2. The Language Factor
You’ve probably heard that one reason for the new translation is to make the English conform more closely to the original Latin. That, in part, accomplishes the unification of the words and meaning among the various languages. It also enables the liturgy to be prayed in a more elegant, poetic manner.
In a way, all of us speak several “languages”, all using the same English words. Linguists are careful to affirm that none of the languages is better than another. Each has its proper place. So, let’s take a look at one concept of our several languages and how they relate to one another.
First there is the language of “Fun & Frivolity” – the way we speak when we are at play, such as at a ballgame, frolicking at the beach, or hangin’ at our favorite waterin’ hole. It is full of sentence fragments, mangled sentences, clipped words, colloquialisms, slang, and the like. It is to proper grammar a playful, irreverent means of communication, expressing a carefree attitude. (Example: “Hey, dude, I’m gonna hop in my ‘Vette and take a spin down to the Schott. Checkin’ out the Bucks tonight. Wanna go?”) Obviously, this is far too casual to use when praying.
Then, we have “Mid-Speak”, the ordinary, straight, everyday language that we use. This is how we talk in ordinary circumstances, using more normal grammar to convey our thoughts and needs to others – parents, children, store clerks, the pastor, or the police officer who just stopped you for speeding. An occasional Fun & Frivolity word or phrase may slip in, but overall Mid-Speak is basic, conversational English.
The next language level is “Oratorial”, how we speak when delivering a speech or making a formal presentation to the boss or a client. In this mode we do not use the nickel & dime words that make up the lower languages. Instead, we employ the $5 and $10 words that are intended to impress the listener, whom we are obviously trying to win over to our position. (Example: Did you notice the switch from use to employ, a sort of elegant upgrade?)
Finally, we have a very special language that we use to raise our thoughts to the highest level, the level on which we communicate with the Divine in prayer: the elegant and reverent language of “Sanctity”. This language uses some very special words not ordinarily used in conversation, words that appear in longer sentences, words that often present a more poetic form. (You will see some of these words when we later discuss specific changes that we will encounter.) It is to this level of our “languages” that the Roman Missal takes us. When ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) began working on the new translation, it’s as if they took a cue from Food Network’s master chef, Emeril Lagasse. They took the liturgy we’ve been praying since the early 1970s and “kicked it up a notch! Bam!”
Notice the phrase “the liturgy we’ve been praying”. We need to realize that we are not at Mass in a merely physical sense. We don’t just go to Mass; we pray the Mass. We engage ourselves with what is happening on the altar. Liturgy is intended to draw out our spirit, to elevate our minds and hearts to a higher presence in order to be more fully present to God. To be merely physically present, we shortchange ourselves of that unique encounter with the Divine by not offering the fullness of our being.