Old School Religion?

Okay, I know lots of people have opined about this sort of thing. But I can’t resist commenting. Here’s the headline: “Catholic Church Going Old School, Getting Back To Latin With New Mass Translation”.

Now I don’t mind “old school” when it comes to things we’re supposed faithfully to hand on. That’s called fidelity. And of course there is a sense in which we’re “getting back to Latin with the new Mass translation”–it’s more faithful to the Latin text that the translation we have been using for forty years. Fine.

Even so, the headline gives the impression that somehow a major shift is occuring in Catholic worship. Really?

As much as the next pastorally-astute Catholic guy, I have favored using the implementation of the new Mass translation to help deepen our understanding of and participation in Holy Mass. But come on, folks. The changes aren’t that drastic. Especially for those of us in the pews. The priest celebrant, of course, has to learn a body of new translations of old prayers. That can be tricky. But we laity have relatively little to learn.

To be sure, even though the laity don’t have to master the new prayers as well as the priests, we should still pay attention to them in order to benefit from the greater accuracy the new translation entails and in this way to enter more deeply into the prayers of the Mass. But still. It’s not as if this is an entirely new text or we’re doing something fundamentally different from what we have been doing for the last forty years.

So on the one hand, it is exciting and significant that we have this new Mass translation. On the other hand, it isn’t as if a revolution is taking place in the sacred liturgy. The reality is somewhere in between.

One problem some commentators and critics have played up: the style of language is more formal than what we’re used to praying at Mass. That will be a problem but not a major one. People will adjust. Indeed, the relative informality of the current translation is one reason for the new translation. In our civic life, we tend to employ more solemn language–think of a presidential inauguration. Yet when we go to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the self-offering of the King of the Universe, we get uninspired, pedestrian texts that don’t even include all the content of the Latin texts they’re supposedly translating.

Now I understand how it came about and I don’t think it a good use of time to devote much energy to bad-mouthing translation decisions of another generation. Yet here we are. And where we are explains why we’re going where we’re going with the new translation.

“But,” runs the objection, “our people aren’t used to that kind of language.”

Exactly. We participate every week (or everyday, in some folks’ case) in the most sacred of activities in the cosmos and we treat it with less dignity than we do lesser secular civic ceremonies. What’s wrong with that picture? If “our people aren’t used to that kind of language” then it would seem to be time we help them get used to it by using it–by having a translation that better coresponds to the dignity of what we celebrate in Holy Mass.


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About Mark Brumley 60 Articles
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.