February 9, 2011

Dewfalls and the Many

The other day I got into a conversation about the upcoming English translation of the 3rd edition Roman Missal. Some say that its fancier language will be the beginning of our salvation from our endemic problems of casualness and lack of liturgical decorum. Others say that it will ruin the ease of speaking to God accomplished by the liturgical reforms following Vatican II. I suspect that both of these cases are generally overstated.

Nevertheless, I am somewhat amused when I hear priests saying that this new translation will be obfuscating and a jarring hardship for the laity assisting at Mass. My suspicion is that this translation will be a good deal harder for the clergy than the people of God. Sure, it won't be easy for any of us, but my guess is that by Easter 2012 the laity will be accustomed to saying 'and with your spirit' and 'consubstantial' and won't even have think about it.

Priests, I imagine, will be another story. I think of a little example, and an average priest. Father has been saying Mass with our current translation for thirty or forty years. It is much more ingrained in him than he may realize. Even more, he is even more attached to certain of the current texts. For example, he uses Eucharistic Prayer II for the overwhelming majority of his Masses. He might use III on Sundays or other big days (and in fairness, the general instruction recommends this), but he almost never uses the Roman Canon, either because he was taught to disparage it (as I was) or because he feels it backward, and almost never uses Eucharistic Prayer IV, because it requires so many grammatical gymnastics to rearrange the verbiage to make it 'gender inclusive.' So, Eucharistic Prayer II is planted firmly and deeply in this man's praying self. When he finds out--and he doesn't know this yet--that he is supposed to say "dewfall" in the newly translated epiclesis of this prayer, he's going to flip out.

Other things are going to be trouble for the clergy as well. Because he has either forgotten about or never knew the classic rubrical language of the Roman rite in Latin, he will be confused by literally translated rubrics when he comes to use the Roman Canon once a year or so, perhaps on Holy Thursday evening. More specifically, he will wonder what it means when it says, "within the action" before the Communicantes.

Finally, I would hardly be surprised to see a lot of priestly noncompliance around the pro multis as "for many" rather than the "for all" as we have it now. The little troubles that will arise around this will be have to be discerned carefully. Some of the complaints will come from legitimate concerns about translation, but others will come from the creeping universalism and atmosphere of religious indifferentism that trouble our historical moment. The complaints of many may include both of these, so all conversations, especially heated ones, will have to be approached with studied discretion.


K T Cat said...

What problem is this new version trying to solve?

Estelle said...

I think the reversion to 'Credo' i.e. I believe may cause some anguish to those who have until now been able to say 'We believe' without any problems with their conscience but who may find the first person untrue. I am not making any value judgement as to what the text should be in English - grammatically it is obvious - just pointing out the change may cause pain to some.

carl said...

If the first person is untrue, why would that person remain in the Catholic Church?

Marc said...

Your observation that in most parishes the laity are going to be fine with the new, better translation and that you clerics are the ones who are likely to have to most difficulty adapting matches what I see, here in western Oregon-- with the exception that, happily enough, 'dewfall' isn't going to send anybody to the asylum. Dreadful music here and many incoherent or silly (which latter is almost worse) homilies but, as the expression goes, the hearts are in the right place.

Estelle said...

I have reflected upon Carl's question overnight and come to the conclusion I cannot answer it because I cannot see into another person's heart. However, from my personal perspective I would rather see the Church full at Mass even if some of those present are struggling with their faith than to see fewer people all who feel that they can give full firm and complete assent to the Creed. We are all of us the sinners Christ came to save.

carl said...


Thanks for being willing to talk about this with me.

I think where I'm coming from is my status as a convert; I chose to come into the Church from outside her, so I can't understand why someone would remain in her without being able to assent to what she teaches, particularly the Creed.

Struggling with faith is perfectly fine; the encounter in the depths of your heart with the sometimes seeming-absurdity of this invisible world in which we believe is honest and shouldn't be quelled. I think Ratzinger makes this point early on in his "Introduction to Christianity".

But it sounds as though "we believe" can be used as a cop out so someone can choose to say they do not believe in the articles of the Creed--that the Creed is not true.

I consider the beauty of the Catholic Church to be that we can say, "I don't know the truth, but She does".

Giving assent to the creed is irrelevant to our status as sinners; I wouldn't begin to suggest that people who can give it full firm and complete assent are less sinful than those who cannot.

Estelle said...

Carl, it is a considerable pleasure to be able to debate in this way (and possibly across continents) - so many blogs seem to be littered with negative comments. As converts both, I think we are in complete agreement about the points you make on the beauty of the Church and her Truth, the centrality of the Creed and our status as sinners. Indeed, I agree with you also that the use of 'We' as a copout is concerning for the individual doing so - if we differ anywhere it may be that you are envisaging it as a mechanism of wider-ranging denial whereas I was thinking more along the lines of some doubts as in the honest struggle you describe so well.

Thank you for making my first venture to post a comment on a blog such a positive experience.

Sara said...

There are some folks in my parish who change the words of the Creed. It causes me some anguish and I look forward to their use of the first person, because it is certainly not true that "we" believe the things they are saying.

This Sunday when I say the Creed I will also remember to pray for any of my brothers and sisters who are struggling with their faith.

Brother Charles said...

@Sara Good point! There's so much adjustment and alternative versions one hears already, it hardly makes sense to say "we."

(And, on other points, thanks for the good conversation.)

carl said...


Yeah, maybe I was mistaking the questioning to which you in fact referred for dissent. I too am glad that we've had such a pleasant discussion. And if you haven't read it, Introduction to Christianity really does address this very issue so well. Pages 42-52 in the edition you see a lot is particularly relevant.

Estelle said...

Thank you Carl - I will follow up your recommendation as I have not read that book.