US: changing language of mass for US Catholics

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Jun 17 14:08:48 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, June 16, 2006

A Changing Mass for U.S. Catholics

Roman Catholic bishops in the United States voted yesterday to change the
wording of many of the prayers and blessings that Catholics have recited
at daily Mass for more than 35 years, yielding to Vatican pressure for an
English translation that is closer to the original Latin. The bishops,
meeting in Los Angeles, voted 173 to 29 to accept many of the changes to
the Mass, a pivotal point in a 10-year struggle that many English-speaking
Catholics had dubbed "the liturgy wars." But the bishops made substantial
changes to the text that the Vatican wanted, and those changes could still
be rejected by Vatican officials.

Some of the changes they did adopt are minor, but in other cases Catholics
will have to learn longer and more awkward versions of familiar prayers.
For example, instead of saying, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," in
the prayer before Communion, they will say, "Lord, I am not worthy that
you should enter under my roof." The reason for the change is a Vatican
directive issued in 2001 under Pope John Paul II that demanded closer
adherence to the Latin text. But some bishops in the English-speaking
world were indignant at what they saw as a Vatican move to curtail the
autonomy of each nation's bishops to translate liturgical texts according
to local tastes and needs. The new translation is likely to please those
traditionalists who longed for an English version more faithful to the
Latin in use before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's. But it may
upset Catholics who have committed the current prayer book to heart and to
memory and who take comfort in its more conversational cadences.

"This translation will affect the worship life of every Catholic in the
United States and beyond," said Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa.,
chairman of the bishops Committee on the Liturgy and a vocal critic of the
Vatican's translation who insisted on amending it. The translation must go
to the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI for final approval. It could still
take as much as two years until the new text is published and put into use
in American churches, Bishop Trautman said in an interview. Some Catholics
welcomed the changes. Leon Suprenant, president of Catholics United for
the Faith, a conservative group in Steubenville, Ohio, said, "When the
Mass was first celebrated in English shortly after Vatican II, some of the
translations took liberties with the original, and we lost some of the
beauty and dignity of the original."

Mr. Suprenant said, "Certainly we're in favor of the new translation,
which is a more faithful literal translation of the Latin, and we are a
Latin rite church." The bishops rejected about 60 of the changes proposed
by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, the panel of
bishops from 11 English-speaking countries that prepared the translation.
For instance, the committee wanted to change the phrase in the Nicene
Creed "one in being with the Father" to "consubstantial with the Father."
But the bishops kept the current version, noting, " 'Consubstantial' is a
theological expression requiring explanation for many."

The Rev. Lawrence J. Madden, director of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy
in Washington, said: "In hewing to the Latin more closely, it's making
some of the English awkward. It isn't the English we speak. It's becoming
more sacred English, rather than vernacular English." Father Madden said,
"That's one of the reasons why a large number of the bishops up to this
point have been opposed to the translation, because they're afraid this is
going to distance the liturgy from the people." Other changes were easier
for the bishops to accept. The familiar exchange of greetings between the
priest and congregation: "The Lord be with you/And also with you," will be
replaced by "The Lord be with you/And with your spirit." This version is
already used in Spanish-language Masses, and many others.

The changes apply only to the "Order of Mass," which includes the prayers
and blessings recited at every service not the scripture readings and
prayers that are recited only during feast days and holidays. American
bishops went into the meeting in Los Angeles under pressure to put an end
to the controversy. Bishops in Australia, Scotland, England and Wales had
already voted to accept the Vatican-backed translation. And just last
month, Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican's Congregation for
Divine Worship, sent a letter to the president of the U.S. bishops'
conference, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., saying the
American church ultimately must accept the changes.

"It is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a
certain translation for the past 30 or 40 years, and therefore that it is
pastorally advisable to make no changes," Cardinal Arinze wrote. The
Vatican directive in 2001, known in Latin as Liturgiam authenticam, was a
turning point in the process. It said that in any translation, "great
caution is to be taken to avoid a wording or style that the Catholic
faithful would confuse with the manner of speech of non-Catholic ecclesial
communities or other religions."

The burden of introducing the new translation to parishioners will fall on
the priests, said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a former editor of the Jesuit
magazine America, who has followed the debate. "The priests are going to
be the ones on the firing line who will have to explain this, and most of
them don't see any advantage in this new translation," Father Reese said.
"They're going to have to defend something they don't even like." The Rev.
Robert J. Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils,
said of the priests he represents: "We're not real anxious to have
changes. There's real concern because a lot of us are saying, Is this
really a theological and Biblical issue? Is it really to upgrade the
language, or is this something that's a little more ideological?" Father
Silva said, "It's probably a little of both."

Laurie Goodstein reported from New York for this article, and Cindy Chang
from Los Angeles.

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