Banning banal translations of the liturgy

Emily Stimpson’s wonderful exposition of portions of the forthcoming English translation of the Mass (“We’ll be saying what?” Feb. 20) had me glued to her every word and phrase. For what she covered, it was a masterful job. It also jolted me back to my first exposure to the English translation of the Mass for the Dead. 

In the late 1960s my family and I registered in a small parish in a small town near the university I was attending. Asked whether I had been a lector or cantor in previous parishes, I answered yes. Shortly after the new English translation was adopted in 1970, a well-known businessman in our town died and I was asked to be the cantor/lector for the funeral Mass. The priest told me that the widow had selected the third of three choices for the hymn that is sung as the deceased is taken from the church at the end of Mass. It was the English translation of the traditional hymn “In Paradisum.” 

As soon as I familiarized myself with the text and music, I immediately called the priest and said that I couldn’t sing the second-last verse of that hymn as translated. “What’s wrong with it?” Here I was, a graduate student in classical languages and literature and faced with the banal translation. The priest immediately won my heart when he humbly admitted that Latin wasn’t his strong suit in the seminary. “So what does it mean?” I ventured to tell him and how it fit into the hymn and how much had been lost in translation. I held my breath ... “Well, OK, George, go ahead and sing it that way.” 

May all banal and misleading translations be banned from our liturgy. 

— George P. Mullally, Iowa City, Iowa

Fabulous Father Baker 

I enjoyed reading Thomas Craughwell’s article about Father Nelson Baker (“Padre of the poor,” Feb. 20). However, it left out a couple things I thought your readers would be interested in.  

First, he developed his devotion to Our Lady of Victory when, as a seminarian, he made a pilgrimage to Notre Dame des Victoires in Paris.  

Second, after he was assigned to St. Patrick’s Parish in Buffalo, N.Y., he became convinced that there was natural gas on the church’s property. When the drilling crew arrived, he buried a small statue of Our Lady of Victory about a foot into the ground and told them to dig as close to the statue as possible without touching it. Drilling went on for months. Then, on Aug. 21, 1891, a stream of gas shot up from 1,137 feet, lit an open forge and rocketed an 80-foot flame into the sky. 

— John F. Fink, Indianapolis, Ind.

Uncomfortable sights 

Re Louann Bloom’s letter concerning the use of pictures of aborted babies as an educational tool (Letters to the Editor, Feb. 6).  

I, too, have been involved in the pro-life movement. There has been a lot of discussion on the pros and cons of using these pictures. Early on, I met Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first African-American female graduate of Harvard Medical School. I remember so well her remark that if you make people uncomfortable, they tend to back away from you. That is why in my presentations I concentrated on fetal development. That offends no one. 

— Judith A. Cassilly, St. Louis, Mo.

Incorrect information 

Your In Focus section listed resources meant to present Catholic truths (“Planting seeds,” Feb. 13). It is sad that “Catholicism for Dummies” was included, since it includes the serious error that Mary and Joseph were not married at the time of the Incarnation. On Page 227 in large headline it proclaims, “Mary was single and pregnant.” On Page 257 we find, “ She was engaged ...” This is a false reading of the situation, and since the “problem of Mary” can be a major sticking point with non-Catholics, it is doubly important to get it right.  

— Richard Giovanoni, Hagerstown, Md.

Missal changes 

Our Sunday Visitor is to be commended for the excellent four-page section on the new translation of the prayers of the Mass (In Focus, Feb. 20). I hope more articles will be forthcoming through the year to encourage all “the faithful” to accept the changes.  

I wanted to comment on a couple of other pieces in the same issue: 

1. While the photo of the two Vietnamese women in their traditional dress in the offertory procession was very lovely, incorporating a celebratory expression of the Vietnamese horoscopic “Year of the Cat” into the Mass seems rather inappropriate. 

2. Re “CHA affirms bishops’ role in health care rules, but ...” Given the history of Sister Carol Keenan and the CHA, it appears that they are trying a new “modus operandi” to see if the bishops will come around to the CHA view in “matters of faith and morals.” I pray the bishops don’t succumb.  

— Pam Haines, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Dubious honor 

Re “faces of Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa in the entryway of the Washington National Cathedral” (This Week, Feb. 6). Some Catholic media and leadership turn a blind eye to the participation of past and current civil rights leaders in promoting contraception and abortion (Rosa Parks served on the Board of Advocates of Planned Parenthood).  

— Paul Bergeron, Baton Rouge, La. 

Editor’s note: The Washington National Cathedral is Episcopal, not Catholic.