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Seeking Mass text in vernacular or contemporary language

I am being commissioned to write a "mass" for a church choir in memory of the previous minister (Presbyterian). He was keen the church choir had a mass which could be used by the choir as might be appropriate for services - that is, the individual movements could be drawn on when needed.
The idea would be a text which paralleled the traditional mass, but in English. But more than simply a translation of the traditional Latin mass. A re-interpretation of the text in modern language. Something that was simple and didn't try to be "all things to all people". Something also that choirs of any denomination might want to pick up and use. Definitely not an ecclesiastical treatise.
Has anyone come across such a text?
Ideally as a "missa brevis" - movements which parallel the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.
I would appreciate any suggestions, or being pointed in a suitable direction.
David Hamilton
Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on June 21, 2013 5:09am
David - I understand your desire to find a text that is "contemporary" and in the vernacular, and yet is faithful to the theological intent of the principal parts of the Mass.  I don't necessarily have a suggestion, though there are a number of samples out there that you might draw on - e.g., Rutter's "Requiem" for the Sanctus, Bach's various German Masses, etc. (in translation, obviously!).
Here's the caution, though, which needs to be kept in mind in this project, and here I speak as a musician who is a lifelong Catholic:  One ought not to approach the texts of the principal parts of the Mass from the point of view of contemporaneity, but rather from their origins in the Latin language, and with a full comprehension of the theological underpinnings for the choice of words.  Here's what concerns me:  back after the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1966, a grouping of English-speaking members was brought together to form the ICEL - the International Committee for English in the Liturgy.  Its task, quite simply, was to take the Latin and turn it into a worthy English-language translation.  So far, so good.  BUT, in their haste to put out a translation which could be used quickly in the churches in the English-speaking world, they did two things:  they translated the Latin, in places, rather loosely (hence the recent correction in the authorized translation of the Mass into English which was implemented in November 2011 - involving some correction in the principal parts, primarily in the Gloria and the Credo, and minimally in the Sanctus, but primarily in the prayers the priest is called upon to recite, returning to a more poetic and less "contemporary" sort of language, fit for a moment in time which is not truly about man, but about Man worshipping his God in a sacred space, using gesture and language otherwise not in the least "normal" or "expected"); and they tried to use "contemporary" language.  That last, unfortunately, shifts, as we all see around us.
One of the things that must also be honored is the root of the Mass itself, which is, and this is no slam on any denomination, determinedly Catholic.  Therefore, in pursuing this project, you must answer for yourself the following fundamental question:  am I attempting a text for each part that is faithful to the original language IN ITS ORIGINAL INTENT (theological, poetic, spiritual), or am I attempting an approximation that is prepared to, if not violate, then at least not be theologically exact?  If the former, your choices are, unfortunately, limited - but, as St. Augustine said, "There is no liberty save under law."  The very "limitations" of the text may allow for a liberated understanding of the theological underpinnings of each text, and a fuller understanding of what truly is supposed to happen at that point in the Mass - remembering that the arc of the Catholic Mass (and very nearly associated with this is that of the Orthodox observances) is very different than that of many non-Catholic services (meaning that in a Catholic/Orthodox Mass, the arc rises to the Consecration, and descends therefrom; in the Protestant tradition, the arc rises to the preaching of the Word, and descends thereafter).  If the latter is the answer, an approximation, then you have liberties aplenty and probably approximate translations that give one the sense if not the exactitude of the original text - but which may, unfortunately, be theologically suspect, at least in Catholic/Orthodox eyes.
In mentioning Bach, it's interesting that he chose not to put the texts in the vernacular, but to keep them in Latin - one would have thought, good Lutheran that he was, that he would've opted for a vernacular approach, especially in light of Luther's own insistence on the vernacular.  That's not to suggest a definitive answer to your approach to this, but to give you food for thought.  I wish you well in this; let us know what happens, when you finally "touch down" on an approach.
Chantez bien!
on June 22, 2013 8:39am
David - I forgot to provide an example of where an approximate translation may not be theologically exact enough.  Tchesnokov's "Salvation is Created" is, I have strongly suspected for a very long time, a mistranslation of the Church Slavonic (any experts out there who can confirm this?).  This is because in the Creed, we say, "Begotten, not made; one in Being with the Father" in reference to Jesus - who is the "Salvation" referred to.  Theologically, the text should/might read "Salvation Is BEGOTTEN" and, while one isn't supposed to do this, I have insisted in the few instances my choir has sung this, that we sing "Salvation is BEGOTTEN" - which also conveniently fits the meter.  I cannot conceive of an Orthodox composer doing such a violation of the Creed willingly, which is why I believe it a mistranslation; or, if done knowingly, then a violation of an essential element of belief in the most public declaration of faith, the Creed.  This is the sort of thing I'm cautioning you to be aware of - if you translate approximately, you run the risk of blurring the exactitude of thought and belief in the original language.  And would that not be supremely ironic in denominations whose foundations were, in part, an objection to the obscurantism of a language no one spoke in daily life (i.e., Latin), and which, in moving to a vernacular, was designed for greater clarity of understanding by everyone?
on June 21, 2013 6:31am
David - what about starting out looking at Robert Ray's "Gospel Mass"?  It's in English and yes, it's pretty close to a standard English translation, but it isn't identical to what we're used to.  You might enjoy starting there!  Good luck.
on June 22, 2013 3:56am
David --- Lovely city, Auckland -- I visited in 1989  -- happy memories.
Have a look at any of the following:  Arise My Love -- Celtic Mass at All Hallows, based on traditional Irish airs & melodies; Muysic by  Stefan Andre Waligu  (Macushla) Refer to:
Also the Masses of Liam Lawton would be perfect: and look for The Glendalough Mass or the Mass of the Celtic Saints.
You won't be disappointed. Goof Luck.
John Reid - Carrigallen, Leitrim. Ireland.
on June 22, 2013 8:21am
If this is a commission for a Presbyterian church, I'd ask *them* for the liturgical texts they use for their Service of Holy Communion.  To use the term "mass" for such a service in a Presbyterian setting resonates with an odd combination of historical baggage that is contributing to your connundrum. 
That said, there is a German Reformed tradition whose liturgy was drawn from historical sources for which the term "mass" would not be misplaced.  The "Mercersburg Movement" within the German Reformed Church created an altar-centered (differentiated from "pulpit-centered") style of worship known popularly as The Mercersburg Liturgy.  A quick Google search didn't find an online copy of that liturgy, but it exists and would possibly be of interest to you in this search.  Yes, it's from a German Reformed and not Scots Presbyterian, but it is from Calvinist roots.
Finally, it strikes me that contacting folks through to ask your question might be helpful.  Calvin College has a vital program in worship arts and liturgical studies. 
Hope this helps.
Jeremy McLeod
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