instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The need for better prayers at Mass

For the record, I'm all for increasing the sense of the sacred in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and I have no objections in either principle or practice to the new English translation we'll start using next November.

That said, here's the list of effects I predict the new translation will have on the vast majority of Roman Catholics in the United States:
  • Irritation.
The primary cause of irritation will be having to learn a couple dozen trivial changes to prayers and responses they've been saying for decades. A secondary cause will be having to listen to other Catholics say, "But it's closer to the Latin!"

And if this is an accurate list of the changes in the people's parts, then yes, they are trivial. I count just two changes that are more than translation quibbles:
  1. "And with your spirit" does signify the unique ministerial role of the priest in a way that "And also with you" simply does not. It's a weird enough phrase that people will wonder why they are saying it, and they may be open to learning the reason.
  2. Reciting the Creed in first person singular does make a different theological point than reciting it in first person plural. I'm doubtful, though, that the grammatical difference will seem large enough to prompt widespread inquiry into the theological difference.
As for what the priest and deacon say, I can't see most lay Catholics caring much one way or another. Some, I suppose, will find it more sacred and like it; others will find it too fussy and dislike it. Most will at most find it a little different, and get used to it after a while.

So when, for example, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, the USCCB's Director of Media Relations, says:
The church has 16 months to get priests and people in the United States ready to pray reverently, intelligently and together at Mass.
I have to reply, with all due respect, good luck with that, Sister! The Church has had forty years to get priests and people in the United States ready to pray reverently, intelligently, and together at Mass using the Ordinary Form. Getting everyone to say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," isn't going to change the reverence or intelligence with which we offer the Liturgy.

The saying is, lex orandi, lex credendi. But there's a whole lot more to orare than just recitare. I get the sense that a lot of people happy with the new translation judge its significance by the amount of difficulty and resistance the translation has had to overcome. Surely, though, the real measure is whether it will make English-speaking Roman Catholics holier.