Faith, Reason and the New Mass Translation

John C. Wilhelmsson
Chaos To Order Publishing (2014)
ISBN 9780988656383
Reviewed by M.Cristina Lanzi for Reader Views (04/14)

Article first published as Book Review: ‘Faith, Reason and the New Mass Translation’ by John C. Wilhelmsson on Blogcritics.

Before starting this review, it is important for me to say that I am a native Italian, I grew up in Italy and, like almost everyone else over there, I am Catholic.  I am also a translator and maybe for professional bias, I love to understand what is hidden behind a text and eventually its translation. That is the reason I was extremely excited when I received this book for review.

In “Faith, Reason, and the New Mass Translation” by John C. Wilhelmsson, the author analyzes in a conversational style what the renewed liturgy of Vatican II meant for him and for many other Catholics in the US. 

The preamble is that on the first Sunday of Advent 2011, Catholics in the United States who attended the mass (called the Novus Ordo) experienced the first major new translation of the liturgy since 1969. The new translation is closer to the Latin version, both in words and in sentence structure; it includes small and larger changes of how the minister says prayers and celebrates the liturgy, but it also affects the way Catholics reply throughout the ceremony.

As I said, I was raised in a catholic household and always went to the Italian mass which is a direct translation from Latin.  I never attended mass in the US before 2011, so everything sounded “normal” to me when I first attended one.  Reading “Faith, Reason, and the New Mass Translation, made me realize that the language used in Italian mass, and now also in the English mass, is stilted and confusing and only creates a barrier between people and God. 

I can easily understand why the new translation of the text of the mass may sound a little foreign to those who have grown familiarized to the older one: some of the ritual of this new mass can’t really make sense to the average believer who doesn’t know much about theology. The author, John C. Wilhelmsson, cites some of those changes and explains why they make it more complicated for a common person to understand and therefore enjoy the liturgy. 

American Catholics have every right to assume the translation to follow the rules of English grammar. Latin word order is not even similar to the English order and the austerity of this new translation eats away the natural flow of the English language, thereby lessening participation in the ritual.

Sure, these new words are loaded with poetry, but if they fail to be understood by the average worshiper, didn’t the pastoral message fail?
“Faith, Reason, and the New Mass Translation” is a very interesting read. The author explains his point of view in a colloquial but still trained tone; his words made me think about the mass I am used to listening to: did Jesus ever speak to the people around him in words beyond their comprehension? How is this approach supposed to promote meaningful prayer? 

I found “Faith, Reason, and the New Mass Translation” by John C. Wilhelmsson to be an honest and very easy book to read, and thought provoking at the same time. The author has written this book with great clarity, providing examples and addressing their meaning and I definitely recommend  it to those who are curious about this important Eucharistic change.

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