The Vatican, learning nothing from a string of embarrassing incidents, is still intent on imposing the utterly awful new translations of the liturgy in the English speaking world. It is no exaggeration to say that these translations, which are part of the strategy for imposing the Vatican's 'new interpretation' of Vatican II, are marked by three signal qualities: ignorance of English, ignorance of Latin, and ignorance of Theology. Bishop Donald Trautman, Bishop Kevin Dowling and a host of others have predicted that these new texts will prompt yet another exodus from the Roman Catholic Church.
South African Catholics were accidentally exposed to the new translations. and their reaction was damning.
Bishop Dowling wrote:
"With reference to the letters concerning the new translation of the Order of the Mass, I feel as a pastor that I needed to express my deep concern at the distress of the people who wrote in. The critical letters only confirm what I have heard from other priests, religious and lay faithful. It was especially sad to read the comment of one correspondent, quoted in the editorial of December 24: “I hate you, hierarchy”. I share the pain and frustration felt by people who wrote to The Southern Cross. Their concerns about the new translation are similar to my own.
When the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) received the new texts from the Vatican, my reaction to many of the proposed changes was that it was a purely arbitrary decision to demand that the English text had to faithfully represent the Latin in the first place, that many of the changes made no sense, and that some of the formulations were simply bad English. I therefore agree with the analysis provided by Fr John Converset MCCJ in his letter in the same issue.
In passing, at the moment we are discussing only the English translation. What is going to be done when it comes to our African indigenous languages, and openness to diverse cultural and linguistic expressions of faith?
I have the impression that some people, perhaps many, think that this idea about conforming to a Latin text and the new translations itself were the work of the SACBC, and therefore their opposition has to be directed at the bishops out here. Fair enough. But in view of fully conveying what actually happened, it must be understood that this new translation was imposed on us by the Vatican and the group with which it worked at that level.
True, as with every other English-speaking conference of bishops, we were requested to go through the text sent out to us, and the views expressed (opinions among bishops will differ) were sent back to the Vatican. But contrary viewpoints did not have to be incorporated at that level, so that what we now have is what was promulgated and sent out by the Vatican. Some people, including bishops, may have no problem with what we have to use now and we have to be open to the reality that people will think differently.
What this decision also means is that years and years of painstaking work on new liturgical texts by the original International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has been set aside in place of implementing what has now been decided by the Vatican and the group with which it consults or works.
My personal views in this article are expressed out of deep concern about the hurt and damage decisions like these can cause to the People of God. It cannot be presumed that thinking lay faithful, priests and religious are simply going to accept what is imposed on them from above when it makes no sense to them. Hence the opposition expressed in the letters.
There are important issues here which need to be discussed honestly. After all, what has been promulgated does not form part of “the deposit of the faith” and can therefore be changed or improved on.
To me there is no cogent reason why the language which the People of God in any place use to express their faith and spirituality, and to celebrate the Eucharist, the sacraments and so on has to conform to a Latin text. People ask why — and rightly so. I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II during the past years.
I believe the English-speaking conferences of bishops should have stood their ground and challenged the decisions taken at the Vatican as an expression of collegial discernment. We should have communicated to the Vatican that “it seems good to the Spirit and to us” that we proceed with our discernment together with the whole People of God about what is the best way we can express and celebrate our faith in English and every other language.
Our objective as Church should surely be that instead of making everyone conform to a dead-language text we need to allow diversity in cultural and linguistic expressions of faith communities around the world.
It seems to me that we need to take much more seriously our collegial role and mission as bishops in accordance with the vision and theology of Vatican II, and after discernment and consultation with all the People of God stand up for what we believe to be in the best interests of our people."
A Jesuit writes: "No one I meet seems to like the new English translation of the liturgy. Some have objected to its non-inclusive language. Others complain that it is grammatically odd and full of ancient words nobody uses today. It’s even been called a ‘Latinglish Funakalo’, a reference to the crude pidgin of South African languages used in the past on mines and in factories – seen by most black people as an insult to their languages and the rich cultures that underpin them."
