By Deacon Frank Agnoli
Whenever the new Missal comes up in conversation, eventually someone says: “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?” The basic answer is: we can do things better now.
Over the past 40 years, we have been doing something that the church had not done for centuries: celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular. Our first attempts at recovering this ancient practice were good, but rushed — and not based on lived experience. Over the last four decades we’ve learned more about the meaning of the Latin texts and about what works best when saying texts out loud. We are now ready for the next step.
Far from being a “step backwards,” the new Missal keeps us on the path set by Vatican II. The opening paragraph of Liturgiam authenticam, the document which set the direction for the new translation, puts it this way:
The Second Vatican Council strongly desired to preserve with care the authentic Liturgy, which flows forth from the church’s living and most ancient spiritual tradition, and to adapt it with pastoral wisdom to the genius of the various peoples so that the faithful might find in their full, conscious, and active participation in the sacred actions — especially the celebration of the sacraments — an abundant source of graces and a means for their own continual formation in the Christian mystery.
In order to help foster our full, conscious and active participation in the worship of God, the new translation will reflect the following qualities:
1. The connections between our prayers and the Scriptures will be made clearer in the new translation. For example, in Eucharistic Prayer III we currently hear: “… so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.” The text is from Malachi 1:11, but you wouldn’t know it. The new translation makes the connection: “… so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” East and west are spatial metaphors; the rising and setting of the sun can refer to both place and time — so not only is the scriptural reference clarified, but the symbol is also broadened. A version of the Order of Mass showing the scriptural ties to the liturgical texts is available on the Web: http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/WhiteBookAnnotated.pdf.
2. The style will be more formal, perhaps even more respectful. It will be clear that we are creatures addressing the Creator, not persons having conversations with a peer. Phrases like “we pray,” “kindly” or “be pleased to” will remind us that there is something different about directly addressing God, that we are asking and not demanding. For example, the current translation of the Third Eucharistic Prayer sounds as if we are commanding God:
Strengthen in faith and love…
The approved translation of the prayer now reads:
Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity …
3. The vocabulary will be more varied. In the translation we are using now, different words in Latin were translated with the same English word. For example, we currently translate the Latin words pietas, consortio, amor, caritas and dilectio as “love.” But each of these words has a particular nuance or emphasis — parental affection, sharing, love, charity, delight — that greatly enriches the text. The new translation will reflect the greater variety that is in the prayers.
4. The translations will also be more poetic and concrete, made for singing. Roman liturgy is intended to be sung, and the new texts will make it easier to fulfill that mandate. But, even if proclaimed, the texts will have a more musical/poetic quality to them. It will take work to learn how to proclaim them well and to attune our ears to them; but, in the long run, it will be worth it.
Next time: Part two of this article.
(Deacon Agnoli is director of liturgy for the Davenport Diocese.)