New Missal translation gets mixed review

Sunday's introduction to the new translation of the Roman Missal caused mixed reactions. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/ [email protected]

English-speaking Roman Catholic churchgoers across the world might have entered unfamiliar territory Sunday when they walked into Mass.

That was when most of them first encountered an updated translation of the Roman Missal, the text of prayers and instructions used to celebrate Mass, which has remained mostly static since the revisions of the Second Vatican Council in 1969.

Mass itself, the central ritual of the Catholic faith, has not been changed, but the translation has stirred conversation regarding the Vatican’s decision-making process of updating and changing the Missal. Questions of whether the new translation was worth the hassle and money have also resulted from the change.

The new translation is the result of more than 10 years of reading, translating, correcting and exchanging drafts between committees, scholars, experts, Vatican officials and even the Pope himself. It was finally approved this year and went into use in all English-speaking countries last Sunday, for the first day of Advent.

Timothy Johnston, director of liturgy in Campus Ministry, said the Missal has seen several revisions in the past decades. The most prominent of these was during the Vatican II councils, when the first vernacular translations of the Mass were instated. Previously, all Masses, regardless of the congregation’s native language, were required to be celebrated in Latin.

Johnston said future translations included a temporary translation in 1985 and an updated version in 1998. In 2001, the rules regarding the formal and literal translation process became stricter, and a translation closer to the original Latin text was requested by Pope John Paul II.

“The fact is that we needed a new translation,” Johnston said. “The process was not so good but the outcome was something beautiful. The providers (priests) are saddened because they know we could have gotten a better, richer prayer prior to now, but at least it has happened.”

While Johnston was pleased with the outcome of the Roman Missal, many Catholics are not so happy about the translations, saying it is too far off from the English language and does not flow naturally like the older translations.

Others find the specific changes unwieldy. For example, when the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” the assembly now responds with, “And with your spirit,” as opposed to “And also with you.”

Subtle changes like that were what the Rev. Steven Avella, a history professor in the College of Arts & Sciences, said was strange for the people who attended the two Masses he held Sunday.

“There are people who strongly dislike the new Missal, some who are skeptical and some who are enthusiastic,” he said. “I would say I’m in the middle. I don’t care for certain aspects of the translations, they are awkward and don’t flow with our native English language, but as human beings we adjust to change and I think that is what we will do, or at least find out in five years or so.”

Avella also said some people found problems with the specific words used in the Mass.

“The new Missal has the priest saying, ‘He (Jesus Christ) has a “serene and kindly countenance;”’ that is just a complicated way of saying, ‘Well, you have a nice face,’” he said. “I had three people come up to me after Mass and say they liked it and one who really hated it. It’s all up in the air.”

The Rev. Michael Fleet, professor of political science at Marquette and priest at St. Benedict the Moor, on 9th and State Streets, was an altar boy back when the Mass was still said in Latin. He said when his parish switched to English, it unified the congregation.

“Language is deeply wired into us and part of our identity and reality,” Fleet said. “It has to be respected as what it is, but it is not respectful of the modern linguistics.”

Fleet said he respects the new changes but finds it artificial to speak in a way people did 200 years ago.