Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Karl Keating weighs in on the Liturgy

[I thought I would share this with the list as it highlights some of the liturgical struggles out there.]


September 27, 2005


Dear Friend of Catholic Answers:

Last week's E-Letter, which was about the possibility of a universal
permission for priests to celebrate the old Latin Mass (and how such a
permission may not have much effect), generated more posts at Catholic
Answers' forums than did any previous E-Letter.


One poster, in a private message to me, blamed me for using
"inflammatory rhetoric." I reread last week's E-Letter and could not see what
prompted him to use, uh, inflammatory rhetoric. It simply may be that, when it comes
to the old Mass, no matter which side you are on, anyone who disagrees
with you is being inflammatory, while you are being the model of composure.

Most of the responses to what I wrote, whether in favor of the old Mass
or opposed, were crafted in terms of the writers' personal preferences,
not in terms of liturgical theory or theology:

"I like Latin (because I understand it)." "I dislike Latin (because I
don't understand it)."

"I like Latin (even though I don't understand it)." "I dislike Latin
(even though I do understand it)."

"The old Mass is more reverent." "The new Mass is friendlier."

"The old Mass attracts young families." "The old Mass appeals just to
the old."

"The new Mass is unfulfilling." "The new Mass suits me just fine."

"The old Mass is elitist." "Calling the old Mass elitist is elitist."

And on it went, through 200 posts before I closed the thread. What I
took to be a low-intensity E-Letter sure generated a lot of heat.

I still think that my main point was almost devoid of controversy: If
we want to know whether there is a "demand" for the old Mass, we need to
set up a fair test and--something I did not say explicitly--give that test
enough time and support so that it really will be fair.

No one knows how many Catholics would prefer the old Mass to the new.
We do not even know how many might prefer to attend the new Mass in Latin
versus the new Mass in the vernacular because there has been no widespread
test of that either.

When changes were first made to the Mass, nearly forty years ago now,
they were of two kinds. The most obvious was the switch from Latin to the
vernacular. More subtle were changes in the underlying prayers. The
text of the Mass was simplified in some ways, adjusted in others. While many
prayers stayed the same, many were modified--and some even disappeared.

I never have met a layman who said that changing the prayers of the
Mass was something that was high on his wish list in the 1960s, but I have met
countless older laymen who liked the change from Latin to English. I
suspect that had the old Mass simply been put into the English that was found
on the facing pages of missals, very little of the subsequent liturgical
turmoil would have occurred.

That English was not old-fashioned. It was a twentieth-century
translation that did not use "thee" or "thou." It was dignified but not stiffly
formal. At times it even was poetic. It certainly surpassed the current

In the official Latin edition of the new Mass, many of the prayers are
identical to those in the old Mass. It is instructive to compare their
current translations to the ones found in the old missals. Sadly, often
there is no comparison. It is as though in the space of a generation
translators developed tin ears.

The best example of this, I think, is not actually from the prayers of
the Mass itself but from one of the readings. Psalm 23 used to say that God
"refreshes my soul." Now he "revive[s] my drooping spirit." Clunk.
Whenever I read the revised line the image I have is of a frazzled woman taking
a breather from household chores. "Drooping" is just too colloquial.

I do not want to imply that the English that we now have in the Mass is
everywhere inferior to the English that used to be found in the
missals. That is almost universally the case, but only almost. There is at least
one improvement.

In the third Eucharist prayer the priest says, "From age to age you
gather a people to yourself so that from east to west a perfect offering may be
made to the glory of your name." The central words are a revision of what
used to be "from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof."

The older translation certainly seems more evocative, but I suspect in
most people it evoked the wrong idea. The underlying Latin text is talking
about a sacrifice that is made everywhere throughout the world. "From east to
west" covers that. "From the rising of the sun to the setting thereof"
also covers it--if you understand that the phrase is referring to
geographical extent and not to the time of day.

But most Catholics, not thinking things through or not being blessed
with a good literary background, likely understood "from the rising of the sun
to the setting thereof" to be a synonym for "from morning until night."
After all, that is what the phrase means in everyday language.

"I work hard from sunrise to sunset" implies that at night, at least, I
do not work. It does not mean that I work from one end of the world to the
other. The older translation, pretty as it was, gave many people a bum
steer, and the newer translation gets the point across better.

No doubt the industrious can find other improved renderings in the
current text of the Mass, but none come to my mind at the moment. In any case,
the number cannot be large, which is one reason we are getting a better
translation in a few years. (Yes, one is in the works--and has been for
much longer than most of those working on it ever expected. Present
indications are that the English will be improved considerably.)

Hmmm. I see that, like the respondents to last week's E-Letter, I have
gotten carried away. My apologies. Discussing the text of the Mass can
do that to you. I will do my best to write about something quite different
next week.

Until next time,


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