Monday, October 17, 2011

Et Cum Spiritu Tuo

Yesterday marked the beginning of the transition (in these parts) to a new English translation of the original Latin version of the liturgy of the Catholic Mass. This transition has already begun in other parts of the world and opinions on the change are decidedly mixed.

For what it’s worth, I think the change--which seeks to return to more literal and hopefully more meaningful translations--is a good one. First off, I don’t think it’s going to require too much effort for Catholics to adopt to the changes. They’re being phased in over a period of time with only one or two each week. Personally, I would have preferred a hard cutover which would have implemented them all at once, but the slower schedule should allow parishioners to adjust fairly easily. The first change—saying “And with your spirit” instead of “And also with you” when the priest says “The Lord (or peace) be with”—may actually be the most difficult one to take hold as there are five different points in the Mass where the response is required. Other changes, to the wording of the Creed or the Confiteor for example, will be easier to remember since they happen at distinct moments. And we have those handy little reminder cards in the pews to fall back on.

Secondly, I think it’s good to force Catholics to pause and actually think about what we’re saying. Over the years, the prayers and responses can become so automatic that they can lose their meaning. You know the words so well that you don’t even have to think about them. It’s almost like you’re on auto-pilot at times and there’s a danger that when Mass becomes a matter of simply going through the motions it loses its sense of mystery and deeper purpose. Now, we’re going to have to focus and concentrate on the words and that should lead people to remember their meaning and relevance. And this should carry through to the parts of the liturgy that haven’t changed as well since these changes bring attention to the structure of the Mass as a whole, something that’s all too easy to take for granted.

One of the best summaries of the changes and the reasons for them is available here. I enjoyed this explanation of the “And with your spirit” change:

But the correction isn’t just about accuracy or parallels. Again, the words of the Mass are there for a reason. And the response “And with your spirit” conveys something different than “And also with you.”

“The latter sounds like a cultural greeting,” says Joe Paprocki, national catechetical consultant for Loyola Press. “Which was the point. The original translators wanted something that sounded more like everyday speech. But it can sound like the congregation is saying, ‘Right back at you, Father,’ or ‘You too.’”

And that’s not what the Latin phrase means. It’s not just another way of saying “hi” to the priest.

To really move toward everyday speech, maybe it should have been “And also with you, man” and involved the congregation winking and pointing back at the priest.

As with any change, this one will involve some discomfort and take some time to get used to. I imagine that by the time Christmas rolls around, most of us will be on board with the new version of Mass and will be at least somewhat proficient with the prayers and responses. Which may create no small amount of confusion for the C and E Catholics when they show up for one their rare Mass outings. Maybe we’ll have to keep those cards around for a while.