Sunday, September 24, 2017

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 24, 2017

The news came out last week that Pope Francis had made a change in Canon Law concerning liturgical translations. Essentially, he is giving more authority to local bishops to determine how the translation will flow. Most commentators that I’ve read (including our neighbor Fr. Lou Vallone in the Post-Gazette) are of the opinion that we won’t see a difference in our Sunday Masses for quite some time. On the other hand, it gives me a chance to reflect a bit on our use of language in the liturgy. With almost six years of experience with the new translation, I thought I might reflect a bit on the subject.

When we first introduced the new liturgy, I worried that it did not flow as easily, that it did not seem to come naturally to a speaker of twenty-first century American English. Then I realized that every high school student at some time makes the same complaint about William Shakespeare. The more we listen to Shakespeare, really trying to get the whole sense of the action, then the more we get from the beauty of his Elizabethan language. In the liturgy, we are moving into an entirely new realm. Part of the issue is that we are trying to keep a balance. Our faith teaches us the power and majesty of God, but we can never forget that Christ’s Incarnation bridges the chasm and allows us to approach the otherwise unapproachable God. So our liturgy should be both mysterious and familiar, both challenging and comfortable. We may never actually strike that balance, but we always seek to keep both sides together. There are some parts of the Roman Missal that I still feel were better in the previous translation, and there are some parts that I have come to like in the current edition. The more I pray these prayers, the more I feel the incredible power of what the prayers accomplish, namely, Christ’s promise to give us His Body and Blood at every celebration of the Mass. The beauty is still there, but in a language that invites us to set aside our ordinary lives to enter into the realm of the sacred.

The current edition of Reader’s Digest explores our language and encourages readers to expand their familiarity with English while also extolling the virtues of simple writing. One article examines the grade-level needed to read the average book on the New York Times bestseller list. In the 1960s, you needed an eighth grade reading level to read the average book, with most of the books requiring at least a seventh-grade level. Today almost all the books on that list require no more than a sixth grade level. The author respects the opinion that we are “dumbing down” our reading level but also states, “Writing doesn’t need to be complicated to be considered powerful or literary.” He cites such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Grapes of Wrath, which “are revered, but they are also accessible enough to be taught in middle and high school.” Another article in the magazine describes the job of putting the dictionary together and how important it is to look for just the right word, as different words have different shades of meaning. So our liturgy strives to keep the balance between simplicity and precision. The perfect balance is an unattainable ideal. But if we bring a prayerful attentiveness to Mass, the liturgy can speak to our hearts.
                                                                                                      Father H