Liturgy for comprehension

Julie at Happy Catholic , Amy Welborn, and Jeff Miller have all taken issue with the USCCB for not approving a section of the proposed translation of the Roman Missal.

I respect all of these bloggers but I disagree with them in this case. In fact, I find their criticisms of Bishop Trautman to be unfair and misrepresentative of his position, especially the “Dick and Jane” parody Jeff Miller employs. Bishop Trautman has stated he is not for using “street language” and advocates the translation having “an elevated tone”. That does not mean the translation should use archaic language and overly complicated structure.

Trautman’s criticism does have substance:

[Trautman]said that the text’s preference for mimicking the sentence structure of Latin, featuring long sentences with a large number of dependent clauses, impedes understanding in English. Trautman cited one prayer in the new Proper of Seasons presented as a single 12-line sentence with three separate clauses.

This is where I get to put my education as a technical writer to use. The good bishop is right. Any 12-line sentence should be rewritten because it will be ineffective. In the same article Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee said, “If I have trouble understanding the text when I read it, I wonder how it’s going to be possible to pray with it in the context of worship.” The bishops are not claiming laity are stupid, they are claiming that the writing is confusing. The translation is just bad communication.

The translation violates rules of writing for comprehension. A couple of those rules are, do not use archaic language when it can be avoided and do not use longer sentences when shorter sentences will do. Long sentences with mulitple clauses should be broken up into smaller sentences to increase clarity. The presentation of a 12-line sentence with three separate clauses ignores this concept.

Overly complicated writing is a barrier to communication and by extension it is a barrier to worship in liturgy. It is not insulting to laity to ask for a faithful translation that is also understandable to the modern venacular. The entire purpose of having a venacular translation is to make the liturgy more approachable to the laity. I shouldn’t need to have a master’s degree to understand it.