Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Words Fail Us: The View from the Pew: Reporting Straight from the Pews after a Year of the New Translations, U.S. Catholic Readers Say They Are Still Stumbling through the Prayers

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Words Fail Us: The View from the Pew: Reporting Straight from the Pews after a Year of the New Translations, U.S. Catholic Readers Say They Are Still Stumbling through the Prayers

Article excerpt


Stilted, awkward, unnatural, strange, choppy, clumsy, obtuse. If you read these words in a movie review, would you head for the ticket line or run in the opposite direction? What about wooden, tortured, terrible, ridiculous, inaccessible, or abominable? Are you at least intrigued by what could warrant such description? Would you want to check it out once a week?

These words weren't in a review of a movie, play, or book. Unfortunately, they're how the majority of visitors describe the new Mass translations after experiencing them for a full year. Repeatedly assured they would like them once they got used to them, nearly half of the readers who took the U.S. Catholic survey (49 percent) say their current attitude toward the revised wording remains negative and they're unhappy that they'll have to continue to use it. An additional 17 percent say they still don't like the new wording, but that it's not too big of a deal.

Those who continue to dislike the translations have three main complaints. Catholics feel betrayed by church leadership and treated like children thanks to the way the translations were implemented; they're concerned about the theology implied in some of the new wording; and the new words themselves make it difficult to be prayerful because they don't feel natural and are difficult to memorize.

"I have been disappointed from the outset that so little consultation has been organized between the church leaders and laypeople," says Rosemary Keenan of Gwelup, Western Australia. "Women form the major part of the worshipers in the parish I attend, and we have again been overlooked, discounted, and generally seen as second-class citizens."

Eric Brown of Louisville was heartbroken by what he says was an absence of dialogue around how to improve the translations. "The new translation was presented as an edict. The official catechesis looked suspiciously like political propaganda."

Several readers used the phrases "rammed down our throats" and "foisted upon us" to describe how the new translations came about. Eugene Sheehan of Cork, Ireland thinks that it's a sign of something deeper: "This whole process indicates the disconnect that has arisen between the institutional church and the church of the People of God." Sheehan laments, "It has stolen my full participation in the Eucharist and reduced me to being an observer."

Joseph Weber of Arlington Heights, Illinois echoes Sheehan. "The new translations have placed the laity further from the center of the eucharistic celebration. We have again become spectators to a 'magic show,'" he says.

Many respondents are critical of wording that they feel doesn't accurately express their relationship to God or what the Mass is about.

Frank Butler of Lansdale, Pennsylvania calls the new translations "antiquated and individualistic, rather than gospel-based and communal." Christina Ross agrees. "The new words take away from the 'we' of celebrating the Eucharist communally to 'I,' she says. "If I wanted to pray alone, I'd stay at home."

"I don't like the words for the consecration," says Joan Jennings of Baltimore. She emphatically insists, "Jesus did not use a chalice. It was a cup." And Reyanna Rice holds nothing back in her criticism: "Listening to Mass in this translation is about as uncomfortable as listening to an hour of fingernails being dragged across a blackboard."

Talib Huff is disappointed at what didn't change. "There was an opportunity to replace gender-specific language with words that were neutral, and it was passed by," he says.

Some people simply feel tripped up by the new words, either because they're "stilted" or just unfamiliar.

Ginny Garza says she has difficulty "having to read along with words that are not my own or don't make sense to me." Jacob Lowry of San Diego says that after having had his whole life to reflect and pray with one translation, it's been challenging "integrating spiritual sincerity to the new words. …

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