Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The New Translation a Flop?

Jerry Galipeau of Gotta Sing offers these words of wisdom to his friends who can't stop attacking the new translation of the Missal:
I want to share something that has been eating away at me for quite some time. Most of those who have been offering scathing critiques of the new translation are counted among my friends. One critique recently went so far as to urge that we should refuse to use the new texts and stay with the current Sacramentary texts. I guess I find myself confused about these critiques. I, too, have spent lots of time with these texts and have discovered some real problems with some of the translations. But I wonder about passing a judgment of condemnation upon them, as some of the critics have done. It's like a theater critic reading a script six weeks before opening night and declaring the play a flop.

When I was working with priests in Davenport, I chose some of the more problematic texts for them to work with. They divided up into small groups and I asked them to share their thoughts about the particular text assigned to the group. The complaints abounded. "This is all one long sentence." "I can't find the antecedent." "The grammar just doesn't look right to me." "What kind of English is this anyway?" "I don't think anyone will understand this prayer."

Then I asked a member of the small group, "Father, would you pray that text for us?" After these priests had spent time visually analyzing the texts and expressings their thoughts about the texts, the actual praying of the texts surprised everyone in attendance. We heard things like, "Wow, despite the fact that it appeared stilted on the page, I think you did a beautiful job praying that prayer." "Good job, Harry, that's a tough text but you conveyed it beautifully."

I was suprised by what occurred, which is why I think we really need to resist the temptation to condemn the text before "the curtain" actually rises.
Amen to that, as they say in some Southern houses of worship. You know, his comments could also apply to those who are panning Mass propers even before they have been tried, among whom...Jerry Galipeau in the post previous to this one! He says in his his post Let's Get Real:
But, to be honest, I just don't think this whole argument about the singing of the propers will ever amount to a hill of beans to these parish people. The people have grown accustomed to singing hymns and songs at the entrance and at communion from a wide variety of traditions at Saint James. When we sing Soon and Very Soon as the opening song in Advent, you would swear that we were "goin' to see the king" right then and there. When we sing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," you take the deepest breaths you have ever taken, 'cause without a doubt you know that you are being revived. Whether we like it or not, these hymns and songs have become a living part of the Mass for the majority of Catholics. To suggest that these be phased out over the next few years, to be replaced by the chanted propers (or even the propers set to other musical styles) is just not realistic.

I must say that my experiences have been completely opposite. No, the people in the pews don't rush up after Mass and say: what a fantastic performance today; that was just what I needed! Instead, they find themselves thinking and praying through the performers and through the music toward eternity. In fact, if people can't wait to tell you how great your rendition of "Soon and Very Soon" was, there is a good reason to suspect a problem. Musicians should not seek that, should not want that. If we succeed in giving a lift to the prayers of the prayers, we have done what we are supposed to do.

(By the way, does it matter that "Soon..." refers not to Advent but to the Second Coming as understood in the premillennial Scofieldite tradition of 19th-century evangelicalism and that this view is rejected by the Catechism of the Catholic Church?)

This does not mean banning "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," even though that song is not my favorite. Even if it were my favorite, I hope I would have the wisdom to see that this is not the right replacement for the propers of the Mass. Whether it can be sung as an additional song after the propers is a matter for discussion. There is a time and a place for everything, and we can argue forever about the kind of music we should schedule at youth retreats, prayer sessions, Church socials, or whatever. About the primary text and music of the Mass there really should be no argument: it should be the music or at least the texts of the Mass!

In any case, as with all these issues, the proof comes in the doing, as Jerry would say. All we are saying is give propers a chance.

By the way, I purchased the WLP Missal for home use and I can't wait for it to arrive! Jerry tells me that they completely reset the music for the Missal chants to make them more beautiful (but without changing any of the structure of course).
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