Archbishop Coleridge on the New Missal Translation

Here are are few comments from Archbishop Coleridge’s latest article on the new missal translations:

My seminary studies were done at a time of upheaval in the Church, and the liturgical training we received was negligible. …Certainly we never looked at the Latin prayers. Latin was out and English was in: that was the long and short of it.

What an admission! It says something about a whole generation of our liturgical presiders, doesn’t it?

I have come to see that the translations I grew up with were often not really translations at all.

…I have been surprised to see just how drenched in Scripture the Missal is. In the translations we have known, many of the biblical references, echoes and allusions have been obscured or even omitted.

…As well as Scripture, we find in the Missal pre-Christian elements which the Church has made part of her repertoire. We hear, for instance, the voice of ancient Roman religion. The way the Opening Prayers are structured is drawn from ancient Rome. Christianity simply took over the Roman prayer-form and, as it were, baptised it

Who’d have ever thought of the Roman Missal as an “interfaith prayer” document?!

In the translations that we have known, Augustine’s voice is somewhat muffled, and as a result the theology of grace of which he was the great proponent is obscured. At times, there is a semi-Pelagian sense that we need God’s grace only to a certain point as a help, but that beyond that point we can go it alone.

This is not Augustine’s theology of grace. He insists that there is never a time when we do not depend totally upon God’s grace. We can never go it alone; we certainly cannot save ourselves, as the heretic monk Pelagius claimed. This sense of grace is something which the new Missal project wants to show forth more clearly, allowing Augustine’s voice to sound in the chorus as mightily as it should.

That should make the Lutherans happy, at least!

It is surprising how many traces of Vatican II are found in the Latin texts as they were revised after the Council. New touches were added to old texts and new texts were written, which goes to show that the Roman Missal is always a work in progress. It is never a finished product but bears all the marks of the Church’s ongoing journey through time. It will be finished only when the Lord returns in glory at the end of time.

And that will probably upset those who view the pre-Vatican II missal as the “2000-year old, unchanged, set in stone for all time” Missal.

But for all their differences, these idioms have one thing in common: they are not the language of everyday speech. The language of Christian worship was always more complex and elevated than what was spoken in the streets. Therefore,…we are not trying to reproduce the English of everyday speech, …It does mean, however, that it will have an elevated quality which may sound strange at first. My hope is that, like Shakespeare’s verse, the language of the Missal will have its roots in common speech but will take common speech to far distant realms.

Perhaps a better comparison would not be Shakespeare, but the equally beautiful and poetic English of Cranmar’s Book of Common Prayer–which served the Anglican Communion so well for 400 years; the phrases and language of which have become just as much a part of the English language as Shakespeare’s plays.

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