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New Sacramentary, Same Old Bickering

Q U I C K S C A N

Here We Go Again
A Glance at the New Prayers
The Bleed Continues


Sixteen years ago, St. Anthony Messenger interviewed the then-head of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) about the forthcoming changes in the Sacramentary, the red book of prayers that we all see on the altar at every Mass. That Sacramentary we use is a translation based on the official Latin version of the Roman Missal.

The English version that we were using 20 years ago, and still use today, is from the 1970s, which, in turn, was an upgrade of the hastily made translations following Vatican II in the 1960s. Of course, the prayers were all in Latin before then.

At the time of our 1994 interview, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Ph.D., former Latin and classics seminary professor, was international chairman of ICEL and former president of the U.S. bishops' conference. Pilarczyk showed off a table stacked with documents that led to the new translation and predicted that the work of translation was "almost done."

It took a few more years, until 1996, though, for the English translation, 10+ years in the making, to be approved by our bishops and sent to Rome for approval.

It landed in a quagmire. A new edition of the Roman Missal (the book that had been translated) was in the works, and would require new translation. That Third Edition of the Missal appeared six years later, in 2002, and the translating began again, now in a climate somewhat different than before.

Shortly after that Third Edition came an instruction from the Vatican congregation which oversees translations. In short, the instruction was to, while trying to maintain a good flow, preserve exact word-for-word translation whenever possible. (Previous instructions, following Vatican II, had put meaning, rather than exact wording, as the guide for translation.)

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Here We Are Again

Now, in 2010, Archbishop Pilarczyk has retired. The new translation has been revised and revised, much of it over what many would call details. Bishop Donald Trautman, of Erie, Pennsylvania, former head of the bishops' liturgy committee, has pretty much thrown up his hands in dismay and disowned the translation. In the search for sacred language, he says, we've abandoned primary concern for the "living language" of the worshipers.

Trautman recommended to the U.S. bishops, gathered last November, that the whole project should be further delayed while better translation was sought. After all, the Vatican office now coordinating the English translation had brushed aside a final consultation with the bishops' conference, against the mandate of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In as many words, he pleaded, How can a Vatican congregation trump magisterial teaching?

But even Bishop Trautman's allies had tired of the struggle. After a small compromise, the conference of bishops, ranging between gladness and resignation, O.K.'d the translation and sent it to Rome for final approval. Firsthand, this was not a pretty sight.

If all goes as planned, we can expect to see new Sacramentaries in our parishes in 2011. In those new Sacramentaries, we in the pews will notice that some of the responses in our Mass will be replaced by new, more exact translations of the Latin. The new words will be either welcomed or scorned. Pick one.

Like it or not, the new translations will be noticeable. For example, "The Lord be with you; And also with you" reverts to: "The Lord be with you; And with your spirit." "It is right to give him thanks and praise" becomes "It is right and just."

The Nicene Creed will sound different in lots of places: "We believe" becomes "I believe"; "one in being with the Father" becomes "consubstantial with the Father"; "We acknowledge one baptism" becomes "I confess one baptism." We becomes I throughout: Personal vs. communal commitment wins out as the more exact translation.

The penitential rite is a little different, as are the Gloria, the Holy, Holy, Holy and much of what we will hear the priest recite. Nowhere will the differences be dramatic, but the prayers of the Mass are so ingrained in us that changing things a little here and there will be unsettling.

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof" may take the most getting used to.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of our young adults are watching from the sidelines—outside of church. As the struggles of the world are on their minds, coming to them via Web and iPod, they hear their parents' generation fussing about the prayers at Mass. It's not heartening.

Some would argue, though, that our Church has accommodated this same world too much. Have we sacrificed our sense of the sacred for worldly relevance? Won't reclaiming that sacred sense attract young people?

Others would argue that our eucharistic liturgies need to reflect our encounter with the world. Wasn't that the vision of Vatican II? Won't youth respect that, too?

At the end of the day, it all sounds, from the outside, like old folks arguing. Maybe that's why those bishops who might have opposed it voted to approve the translation and, flawed or not, send it off to Rome. It may have seemed that there are other pressing matters that need our attention. That would be correct.--J.F.


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