Mass translations: A missed opportunity
By Judith Coyle IHM
Now that all English speaking worshippers have been exposed to the new liturgical responses at our local parishes, a few comments are in order. The one that comes most immediately to mind is, what a significant opportunity has been missed. How sad it is that we are given texts that only confuse and serve no purpose save that of imposing authority.
What if the words we had been given were ones of beauty, words that we would relish speaking and praying, words that would somehow articulate our desire for God and God’s desire for us, and that would open up for us the mysteries of faith. Instead we are made to conform to the literal translations of Latin prayers formulated largely in the 5th and 6th century. These spoke well to the educated elite of the era, but cannot possibly be expected to “work” in the same way 15 centuries later, amidst a different people, in a different world.
Surely, we will “get used to it”, and “it won’t make any difference once we are used to it”. And that, of course, is the heart of the matter. Sadly, it won’t make any difference.
Why was it necessary to change the third acclamation from “…we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory”, to read “…we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again”? Could there be any reason for dropping the name of Jesus, or the word “glory” save that of slavish literalism or the imposition of control?
And now that the Creed has restored the “consubstantiality” of the Father and the Son, we can be sure that this central mystery of our faith, on which all else depends, will remain as obscure as ever.
In the same Creed, the insistence that Christ came “for us men and for our salvation” can only be ascribed to an exclusivist agenda that still refuses to allow that half the human race, and well over that proportion of faithful worshippers, are women.
In fact, many women have long since dropped the word “men” in this profession of their faith, finding it quite enough to say “For us, and for our salvation”. The same women (and some men) are also addressing the readings to “My dear brothers and sisters”, along with some priests who, awake to the reality in front of them, are bold enough to add women to such gospel texts, as “‘unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart”. So, in spite of all the attempts to control the language, some “inculturation” is happening, whether prescribed or proscribed.
One “beneficial” side effect may be a “faster and quieter liturgy”. Comments such as, “I’m not going to say: ‘Come under my roof’. I am a human person in relationship, not a house”,’ or, “I am going to keep silence during ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’” could indicate a quicker Mass.
The singing of the Gloria may end, as 40 years worth of musical compositions are no longer textually valid, and a muttered Gloria is much faster than one which draws us in to a beautifully sung antiphonal arrangement. The same could be said of the Holy and the Memorial Acclamation, which with the exception of the first Acclamation, “Christ has died…”, may not be sung again until the musicians and composers have time (and money) to re-do all of those things which have been produced since the reform. I’m not sure it won’t be a silence of resentment instead of awe and worship.
Can anything be done in the face of these useless and frivolous changes?
One thing relative to the Confiteor is to limit its use only to the most penitential of services. It is only one option, and the other options are much more amenable to acclaiming God for his mercy, which is the intent and focus of the opening rite — not a confessing of sins, even less of the beating of the breast, which in some cultures is a sign of power and domination, not humility.
As to the Creed, perhaps one could just observe a respectful silence until such time as this profession is re-written in language that does not offend the sensibilities of English-speakers. The other option is to recite the Creed in Latin. Those whose mother tongue is Latin will be grateful, while the rest of us, while not comprehending, will at least, not be offended.
It may also be useful to note that according to the rubrics, the prayers over the gifts “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…” (the pamphlet text now in conflict with the missal which is not due out for another three or four years!), may be said aloud. By implication, there is no need for these prayers to be spoken aloud by the presider. The preparation of gifts is essentially a ritual action, not a text. Some may consider that a loss, but again, it might render more silence in the Mass, although whether this is the silence the rite envisions or desires, is another matter.
Perhaps parish musicians might just chose to ignore these changes until such time as new compositions are produced and “sifted through” for their desirability and suitability, judging that the “rubric” of song may be of greater importance than that of “correct” texts. Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio restoring the use of the Tridentine rite insists that it was never abrogated, so perhaps some precedent could be claimed on behalf of the rite of Vatican II.
In distributing the leaflets, one parish priest who clearly sees these changes for what they are and did not seek to justify them, merely noted that perhaps the best attitude towards them is that which we knew in our childhood, when we were told by our parents: “Don’t ask why, just do as I say.” Like him, however, I’m not sure that this is the “childhood” that the gospels envisage.
Liturgy will never be perfect. We address an infinite God in finite human language. Nonetheless, to think that an archaic form is somehow more “sacred” or serves the purpose better than a more contemporary idiom surely needs to be questioned.
Sr Judith Coyle teaches at South Africa’s Catholic University, St Augustine College, in Johannesburg.