Fr. Paul Kavanagh shows some of artwork contained in the new missal.


Fr. Paul Kavanagh shows some of the artwork contained in the new missal.

April 30, 2012

BRONX, N.Y. - The language used in the new translation of the Mass has evoked a variety of responses, from highly enthusiastic to deeply distressed, according to speakers at an April 16 symposium.

The new translation can be seen as both a gift and a challenge, the speakers told the event - Letting Us Pray: A Symposium on Language in Liturgy - held at Jesuit-run Fordham University.

A thorough appreciation of the new translation requires a firm grounding "both in the Gospel and in the history and tradition of Catholic worship, not some nostalgic, colourized version of the past" said keynote speaker Sister Julia Upton, professor of theology at St. John's University.

Upton said the new language could jolt people into a "second naiveté," where old sacred symbols become newly accessible, without sacrificing either the symbol's integrity or the believer's modernity.

"What has been called the 'new' Roman Missal is not new! It is the same Mass, but it sounds different," Upton said.

The third edition of the Roman Missal, the book of prayers used in worship in the Latin-rite Church, was published in Latin in 2002 and took almost 10 years to translate and gain approval from bishops' conferences in the English-speaking world.

The tension associated with the implementation of the revised translation can lead to new thinking and dialogue if worshippers remain open and hopeful, Upton said.

The new language is more poetic, she said, closer to the original Latin and includes more biblical allusions that "people will understand now in a way they never would have before the (Second Vatican) Council opened up the Sacred Scriptures for us."

Joel Hoffman, a translator and liturgical language consultant, distinguished between scientific and liturgical translations. Scientific translations are more accurate, but liturgical translations better serve the needs of the worshippers.

The new missal as a mediocre translation, he said, was "not written in the vernacular, despite what people think. People working deeply in this field tend to speak their own internal language."

Hoffman said liturgical translations are used because people are familiar with the language, even if it is not in common use, such as "Hosanna in the Highest."


Jesuit Father Thomas Scirghi, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, said he is trying to be patient with the new missal.

The previous translation was a rushed version that posed problems and needed revision, he acknowledged, but then asked, "Is the current translation the improvement we need at this time?"

"Liturgy is a school for the emotions," Scirghi said. "The language of liturgy is less about words than about shaping people as a community."

Ideally, a translation should be easy to understand and still preserve the beauty and dignity of the text, he said.

Concluded Scirghi: "The new translation is a good catechetical tool, but I'm not ready to call it a gift."

Upton said response to the new translation mirrors a generational divide. People who experienced the Second Vatican Council are more apprehensive about it than students, who appreciate the opportunity to be "in on the ground floor" of something new.