:
I remember hearing about these changes a few years ago - the discussion centered mainly on changing when and where we would say the Lord's Prayer. I think new translations are fine but only if they sound right. Those translations are just bad!

You have to keep in mind that religion isn't that all important to a lot of people; and it's not fair to judge them when they hear news belatedly. I'm not making any excuses, but it's true. I don't think many people have heard of the [l'Osservatore] Romano outside of those who have gone to Rome. If it's not in the church bulletin or in the archdiocese's newspaper people aren't going to hear about it. We can have a whole different debate about media and how people get their news. The same problem exists with foreign news - or better said the lack thereof in U.S. newspapers, radio and television news. If we don't even get international news about what's going on in a Honduran presidency coup d'état, why would you expect the ordinary person to know what comes out of Rome?

I remember [a friend] telling me about the Anglican rite coming right around the corner a few years ago. I don't agree with a lot of what Benedict has done though. Maybe this opinion is formed as a member of the ignorant masses who don't read the Romano, but taking back the priest who denied the Holocaust and masses in Latin take us two steps back for every one step ahead. For example, we got this super conservative priest from Spain who started substituting the Spanish language masses at our parish about a year ago. He started preaching in Latin and saying the Mass in Latin even though it's a Spanish mass. Attendance dropped from what used to be standing-room only to maybe the congregation being two-thirds full. He was so conservative, archaic and cold to the people, not to mention rude, that he turned a lot of people away from our parish. Many went to other nearby parishes, but a lot went to Protestant and Evangelical churches. The thing is many immigrants are attracted to our parish because it's Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, which translates into a warm, loving place of acceptance. Remember, it was she who said, "Why do you worry? Am I not here who is your mother?" Anyway, he's been gone for a few weeks now and I've noticed the congregation starting to fill up little by little with new arrivals who never knew him.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.
My long-winded reply was as follows:
My dear T., I think that some of what I have to say is probably going to come across as exasperated and even a bit angry, and if that is the case, rest assured it is NOT directed in any way at a little angel like you! But I do indeed have foremost in mind that religion is not all that important to a lot of people, just like you said, and I don't judge them, but yes I do get annoyed with them at times. This is one of the most important aspects of the modern "liturgy wars" -- that you have a vast number of people who don't practice their faith, for whom religion is simply not a huge factor in their lives, or who only show up at Christmas and Easter, or at wedding or funerals; and beyond that there is still a fair number who attend Mass on most Sundays with varying levels of engagement or Christian commitment (about 25 to 30 percent of US Catholics, which is way better than in most of Europe...) and an even smaller number who go to daily Mass. If something is really important to someone, then that person devotes all or at least a lot of his or her time to it, at least as much as possible, to learn as much as possible, to become an "expert" in it, if you will. I don't suppose that absolutely everyone can do that with their faith, but God remains, and should remain, first and foremost, and the worship of God in the liturgy takes first priority (as the Holy Father quoted St. Benedict in his Christmas homily). Everything else is secondary. Everything. (And you may not *agree* with a lot of what Benedict XVI has done, but then if I recall correctly you don't *agree* with the filioque either -- I'm just saying!)

Look, I think that the bottom line is this: speaking of St. Benedict, there is no getting away from the fact that the Liturgical Movement, which was started by Benedictine monks, made a mistake or a miscalculation, viz., that everyone in the world should come to love the liturgy (Mass and Office) and indeed would come to love the liturgy as much as they, the monks, did -- if only somehow they could be catechized or formed or educated in it sufficiently. Private piety was fine -- but as the movement gathered strength (and it was always fairly small and centered around monasteries and the academic world), it seemed more and more urgent to get people to, as Pope St. Pius X eventually put it, "not pray AT Mass, but pray the Mass!" (Never mind that Pius X himself had the ancient order of the psalter scuttled.)

