Dean Daniels, coordinator of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, has been studying, discussing and teaching about the new translation of the Roman Missal for more than seven years. He makes it clear that it’s not the “new Roman Missal.”
“There’s nothing new in it. The Roman Missal is the same Roman Missal; it’s a revised translation,” he said, emphasizing the last two words. “The Roman Missal is the Roman Missal. It’s the liturgy we’ve celebrated for a long time. What we’re doing is retranslating those words of Latin into English.”
Whether Catholics incorrectly label it “new,” or understand that what they have been praying has been retranslated, for many the question is, “Why?” In helping prepare the faithful for what will go into effect the weekend of Nov. 27, the First Sunday of Advent, Daniels explained to those who attended his workshops why being more accurate to the Latin is important.
“When we realize what we celebrate when we celebrate the Mass, we’re one step removed from the original. The original is Latin. That is the normative for all Roman Catholic liturgy. We’re one step removed from it when we celebrate it in any other language,” he said, listing a number of languages, including English, Spanish, German, French and Italian. “Anybody who has experience with another language knows that when you translate something, you lose something.”
Daniels noted that some countries are not going to translate the Roman Missal from the Latin, but instead will base their translations upon the translation done by the English-speaking countries.
“So, Rome wants to be very careful that what we say in English is as close as possible in meaning, syntax, grammar and theology as the Latin has to say,” he said.
Daniels gave an example of the precision found in the revised translation. The Latin “Dominus vobiscum” translates into “The Lord be with you.” The celebrant will continue to say that. Since 1965, the congregation’s response has been translated as “And also with you.” However, a more accurate translation of the Latin – “Et cum spiritu tuo” – is reflected in the revised English translation as “And with your spirit.”
He noted that when one translates from one language to another, care must be taken not to lose the original context, syntax and meaning that were there.
“So we have to be very careful when we celebrate one step removed from the original that what we’re saying is truly what the original language says, means, implies – all those levels of understanding the language,” Daniels said.
Opportunity to catechize
Using the example of that exchange between the celebrant and the congregation, Daniels noted that the retranslation provides “another opportunity to do some theology about what spirit means.”
“Some people are translating that intellectually, that it’s talking about the Holy Spirit,” he said. “When we look at the Latin very carefully, ‘spiritus’ and ‘spirit’ are lower case. We’re not talking about the Holy Spirit, one of the entities of the Blessed Trinity. We’re talking about what makes you you – the spirit in you, not the Holy Spirit in you, but this spirit that animates your being, that which makes you who you are as a unique individual.”
Calling the revised translation “a great opportunity to do great catechesis on the meaning of the Latin as we translate it into English, Daniels cautioned the responsibility goes further.
“We have to make sure that the ritual weight of what we’re doing really does bear the reality of the ritual,” he said. “It’s not just gathering a group of people around some nice thoughts. It’s making the sacrifice of Christ real and tactfully present to us as human beings. It’s not a representation of an event that happened 2000 years ago; it’s making real that event. Now. In our own time.”
The art of translation
Labeling the translation process “truly an art” not a science, Daniels explained that when the Roman Missal was translated in the late 1960s, early ‘70s, translation principles were based upon a process known as “dynamic equivalence” which “artfully” translated the Latin so that it would “make sense in the receiving language.”
Prior to the promulgation of the Roman Missal in 2002, the Vatican published a new set of rules by which translations were to be conducted. These were spelled out in the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship’s document, “Liturgiam Authenticam” (True Liturgy), in 2001.
“That’s where Rome said we’re looking for a more ‘formal equivalent’ of the Latin not a ‘dynamic equivalent,’” he said. “What Rome asked translators to do was to take each Latin word and make a vernacular equivalent.”
He added that translators were asked to look at “the rhythm of the Latin and to very much as possible maintain the rhythm of that Latin into the receiver language.”
Over time, it will become ours
One of the challenges in the Catholic community understanding and welcoming the changes, according to Daniels, is the lack of patience in American culture as a whole.
“We have fast food, microwave ovens, instant coffee. Everything. ‘I want it now. I want it my way.’ You Tube. It’s all about me and my fulfilling my desires right now,” he said, contrasting it with the Roman concept of time which is to “taste, savor and eat … to slowly get used to something and make it our own after maybe a generation.”
“Rome has that understanding that this is not something that is going to come to fruition on the First Sunday of Advent and it’s going to be done,” Daniel said, noting that it’s a “a blink of an eye” in the Roman understanding of 2000 years of church history.
Liturgy ‘source and summit’ for all Catholics
The first document issued by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council was “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Daniels noted that the document called the liturgy “the source and summit” of everything we do.
“It means we begin our secular life as a Christian with the liturgy. It’s the source of everything we do as Roman Catholics and we spend our whole week living off that source of the liturgy doing what needs to be done during the week,” he said. “As it is our source, it also becomes our goal or our summit. Not everything we do in the liturgy, but everything we do as soon as we pull out of the parking lot.… It’s going to color everything we do as Roman Catholics. So it’s important for us to see if we can remove our Western understanding of obligation and make it more of an opportunity of a welcome responsibility – it’s what we want to do as Roman Catholics.”
Church is bigger than individual members
While Daniels has devoted much of his time over the last year to preparing Catholics for the revised translation of the Roman Missal, he personally doesn’t like it because he is comfortable with the way the church prays.
“I’m a Vatican II Roman Catholic, trained in Vatican II theology and I like the way the church prays now, but thank goodness, the church is bigger than me. And when our bishops take the oath of office, they hand over their full will and intellect to the wisdom of the church,” he said. “That’s what we have to do as well sometimes, to say, ‘I’m a finite individual and I understand only that which is around me.’ The church is much bigger than me and so therefore I give over my will and intellect to the church and the church’s wisdom.”
Daniels reiterated his excitement about the opportunities to “do theology” based upon the new translation, adding, “I hope I’m open to that opportunity to learn and to form my conscience and myself in the wisdom of the church. I’m challenged by it, but a life lived unchallenged is probably not really that authentic of a life.”
He recommended that churchgoers have patience with other members of the faith community, with those who only come to church at Christmas and with themselves.
“Know that to live in the community means you are going to get some of the things you want, but you’re not going to get all of them. We might have some responses you don’t like, but we might have some responses you like,” Daniel said. “There might be a selection of music you don’t like, but there might be a selection of music you like. We have to be loving, fully authentic adults, realizing that we’re not going to get everything that we like, but we’re going to get some things we do like. That’s what it means to be in community.”