Why do we need a new translation of the Mass, anyway?


In English-speaking countries, the First Sunday of Advent was traditionally known as “stir-up Sunday”—not only because housewives were expected to “stir up” the plum pudding that would be served with Christmas dinner, but also because of the opening prayer for the Sunday liturgy:

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and come, that by thy protection we may be rescued from the dangers that beset us through our sins; and be a Redeemer to deliver us; Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The translation currently in use reduces the poetry of the prayer to this office-memo prose:

Father, we need your help. Free us from sin and bring us to life. Support us by your power.

Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent this year, Catholics in English- speaking countries will be introduced to a new translation of the Roman Missal. The new translation—more faithful to the Latin original, following the principles set forth in Liturgiam Authenticam—comes only after a long, painful batt le.

Poor “ordinary” Catholics

Leading the charge against the new translation, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania worried in a 2009 lecture at Catholic University that “ordinary Catholics” would be unable to comprehend words that appeared in the new text. He cited words like “incarnate” and “precursor” and “inviolate” and “oblation.” His argument suggested not only that “ordinary” Catholics would not know these words, but also that they would be incapable of learning them, since he said that the language of the new translations is “beyond their comprehension.”

Who were these “ordinary” Catholics, whose capacity to learn new words is so severely limited? Bishop Trautman explained that he was worried how these awful new translations would aff ect “children, teenagers, adults, those with varying degrees of education, and those with English as a second language.”

Children, teenagers, and adults. The chances are prett y good that you, dear reader, fall into one of those categories (although the good bishop added a few other special classifi cations, just in case). Bishop Trautman was concerned about you. If the new translations were approved, you might hear words that you hadn’t heard before, and then what would you do? It was “pastoral disaster” waiting to happen to “ordinary” Catholics. A few months from now it will become a reality.

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