CRANSTON, R.I. — “They’re awful…. They’re fine…. It’s horrible English…. It’s quite beautiful.... Where are the periods? etc. ...” So goes the flurry of articles on the quality of the new translation of the Roman Missal that goes into effect on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. Here is a pastor’s opinion of these translations. And I definitely have an opinion.
The comedian Stephen Colbert invented the word “truthiness.” Basically, “truthiness” occurs when someone claims something to be true based on nothing more than opinion.
A good example: “I think global warming is a myth.” Based on nothing more than a gut feeling, this statement becomes a person’s truthiness. “Truthiness” forgets that real truth is discovered when people do serious research and use empirical evidence to come to a conclusion.
I suspect that “truthiness” is controlling the wide range of opinion on the new translation. Articles abound giving opinions based upon the opinions of others. Articles have been written using not the final prayers but those from the interim “green book” translation (first draft), which was replaced by those in the “gray book.” And there is a big difference between the two.
I decided to skip the opinions and just read them for myself. Because I am the chair of the committee for the implementation of these translations in my home diocese, I had access to the final translations. So I read them—slowly, carefully and prayerfully. I found them very beautiful. I found them to be rich in symbol and in theology. I found them to be an honest and sincere attempt to raise the language of liturgy to a higher level.
Are these translations perfect? I doubt it. Is what we are using now perfect? Hardly. Many have been complaining for years that what we are presently using is sorely lacking. The new translation is a sincere attempt to remedy the problem. The key to understanding and exploring these translations is not simply to scan them as you would a book, but to take them and learn to pray them out loud. That is the challenge for any presider: not to simply look at the words and analyze the grammar but rather to learn to articulate them in prayer.
I urge everyone to see in this new translation an attempt to create a more beautiful experience of prayer. I urge presiders to take the time and effort to prepare these translations for proclamation so they may be experienced as prayer and as a fitting offering for our common act of worship. And I urge all of us to be patient in the experience of transition from the present translation to the new. I think that the end result will be well worth the effort.
Finally, I encourage everyone to see these translations in perspective. They are not the end-all of what we are about as a people of faith. Liturgy is best understood when it is seen as a preparation and sustenance for living our faith and seeking after justice and peace in our world. Our goal must always be to make the Gospel tangible so that what we proclaim at Eucharist may become what we live and do in every event of our lives.
The writer is pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Cranston, R.I. He served as director of liturgy and music for the Diocese of Providence and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Snows in Belleville, Ill.