Quick Report on Fr Paul Turner's Lecture on the Changes to the Translation of the Liturgy

The Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation is to be commended for taking the opportunity to get Fr Paul Turner, who was in Sydney for the Societas Liturgica national conference, down to Melbourne to give us a presentation on the changes we can expect in the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

While Fr Turner estimated that it might yet be two years or more (Advent 2011 was his suggestion) before the new translation is put into practice, it was good tonight in a “congregation” of about 80 people to have a “dry run” with the spoken texts.

I must say that Fr Turner impressed me on three levels: he is meticulous (and knows his stuff – question time showed that he has a wealth of knowledge and experience ready for instant recall), he is pastoral (that is, he sensitively judged where his audience was “at” and aimed his comments in that direction), and above all he is clear.

For instance, one mystery was solved for me tonight. I have been having difficult working out the somewhat erratic (as it appeared to me) use of the vocative “O” in the new texts. Sometimes it was there, sometimes not. For instance, in the Gloria:

“Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ,
only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God…etc.”

The “O” before God in the second line above stands out like a sore thumb. Why put it in, when all the other vocatives lack it? (What makes these lines especially confusing for me is that I grew up singing the Book of Common Prayer version – which went “O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty. O Lord, the only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father…” – in other words, the new translation puts an “O” precisely where the old English version didn’t have one and leaves all the others out!). In any case, Fr Turner revealed the rationale behind the mystery of the vocative “O”. Apparently it was put in wherever it was required to separate two stressed syllables, which would otherwise have been difficult to speak or sing. Fair enough. Just so I know.

He also made a very fair point in answer to a question about the fact that the new translations would result in us using different texts from our non-Catholic brothers and sisters. Currently this means that we are able to (for eg.) sing the Gloria together, and, indeed, to share musical settings across the board. However, Fr Turner pointed out that, on the one hand, the Protestant Churches are making their own changes and adaptions to the original ICEL texts, and on the other hand, the new translations do bring us into greater unity with the texts of the other CATHOLIC vernacular liturgical families. In other words, there is a kind of “internal” ecumenism going on in the process of bringing the English liturgy into greater conformity with the German, French, Italian, Spanish etc. liturgy.

In summary, I must congratulate Fr Turner for being able to maintain a generally upbeat and positive approach – one of anticipation almost – for the new translations. This was, is and will be difficult for those charged with introducing and implimenting the new translations, especially as even tonight most of the questions that were asked expressed at least a degree of disatisfaction or suspicion of the new translations.

At the moment, the situation may be compared to having just heard Father’s announcement that he is leaving the parish and that a new priest will soon be appointed. Many are disappointed that Father is leaving after so long; others are quitely rejoicing but respectfully keeping their joy to themselves in this time of general communal grieving. And then there is a general apprehension about what the “new priest” will be like. Yet, over time, and the “new priest” will become as loved and admired (and still, perhaps, resented by a small number who respectfully keep their resentment to themselves) as the “old priest” was. It will be the same with the new translations.

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5 Responses to Quick Report on Fr Paul Turner's Lecture on the Changes to the Translation of the Liturgy

  1. David Kennedy says:

    I’m rather looking forward to this, since the catechetical opportunity is immense. And since our Archbishop Hart is keen on liturgy, I hope there will be serious preparation for the new translation in the Melbourne Archdiocese . Have you heard anything along these lines, David?

  2. Louise says:

    When our PP was speaking at Mass of the new changes to the liturgy “being imposed on us,” I inwardly observed that perhaps he now has an inkling as to how the traddies felt (and still feel).

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