Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Johnny Can't Read (the new ICEL translation)

I ran across John Zmirak's latest musings at Inside Catholic on the perspective of many traditional Catholics on the extraordinary form. He points out that what motivates many is not a a pharasaic preoccupation with externals or an obsession over the inessentials, but a recognition that the inessentials have power. In truth, those inessentials that are so common in the extraordinary form create a space in which we are lifted up to meet God, rather than having God brought down to us. He refers to the Build-A-Bear nature of the current liturgy, with its mix-and-match prefaces and Eucharistic prayers and makes a point with which I, as an orthodox Catholic who attends almost strictly liturgies in the ordinary form, can agree:

The old liturgy was crafted by saints, and can be said by schlubs without risk of sacrilege. The new rite was patched together by bureaucrats, and should only be safely celebrated by the saintly.

Now, I have to admit that I would attend Mass in the extraordinary form more frequently if it were more accessible here in Boise or didn't require me to attend a chapel that resides in a dubious canonical state. I'm happy to wait until some of our local priests feel comfortable celebrating the extraordinary form, now that the Ecclesia Dei Commission has clarified some points of Summorum Pontificum. I'd also welcome more access to Eastern Rite liturgies.

At a training session in October concerning the scraments, our instructor, a priest with a doctoral degree in liturgical studies, went off a bit on the new ICEL translation, claiming it was unreadable and very difficult to read. He also had nothing positive to say about the extraordinary form or the Holy Father's reasons for releasing it. One of his biggest objections in both cases was that the language was too unfamiliar for laity and that the people could not fuly enter into active participation because of it. I certainly think there's a space for vernacular in the liturgy (primarily the propers, less so the ordinaries). However, one of the things I detest about the modern mondset of so many liturgical professionals is the need to make the liturgy "more relevant" to modern Catholics.

What precisely does it mean for it to be "more relevant"? Typically, this means, so basic and common that anyone can follow it without disengaging from the popular culture for an hour. Why contemporary music? Why the felt banners? Why the casual dress and tone of the priest? To bring the liturgy down to earth. This seems to be precisely the opposite of what liturgy should do, which is to remove us from the realm of the everyday and help us to gain a glimpse of the Divine.

In addition, I get a sense that these professionals don't really trust us with a missal (no less one with Latin on one page and English on the other). If one looks at some of the criticisms made about the language of the new translation, you'd get the impression that these people don't believe we can read or understand English, or learn new vocabulry to suit particular ends. Every linguistic environment has its own linguistic rules. You don't speak at work the way you do at the poker table. You don't talk to a justice as if he or she were your fishing buddy. Why should the sacred liturgy be somehow exempt from these very natural linguistic norms?

So it's not that Johnny can't read the new ICEL translation. It's that Johnny apparently needs to be kept from raising himself from his lowly station to meet God half way.

Let's hope the implementation of Summorum Pontificum brings about the fruits that the Holy Father has noted as his intention for the motu propio.
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