A Striking Contrast
Peter Steinfels November 22, 2011 - 4:16pm
Three additional thoughts in what is already a rich, although very depressing, discussion about the new English translation of the Roman missal.First, I have read, very carefully, the many examples quoted in MWO'Reilly's post below, of prayers from the new translation. I have declaimed them in my mind, extending the pauses as necessary and emphasizing words to make the meaning clear and even give some power and beauty to overall Latinate construction.I think it can be done. I think Bob Imbelli will be able to do it. So will any other presider with a very good voice, unusual reading and speaking talent, and perhaps a Shakespearean sense of rhythm. And how many of these are there in most of our parishes for most of our Masses? I am old enough to remember the way most priests handled the Latin of yore. It was atrocious.Second, I have read the Anthony Esolen's article about the new translation at the First Things website, which someone who likes the translation recommended in an earlier thread on this topic. Esolen's article is based on a simple premise: If the first post-Vatican II translation was bad, the new one must be good. But decades ago there was a very broad consensus that the first translation was seriously wanting. The bishops and ICEL were hard at work on a new translation that captured much of what the first one had lost and was motivated by at least many of the concerns Esolen reflects. The effort was suddenly ripped out of their hands. Any fair comparison has to compare examples of their effort to those of the new translation.Finally, what is very striking about Esolens article is the contrast between his own genuinely English prose and the Latinized English of the prayers. His prose: short sentences, varied rhythms, colorful and vernacular vocabulary. His explanations of the prayers are forcefull and accessible. The prayers themselves are at best ok; they certainly need those explanations. I am not proposing Esolens prose as a model for the Mass. But the contrast is telling.
About the Author
Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.