Debate: Is the new Mass translation worth all the bother?

The new translation of the Mass, as presented to Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Over the next year or so, every Catholic in the English-speaking world will be learning a new translation of the Mass. It is the first time that such a thing has happened since the Novus Ordo was first introduced in the 1970s.

Some Irish priests have already rebelled against the new text, saying it is “archaic, elitist and obscure, and not in keeping with the natural rhythm, cadence and syntax of the English language”.

Liturgy officials have been muted in their defence of it. Martin Foster, acting secretary of the bishops’ liturgy committee in England and Wales, said:

There are people who like it and people who don’t and some who aren’t so sure. But I think you’ll find that clergy are a fairly pragmatic group of people in the end and they know it’s coming.

But if this is a fair summary of opinion – some priests like it, some don’t, others aren’t so sure – then is it really worth all the bother?

Fr Paddy Jones, director of the National Centre for Liturgy in Maynooth, Co Kildare, said learning a new translation was an opportunity to “understand and celebrate better the Mass”. But surely you can catechise about the Mass without having to learn a new text.

On the other hand, many people argue that the new translation will help make our Masses more reverent. William Oddie, for instance, suggests that the old text had a damaging effect on liturgy:

In the old ICEL translation, any indication of humility in the Latin text, which might be indicated in translation by some such phrase as “we humbly beseech you”, was simply suppressed in the Mass we have: there are very many examples of this. This, together with a consistent reduction of devotional intensity and theological meaning gives at times an almost peremptory, even irreverent, tone to the text which over the years has surely had its effect on the whole spiritual life of the Church.

So, is the new translation not worth the bother? Or will it enhance the liturgical life of the Church?