What’s Next? A pastor reflects on the new Roman Missal
In December 2009, in an article on the new Roman Missal (Am., 12/14/09), I asked the question: “What if we just said ‘wait’?” I proposed that the new translation be “road tested” for a year before being widely implemented. More than 23,000 people from around the English-speaking world liked that idea and signed on to a Web site to say so. Now, after several months of using the newly translated Roman Missal, I find myself asking a new question: “What’s next?”
On the first Sunday of Advent, after carefully preparing my parishioners, I swallowed hard, read the prayers, chanted the chants and did what I was required to do. I told myself it would get easier over time. Now I am not so sure. The overloaded sentences and convoluted syntax of the collects and other prayers may be less jarring than at first, but by calling attention to themselves they continue to get in the way of prayer, at least for me. The same is true for frequently recurring words like “humbly,” “graciously,” “beseech” and “grant, we pray.” And I have an almost visceral reaction when it comes to “precious chalice,” “oblation of our service,” “summoned before you,” “conciliation,” “consubstantial with the Father” and “shed for you and for many.”
Perhaps it is a bit different for the people in the pews. My own parishioners have joined in the new responses in fairly good spirit (though with some initial eyebrow-raising), and if our varied renditions of “Lord, I am not worthy” occasionally sound like we are speaking in tongues, their “and with your spirit” comes across loud and clear (even if it sometimes sounds like “There, we did it!”).
So how does the report card look? Is the worst over? Apart from critics like me, has the new Missal been well received? Can it be called a success? I do not think so. The Missal continues to be an obstacle to prayer and to raise many more questions than it answers.
First, there is the question of justice. In spite of the outspoken concerns of liturgists, theologians, pastors and lay faithful (and some bishops, too), the new Missal, a book as heavy, awkward and clumsy as the new texts themselves, was rolled out right on schedule—in far more timely fashion than the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, although to considerably less acclaim. This was no small achievement given that, after the Missal finally received the approval of most, not all, of the bishops’ conferences of the English-speaking world, its test flight to Rome resulted in hundreds of last-minute, behind-the-scenes changes made by some nameless Vatican editors.
Second, there is the question of language. Some of the Latin originals of our prayers are wonderful compositions—simple yet profound and expressed with classical economy of language. Not so these translations, where “Roman brevity” is nowhere to be seen. On almost every page, there are passages so turgid as to be distasteful and, in many cases, downright baffling. [More]