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I agree that the rejected translation by a group appointed by our English-speaking authorities would have been better than the one we were ordered to use ("Translation with Proven Flaws", 11 January).
However, to me, that the occasional word in our new text is not satisfactory, is a detail. The root problem is the Latin text. The original or any close translation of that Latin text is not of the style English-speakers (in England anyway) are used to.
Ours should not be a translation at all. It should be a prayerful text in which the congregation has frequent exchanges with the celebrant. It should also be as brief as needed to emphasise the main purpose of the Mass, which would allow for pauses instead of strings of words.
My friends the priests who celebrate Mass, no matter how rich their voice and manner, give me a sense of a long string of words, which eventually pass over our heads, no matter how careful the priest is.
Fr Patrick Jones is mentioned as expressing disquiet at those parts of the Mass reserved for the faithful being hardly heard from the faithful. Maybe, but to me, those parishioners’ parts are few and far between in any case.
Our bishops should compose an English version, following guidelines, for us in England. Also, since English can be different in various parts of the English-speaking world, let other countries also compose their own, or borrow ours if they think it satisfactory.
Br James Connolly fsc, St Helens, Merseyside
I agree with almost all of Lawrence West’s comments (Letters Extra, 17 January). But I would like to take further his last paragraph in which he says: “The Tridentine Mass in the original was heavily flawed. What is needed is not simply a new translation of it but a rewriting along the lines of the proposals of the late-lamented ICEL.”
I am not certain quite what Mr West means here, but I would propose not so much a rewriting of a translation from a Latin original, but rather that the Latin original should be set aside. Then the bishops’ conferences of the English-speaking world, with the help of the best liturgists, writers and poets, could commission a completely new English text of the Mass (of course with reference to ancient texts of the Eucharist in Greek, Latin and other languages).
Pope Francis appears to be putting trust in setting his bishops free. So let them get on with the job. There is nothing sacred about Latin. It was not the original language of the liturgy in the West, so why should it be on a pedestal? There simply is no need to be imprisoned by a Latin text of the Mass, which did not exist even in Rome itself for the first 200 or so years of the life of the Western Church.
What we need now is not the stumbling, arrhythmic Mass of the new translation but a liturgy written from scratch in a vigorous, vivid and poetic contemporary English. It can be done.
Denis Archdeacon, Winchester
In all the discussion of declining numbers, vocations, and so forth, ("Translation with proven flaws", 11 January) there is one element that has remained entirely unconsidered – the place of the liturgy in the process of decline.
I have no doubt that the revisions, following Vatican II, of the order of Mass, the Divine Office and the lectionary were both necessary and successful. And yet those reforms also gave us the very liturgy that has accompanied the decline for which we now need re-evangelisation.
Why is this? Is there something about recent liturgical practice that has indeed motivated decline? The problems are not with Vatican II, nor with Sacrosanctum Concillium, its truly magnificent account of a liturgically-based spirituality; neither can the problems be located in the bare bones, as it were, of the reforms that then took place.
Yet until the recent new translation, we were plagued by an English text often of almost unbelievable banality – if you need evidence just look at the collects! And that translation was accompanied by hymns many of which were equally banal in both melody and text (I would of course exempt those based more-or-less literally on biblical texts).
In so many parishes, the practice of singing the Mass more or less disappeared, incense was abandoned, the treasury of Gregorian chant ignored, and so on and so forth. None of these elements of liturgical practice considered one at a time could bring about the decline from which the church now suffers; but add it all up and we have a pretty sorry picture which bears little relationship to the words and aspirations of Vatican II.
And there is one last factor. Once upon a time, priest and people all faced the same way, focused upon the altar as we were led through the sacred mysteries of the church. But now, the altar has been replaced by the "presidential chair" as the focus to which our eyes, imagination and attention are directed.
The person and personality of the priest rather than the mysteries of the church have become the focus of attention, and the altar, once a sign of unity, has become a sign of division - clergy on one side, laity on the other. None of this was ever the intention of Vatican II. Is it any wonder people have walked away!
John Picton, Evesham, Worcestershire
Am I alone in seeing a striking irony in the juxtaposition of your pieces about a review of the translation of the Missal and the item headed "Bishop seeks huge change in attitude among faithful"? (News from Britain and Ireland, 11 January).
While the former suggests that the subdued response of the faithful to the new translation may have something to do with the fact that they were excluded from its preparation, Bishop Egan opines that the local church has reached its current impoverished state because members of the same faithful are not properly engaged in the church's liturgical life.
The bishop is surely right that the Mass should be “a source of inspiration to announce the Gospel”. However, the habitual experience of liturgical life for most Catholics is that of a captive audience. If people feel they are treated as having no meaningful role in church life, then it is hardly surprising that some will react to the imposition of ecclesial change in the same way they would deal with change they don't like in other areas of life.
Nick Weeks, Salisbury, Wiltshire