Sunday, September 11, 2011

Retranslating the liturgy

November 27, 2011 will be a significant day for American Catholics. It won't be quite as game-changing as Vatican II, but this day will cause comfortable Catholics to begin to pay more attention during mass, and it is of interest to a fan of the English language like me.

It is the day the Church introduces the new translations of the liturgy.

A little background: In the early 1960s, the Roman Catholic leaders decided some changes were needed to bring the Church up to date with the modern world, and they met for three years to decide exactly what changes were needed. This meeting was called the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II for short. And it was a big deal to Catholics throughout the world.

Probably one of the biggest and most notable changes was to the language of the liturgy of the mass. Before Vatican II, all masses were conducted in Latin. After Vatican II, masses could be conducted in the local vernacular, which means that in the United States of America, after the mid-60s, Catholics began to use English (or Spanish) instead of Latin. This was before I was born, but my parents confirm that it was a big deal at the time.

That's well and good -- now everyone could understand what they were saying in church -- but this change happened rather quickly (within a couple of years after the Council ended). And apparently some of the translations were a bit rushed, producing some liturgical phrases that were more approximations than translations.

So, Pope Benedict XVI in 2000 declared that the languages of the mass should be retranslated from Latin to ensure that the spirit and the messages of the liturgy are more accurately reflected in what the people say. I've already seen the revised versions of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, and it looks like only minor changes will result. So there shouldn't be as big an adjustment as occurred with Vatican II. But long-time Catholics will need to rememorize some of their prayers and what they say during the mass, and that could take some getting used to.

In any case, the new liturgy goes into effect November 27, 2011, which is the beginning of Advent. If you're Catholic, consider yourself warned. Don't be surprised if things sound a little different during mass. If you're not Catholic, it won't bother you at all.

Unless you have Catholic friends and they suddenly start complaining about church after Thanksgiving.

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