E ARE APPROACHING the second anniversary of the “New English Translation” of the Mass (Roman Missal, 3rd Edition), which is often called MR3. Believe it or not, during the workshops prior to MR3’s introduction, many Catholics were surprised to learn that the English Mass texts were translated from Latin! That’s right: MR3 is an English translation of the official Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia (first issued in 2000 and updated slightly in 2008). It’s kind of interesting that it took eleven years, but that’s another story. Below, I will share some information discovered while conducting research for a forthcoming presentation I’ve been asked to give on a related subject.
One might expect that such a tremendous change to words and phrases used by Catholics for decades would elicit mass outcry (no pun intended!) or even rage. On the contrary, MR3 seems to have been accepted very well by the people of God. Astonishingly, I’ve been unable to locate a single presentation, article, or paper by a qualified person arguing that the old translation was more accurate than the new one.
WHY DID I USE the word “astonishingly” above? So many people had opposed MR3 (and, before that, Liturgiam Authenticam) on ideological grounds, I expected attempts to discredit MR3 in every conceivable way. I was sure articles would appear asserting that the earlier translation was more accurate. After all, in this day and age, anybody can type on a blog. There’s no such thing today as “a theory so crazy it wouldn’t even be made on the internet.” On the other hand, people opposed to MR3 on ideological grounds tend not to know Latin, so perhaps an assault on MR3’s accuracy is out of the question.
Obviously, I came across plenty of “MR3 nitpicking” here and there, and readers will recall that I, too, believe MR3 could be improved upon. However, I never found an overall thema: a unified MR3 criticism shared by various and sundry voices. Some tried to attack the process, which struck me as odd, since the merits of the thing itself are what ultimately matters. Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL, basically demolished the “lack of consultation” critique, saying (among other things):
As I coordinate the process of consultation in relation to texts in English throughout almost 800 diocesan bishops in eleven conferences, I can assure you that each of them is entirely free to consult whom they wish in their own diocese. The fact that all do not consult to the same extent is also evident. In addition, we have also always been happy to receive individual commentaries from people who choose to communicate with ICEL directly.
Although it struck me as weak, perhaps the “process critique” was the strongest case the opponents of MR3 could muster … so they just went with it. It reminds me of a phrase my father once shared: “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.”
MONSIGNOR RICHARD J. SCHULER always believed that the (now discredited) 1970s ICEL translation imposed on the English-speaking world was done intentionally, in order to harm the Church. However, this was not easy to prove. Now that MR3 has arrived, statements by some would seem to exonerate the good monsignor. Consider the recent claim made by a former president of Universa Laus (a group formed to counteract Pope Paul VI’s organization, CIMS):
7th-century theology, spirituality, and culture are very far from where most of the Church is now. The 1973 translation concealed this fact from us. If we had known what the prayers really said, we would not have wanted to pray them any longer. Now we are faced with that question 40 years later, and it is not any easier.
Writing for a major “progressive” Catholic magazine, author Bryan Cones wrote:
What these naked translations really reveal is how imperial and pagan these prayers really are [ … ] To me it seems not only that we shouldn’t be using these translations, we shouldn’t be using most of these prayers at all anymore. They simply reflect an approach to God — a distant, imperial God to whom we must beg for mercy — and an understanding of the church — sinful, unworthy, unredeemed — that I think we have left behind.
Anyone who doubts that the old ICEL translation “concealed” what the prayers really meant should take a look at the writings of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (a friend of Msgr. Schuler). For many years, in the Wanderer and on his website, he’s been providing comparisons between the old and new. Here’s an example.
In 2010, I saw a booklet printed by a diocese which shall remain nameless. I believe I took a picture of it on my phone. Large red letters on the cover stated: “By diocesan decree, the prayers of MR3 are not to be read or studied without prior catechesis. This applies to both laypeople and clergy.” I had to scratch my head and wonder, “What could be the harm in reading a more accurate translation of Mass?”
IF I COULD ADD ONE MORE THING, it’s always nice to have people “document the times.” For example, I believe the legacy of 20th-century composers is awful (and I know some of the other CCW bloggers will vehemently disagree with my assessment). I have no use for Schoenberg, Ives, Cage, Babbitt, Boulez, Lutoslawski, Ligeti or any of those guys. Did artists at the time know what was happening? John Browning, in a 1980 interview with Elyse Mach, said this:
Sam Barber and I very often go to a concert with some avant garde music in it, and I know he is far more tolerant of it than I am. Yet, as soon as we leave the hall, he takes the words right out of my mouth: “Gee, it would be nice to hear a good tune, wouldn’t it?”
Monsignor Schuler documented his times, and for this we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. Furthermore, he never failed to stand up for our Lord. Bishop Sheen used to say, “Right is right when nobody’s right. Wrong is wrong when everybody’s wrong.” Schuler was right when nobody was right.