Mere Priesthood

In the past few weeks there has been a bit of a kerfluffle based on a rather silly survey of a few US priests, regarding the new translation of the Mass.

While the results of that survey must be taken with a grain of salt, I think there is probably some truth in it, in that some priests are dissatisfied with the new translation.

And, I think, that is just fine.

The new translation was easily accepted by the people in part because the Order of the Mass did not change much for us. Oh sure, we had to learn words like “consubstantial,” but long sections of each prayer, including the entire Our Father, were kept as-is. We did not have much adjusting to do.

For priests, in contrast, the adjustment was thoroughgoing. And again, I think this is a good thing.

Given the very awkward reality of the versus populum posture, the priest has a number of challenging decisions to make about his ars celebrandi. How much eye contact with the congregation is appropriate, and at what liturgical moments? Where else can he fix his gaze so as not to distract? Will he smile so as to project warmth? Will he hold an upright or a relaxed posture? Will he look at the lectors during the readings so as to indicate attention, or close his eyes, or look directly forward?

These questions become more pointed when the priest speaks. Will he use a normal everyday voice? Does he have a special tone of voice reserved just for saying Mass? Will he take on a persona of an actor, a television anchorman, or a motiviational speaker whom he admires? Will he try to project emotional engagement and pastoral outreach with the prayers? Will he take on the style of a teacher, trying always to get across “the main points?”

A priest who does any of these things will struggle with the new translation.

The orations of the new translation reduce the priest to being merely a priest. He cannot be an anchorman any more, if that was his style. He cannot rattle off the prayer in a casual tone–he cannot be just one of the guys. The new translation does not accommodate itself to play-acting of any kind. And this is really ok.

A priest has the most enviable and difficult job in the world, and once those hands are laid upon them, there is no running away from the task. There’s no making it into something else. He is our intermediary, anointed for our service. He’s not just one of the guys anymore, and if public speaking is part of his job, the orations are not the time for that. The orations are, clearly, prayers. From us, to God, through him, our other Christ–which is to say through Him–our prayers rise to God.

The priest should normally find the orations to be an ascetic experience, because they do not express merely human desires. The orations elevate our desires, expressing those hopes which as Catholics we ought to desire. It is a high honor to be able to express these prayers, but it is a challenge as well, and speaking them with all their force is bound to feel a bit uncomfortable at the beginning.

For what it’s worth, musicians who seek to sing the Church’s authentic music undergo a similar ascesis. Instead of doing our best Beyonce or Kingston Trio act, we begin to subsume ourselves to the less-easily-personalized contours of the chant. Instead of choosing our favorite comforting songs, we sing the texts of the Mass appointed for the day. While making enormous gains, at first it can seem that we’ve lost something. Instead of us shaping the Mass, the Mass begins, over time, to shape us.

And that’s just fine.

34 Replies to “Mere Priesthood”

  1. I don't think that it is fine.

    The new translation is unprayerful, unhelpful, and part of an unjust process.

  2. In my view, we have gained very little, and lost a great deal.

    I feel sorry for the clergy who are obliged to read this silly translation.

    Many musicians have been singing the texts of the Mass for over 40 years.

  3. John,

    I think we have an opportunity here to engage in conversation. So I think it's probably best to make one comment at a time, and wait for someone to reply before continuing to post multiple comments.

  4. Well, I happen to find the new, improved translation quite prayerful, helpful, and the process bothers me not in the least.

  5. I agree with John Quinn. And I don't find his responses to be too much.

    I think a deeper vocabulary is fine, but good English requires good grammar. This translation does not offer that.

    Good poets might play with the rules of prose, and I certainly think that good liturgical texts, especially the sung ones, could be more poetic.

    The English MR3 is a missed opportunity. It missed a golden chance to engage the assembly a little deeper into the liturgy. We all know that those silly Vox Clara bishops tinkered with what sixteen bishops' conferences approved. And not only were their silly changes a poor excuse to meet over a good wine on a Roman balcony, but they weren't able to avoid even more silly theological clunkers than the MR1 folks offered us.

    The sooner we're rid of this silly translation, the better.


  6. "For what it's worth, musicians who seek to sing the Church's authentic music undergo a similar ascesis. Instead of doing our best Beyonce or Kingston Trio act, we begin to subsume ourselves to the less-easily-personalized contours of the chant. Instead of choosing our favorite comforting songs, we sing the texts of the Mass appointed for the day. While making enormous gains, at first it can seem that we've lost something. Instead of us shaping the Mass, the Mass begins, over time, to shape us."