The movement, which I'm guessing you've studied, and remembering again that it was confined to a rather rarefied world, tried to propose various changes to get the people "involved" and MAKE them "participate" without taking into account how the great majority of people, good and devout in their own way, most likely would never become true liturgical enthusiasts. Some would never be able to work themselves up to the level of participation the liturgists thought they should -- they didn't want to, as I myself sometimes don't want to, preferring to have the ordained ministers do all the work (that they are supposed to do, that they are formally trained to do) and let me just encounter it as best I can, all the more so if it is solemn and reverent (and if there is chant and polyphony which I love) with no one telling me to turn to page 149 to sing this or that, like in Protestant service, or to please be seated for the announcements, or turn and greet my neighbor.

Yes, the Mass is our greatest treasure -- other faiths also do great charitable works, etc. -- but only we worship God in this way, in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:21-24), down the centuries, through the sacred liturgy. Is it how the Apostles and the first Christians worshiped? We don't know for sure exactly how they worshiped, though we do know that it was not exactly like Solemn High Mass. But the earliest form of the Roman Rite shows that many of the elements we recognize now as part of the traditional "extraordinary" form, had their origin at least in the 4th century, incorporating some of the oldest elements of all, from a time when liturgical debates centered around whether or not Easter should be celebrated on the 14th Nisan. Newman's "The Development of Christian Doctrine" gives a good example of how the most ancient beliefs and practices of Christianity developed over time to be what they are now, and his principles can apply to the liturgy as well.

And I can't help but wonder just how much of this you have studied? I mean really and seriously studied. I would have to assume you are up on most of these historical details, no? Since you are asking about it and have already formed an opinion about it, right? Surely you have read Fortescue, Cabrol, Jungmann, Guardini, Bouyer and Gamber and the other authorities on this? It was one of the greatest misfortunes that the Consilium under Bugnini did not (apparently) have access to the best materials, like Fortescue, for one reason or another (I am not a conspiracy theorist about this...), but attempting to fantasize and "reconstruct" a Mass of the earliest days of the Church -- cutting and pasting it together as a committee -- was a pathetic 1960s exercise and a waste of time. No one knows exactly, in all details, what our Christian forebears did at the eucharistic synaxis -- never documented? lost? the disciplina arcani? -- but the notion that the Church went off the rails liturgically in the 4th century and only recovered itself after Vatican II is utterly ridiculous as the best of liturgy scholars have pointed out. If we were supposed to ignore our history and T/tradition, then why not have all of us throw away our rosaries and get rid of our Stations of the Cross, tear down our churches and close our monasteries (since we had none in the beginning), and go back to getting up before dawn to "sing a hymn to Christ as to a god" and have penances which took years to fulfill, and having men and women on separate sides of the assembly (and ladies keep your heads covered!) -- as if only the first century or so of the church was valid and everything that came later was a corruption.

Since this is a subject obviously of interest to you, I am sure you recall how when the first draft of the Mass was presented to Paul VI in its supposedly "restored" or "pristine" form, after having had all those "dreadful medieval accretions" removed, that Paul VI had to plead with the Consilium to leave in some of the dreadful accretions like the Nicene Creed (not recited at Mass till the 10th c.) and the Our Father and Agnus Dei, if only for purely sentimental reasons.

Yes, the Liturgical Movement did promote the idea of having at least the readings in the local language -- since its counterpart, the Biblical Movement, was similarly gung-ho on getting everyone to become a Scripture scholar, and also presumed everyone would have a comparable level of interest and enthusiasm, not to mention leisure time for study. And then a funny thing happened: inexpensive hand-missals began being mass produced. I have the one my grandfather was given as a teenager in 1908 -- and there it all is, in Latin on one side and English on the other, with detailed explanations on almost every page. I can still tell which pages he used the most. And with that...people could now follow along very, very easily each and every word that was said and every gesture (plus literacy rates around the world were growing exponentially), and I regard this development as one of the greatest blessings of modern technology. But did it turn people into liturgical enthusiasts and experts?

