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BY John Lilly
In our July 9-15 issue, we asked Register
readers why they see Mass translations as an important issue in the Church
today. We devote this week’s Letters section to a sampling of the responses we
anything related to the Mass as more important than any issue that the Church
is dealing with. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass brings to us the Word of God
and Jesus himself in the Eucharist. And, for most Catholics, the one hour a
week we spend at Mass is the only instruction in our faith and only encounter
we have with Jesus and the Church for the entire week. Thus every element of
the Mass must be sacred and treated with great fidelity and accuracy so that
we, the laity, are not misled or deluded by weak or erroneous translations.
What we believe can be
reinforced, changed or destroyed in that one hour a week. What occurs at Mass
cannot be left to an individual bishop or priest but must be in union with the
teaching of the universal Church under the guidance and direction of the pope.
It is in and through the Mass that our encounter with Christ transcends our
senses and drives us to rely on faith — faith strengthened by God’s grace.
But all of this can be lost or
severely distorted if what we are taught by word or example is incorrect. We
are the sheep and we can be led to the slaughter by the shepherd. The Eucharist
is and has to be the center of every Catholic’s life for without it we will
fail to gain heaven and eternal happiness with our Lord.
By rejecting the earlier
translations and insisting on fidelity to the original Latin, the Vatican is taking, I hope, a first step to bring
the English speaking Churches back into full fidelity with the Church in Rome and to
eliminate or reduce the dissent and abuses that impact the Mass and hopefully
other areas as well.
translations an important issue? Because translations can either transmit an
accurate or a confusing if not false version of the original context.
Therefore, promoting an accurate and orthodox translation of the liturgy is
most important so that the Word of God is not distorted for us.
We must look at
the effects of the ill-conceived post-Vatican II translations of 40 years ago.
I remember those well, since the English Novus Ordo translation came into effect when I was a senior in
high school. To me, the “new” proposed translations are not new at all, but a
restoration to the language I read on the English side of my 1955 English-Latin
missal for years. For example, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts” was what I
read every Sunday, opposite “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus
Why is the wording of the
vernacular translation of the Latin important? Simply because the holy
sacrifice of the Mass is the most sacred act we can participate in on this
earth. Catholics should approach the altar of God with a reverence at least
equal to the reverence of the high priest entering the holy of holies in the
temple in Jerusalem.
And language is an essential tool to establish proper respect and reverence.
Would an Army Colonel tolerate an enlisted man answering him with an “Okay,
man”? Anything less than “Yes, Sir” would be regarded as insubordinate. So, too
with our liturgy. Doesn’t Jesus Christ present on our altar deserve language
that is sacred, reverent, and faithful to the sacred mysteries taking place?
I maintain that the pedestrian,
ambiguous language used at Mass during the past 40 years is responsible for
many Catholics losing their belief in the Real Presence. That loss of belief is
responsible for millions of Catholics staying away from Mass — and for entire
families drifting away from their Catholic faith. The loss in vocations,
shortages of priests and nuns, and the closing of Catholic schools, can all be
traced back to an abandonment of a sacred liturgy that reinforces belief in the
The restoration of noble language to the
Mass will start the Church back in a direction of faith and growth, rather than
disbelief and decline.
matters. Basically, I think it boils down to words — to their effect on those
who use, read and hear them. To me, there is no question that words do matter.
As some quick examples, even
commonplace words that are similar have different connotations, as in the
adjectives “childlike” and “childish.” Both mean “like or characteristic of a
child,” yet the first conveys innocence while the second conveys immaturity,
Then there is the old saying, “The
pen is mightier than the sword.” If words did not matter, how could that be the
What arguments I like best for the
power of words, though, come straight from the Bible.
“You shall not take the name of
the Lord, your God, in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
And, most of all: “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John
Thanks for asking.
would fewer problems facing the Roman Catholic Church in the United States
if our liturgy were more faithful to its tradition. Making the English
translation more faithful to the Latin will help. The top priority for our
Church must be worship. If we are faithful in our worship, there will be fewer
problems of declining Mass attendance, priest shortage, church closings and
loss of trust of the clergy.
Sierra Vista, Arizona
translations are a priority at the insistence of the Vatican, which has been pushing for
them ever since a revised Mass text came out in 2001. The American Church
has been suffering from a poor translation for over 35 years, with some
prayers, such as the Gloria,
being a condensed version of the Latin original. The Vatican is looking for a better
translation and more reverent worship, which may, if properly implemented,
reverse some of the negative trends that have developed.
Left to themselves, the bishops
may indeed have given priority to the other problems. However, they approved
the translation. I for one am grateful that they did.
Summit, New Jersey
one, do not feel that translations are an important issue. In this day of more
important issues — abortion, clergy abuse, war, poverty — it seems a waste of
time and manpower to worry over “I” versus “We” when we are supposed to be a
believing community and not a community of one.
This issue is consistent with the
Church’s desire to go back to pre-Vatican II days when we were not allowed to
think, express ourselves or experience our faith in a manner consistent with
our culture and society. The good ole days were never that good and Jesus came
to give us the new law of love, not legalism.
Are we being called to be
Pharisees or disciples of Christ?
of the English for Mass are very important indeed! What we lost with the revised translations
of the liturgy introduced after Vatican II was a sense of the sacred. Losing
that focus has contributed greatly to the loss of faith, infrequent
adoration of the Holy Eucharist, declining Mass attendance, the priest
And the “new” translations are not
new at all. The bishops have returned to the traditional translations I grew up
Now can they help us with the
music? This morning at Mass, we were led in a song that claimed “I am the
bread of life; I bring Christ to others.” Bishops: Help!
Ponce Inlet, Florida
If I am
not praying a correct translation of the Syriac
Divine Liturgy, then I am not faithfully worshipping God in communion with
Patriarch Nasrallah. If I am not in communion with
the current patriarch, then I am not in union with the whole line of bishops
and patriarchs going back to Mar Kefas, the first
bishop of Antioch (who later moved to some town
in central Italy).
And if I am not in union with Mar Kefas, how can I be
united with Christ?
That is my line of reasoning.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
the new translation of the Mass is something that is long overdue. My
hope that its implementation will accomplish two things.
First, it will reintroduce a certain reverence
back into the Mass that has been lacking for decades. It will force us to
actually think about what we are doing instead of just going through the motions
as we have done for years. It will also help us to rediscover the
sacredness and true beauty of the Mass while we grow in understanding of what
is actually happening.
Secondly, I hope that this will help to curb
much of the “creative liberties” many priests and parishes have taken with the
liturgy. They need to help the faithful understand that the readings are not
just a sharing of stories but, rather, God actually speaking to us through the
We participate in Jesus’ sacrifice
on Calvary every time we go to Mass.
The altar is not like our dining-room table but a sacred place of this
sacrifice. The celebration of the Eucharist is not just like a family dinner
but a real and personal encounter with Jesus. It is this personal encounter
that unites us as Catholics — not holding hands during the Our Father or the
handshake of peace.
We seem to think that we somehow
need to make the Mass more “relevant” or entertaining by adding to this already
We need more formation — not more
lay ministers, liturgical dance and music performances.