    I would agree with this. It seems to me that the basic dynamic is this: the Liturgy of the Chuch forms us. And from this, we begin to shape our individual and corporate musical (and prayer-life) contours. It's difficult to explain this in a comment box of a blogsite. But somehow the Gregorian Chant shapes an interior musical wisdom (Sapientia, in Latin) that seems to be the birth-giver (Genetrix, in Latin) of the stunning beauty of Renaissance Polyphony. My hope is that this dynamic would also still hold true for the new music of the third millennium.

  7. Good English and good grammar do not require short sentences and dumbed-down language; rather, the opposite. Was the process flawed? Given what I've read about last minute changes, etc. I will admit that it could probably have been handled better. But, the game always looks different on a Monday morning, does it not?

  8. Hear hear! Who is this Quinn who keeps popping up to endorse the tired nostrums we are used to hearing from Todd?

  9. MR2 didn't have dumbed down language. And for the record, neither did MR1. Both translations followed the Church's norms faithfully.


  10. A liturgical anachronist: one whose point of departure is alignment of the liturgy to his more or less contemporary ideas about how things should be, rather than a healthy sensitivity to the continuity of a powerful, ancient and developing tradition.

  11. I didn't take you for such an Ultramontane, Todd. How else to explain your judgement of the translation's intelligence and literary quality on the basis of the Vatican's approval?

  12. I was generalizing….however, I will agree that MR2 followed the rule of dynamic equivalence, if that's the rule to which you refer.

    This is my experience with the two forms/ norms, if you will, of translation: for 3 years, I learned Latin by the rule of formal equivalence. For Latin IV, I had a new teacher who went with dynamic equivalence. A lot went missing that last year.

    Enter MR3. I buy the company line about the translation being more theologically sound. I buy the line about the Scriptural references. The language is elevated, it minimizes priestly performances, and evokes wonderful imagery.

    Now, if I could only get my priests to sing more…

  13. MR2 didn't have dumbed down language. And for the record, neither did MR1.

    Have I missed something? Is this meant to be satire? How is it possible to look at (e.g.) the collect for Pentecost in MR1 and, seemingly with a straight face, say it's not been dumbed down?

    Both translations followed the Church's norms faithfully.

    Its just a shame that the norms at that point required the dumbing down of texts.

    And I'm not sure either MR1 or MR2 were ultimately that faithful to Comme le prevoit: "Some euchological and sacramental formularies like the consecratory prayers, the anaphoras, prefaces, exorcisms, and those prayers which accompany an action, such as the imposition of hands, the anointing, the signs of the cross, etc., should be translated integrally and faithfully, without variations, omissions, or insertions." (33, my emphasis) Certainly I recall plenty of omissions in these prayers in MR1, and MR2 wasn't an improvement in this regard – in certain respects it was even worse.

  14. "Prayer, united with the Divine Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, has an indescribable force; therefore by this means celestial favors united to the Beloved abound in the soul." St. Francis de Sales

  15. As I've mentioned before, the strenuousness of Todd's attempts to deflect a comment thread shows me that I'm on the right track with a post.

    I think the new translation is a help to priests in the ways I mentioned above. Of course, that is not what the translation is primarily "for." The accuracy of the translation, an elevated register, regaining the integrity of the single-sentence collects–all of these are worth doing in and of themselves. Focusing the prayers in the manner I mentioned, making them "priestly" rather than something else, is an amazing by-product that will bear fruit for decades to come.

    It would be much easier to accomplish that goal, obviously, with the simple expedient of restoring ad orientem posture.

  16. Can someone explain the references to MR1, MR2 and MR3? The current Missal (Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia) dates from 2002.

    John Quinn's comment that "many musicians have been singing the texts of the Mass for over 40 years" is something of an understatement . They were doing so long before the first neumed Graduals appeared in the ninth century. However, such a comment, risible in itself, does reveal something of the mindset of the writer.

  17. Hard to know where to begin with all the assertions on the "misguided missal" website.

    As I have found with other objections to the new translation, the problem is not so much with the translation as with the Latin original – the one promulgated in full compliance with Vatican II. For example, they object, that "…we are deeply concerned with the return to authoritarianism and clericalism implied in the words of the new translation" without dealing with the fact that these terms accurately reflect the Latin.

    They also assert that "…we believe that the 1998 translation was beautifully constructed, understandable, scripturally and theologically sound and easily spoken out loud and understood by the presider and the assembled People of God." It's telling that there is no mention of faithfulness to the Latin original. In fact there is no mention of the Latin at all – which is strange considering this is supposed to be a translation. Even the comparison they offer of the three translations (1973, 1998, 2010) does not include the Latin original!

