The changes in the Mass that Catholics saw following the Second Vatican Council were fought by a few, loved by some and endured and eventually accepted by many. Now that a new English translation of the Mass is coming our way in Advent 2011, publishers are cranking out explanations to help smooth the transition from words many have said and heard for 40 years to words we’ll say and hear come November.
I read one awful one — I won’t name it lest it get any undue publicity at all — but it was attack-dog like in blasting anything that has happened in Catholic life since 1962 as the reason Rome had to “correct” the Mass.
On the other side of the ledger is “Understanding the Revised Mass Texts,” a product of Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago. Written by Father Paul Turner, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO, this simple, 50-page booklet is a pastorally sensitive work that is well worth the $1.25 per copy. And there are discounts for parishes that purchase in bulk.
Explaining first why and how the Mass text have been revised, the booklet takes a factual yet positive approach to the changes, but it does so with the sensitivity of an understanding and compassionate pastor who knows his flock. Take for example:
“The new translation employs a more formal style than we use in ordinary conversation. Many sentences are longer. The vocabulary is broader. As with all change, there will be challenges. The adjustments will take some effort, but the results should be worth that effort.”
And then there’s this:
“By turning attention to the original Latin texts, the Church has raised some unintended fears. Many Catholics who lived through the era of the Second Vatican Council want reassurance that its reforms will remain. They hope that the recent compassionate outreach to those who prefer the 1962 Mass in Latin does not foreshadow a wholesale withdrawal of the vernacular. It does not. English is here to stay. It will be enriched through a reexamination of the original texts in Latin.”
Father Turner points to differences in attitude and rhythm that some may notice, and, as he walks readers through the various places in the Mass where words have been changed, consistently reinforces that the aim was to enrich our prayer by bringing the language closer to the original, often highlighting echoes of passages from Scripture.
He notes where changes are small and minor and when they are major, as in the words of the Gloria and the Creed. The previous translation and the new translation are printed side by side so the changes can be absorbed visually, too.
The changes are pointed out, the differences explained, and the purpose for the change named: Here’s what the translators were trying to achieve. Again, it’s a very positive analysis, one that seems intended to help Catholics appreciate the benefit that the translators were aiming for.
Yet this work isn’t afraid to point out that the word “consubstantial” that we’ll be reciting in the new translation of the Creed is, in the author’s words, “a mouthful” and “a very unusual word.”
“In the entire revised translation of the Mass, this is probably the one word that will raise the most eyebrows,” the booklet notes. It certainly did for this writer, and I’m not convince it isn’t a mistake. The meaning and use are explained, though, as describing a very unusual thing — the nature of Jesus Christ — and Jesus is not like anything else.
I’m still not sure that isn’t simply rationalizing, but I’m going to take heart in Father Turner’s reminder that after a time and so many uses Catholics will get use to the new language.
Others won’t think so, of course, and their proof may be in those who haven’t gotten over those Mass changes from the 1960s. I’m hoping, though, that these changes are going to have a side benefit that will outweigh whatever negative emotions linger from these new revisions of the liturgy: Helping Catholics better understand and appreciate the Mass. As the changes are explained, booklets like “Understanding the Revised Mass Texts” take each part of the liturgy and help readers see its purpose, why it’s part of the Catholic tradition, how we are brought closer to God and to one another through our prayer together. That’s a good thing. — bz