New Mass Translation Has Catholics Confused Over Roman Missal

on November 27 2011 6:09 PM
New Mass Translation
Catholic laymen were the not the only ones adjusting to a new translation of the Roman Missal. Priests also struggled with the formal, Latin-influenced translation on Nov. 27, 2011. Marquette University/Creative

For the first time in 40 years, Roman Catholics across the globe will be relying on cheat sheets to adjust to some significant changes during Mass, as a new version of the Roman missal commissioned by the late Pope John Paul II arrives in churches worldwide.

Nov. 27 marks the first day of the church year, and of the pre-Christmas Advent season, also called Little Lent. The Catholic Church has chosen this Sunday to launch, for the first time since 1973, a different English translation of the Roman missal, the Latin prayer book used for Catholic mass.

The new translation began with the late Pope John Paul II. In 2000, he commissioned church translators to draft a more formal word-for-word translation of the Roman missal.

Over a decade later, the Church has finally put the translation into effect, and churchgoers the world over are struggling to forget phrases that some have memorized since childhood.

The new translation was introduced in every Catholic Mass in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and India. It has already begun to be phased in at other English-speaking churches around the world.

Return to Latin Roots

Supporters of the new translation say the revisions help to better convey the sacredness of traditional worship, something diluted first with the shift from Latin to English and then with some of the Vatican II reforms in the 1960s and 1970s.

We [English-speaking churches] lost a bit of the solemness of beauty of the original Latin-- something that didn't happen with other translation, Vancouver Archdiocese spokesman Paul Schratz told The National Post.

Paul Tortora, a former altar boy who attended morning Mass at St. Patrick's in New York, is similarly enthusiastic about the revised Roman missal.

If they bring back more of the traditional way of doing things, I think people will appreciate the Mass more, Totora said. But I'm old school.

I'm furious with the Church.

Other churchgoers were not so optimistic, and in fact felt confused and upset by the new translation, which some believed was an arbitrary change that disrupted traditions they'd carried on since childhood.

Kathleen McCormack, a church volunteer and former school teacher in North Carolina, found the elaborate wording of the new translation distancing and off-putting. Consubstantial? she said, referencing a passage in the new version of the Nicene Creed describing Jesus as one with the Father. What is that word?

George Lind, 73, of New York City, had far stronger words about his feeling on the new Roman missal.

I am furious with the Church, he told The Times. At one point during the service, he became so angry about the translation that he stopped responding. I am so tired of being told exactly what I have to say, exactly what I have to pray. The changes are so meaningless.

Many of the differences between the old and new translation in fact subtly shift the meaning of the Mass.

The Nicene Creed for example, begins with I believe instead of we believe. The traditional response at the beginning of Mass, with a priest saying The Lord be with you, has also been changed, going from and also with you to and with your spirit. These changes, while small, do have a significant effect on the meaning, making Mass both more formal in praising God and with more of a remove between priest and laymen.

Msgr. Donald Sakano acknowledged this shift to The Daily News, but strongly defended it.

“It's a whole different way of talking to God, and God talking to us,” he said. It's ‘Kingdom Language’ — the Kingdom of God. We belong to a community that God gathers — and not YouTube or Facebook.”

I was a little bit upset with myself.

Proponents and opponents of the new Roman missal can all agree however, that the changes are going to take a while to get used to.

While the Mass itself has not changed, how Mass is said is an integral part of Roman Catholic services. Catholic Mass is built around the memorization and repetition of phrases between a priest and his congregation. Change those phrases, and laymen aren't the only ones who will trip up.

Monsignor Ritchie, at St. Patrick's in New York City, lost his place at one point during the service, flipping through the missal during the start of Communion. Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, also admitted to stumbling during the Nov. 27 Mass.

I tripped up a couple of times, George told The Tribune. I found myself reverting back, and therefore I was a little bit upset with myself.

To help both priests and their congregations remember the new translation, and to help ease the transition into a more formal, Latin-based Mass, churches have taken to printing cheat sheets outlining changes in the Roman missal, including the call-and-responses many are struggling to remember.

These cheat sheets will be crucial in the days to come, as even those parishioners eager to try out the new Mass translation stumble over changes in vocabulary. I don't think I said it the right way one, Matthew Hoover of Clayton, N.C. told AP. I kept forgetting, and saying the old words.

The Roman Missal: Old v. New Translation

For those curious about the exact changes to the Roman missal, several collected cheat sheets form a picture of the new translation, and what has changed from the four-decades-old former version.

The Greeting: The priest addresses the congregation at the start of Mass.

Priest: The Lord be with you.

Old Response: And also with you.

New Response: And with your spirit.

Gloria: A prayer praising God, often sung in Catholic services.

Old Translation: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.

New Translation: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly king, O God, almighty father.

Nicene Creed: A rundown of Christian beliefs.

Old Translation: Begins with We believe, and calls Jesus one in being with the Father.

New Translation: Begins with I believe, and calls Jesus consubstantial with the Father.

Mystery of Faith: A recounting of Jesus telling his disciples to take wine and bread as his body and blood.

Old Translation [One of several]: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

New Translation: We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.

Invitation to Communion: The response just before parishioners approach the alter for Holy Communion.

Old Response: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

New Response: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

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