    In addition, no mention is made of the Vatican's detailed objections to the 1997 ordination ritual, many of which apply to the 1998 translation. Among the problems:
    – terms omitted from the translation
    – traditional terms replaced by made-up ones
    – reordering of items in the ritual solely on the preference of the translator
    – addition of texts and prayers not found in the Latin
    – retaining of previous inaccurate translations ("Peace to his (God's) people on earth," "And also with you," etc.)

    In some cases the translators did not comply with what they had previously agreed to with the Holy See.

    So the website is tendentious, to say the least. Broad claims that the Vatican is trying to stymie the "reforms of Vatican II," or that the new translation somehow promotes an "authoritarian" view of the Church aren't much more than liberal boilerplate. In fact, the website exhibits the very limited ecclesiology that led to Rome's intervention in the translation process in the first place.

  18. Not going to argue with you that the 1973 had dumbed-down language – it's there for all to see.

    And the norms promulgated previously were found to be wanting, so now we have new norms. And for the most part the new translation reflects these norms.

  19. The Church is, in its construct, an authoritarian organization. The whole idea of a king is hard for most Americans to accept. However, that's the way it is. And if that's the way it is, I have no problem accepting it. Shouldn't we be be running our ensembles the same way? The "dictatorship of the conductor?" That'll probably lose me points on the side, but c'est la vie…

  20. MR1 = 1st edition (1970): this is the edition the 1973 English translation used.
    MR2 = 2nd edition (1975): the 1973 English translation was revised in 1985 to include recently (at that time) canonised saints from this edition; the rejected 1998 translation also used this edition.
    MR3 = 3rd edition (2002, revised 2008): this is the edition our current English translation uses.

  21. Thanks, that's what I thought. It's just that some people refer to the 2011 translation as 'MR3' which is misleading.

  22. The old translation was more like an extensive summary of the Latin rather than a translation. I work in the translation business and no customer would be happy with the dynamic equivalent method any more (apart from in advertising). People want to know what the original text says in its fulness, including, if possible, imagery, nuance, etc.
    I did a comparative study of MR2 and MR3, comparing the Creed (which both priest and people pray) and EP1 (which only the priest prays). Applying the Halliday model of register, it was clear that the register of MR3 is significantly "higher" than MR2.

  23. There is much to agree with and to disagree with in Jeffrey's article, and in the many comments here… I will just center on one thing, which is in the opening paragraph of the article. Jeffrey attests that Gregorian Chant is to have "first place" at the Mass.

    No – it does not say that. It DOES say that the primary value of liturgical celebration and its music, is the "full, conscious and active participation" of the faithful… I am sorry, and I know that many of you are ready to come at me with guns blazing, but many here choose to ignore this, and SC and documents since, make this very clear. Genre or style is not what takes "first place."
    "Pride of place," yes – we should be proud and hold up this tradition. But "pride of place" does not mean, to diminish or ridicule other expressions (SC also holds this as a core value as well). "First place," is not ANY particular style or genre (and I will also say, that contemporary or "pop" folks, in many cases try to assert their primacy as well) – but the active engagement of the gathered community. Sorry.. but that runs through all of the documents and the theology of worship since the council. Now if anyone here wants to reject the council – that is their prerogative. But the vision of liturgy since the council is to, yes, honor our Gregorian Chant heritage, lift it high; but also to celebrate the many different stylistic and cultural expressions as well.

    OK – come after me… I know its coming.

  24. You know, I think you might have commented on the wrong thread here. Anyway, I do appreciate the comments. The phrase "first place" is pretty accurate and the one accepted by the GIRM. the participation point: completely agree. This is an established priority for 100 plus years. I think we probably disagree on what that implies.

  25. "But the vision of liturgy since the council is to, yes, honor our Gregorian Chant heritage, lift it high; but also to celebrate the many different stylistic and cultural expressions as well."

    This sentence implies that there is a unified "vision of liturgy" since the Council. Is this an accurate reading of the signs of the times?

  26. I might add one personal comment. I personally find it rather unusual that someone would OPEN a conversation with remarks about other peoples' "guns a blazing." I'm not sure whether it's meant as a challenge, or an open insult, or a shield, or a reminder of past conversations, or exactly what it is meant to be, but it doesn't strike me as the kind of opening remark one finds in normal civil discourse. If this is the beginning, how could a conversation of trust be built upon it?

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