It is a crisis insofar as it generates deep divisions in the Church. A simple imposition of the liturgy as it stands may have numerous unhappy consequences. At ‘best’, it may lead to an increasingly passive community, with varying degrees of disillusionment and resignation. It will not renew a sense of life to the Church, nor will it probably deepen Eucharistic faith. It may lead to disruptive ‘passive resistance’, with opponents to the new liturgy blurting out the ‘old lines’ as loudly as possible, disrupting the sense of unity that the liturgy calls us to share. At worst, it could lead to some angrily walking out of the church, declaring that ‘it’s not the church I joined’. If we note that this new translation has yet to be implemented in the major English speaking areas of the Church, we might imagine how horribly these scenarios might be magnified, particularly in countries where there is an active, vocal and well-organised laity who are already combative in the wake of the long battles over Humanae Vitae, married and women priests, and sexual abuse scandals."
Paul Collins has some excellent comments:
“It was always envisaged that the English translation needed to be revised, and in 1981 the English-speaking bishops and ICEL began a careful revision of the whole process which aimed at improving the translation by giving it a more poetic, elevated, sacred feel. At the same time there was a realization that inclusive language also needed to be introduced. Work progressed throughout the 1980s and 1990s and by the late 1990s a Revised English Missal was ready.
“However, the political ground in Rome had already shifted radically. Up until the late-1980s the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), the Vatican department which deals with liturgical matters, didn’t oppose the work of ICEL and recognized that it was the responsibility of the English-speaking bishops’ conferences. But in the mid-eighties and early nineties the senior personnel at the CDW changed. A series of conservative cardinals prefect of the CDW (Paul Augustin Mayer, OSB (1984-88), Eduardo Martinez Somalo (1988-92) and Antonio Javierre Ortas, SDB (1992-96)) showed little sympathy for the Vatican II vision of the church, let alone for a vernacular liturgy under the control of local bishops’ conferences. Mayer said publicly that ICEL needed to be restructured and redirected.
“But the real crunch came when the Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, a friend and supporter of the dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who presided at the general’s funeral Mass, was appointed cardinal prefect of the CDW in 1996. He came to the CDW right at the time when ICEL was ready to submit the revised English liturgy to Rome for a recognitio, an approval for use throughout the English-speaking world. Also at this time the centralizing process that had come with John Paul II (1978-2005) was well under-way; it was intolerable to the bureaucrats of the Vatican, and particularly to people like Medina, that English-speaking bishops’ conferences were making decisions about the English used in the liturgy. Bishops were there to do what Rome wanted. It was the high-water mark of the John Paul II years and Romanità, the Roman-Vatican view of the world, was re-asserting itself with a vengeance. What is also significant is that not one of the critics of ICEL was a natural English-speaker: Mayer was a German and the other three were Spanish-speakers! …
“As soon as he (Medina) got to the CDW he set about systematically dismantling the whole liturgical renewal. Essentially he is nothing more than an old-style fascist and liturgical reactionary who had strategically decided that if he could bring the English-speaking bishops to heel, the largest linguistic group in the Catholic world, he would have no trouble bringing other linguistic groups under Roman control, including his own Spanish-speaking world. On 20 March 2001 he issued the Instruction, Liturgiam authenticam (‘Authentic Liturgy’(LA)), an Instruction on the principles of liturgical translation and celebration. (See the Vatican web page at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents). Medina claimed that John Paul II had asked the CDW to prepare LA, but these were the declining years of Pope Wojtyla and the Curia was doing pretty much what it wanted to do. LA actually reflects Medina’s views - and those of the liturgical reactionaries - rather than the views of mainstream liturgical scholars and ordinary Catholics. The former editor of The Tablet, John Wilkins, in an important and detailed article in Commonweal on the liturgy wars says that LA ‘did not recommend, it commanded. It insisted that translations follow an extreme literalism, extending even to syntax and rhythm, punctuation, and capital letters. The clear implication was that in this way it would be possible to achieve a sort of “timeless” English above the change of fashion, a claim reminiscent of that made for the Ronald Knox translation of the Bible, which today is so dated that it is not read except as a period piece’ (Commonweal, 2 December 2005).
