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Catholic Church Revises English Translation of Mass

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Catholic Church Revises English Translation of Mass


Catholic Church Revises English Translation of Mass

Catholic Church Revises English Translation of Mass

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Catholic Church has revised its English translation of the Mass, making the wording closer to the Latin. Some priests and parishioners are unhappy with the changes. Liane Hansen speaks with the Rev. Thomas Reese, of the Woodstock Theological center at Georgetown University.


This past week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a new English translation for the Roman Catholic mass that would alter key prayers that parishioners have been saying since 1965. That was when the second Vatican Council dropped Latin from the mass and allowed priests and parishioners to participate in their native language.

Joining us by phone is Father Thomas Reese, of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak to us.

Reverend THOMAS REESE (Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University): Sure.

HANSEN: Can you briefly explain the changes that are going to be made in the mass, please?

Rev. REESE: The changes that people in the pews will notice the most are in the prayers that they recite. For example, there are a number of places during the mass where the priest says, the Lord be with you. Now, today, the response says, And also with you. That's going to change. The new response will be, And with your spirit. They're doing that because that's a stricter, more literal translation of the Latin, which the altar boys in your audience will remember as (speaks Latin).

There were a number of people who wanted to go back to a much more strict, literal translation of the Latin, rather than having a translation that really emphasizes understanding and conveying the meaning of the text.

HANSEN: But that seems a rather minor change.

Rev. REESE: It is a minor change. That's why I wonder, why bother? And try to explain to second graders and third graders what and with your spirit mean? The question people in the pews will be asking is why are we doing this? Why is this better than what we used to say?

HANSEN: How long has this been - this change been in the works? What was the driving force for it?

Rev. REESE: Well, the change really started after John Paul II was elected. Under Paul VI, the rules were quite clear. He encouraged translations that conveyed meaning, that were clear and encouraged them to be - actually be beautiful in their wording, whereas there were some opponents who wanted a very literal, word-for-word translation. Those people have now won out in the Vatican and so that this is now being pushed by the Vatican, frankly, on many bishops who were reluctant to do it, but out of loyalty to the Vatican voted for the changes.

HANSEN: Yeah, the bishop's conference approved the language changes slightly in variation from what the Vatican wanted. What happens now?

Rev. REESE: Well, now the text goes back to Rome for approval. And any changes that the Americans want will have to also be done in consultation because what we're trying for, of course, is an English translation that can be used all over the world. That means the Philippines, England, Australia, Asia and Africa. It's gonna take a while for all the negotiation to go on to the - finally get the final text.

HANSEN: Is there a deeper, internal political issue here?

Rev. REESE: Well, I think there's a couple of issues. One is, why can't the English-speaking church determine its own translation? That's the way, after Vatican II, it was stated that, you know, the local bishop's conferences would do these translations and then they'd be approved by Rome. Now it's kind of being switched, that the emphasis is coming from Rome and then the local bishops have to approve it. So it's another case of this growing centralization that has been taking place in the church.

The other thing that's kind of strange here is, a lot of this push over the last 10 years in the Vatican was done by people for whom English was not their first language. I mean, we have Spanish-speaking cardinals, German-speaking cardinals who are now telling the English-speaking world how to pray in English. This is really kind of silly.

HANSEN: Mm hmm. When all is said and done, does this mean new missals are going to be printed?

Rev. REESE: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, when then finally get it all worked out, they're going to have to print up new missals, which all the churches will have to buy.

HANSEN: Do you think people might stay away from mass?

Rev. REESE: Oh, no, I don't think - I mean, I don't want to blow this into a crisis and say that people are going to walk out over these translations. I certainly hope not. I think that people will kind of scratch their heads and wonder what's going on and then shrug their shoulders and say, okay, let's get on with it.

HANSEN: Father Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. Thanks a lot for your time.

Rev. REESE: Certainly.

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