Many Catholics are already getting used to the new English translation of the Mass; and the beautifully produced altar missals have been around for a few weeks now. The official launch is the beginning of Advent.
We are in a strange transitional period where most parishes are using the new translation, but some are not. This caused liturgical chaos a few weeks ago when I went to a funeral in a parish that is still using the old translation, with visiting mourners (including a number of priests) from parishes all over the country who had already switched, and didn’t know whether to revert back or acclaim even more loudly ‘And with your spirit’ and ‘It is right and just’.
I gave a talk on the new translation this week, which gave me an incentive to look into some of the online resources available for catechesis and general understanding of the process and the end results. One of the best sites is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, which has an extremely helpful section dedicated to the translation called Welcoming the Roman Missal: Third Edition.
One of the most helpful sections simply puts the old translation and the new one side by side, and highlights the changes so you can compare them easily. Here are the People’s Parts and the Priest’s parts, with commentary boxes.
When you see it like this, it becomes very clear, very quickly, how many words and phrases of the Mass were not just interpreted or re-phrased or even paraphrased, but simply cut out for the old translation. Some of this, I’m sure, was motivated by a desire for a noble simplicity; some of it was an attempt to find English phrases that could carry the meaning of the Latin without needing to map each word literally (this theory of interpretation was called ‘dynamic equivalence’). But some of it, unfortunately, perhaps stemmed from an unhappiness on the translators’ part with some of the sentiments and theology of the prayers themselves. Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that we have a richer translation that brings us closer to the heart and mind of the Church’s liturgical prayer.
One nice factoid I discovered in my research (not on the USCCB website – I can’t remember where). In the debate about the dialogue ‘The Lord be with you… And also with you / And with your spirit’, it’s commonly pointed out that this is not a symmetrical dialogue, as if the prayers are interchangeable. The priest or bishop (and sometimes the deacon) is praying as an ordained minister for the people: ‘May the Lord be with you’. And in response, the people pray for their minister: ‘And with your spirit’. It’s only ever addressed to the minister, because it’s a specific prayer that the spirit given to him at his ordination may be strengthened and renewed, so that he may serve his people more faithfully and worthily, especially in this liturgical celebration.
The factoid was this, that Ronald Knox translated the response as: ‘And with you, his minister’, so that the theological meaning of the prayer would be built into the translation. I wouldn’t use this myself, but I like what it’s trying to do.
[But see Jack Mahoney's article here, about the non-significance of 'thy spirit' and the significance of 'with' instead! Thanks Tony and Katherine]