Saturday, March 25, 2006

Liturgiam authenticam and tradition

I’ve begun to have a bit of sympathy with those who decry Liturgiam authenticam as unfair.

I mean, imagine that you’re a normal churchgoing Catholic, born after Vatican II. No problems with the status quo, not especially interested in liturgy, but just someone who attends Mass weekly. The only Gloria translation you’ve known is the dubious one we have now, and “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”, if you were to look at the Latin of which the familiar “I confess” presumes to be a translation, would strike you as an oddity, and addition.

In the coming years, it is conceivable that Mass of Creation, Community Mass, Mass of Light, Mass for the City, and every other widely used English setting of the Mass Ordinary will at least need new Glorias written, or the old ones will need to be adapted. This is going to cause quite a bit of headache for those in my field; sure, I can “pass the buck” and say it’s not my doing, but we’ll still need to find and teach new music - or, harder yet, modified versions of familiar music.

There is some interesting historical precedent for this type of change that I came across a few years back when I noticed that Palestrina’s “Sicut cervus” is not from the Latin Vulgate. It *is*, though, in the Liber usualis as well as the Graduale Romanum. Apparently this Latin text was familiar enough when Jerome’s Vulgate came around that they decided to keep it, to “grandfather it in”, so to speak. Hence, the Latin most musicians know for Psalm 42/41V, at least the first verse, is not from the standard traditional Latin Bible.

There are, of course, some important differences: one, the issue at hand is translation of ecclesiastical texts (with only one source), not Biblical texts with multiple (conflicting) sources. And English is not the mother tongue of the Church, while the Vulgate was specifically intended to be the standard Bible for all Christendom. I’d say these two make it a lower priority to retain our current Gloria (and other texts) than it was to retain “Sicut cervus”. (BTW, neither Jerome’s Hebrew nor Greek psalms match the familiar Latin.)

Liturgiam authenticam could not, in fact, have come a moment too soon. Yes, there is a now-substantial body of music based on texts that likely will be discarded....but how much worse might the situation had been after 40 more years? How many times would the Mahoneys and Trautmans have “revised” our prayers and Scripture texts? How much further would the various “translations” have grown apart from each other? For all the distress this “cleansing by fire” will surely cause soon, it might have been darn near cataclysmic down the road.

This kinda goes along with another thought I’ve had lately. In computers, periods of experimentation and competition among various practices and products tend to result in elimination of all but one or two options, which further results in creation of third-party standards of which no one group has ownership. For example, how many personal computers these days do NOT run Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux? Amiga, OS/2, and other ways of interacting with a computer have largely gone by the wayside. Even those “big 3” operating systems share a number of similarities - they all deal now with essentially the same hardware, and the same software often runs on all three, albeit with small modifications to suit each operating system. Look at web browsers - whether you use Internet Explorer or Mozilla (or Safari), a good web site is expected to conform to standards set by a non-partisan group of people whose job it is to establish standards.

The Missal of 1969, it could be said, does not define a Mass so much as describe how to “do it yourself”. It imparts a WHOLE lot of freedom. And yet, we’ve all pretty well settled into one standard way of doing most things; there are differences from parish to parish, but by and large, everyone uses “option #4” at the Entrance of the Mass, with the whole congregation expected to sing.

I believe it is the nature of the human animal to solve problems, and solved problems are boring. Religion, then, is the ultimate unsolvable problem, because by definition, there is always something new to learn, some new place for growth. The Missal of 1969 will eventually, I believe, look more like the Missal of 1962 in that it will prescribe things to do with fewer options, maybe eventually eliminating them all. We’ll have solved the problem of how to do the Mass. This is why it’s imperative that liturgical catechesis be good - with so much gunk floating around the world of Catholicism these days, we’ve got to be sure we really do solve the liturgy problem the right way, rather than coming to a false “solution”.


At Sunday, March 26, 2006 11:49:00 PM, Blogger ScholarChanter said...

In the late 90's, the Korean bishops released a new sacramentary where many of the prayers during mass, including Kyrie, Gloria, (h)ossana, Credo, Agnus Dei. My old Korean-American parish adopted the new texts, and music was also adapted for the new texts. It was not very difficult for the changes to take place, for a few reasons:
1. The Korean Catholic hymnal is standardized, so there is only one publication for all
2. It seems to be the sentiment of Korean Catholics to adapt to such things quickly.
3. Everyone follows along very closely with the worship aid (although people tend to read along, rather than listen to the proclaimed word).

Several factors made the transition into the new sacramentary relatively painless, and as long as the publishers get their act together and get new editions out quickly, it shouldn't be very difficult.


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