As the Liturgical Movement progressed though the 20th c., more and more congresses and colloquia and conferences tried to come up with ways to get more and more people to participate in the liturgy the way THEY, the "experts", thought they should be participating. All sorts of "worship aids" were developed, and already in the 1950s there were significant changes to Holy Week and of course the eucharistic fast was reduced from midnight to three hours, as I'm sure you will recall, in 1953, which allowed for evening celebrations of Mass. Finally, the Second Vatican Council decided it would take up the issue of the liturgy first and foremost. The debates over changing the ancient liturgy were bitter -- no doubt you have gone back and read all the coverage even in the secular press of that time.

But even with Sacrosanctum Concilium's directives, what the Consilium produced bears little resemblance to what the Council Fathers proposed -- there's no way around that. And especially when it came to the issue of language -- by NO MEANS was Latin to be discarded and the entire Mass put into the local language. This happened almost as an afterthought -- you know why? Here's what I think: somewhere along the way, the "powers that be" made a decision -- if you can even call it that -- that after all this time, the people simply were not able to grasp the liturgy despite all the efforts of liturgists and catechists. The people were too stupid, and the only hope now was to put everything into their own language and hope for the best. It was a permission, an option, and eventually all of the world's Episcopal Conferences asked for the permission, submitted their translations, and got them approved. But it wasn't supposed to be like that, as the reactions of the then-surviving Council Fathers witness. The whole Mass was NEVER meant to be put totally into the vernacular. And now that it is, do people really participate more? About 20 out of 150 people at Sunday Mass today actually "sang" the entrance hymn, and it went downhill from there. Stop and ask each person coming out of Mass "what is the Mass?" or "what were the readings" -- what sort of answers do you think you would get? The 75 percent of U.S. Catholics who used to go to Mass is now down to about 25 percent, as I said above, so it looks to me like the "participation" efforts backfired since, as one scholar has pointed out, all the people who no longer go to Mass are not "participating" at all.

One notes in particular the absence of men. In every parish I have ever belonged to, it is made up primarily of old ladies (with some men showing up with their families perhaps on Sundays...). In our parish in Rome, which has the old rite, I was the oldest lady there. Why? I blame the heavily feminized values of the modern rite -- it is anthropologically attuned to the female, with sentimental songs, and the "sign of peace" wave or handshake (which feels forced, even to me, and I'm a girl!) -- it's also face-to-face, as women tend to relate, not side-by-side and facing the same direction as men tend to interact and which is the hallmark of the ad orientem worship of the old rite.

And the vernacular they put forward couldn't be the best, of course, but the most pedestrian -- since again, people are dumb. That the Greek and Latin used by the early church was certainly far above common "street" Latin or Greek or the local dialect, and even the Book of Common Prayer was in a highly refined English, not the English of the average person of the day, never seemed to occur to the translators. Even more amazingly, the consensus was that even in countries which had languages derived from Latin -- in all the places Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese were spoken -- that NO ONE could really tell that "PATER NOSTER" meant the same as "PADRE NOSTRO" and "NOTRE PERE" and "PADRE NUESTRO" and "PAI NOSSO".

And the translation we now have in our current Missal -- which was certainly "foisted" upon us, at a time when the laity still had the remnants of Catholic culture, unlike now -- was accepted entirely uncritically, except by people who couldn't bear the changes and who got up and walked out of church and never came back (and certainly did not go out and put a petition together...except for a few notables in England). There was ZERO worldwide demand for a "new" Mass and certainly not one in the vernacular -- except from (Heaven help us) "liturgists" and scholars. And the fruits? Not the "great leap forward" in Christian life it was all supposed to be. At least on that point there is no dispute. The chief blessing of the older form of the Mass was, and still is, that one does not have to be an "expert" -- there are no rubrics whatsoever for the people, and one participates, or does not participate, according to one's own condition. Those who want to be totally engaged can be. I am one of those persons. But there are those who simply want to just sit there, and just sort of...experience it in a way that is comfortable for them, whatever that may be, and on rare occasions I find my very tired self in their ranks too. Are they getting a lot out of it? I don't know. Does pressuring them to get more out of it help the situation? No, I would say it doesn't. Should it at least be as beautiful and reverent as possible? Yes. Was it always so in the past? No. Is it more often so now? Certainly not.

