As the Church prays

Column: New Roman Missal isn’t perfect — but neither was the old

Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.

Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.

by Michael Podrebarac

By now, most of us will have had our first encounter with a few texts from the revised missal. The full use of the new missal, of course, will commence at Advent.

So what do we think? Most likely, some of us are pleased, some are confused, and some are annoyed. Not too surprising, really! In any case, before long, most of us will not remember how we used to speak the Mass, the new texts having become familiar.

So what should we think? I’ve received several calls at the archdiocesan liturgy office asking if I think the new translation is better than the old. “Yes,” I rather positively reply, “in many instances.” I’ve also received a number of calls asking if I think the old is better than the new. “Perhaps,” I rather diplomatically reply, “in a few instances.”

But my two favorite questions are: “Is the old translation really that bad?” and “Is this new translation supposed to be perfect?”

The answers to these two questions are easy: NO.

No, the old translation isn’t bad, or wicked, or deceitful, or the part of a sinister conspiracy to destroy the Catholic faith. It is a product of its time, it has served us well, it has expressed and nurtured faith, and anyone who really believes that it has been the cause of whatever ails the church today really needs to get some perspective. It is what it is: imperfect, but sincere.

And, no, the new translation isn’t perfect. It’s not bad, either, nor is it an attempt to straightjacket the voice of the faithful, or a syndicated scheme to turn back the clock, or a devious ploy to get us to cry “Uncle!” and return entirely to Latin. It is what it is: imperfect, but sincere.

Imperfect, because all translations are imperfect, simply because it’s impossible to say perfectly in one language what we say in another.

Imperfect, because, for that matter, it’s impossible to perfectly express either the mind of God or the human heart when limited to human words. Mere words like Father, Trinity, Communion, holy, consubstantial, Son, sacrifice, chalice, and soul only begin to signify what they seek to express. The mystery can never be exhausted by the expression of it.

Perhaps that’s why St. Isaac of Nineveh concludes: “Silence is the language of the world to come.” Only when, as St. John says, we’ve become like God, having perfectly seen the divine countenance in all its perfection, will our expression of that countenance cease being imperfect. Only then.

So, in the meantime, let us learn the new words of the Mass for what they are and let us learn to live them as best we can.

About the author

Michael Podrebarac

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