Friday, 9 December 2011

Thoughts on the new translation 2

It has been a tremendous privilege for me to be able to attend mass on an almost daily basis since the new translation was introduced in our parish just over two months ago.

Initially I made the effort because I knew it would take some time to take the new responses to heart. One doesn't overcome the habits of the best part of a lifetime overnight and so I am still picking up my laminated card as I enter the church and following the words very carefully. Although those words, which we laity use, are important they are by no means the only, or indeed the most striking, of the changes.

I have been bowled over by the beauty of the Eucharistic Prayers. First up was the Second Eucharistic Prayer with its reference to the "dewfall" of the Holy Spirit evoking one of my favourite prayers- the Veni Sancte Spiritus. Then I heard the Third Eucharistic Prayer with its mention of "the rising of the sun to its setting". Neither, however, quite prepares one for the sheer grandeur of the First Eucharistic Prayer- the Roman Canon! Here we have not only all those apostles and martyrs crowding in but also "Abel the just, Abraham...Melchisedech..." And it is quite clear too that it is God Himself who is being addressed.
The tone is reverential and, as I have perhaps said before, it is not the new translation that requires justifying or explaining. Rather is it why we have had to bear with something so strikingly inferior for so long when many of its defects were obvious from day one. But I begin to digress.

Perhaps, in my view, the strongest argument for the new translation is the extent of the scriptural resonance which it has revealed. One of the most obvious examples of this in the people's responses is seen in the Domine non sum dignus...Lord, I am not worthy...". The way in which the words are patterned after the Centurion's statement in the Gospel takes us into that event so that what on one level is a bald statement of fact ("I am not worthy") is also both a reminder of our need of faith and humility like that of the centurion and a prayer for the healing we need. Nor is the meaning exhausted there. Like so much of scripture it is like a deep well from which one can continue to draw without it ever becoming exhausted. Nor, as I have begun to appreciate, is this quality of scriptural resonance restricted to the Ordinary of the Mass.

This morning, it being an Advent weekday, the Collect, Prayer over the Offerings and Post Communion Prayer conveyed the Advent theme appropriately. I cannot now recall which of them it was- perhaps the Collect- which asked that we might be ready to greet the Lord at His coming "with lamps alight". At once one was reminded of the Wise and foolish virgins (or "bridesmaids" as the Jerusalem Bible calls them) of the parable! Please, please, please! Will someone just wake up to the fact that this is not just "flowery" or arbitrary, or "poetic" language for the sake of it! It is poetic, of course- but poetic in the sense that true poetry involves real communication - truth- expressed with economy and elegance. It is language that "touches the nerve" and sparks off a whole network of connections. In short it is "live".

Perhaps, then, noone will be surprised if I say that I cannot take seriously those who criticise the new translation. Perhaps there may be the odd infelicity or inelegant phrase but it is surely as nothing to the loose paraphrase which has served these last nearly forty years. It is as if the true meanings have been veiled all this time like the crucifix in Passiontide. Of course the point of that veiling is that it allows an unveiling- the effect of which is the enabling of a clearer view of what was always available to plain sight....

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