And by the way, as I'm sure you know, the Mass of Paul VI has its NORMATIVE version in Latin -- all vernacular translations are a PERMISSION. So, "Masses in Latin" is not the issue here. How many Catholics do you think tuned in to watch Christmas Midnight Mass broadcast from St. Peter's and said, "Whoa, what's he saying? Switch the channel!"

Again, you are right: most folks just aren't that into religion. Which brings me to my point: if that is the case, if you are just not that *into* the practice and knowledge of your Catholic faith, then let the things that matter to the people to whom they matter, matter. Don't get in the way and make a fuss and pretend that suddenly it now matters to you too, when this is the first you are hearing of it -- again, did Liturgiam Authenticam get by you? Yeah, I bet it did. I do not blame these folks for not being up to speed on this -- though I know I sound pretty grumpy about it. I recall what Walter Cronkite said about ten years ago in an interview, when asked what was wrong with American news broadcasts. He said: "They give us what we want to know, but not what we need to know." T., you are right about the media -- and for those who are stunned or shocked by a 20 second soundbite about a coup in Honduras, will the all the shocked, shocked! people go to other sources and find out what triggered it? What the history of it was? No, probably not. And that's ok, but either commit to getting involved or chalk it up to "it wasn't on my radar and I'm...well, actually not that into it." Am I right about this?

I have a good friend, a woman from a big Catholic family, now a grandmother, who had the Baltimore catechism all through her youth, life-long daily Mass goer (including the older form of the Mass all through childhood and into her teens), member of a Third Order, helps with sacristy linens and is on several parish committees, and was once the secretary to an archbishop. Her house has four giant bookcases full of Catholic books -- mostly "devotional" stuff, novena to the Sacred Heart, the Story of a Soul, Introduction to the Devout Life, the Cloud of Unknowing, biographies of dozens of Saints, The Secrets of the Rosary, etc. Subscribes to most major Catholic periodicals -- National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, etc. Has EWTN on all the time. Has a regular spiritual director too. Now, at some point in our many conversations about the faith I learned that she had never heard the word "patristics" and had no idea what that was, nor had she ever heard of the Didache (though "Father, we thank thee who hast planted" is her favorite hymn), or any other of the Christian classics of the first millennium (with the possible exception of St. Augustine's Confessions), could place Trent in the 16th c. but had no idea in which centuries any of the preceding Councils took place, that deliberately withholding a mortal sin in confession invalidates the whole thing, and thought that the old prayers with "300 days' indulgence" meant 300 "days off" of Purgatory. What she did know was that according to some authors priests are given a second guardian angel upon ordination. I once mentioned ICEL -- and she stared blankly. "ICEL?" I repeated "I. C. E. L. -- ICEL." She finally asked what it was. I told her. She had no idea. And she is very dedicated to following along in the missalette at Mass, and occasionally will prod others to do likewise if she sees them standing there empty-handed. Did it never once occur to her to look and see where on earth all those texts come from? Who wrote the words she is saying (since she is certainly old enough to remember when the vernacular began to be used)? Flip to the front or back cover on the inside to see what's there? Who published this thing? Obviously not. Just not that interested.

And of course I have to say that she is not one of the people all worked up over the new translations. I think that ultimately it simply does not matter to her. She goes to Mass primarily to be able to receive Holy Communion anyway, a laudable reason. She's quite saintly.

So, if this was not on someone's radar before, as much as I want to give a sympathetic hearing to the person who may have been taken by surprise, all the more so if that person is upset for one reason or another by this development (and I include priests, who certainly should know better, like the cathedral rector you mention), I would ultimately say to let it go. Yes, let it go if it did not interest you before, or if it did not matter to you before, or if you never read about any of this before. Let it go. Let it remain the province of the people for whom this sort of thing does desperately matter. If it was not of burning interest to you previously, I don't see why it should be now. If you've been "sleepwalking" in the practice of your faith and this is some kind of wake up call, well, that's fine. Be more involved, yes, but realize that you are coming very late to the game and conduct yourself accordingly: you have a lot to learn, and whining will get you nowhere, just like in all other areas and aspects of adult life. As a good Christian, take care of your soul, admit your mistakes, take a deep breath and do better next time -- we don't get do-overs. All we have is today.

