Today, the first Sunday of Advent, also marks the roll-out of the new English translation of the liturgy--the first since the end of Vatican II.
This new translation has been the subject of controversy for years (so many years that I first wrote about it in 2006, in something like Week Five of this blog's existence), but it boils down to this: the first English translation of the mass was put together relatively hastily, in the wake of Vatican II; it's simple and idiomatic, but there are a number of places where it neglects or misrepresents the substance of the original; a more faithful version had always been intended to replace it, and by the late 1990s "a richer translation that . . . hew[ed] more closely to the Latin without sacrificing clarity" had been completed and approved by every council of English-speaking bishops in the world. However, this translation was rejected by the Vatican. According to Rome, not only the sense of the Latin must be conveyed, but "every Latin word must be accounted for, and vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, and capitalization patterns found in the Latin must be reproduced as much as possible" (quoted text comes from this timeline of the history of English translations of the mass).
So disagreeing as thoroughly as I do with the Vatican's translation theory, I was prepared to hate the new translation. I'd gotten a preview of parts of the new translation in various articles and handouts over the past six months, and though I didn't think it was as awful as some commentators, I was still wary.
But listening and responding at mass today, I decided that it's neither a net gain nor a net loss. I actually like some of the new translation's circumlocutions and five-dollar words: as a literature teacher, I believe there's sometimes both aesthetic and intellectual value in language that draws attention to itself, that doesn't come totally naturally, that requires work to figure out. So while there's surely no meaningful difference between describing the second person of the trinity as "one in being with the Father" and describing him as "consubstantial with the Father," the second rendering is one that draws attention to itself, and hence to the doctrine it's articulating. In general, I like the way the new translation foregrounds a number of theological issues, like the incarnation, and in places its Latinate, archaic syntax does achieve a strange, reverent beauty.
On the other hand, there are at least as many awkwardnesses (Cosimo spent the second half of the service mouthing "oblations," with a look of comic disgust, following a particularly ugly new bit of prose that included the offending word), and lots of things that simply don't seem to matter. I don't know why the liturgy of the Eucharist now has the priest referring to the "chalice" Jesus drank from instead of the "cup" ("chalice" may be more faithful to the Latin, but surely it isn't a more accurate description of the actual drinking vessel), or what essential is being conveyed by having the congregation respond to the priest's "the Lord be with you" with "and with your spirit" instead of "and also with you."
Will the new translation lose congregants? Possibly, though I think not right away; regular church-goers are going to make a game effort to adapt to the new translation, and if it causes some people to feel more alienated from the church and to drift away, that effect will be perceptible only over time. But you know, the liturgy is the least of the reasons that people feel alienated from the church--and much as I enjoy fulminating, any energy I have would probably be better spent addressing those other reasons.