Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The New Missal and the Battle for the Language of the Liturgy

Published in the U Matuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hagatna, Guam, The First Sunday of Advent, November 27. 2011.
Today, the First Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the use of the New Roman Missal. I have been watching the evolution of this translation with some interest since John Paul II first officially called for it in Liturgicam Authenticam in 2001. Just as interesting as its genesis and evolution will be its implementation and the manner of its reception.

There has been no shortage of resources designed to facilitate the transition to the new translation. And while it is quite good that there has been a great effort to educate the laity, most of us will probably only notice (and stumble over) “and with your spirit” versus “and also with you”, as well as a few new words in the Creed. 
There is much more of course. The new translation was almost ten years in the making. Thousands of hours went into these words. To be sure, there is great depth there for those who would like to plumb it, and it is hoped that many will. But just as interesting and worth studying is the reason why it took ten years. I’m wondering if someone hasn’t already started writing the book. It is sure to be be high drama. 
Some of the drama has already played out with certain bishops showing no qualm about making their opposition to the new translation quite public. We won’t use any names, but the strong opinions appearing in print over the last few years is an indication that there had to have been some rather pitched battles throughout the process. 
But battles over what? Were the episcopal confrontations just over how to translate Latin verbs into English or was there a larger war to be waged?
Last week I wrote a column entitled “As the Church goes, so goes the world.” There’s actually a prequel to that. It’s called “As the Liturgy goes, so goes the Church.” It makes sense of course. If the Mass is the “source and summit” of our Faith, then all else flows from that. Cardinal Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, framed it thus: “The future of humanity is in the Liturgy...”, and thus the reason for the battle for the language of the Liturgy.
Language is power. Words matter. Both despot and democrat have historically understood that whoever controls language controls everything. Language shapes perception and perception shapes reality. And the reality is, that over the last 40 years, the American Church has seen a statistical collapse.
A 2007 Pew Research poll reported that only 25% of people raised Catholic still call themselves Catholic, and a 2010 CARA poll revealed that only 23% of those that still call themselves Catholic regularly attend Sunday Mass! In addition, a 2010 Pew Research poll reported that more than 40% of Catholics did not know that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Jesus during the consecration, and a 2009 study showed than an amazing 49% of Catholics believe that abortion should remain legal!
The 2007 poll also noted that, compared to other mainline denominations, the U.S. Catholic Church “has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of changes in affiliation”, and that, but for the “offsetting impact” of hispanic immigration, the decline would be even larger.
What happened? Certainly there are many possible factors. We could blame “the 60’s”, the sexual revolution, materialism, “the World”, etc. We might even look inward and see the weakness of of our catechetical programs, moral timidity, or the “mis-interpretation” of Vatican II. Progressives are likely to blame the Church’s position on women’s ordination, contraception, and homosexuality - positions, by the way that haven’t changed and can never change.
But at least one factor contributing to the decay of Catholic life in America was the Liturgy, or more specifically, the language of the Liturgy, which is why John Paul II demanded that it be fixed, and sent us the instruction manual (Liturgicam Authenticam) in 2001.
Anyone who has any question as to why a new translation of the Mass was much needed should consult this document. While he said it nicely, the Pope essentially laid the blame for the documentable decline of faith and morals at the feet of our “overly servile” translation of the Mass. 
In a 1993 address to a group of U.S. Bishops, in an obvious critique of the current translation and in anticipation of a new one, the Pope spoke about the power of the liturgical texts “for instilling in the lives of the Christian faithful the elements of faith and Christian morality...”, and emphasized that translations of liturgical texts “must always be in accord with sound doctrine.” We trust that the Missal we now possess is exactly that.

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