Q: Over the last few months, a few groups in the US, the UK, Australia and Ireland have been complaining about the new translation of the Mass coming out at the end of November this year. What’s the big deal about it? Why is this such a problem?
A: First, we have to understand that the Mass being retranslated is the Ordinary Form, also known as the Novus Ordo (New Order, or NO) or Mass of Paul VI. One of the few changes actually called for by Vatican II was to the Tridentine Latin Mass (TLM):
The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved.For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary (Sacrosanctum Concilium , §50; emphasis added).
The NO Mass has never been without its critics since Paul VI first promulgated it in 1969. Among the criticisms are the claims that it has reduced the emphasis on the Host, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, truly becoming the Body and Blood of Christ, as well as minimizing the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. Some believe Paul VI intended this reduction to make the Catholic Mass more acceptable to Protestants, though this may overstate the case.
The first English translation, implemented in 1973, has criticisms specific to it. The main complaint is that, in following a “dynamic equivalence” method of translating the Latin editio typica, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) had dumbed down many prayers too far, either making them too bland, too theologically imprecise, or both. A further revision in the wake of the editio typica altera, promulgated in 1975 with the English following a couple years later, addressed some of the more egregious problems, but still left the impression of lacking a specific Catholic “crunch” to the liturgy.
The recent controversy centers around the translation of the latest revision of the Latin text (editio typica tertia), which Ven. John Paul II promulgated in 2000. In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued an instruction, Liturgiam authenticam, to guide all translations. This instruction called for greater fidelity to the Latin text, abandoning by and large both dynamic equivalence and gender inclusivity so far as either interfered with proper theological expression.
On the surface, opposition has targeted the aesthetic quality of the translation. For instance, in the Profession of Faith which follows the homily, the creed will now say that the Son is “consubstantial” with the Father rather than “one in being”. While “consubstantial” is more precise—in Trinitarian theology, the three Persons are “one in substance”—detractors argue that it’s clunky and harder for the simple laity to understand. The new translation’s defenders reply that this argument is insulting to lay people’s intelligence, and that episodes of inelegance should be thought of as teaching moments, opportunities for further catechesis.
But the deeper criticism centers on the loss of gender inclusivity. Many opponents of the new translation charge that the language is “sexist”, although nothing I’ve read to date indicates how this sexism manifests. Another charge is that the priests and laity weren’t properly consulted, that the whole process from beginning to end was “imposed by Rome” … though how the priests and laity were to be consulted, never mind why the priests and laity should have been consulted, has yet to be explained. As the new translation’s defenders reply, the priests and people were never consulted when the NO was imposed.
The real struggle is not over whether the Church will change but who’s in control of the change. For over thirty years, the reform wing of the English-speaking Church pretty much had its way, openly defying weak bishops intent merely on keeping peace in their dioceses even when they didn’t have implicit support from reform-minded bishops. To them, the new translation represents not just a threat of a loss but a watershed moment in which the control over change passes irrevocably out of their hands and over to the conservative “reform of the reform” faction.
But time is running out (as the clock in the upper right sidebar should tell you). In the US and the UK, vocal resistance has mostly collapsed and the implementation has taken on the character of inevitability. In Ireland and Australia, the resistance is much stiffer because later into the game; however, there is a note of desperation in the protests.
Ultimately, all the noise is the creak of the cafeteria doors closing.