Might of Mass Depends on Truth in Translation
Regarding “New Mass Translation: Not Stalled, But No Final Text Yet,” Sept. 5-11:
Msgr. Sherman is right to guard against sentimental attachments to the new English translation of the Mass since, as he said, in 75 or 100 years (when we're all gone) we will be asking for it to be improved. On the other hand, the current translation was far younger before improving it became critical, while the new one is already seen by many as needing improvement, and it is not even finished yet.
I, for one, am discouraged. Consider the translation of Et cum spirito tuo. This has only one translation: “And with your spirit.” This translation cannot be reasonably considered to be “theologically rigid.” Latin is quite capable of saying, “And with you” (Et tecum), but it does not. Therefore, the Latin must have a purpose, which is obscured by a so-called “natural English expression.”
Other languages (such as German) translate this phrase verbatim, as does the English translation of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. “And with your spirit” is therefore a universal (i.e., catholic) expression that transcends time, language and culture. Opponents of “And with your spirit” must be theologically naïve — or they are cunning and have a purpose contrary to that of the Latin. Either way, “And also with you” is simply wrong and not Catholic.
This case may seem minor but it demonstrates a principle: Bad translations debilitate the Mass and, given time, they assume the force of tradition. They impede the fullness of the spiritual power of the Mass; they impoverish it. Cardinal Arinze recently said that Mass should be celebrated with due dignity, without additions or suppressions or changes, to produce the maximum of fruits of sanctity. Bad translations can be at fault on all counts.
As far as ecumenical concerns go, the Mass is for the edification of Catholics. It is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. If the Mass is to be made a marketing tool in ecumenism, the responsibility for it, and for its effects on Catholic worship, falls to the Vatican and not to any particular translation. (The 1970 Missal did just this with little apparent benefit to either ecumenism or Catholic spirituality, so one must wonder if it is a good idea.)
Whoever says that inclusive language “often fails to communicate the meaning of the original text” makes a gross understatement. Although some uses seem innocuous, inclusive language typically perverts the meaning by hostile intent. At best, it does not reliably transmit the Catholic faith; at worst, it completely distorts it. Therefore, its use will undoubtedly debilitate the Mass and be ironically exclusionary, since it alienates people who prefer accurate Catholicism to cowardly concessions to problematic political ideologies.
The problems facing the translators seem to indicate that an English translation that is good while also being acceptable to parties with diverse agendas may not be possible. So, I am not impatient for the new translation. I hope the translators take their time and be courageous. It will cause me great pain should any of these issues above sway them. I will not be able to conscientiously participate in an intentionally debilitated Mass, nor let my family do so. We would therefore seek out a Latin Mass wherever we can find one.
- October 24-30, 2004