Change We Can Believe In: The Corrected Translation of the Mass and the Music It Will (Might?) Deliver
With the new, corrected English translation of the Mass already fueled and on the pad, ready for its Advent 2011 launch, it is indeed comforting to know that, with a more faithful and accurate rendering of the Church’s solemn and serious language of prayer on the way, Catholics in the pews can expect to experience more solemn and serious worship in the next generation. The way the Church prays in public not only expresses what we believe—it also shapes and forms our Catholic faith.
In the wisdom of St Peter, Rome asked the bishops of the English-speaking world several years ago to fix the 1973 translation-paraphrase of the Mass that 99% of Anglophone Catholics have heard Sunday after Sunday without knowing they were being shortchanged, to put it mildly. Thanks be to God—the American Bishops’ Conference obeyed, actually got the work done, and approved it a year ago.
What is coming on the first Sunday of Advent 2011 is quite literally change we can believe in.
The corrected translations of our Mass will strengthen and enrich our faith, for it is not only the readings and the homily which are the “educational” parts of the Mass—the entire Mass, including the readings, is BOTH an act of worship AND an act of education and edification for the faithful.
Gone forever will be prayers that say things like “God, you are good. Help us to be good, too.” Back with 40 years of repressed spiritual and catechetical energy will be detailed and jam-packed orations such as “O Lord, we humbly entreat your majesty that, just as you feed us with the nourishment of your sacred Body and Blood, so too make us to be companions of your divine nature.”
(Anyone who wants to get an idea of the pent-up power of the Church’s prayer that is going to be unleashed here shortly should sniff around the archives of Father John T. Zuhlsdorf’s seminal blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say? Fr. Z basically made his career in print back in the 1990s by comparing the 1973 English translations of the Mass with the unexpurgated, unsimplified, unfudged original Latin prayers of our normative Missal; fortunately for him, he has diversified since then—otherwise he would have been out of a job in December 2011.)
Now, surely, Catholic composers and the publishing interests that support and disseminate their work are already hard at work on new musical settings of these corrected translations of the central texts of the Mass. Without doubt, these artists, toiling nearly alone in the Lord’s vineyard, with little hope of an honest day’s wage, have carefully studied not just the words of the corrected translations, but the teaching of the official Roman document Liturgiam authenticam that called them into being, and inspired in good faith to dig even deeper into the liturgical-musical instructions of popes and councils of only the last century, they have made a deliberate effort to produce new compositions that are solemn and serious, in full communion with the traditions and canons of Catholic sacred art.
Or maybe they are writing music that sounds like the soundtrack from an un-broadcasted “Peanuts” TV special from the late 1970s, “Gather Us In, Charlie Brown!” or “We Are a Eucharistic People, Charlie Brown!”
Listen and judge for yourself.
The Church indeed approves of all forms of true art, and admits them into divine worship when they show appropriate qualities. (Vatican II, “Constitution on Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium” 112)
Bad art is a great deal worse than no art at all. (Oscar Wilde)