Give change a chance

  • May 7, 2010
new missalLast week a reader wrote us to apologize because he realized he’d been too harsh last January in criticizing design changes we’d made to The Register. Upon reflection, he concluded, the paper was now easier on the eyes and the changes were a “tremendous improvement.”

We mention this not to praise ourselves, but because a new translation of the Roman Missal has been approved by Pope Benedict XVI  and, with change in the wind, it is worth remembering there is virtue in being open-minded and even-tempered. As our reader realized, given time, change can be good.

And big change is coming to the Mass. The missal we’ve used since the mid-1970s is being replaced with a translation of the Latin text promulgated in 2000 by Pope John Paul II. The new missal should be in churches in 18 months.

At first glance, the new text is bound to cause much dismay and some anger. Even the Pope acknowledged that “many will find it hard to adjust” so the change must be introduced with “due sensitivity.” Opposition is already growing. Almost 21,000 people, including several Canadian priests, have signed an American online petition protesting the change. When the new missal was accidentally implemented in South Africa, there was widespread outrage.

The missal now in use was translated in the 1970s amid reformist enthusiasm following Vatican II. Instead of a precise interpretation of the Latin Missale Romanum, that English version used many colloquial words and phrases to make the text, it was argued, relevant to worshippers. For example, “Et cum spirit tuo” became “And also with you” instead of the more precise “And with your spirit.”

The new text is more true to the Latin version. Some examples: “With your spirit” replaces “And also with you.” In the Gloria, “We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory” becomes “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.” At the Lamb of God, “not worthy to receive you” becomes “not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

In retrospect, the 1970s translation may have been a hasty reaction to the times. Much of the richness and texture of the Latin was lost. It would be like transcribing Shakespeare into 21st century street-speak. The new translation tries to fix that, but going back will not be easy.

Critics have labelled the new text awkward and the language itself old-fashioned. Some fear the Church is turning back the clock. It is therefore essential that Canadian bishops act in solidarity to fully inform priests so they can prepare parishioners, a big challenge.

Change is never easy but, as our reader discovered, it needs to be given a chance.

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