Six Eight Months Later*

(*I meant to write this after six months, but life’s been busy!)

Well, it’s been six eight months now since we bade farewell to the ICEL translation of the Roman Missal and started using the new, so I thought I’d write about what it’s like to pray this missal, now that the initial shock of the transition has subsided.

I’ve gotten the hang of “And with your spirit” now, and haven’t oopsed there in a long time.

The new confiteor text is one where I make adjustments:

I just cannot bring myself to say “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”, because the words feel as if they don’t mean anything. Who talks like that? So I say those words in Latin, where I have a feeling for what they mean because I say them sometimes in other contexts: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

We usually sing the Gloria, and I can sing along without the text pretty well (in the Mass of Creation setting, which is all we’ve used so far), but not recite it by heart. A few weeks ago, the priest started us off reciting it, and we got as far as “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, uh, on earth peace to people of good will…Lord God, uh, …” and then everybody just gave up and realized we didn’t know the words. So, the priest said, “Let’s all get out our worship aids, for full participation…” and waited for us all to find the right page, then started us again. So that was funny.

I can recite the new translation of the creed pretty well. I make one adjustment in the text: “For us humans, and for our salvation…. he became human”, because in addition to using inclusive language, it is a more accurate and closer-to-cognate translation of the Latin homo. I usually manage consubstantial all right, but I stumble over was incarnate of the Virgin Mary. I sometimes forget one of the phrases that changed just slightly (“suffered death” instead of “suffered, died”, “in accordance with” instead of “in fulfillment of”, “look forward to” instead of “look for”), but after I miss one I generally get the others.

The changed prefatory dialogue “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”/”It is right and just” has grown on me since the explanatory handout in the bulletin in the first couple of weeks explained that this comes from an acclamatory response that the Roman citizens would give to decrees of the Emporer, if I remember correctly. So I’m kind of into that image: “It is right and just” I imagine solemnly acclaiming as I gather with my fellow citizens in the newly built Roman basilicas for the newly established state church.

I can’t speak comprehensively about the Eucharistic Prayers because I’ve still only ever heard EP 2, which is the shortest and simplest of them. Before the new translation, there was a really annoying tendency in many churches to use EP 2 more often than the other three (or the few other occasional/themed options), simply because it was the shortest, and there’s often a great concern to keep people no more than an hour. (To be fair, this is sometimes because there are several masses scheduled in quick succession on Sunday mornings, and if the 9am runs over, then the parking lot becomes really dangerous as the 9am leaves while the 10:30 is trying to arrive. But it signals a really misplaced set of priorities for Sunday mass to get through the eucharistic prayer as quickly as possible!) Since we adopted the new translation, the reason is clearly because the priests want to be able to actually pray the eucharistic prayer, not simply read it out of the sacramentary. And I understand that, which is why I was patient about it at first. But come on, Fathers, it’s been six eight months — can we get to some of the others, please?!?

The first problem I have with EP2 is the invocation of the Spirit on the bread and wine “like the dewfall.” I gather this is supposed to suggest the image of manna, but I invariably get distracted by wondering if that means the Spirit is supposed to condense onto the elements out of the atmosphere of prayer… argh.

I like the change to “be in your presence and serve you”, that used to be “stand in your presence”: under the American adaptation (and a number of others, I suspect), the assembly is kneeling at that point rather than standing, and it always bugged me that the standing priest in the presence of the kneeling people would “thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you” – it came across rather like the royal we in those circs.

I’m interested in the change of language about the saints, “who have pleased You” rather than “done Your will”. There are certainly some tortuous turns of phrase here: that we may “merit to be co-heirs” comes to mind.

The final doxology flows a little better than the old one did, I think.

Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve grown quite fond of the new, more literal translation of the Domine, non sum dignus. But then I always liked (after I figured it out, anyway) the allusion to the words of the Roman centurion in the gospels.

The general move to translate beatus as blessed rather than happy or joyful is one I don’t care for. It shows up several places, including the one part of the mass that I just haven’t warmed up to: the new text of the embolus, the text the priest recites after (the main text of) the Lord’s Prayer before its doxology. That used to be one of my favorite prayers in the Mass, and now it has so little emotional content for me that I have trouble staying tuned in to it.

That’s the trouble I have overall with this higher diction, tortured syntax, and the use of inkhorn terms. To my ear, the effect is not beautiful transcendence, or transcendent beauty: it is dull obscurity, sterile pedantry. What a dreadful thing to do to the liturgical celebration of the Bread of Life!

It is harder to pray these texts, it is more difficult to fully, actively, and consciously participate in the liturgy, because it is much easier to tune out of this language that doesn’t have the cadences of speech that matters, neither of conversational speech nor of formal oratory.

And I seriously worry about my less theologically educated brothers and sisters who have never heard some of the technical words used in some of the prefaces and collects: what meaning is there in an Amen if you don’t know the meaning of some of the words you’re assenting to?

Overall, though, I’ve adjusted better than I expected, and I can appreciate some of the changes. I can hope that those who find the language of the KJV beautiful (unlike me) may also be finding this language beautiful. I can, and do, take comfort in the companionship of my fellow Catholics in the pews with me as we stumble and succeed, are dismayed and appreciate, and continue to adjust together.

And, thanks be to God, the Lord is still present among us, as we bless, break, take, and eat the bread, as Christians have always done.

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One Response to Six Eight Months Later*

  1. PS – I finally got to hear Eucharistic Prayer #3 this past sunday – thanks Father! It was recognizable, with a few key phrases that were unchanged, and a few phrases that got very awkward, and a few where the emphasis was significantly shifted from the ICEL translation, at least to this listener. I was particularly sad to hear the absence of the phrase “We hope to enjoy forever the vision of your glory”, as I always appreciated that allusion to the “beatific vision”, a significant concept in Catholic theology. The new translation has “fullness of your glory” or something like that.

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