Several U.S. Catholic leaders have acknowledged that the church will have a difficult job of explaining and then implementing the new translations of the prayers used at Mass, especially the congregation’s part.
Catholics have become accustomed to the approved translations in use for more than 35 years. However, under direct pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the U.S. Catholic bishops, at their semi-annual meeting in Los Angeles in June, largely acceded to the demand that they adopt new wording of some of the laity’s most familiar responses.
Thus, when the priest addresses the congregation with the customary, “The Lord be with you,” the response is to be changed from “And also with you” to “And with your spirit.”
An even more jarring change is in the laity’s response to the priest’s invitation to receive holy Communion. The current wording is: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” The new translation, mandated as a literal rendering of the original Latin, reads: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”
In its original biblical context, this was the response given to Jesus by the centurion after he had begged Jesus to come to his home to cure his gravely ill servant. When Jesus agreed to do so, the centurion declared: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Matthew 8:8; also Luke 7:6).
The words may be a literal translation of the earlier Latin, but they have nothing directly to do with the Eucharist or the reception of holy Communion. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” is far more appropriate, given the liturgical context. Furthermore, the laity is entirely at home with the present wording.
A poll taken at last November’s meeting of the U.S. bishops found that 56 percent were opposed to the “under my roof” revision and to other changes in the people’s part.
Bishop Donald Trautman, chair of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy and himself a strong opponent of the new translations, acknowledged in a recent interview with John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, that in order to promote these changes parish priests will require “a great motivation … to take on a major catechetical effort” (“The Word from Rome,” 6/23/06).
“We have to convince priests and lay people,” Bishop Trautman pointed out, “that this is a superior text, giving them a deeper spirituality. … We have to make the argument that these are better texts, more accurate texts.”
At the bishops’ meeting, Bishop Trautman reluctantly urged his fellow bishops to vote in favor of most of the changes mandated by the Vatican, not because he agreed with them, but because, in his opinion, the bishops had no realistic alternative.
John Allen also interviewed Msgr. James Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Liturgy. He, too, acknowledged the challenge that parish priests will face in attempting to explain and defend these changes to their parishioners. He referred to the priests as the “front-line troops” who will be “most instrumental in implementing the reform.”
Msgr. Moroney conceded that “all will be in vain unless the pastors of souls are on board.” And therein lies the heart of the catechetical challenge. Priests themselves are divided on the matter.
But if the priests are not “on board,” to use Msgr. Moroney’s phrase, what hope is there that the catechetical effort can succeed?
As the well-worn clich√© has it, only time will tell.
Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.