Note: U.S. Catholic bishops gave final approval Tuesday to an English translation of the Roman Missal that has been in development for years. After the Vatican gives its final authorization, the new translation will be adopted by parishes nationwide, possibly next year.
Sometime soon, Catholic America will be asked to “unlearn” our cherished prayers at Mass. As a result of a command to retranslate the Roman Missal, we are on schedule to be reprogrammed when praying at Mass. I am usually in favor of change in order to further the work of the Church, but in this case I wonder why we are trading in English for Latinese.
The word “Latinese” is my invention; but as a professor of many years, I know Latinese when I see it. It is a made-up language that is technically English, but which sounds like Latin. Some students think that big words make you into an intellectual so they avoid plain English. I am not the only professor to prefer plain English, however, and I wish that the Vatican bureaucrats pushing Latinese would agree.
I am not against Latin-derived words; they are irrevocable parts of the English language. I only oppose using Latinese when it gets in the way of clarity. For example, we have grown used to professing our faith saying that Jesus “was born of the Virgin Mary:” We will now speak in Latinese and say he was “made incarnate of the Virgin Mary.” Get used to other Latinese words like “consubstantial,” “‘ignominy,” “ineffable,” “gibbet” and “unvanquished.”
I took four years of Latin at St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia, and earned 90’s every semester. I got to the point of sight-reading the Aeneid and still have no difficulty with the original Latin of St. Thomas’ Summa, but that’s not the experience of most people in the pews.
Latin, having been used during the centuries when, from apostolic origins, continuing in the traditions of the Roman Church and the experiences of holy men and women of Christendom whenever the identification of theological preciseness being constantly required in the articulation of the faith, while being fostered and preserved through the use of gender and temporality designates, is preferred.
The sentence above is Latinese. At 59 words, it is shorter than one sentence in the new missal for the Preface of the Feast of Christ the King that has 88 words spread out over 13 lines. And this Latinese is better than other places where sentences roll on without verbs! I suggest interested readers consult the comments of Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, who also said at the Catholic University in Washington:
“The Latin text is not inspired. It is a human text, reflecting a certain mindset, theology and worldview. … Because of literal translation in the new missal, complicated Latin wording has become complicated English wording.”
The reasons given in favor of the retranslation are laudable: a single English text for all English speakers in the world, from Pakistan to Peoria and conformity with a central Latin version. I suppose a case can be made for such issues, but I am less receptive to the notion voiced by some Vatican bureaucrats that speaking to God in prayer in plain everyday language lacks “transcendence.” It is a non sequitur (real Latin!) that unintelligibility makes you holy.
Moreover, when the new translation was “tested,” the reactions were mostly negative. In the end, most churchgoers will go along with the changes because we love the Church, even if we don’t always understand its administrative decision. But what about the younger generations of Catholics who have never attended a Latin Mass in their lives? They will never have nostalgic feelings about the transcendence of Latin. And this new Latinese is at a distinct disadvantage against Facebook and MP3 downloads. Aren’t we making worship more remote? I am against taking pastoral concern for liturgical celebrations away from Catholic America and giving it to unseen Vatican bureaucrats. The prayer of the Church belong to all of us!
In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see bishops start giving special permission for Mass in the rite we have now. After all, the Church allows the original Latin Mass for old-timers and an Anglican ritual for Anglican converts: shouldn’t Catholic America get equal treatment? Happily, I have an escape until that happens because Bishop Trautman says the Spanish translation is better than the English one. Sí, Padrecito.