Don't revise yet

John Hunwicke urges his brother priests not to start printing new mass booklets for their parishes just yet

I do hope and trust that Reverend Fathers have received their 2008 ORDO safe and sound, and have not spotted too many misprints. As ever, I welcome comments.

We are in strange times liturgically, since Rome is at this moment fine-tuning its new English translation of the Order of Mass. The almost-final draft is available on the internet, and many will have seen it and been surprised by how different it is from the one some of us use now. And also with you gives way to And with your Spirit, but this is only the start of the changes (incidentally, there is a note at the back of the ORDO explaining why this particular change has been deemed essential).

How did we get here?

The practical point for the hard-working parish priest is that this is probably not the best time to revise and reprint your parish mass-leaflets. It is likely that some suggestions may emerge from within our constituency about how to handle the new situation, but even if they don't - or even if you wouldn't want to follow them anyway - I suggest that it makes good sense to wait a few months until you see what the final texts turn out to be.

Perhaps this is a good moment to recollect how we have reached the present situation. The old translation was done just after Vatican II and by common consent has worn badly. It is a disastrously poor translation; to give but one example: most of the Collects for Ordinary Time are translations of the same ancient Latin collects which we find, translated by Cranmer, in the Prayer Book. But they have been so poorly translated that you would not recognize them. In the course of translation, traditional and biblical theological notions such as sin and grace were largely expurgated.

The translators were determined to produce texts which could be 'understood' by anybody. Their principle was called 'dynamic equivalence', which means getting a vague general idea of what the vague general meaning is, and then expressing what one deems that meaning to be in completely different words. Now things are otherwise: current Roman policy is to give people texts which really do express the Christian Faith contained in the Latin (and Prayer Book) originals. When they contain ideas which some might find obscure, well, what are preachers for?

Underneath all this is a different idea about how the Church should engage with the World. In the heady, confident days after the Council, the thought was 'If we speak the world's language, then the world will be able to hear us, and we shall be able to reclaim the world for Christ.' But it didn't turn out like that, did it? Remember the Decade of Evangelism which emptied the churches?

Talking Christian

Current thinking is to express the Faith we have inherited in a language truly capable of expressing that Faith. Part of the process of conversion will be learning the language in which the Faith is expressed. This, after all, is what St Paul, the Fathers and the ancient classical liturgies of East and West did. They did indeed take terms from the world around them, but in doing so they transformed the meaning and in effect created a new dialect: 'talking Christian.

Converts are 'new-born babes'. Babies have to learn to speak. We expect them to develop beyond the stage of inarticulate grunts or even toddler-talk The newly incorporated member of the Church grows in the Faith and - because humans are verbal animals - this partly means soaking oneself in the verbal habits of the Christian community one has joined.

Some clergy may feel tempted to stick with the current Roman books. It would be a shame to get marooned on a liturgical desert island which would be neither 'Anglican nor 'Western Catholic'. |

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