After having said all this, fortunately for me translation disputes are minor issues -- I avoid them for the most part completely, since I usually attend the extraordinary form of the Mass and pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary most days, and I am learning to read the Scriptures in the original Greek. So in a way, translation issues simply don't exist for me. But T., I find it strange that you would associate the issue of new English translations with "that priest" who was "taken back" even though he denied the Holocaust -- I can only assume you mean Bishop Williamson of the SSPX? But surely you do know he has not been "taken back" but rather that the excommunication he and the other bishops consecrated with him incurred has been lifted, just as Paul VI lifted the excommunication on all the Orthodox the evening before the Second Vatican Council closed. I am sure you are following the negotiations as they are unfolding in Rome even as we speak/type, but he and the other bishops of the SSPX remain in "imperfect communion" after all these years -- just like the Orthodox. Though the Holy Father finally granting them the clemency they have sought since 1988 can, I think, only be seen as the merciful act of a true father and shepherd, and is unrelated to one nut-job in the mix (I come from a family of Holocaust survivors -- remember that my father was Orthodox Jewish, and while he escaped Hungary in time, half his family did not). I do indeed hope that the SSPX manages to accept the Holy Father's care and concern for their souls and that they speedily resolve their position -- the Catholic Church is really big and there is room for them too, alongside all the religious Sisters who are now Reiki practitioners instead of third grade teachers. I am sorry to hear about the "conservative" Spanish priest with the unpleasant personality. I know some very traditional priests, indeed traditionalists, who have off-putting manners, but then I have had plenty of negative experiences with "Novus Ordo" priests too. I could write a book. (Oh, wait, I am writing a book...)

As far as I can tell, the saints and sinners attached to both forms of the Mass are about evenly represented. Though I personally am never quite so put off and actually frightened as by a supposedly "liberal" priest like the one I very timidly and politely asked about where I might be able to find the extraordinary form of the Mass in this archdiocese. He laughed in my face and said, "Latin?!? Ha! We don't go for that here -- we've got a whole other 'Latin' to think about -- Latin America!" Then he spun around and walked off still laughing. Now there's some true liberality for you.

Allow me to add that I firmly believe that accuracy and honesty, especially in matters of translation, are NOT incompatible with a warm, loving and accepting church as at NS de Guadalupe, indeed the two should go together and I cannot believe they would be considered mutually exclusive. As I type this, the image of Our Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, is right outside my door in the courtyard and I entrust myself to her care each time I see her.

Your very little sister,

PS Above somewhere I mentioned "the remnants of Catholic culture." T., remember that language is usually the guardian of the culture: lose the language and you usually lose the culture. Hence the importance of having immigrant kids keep up with their ancestral language. But as Catholics we, all of us, of all ethnic backgrounds, "lost" Latin, and the results are evident.
I grew up the daughter of a poor immigrant from a place no one had ever heard of or could find on a map, and the three years I lived in Hungary as a child were specifically so that I could learn the language and the culture. I am an American, from a small and persecuted ethnic minority, but as a Catholic I recognize that Latin was our great cultural treasure, which played no favorites, or rather "favored neither one group or another" as John XXIII put it in "Veterum Sapientia." It should have been kept, for a vast number of reasons, especially at a time when travel is more and more common -- I mean, I am not sure how long it would take me to learn Mass in Vietnamese...


TH2 said...

I am truly humbled by this post. Your knowledge is incredible. So excellently expressed. Holy smoke - literally - what an analysis!

Casa Santa Lidia said...

now Hunter, you'll make me blush......! (aka thank you -- you are much too kind)