National Catholic Register


Letters to the Editor

BY John Lilly

August 6-12, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/7/06 at 9:00 AM


Mass Translation Matters

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 received.

I consider 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.  

John Vega

Centennial, Colorado

Why are 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.

Frank W. Russell

Nalcrest, Florida

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 Deus Sabaoth.”

 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 Real Presence.

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.

 Warren Mass

Crestview, Florida

Wording 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, silliness.

Then there is the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” If words did not matter, how could that be the case?

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 1:1).

Thanks for asking.

Kim Kluge

Sheridan, Oregon

There 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.

Joel Fago

Sierra Vista, Arizona

The Mass 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.

Ann Hysko

Summit, New Jersey

I, for 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?

Fred Scarletto

via e-mail

Translations 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 shortage, etc.

And the “new” translations are not new at all. The bishops have returned to the traditional translations I grew up with. 

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!

 Mary Schwarz

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.

James G. Davis

Fayetteville, North Carolina

I believe 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 Word.

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 perfect prayer.

We need more formation — not more lay ministers, liturgical dance and music performances.

Dan Czarniecki

Dearborn, Michigan