“LA essentially set out to replace all previous post-conciliar texts from the Vatican which set out the principles of liturgical translation. A kind of ‘overview’ put out by the CDW itself describes Medina’s time at the Congregation as ‘a new era in translation of liturgical texts.’ Essentially LA shifts the emphasis in the translation process from making sense in English to a literal rendering of the Latin, in other words a shift from a focus on the congregation to a focus on the text. It says that the translation of liturgical texts ‘is not so much a work of creative inventiveness as one of fidelity and exactness in rendering the Latin texts into a vernacular language.’ …
“The English-speaking bishops involved in liturgical translation and ICEL fought very hard against the Medina putsch but this led to ICEL personnel, particularly Dr John Page, the executive secretary of ICEL, being increasingly marginalized by the CDW in the late-1980s and 1990s. The result was that Medina refused a recognitio to the revised English Missal in 2002. Page resigned that same year after 22 years as head of ICEL and thirty years as a translator of liturgical texts, as did ICEL chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, Scotland. After they left, the complete subversion of ICEL began. All of the old staff were replaced and a new executive secretary was appointed, Father (now Monsignor) Bruce Harbert, a priest of Birmingham archdiocese and a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Previously he had been highly critical of the work of the old ICEL. Now he had his chance.
“In 2002 a complete revision of all ICEL’s translation work began in secret. ‘ICEL was no longer to seek the advice of poets and other writers, but only of patristic scholars. The language is to be distinctively Catholic, sacral, Roman; as the mind and heart are raised to God, they should be sure to stop off in Saint Peter’s’ (Austen Ivereigh, The Tablet, 17 January 2004)…
“As the new ICEL worked their way through the ordinary of the Mass they sent out their work to bishops’ conferences for comment. Many bishops were very unhappy with the suggested changes. As they worked through the various English versions the bishops sent in many corrections, amendments, criticisms and suggestions. Clearly they could foresee what was ahead in terms of acceptance by priests and people. But no one in Rome was listening to them and much of their advice was ignored. Rome was determined to push ahead no matter what happened pastorally…
“Bishop Trautman gives voice to the kinds of questions that occur to anyone who has read the new ICEL translation: ‘In evaluating the translations we need to consider whether the texts are both understandable and proclaimable, and whether they use a word order, vocabulary and idiom of the mainstream of English-speaking people. If these texts are to be the prayers of the people, are they owned by them and expressed in their language? The texts include new words … such as "consubstantial to the Father" and "incarnate of the Virgin Mary", while words in the various new Collects include "sullied", "unfeigned", "ineffable", "gibbet", "wrought", "thwart". Do these texts communicate in the living language of the worshipping assembly?’ These are the real pastoral questions we have to ask.
“Austen Ivereigh is perhaps less measured that Bishop Trautman, but nevertheless his comments ring completely true. Having conceded that the new ICEL translation may work, he concludes ‘it is also conceivable that the new Missal will prove a disaster, stuffed with archaisms and artificiality, reeking of a restorationist putsch, reflecting a fundamentalist response to modernity … In that case history may record that at the precise moment when liturgical translation was finding its own better balance between inculturation and fidelity, a fearful Rome intervened aggressively, alienating experienced liturgists just when they needed them.’
“My own view is that this exercise will be a disaster, the last nail in the coffin of the credibility of the leadership of the Church. The history shows that this whole process has been ideologically driven by a tiny, unrepresentative minority who are insensitive to the real pastoral needs of the Catholic community and who, at heart, reject the Second Vatican Council. Worse, they don’t care about what happens, they are not interested in how many more people are driven out of the Church by the pomposity of what is essentially mid-Victorian English rather than some type of ‘sacred’ language.”