Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Revisiting the new English translation of the Roman Missal and lessons learned from Romney's failed Presidential bid.

Fr. Anthony Ruff has  an interesting article commemorating a year since the implementation of the third edition of the Roman Missal in the English speaking world.

Coming from the NCR, there is, as to be expected, some ideological slant to Ruff's estimation, although he is correct in principle. It is well worth being a little suspicious of persons, bishops included, who tout the success of the new translation. It is equally worth being a little suspicious of those who purport, like Ruff, mass confusion or disappointment with the new translations. Rather, when Ruff rhetorically asks if we have seen any increase in theological knowledge as a result of the translations (via the more directly cited biblical or patristic allusions), I think he closer to hitting upon the heart of the matter.

The grave indictment of the new translation is in its failure to do, well, anything. There has been no tangible result from or reaction to the new translation of the Roman Missal. In fact, the whole project has been greeted with a cold indifference that should surprise both those who support and oppose the new English translation. It is the indifference to the new translation that should cause the hierarchy  or other interested parties some concern. If there had been widespread rejection of the new English translation, then the hierarchy could take some solace in the fact that many persons identifying with the Roman Catholic Church are actively engaged in ecclesiastical and liturgical matters. This was not the case, nor was there much rabid acceptance of the new translations.

The reception of the new English translation with apathy projects a possibility of future demographic shifts in English speaking Roman Catholicism. If I were a member of the hierarchy, I would be concerned that the reception of the Roman Missal is an indicator of a future numbers collapse, if not in actual membership than in future revenue. The reception implies a growing disinterest in the religion which may translate into decreased membership, either through persons leaving or through lower initiation rates, or a decline in donations for Church services.

Now, in response to Ruff's article, a young blogger posted story of apparent survey results indicating that the new translation is overwhelmingly accepted by Catholics. You can find this survey here. The Obama campaign's solid number crunching proved to be a wicked reality check for Mitt Romney and his supporters has taught us to be diligent when interpreting survey data. Were there any geographic, demographic or any other concentration behind the survey participants? This is a major point to consider. Were the survey respondents asked if they were intending to respond truthfully to the questions? It may seem outrageous to ask, but survey participants are known to provide false results. When questioning the survey participants as to whether or not the new texts enhanced their spiritual life/religious practice, where the participants asked to provide some example or given a choice of examples to illustrate this point? The survey, from the data published, used far too narrow of a sample and lacked rigor.

Once again, as the Romney campaign should have taught us, surveys are useless if the data collection is slanted in even the slightest manner to give us the results we want or fails to look for every possible datum that would flesh out the picture and provide us with the most detailed of analysis. This survey is too facile to take any comfort in. In this respect, Fr. Ruff is correct: the bar measuring success has been set fairly low.

In my estimation, it is too early to deem the new translations a success or failure - much like the Missale Romanum of Paul VI in general. The Catholic Church in the United States is at a place where the translation of the Missal is, at the moment, irrelevant in the face other issues that have yet to fully settle and whose consequences are still unknown.