Highlights from ‘Defending the New Roman Missal: A response to Father Michael Ryan,’ Peter Stravinskas (America, Feb. 1, 2010) http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12097&comments=1#readcomments
Having majored in classical languages [LATIN AND GREEK – BUT HE MAKES AN ELEMENTARY MISTAKE IN GREEK BELOW], I naturally was quite interested in the process and flattered when I was invited by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to participate in the translation effort. Frankly, I was also surprised that someone of my thin experience had been asked to take part in a project that would influence the spiritual lives of millions of Catholics for decades to come.
When I first reviewed the translation guidelines sent by ICEL, I was disappointed. Ideology, it seemed, had taken precedence over accuracy… The goal was to capture the general meaning of the text, rather than a faithful rendering of a rich and historically layered Latin prose. I tried to work within these parameters, but I found it difficult to do and still remain true to the original text. My translations were evidently unsatisfactory because, upon submitting them, I was politely but firmly uninvited from serving on the commission.
When the English Missale Romanum appeared in 1970, it was clear we had been handed a paraphrase instead of a translation. As a young priest required to use these texts, I quickly determined that something needed to be done to return to the people of God what Father Ryan dubs “their baptismal birthright”—that is, an English liturgy that seeks to convey all the depth, truth and beauty of the original Latin. By 1992, I had assembled a team of scholars who produced an alternative translation of the Ordinary of the Mass and presented that effort to the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy in Washington, D.C., and the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome. Hostility was the response from Washington—copies of our draft were gathered and destroyed at the bishops’ meeting—while Rome expressed a guarded interest in our project.
Ultimately, the Holy See came to the realization that many of the vernacular translations of the liturgy were problematic…
In his essay, Father Ryan argues that not enough consultation has taken place, and that “we should just say, “Wait’” before implementing the new translations. I disagree…
Ryan argues that the Roman Curia and other parties are involved in a “systematic dismantling of the great vision of the Council’s decree” and that the Congregation for Divine Worship is raising “rubricism to an art form,” with liturgy being used “as a weapon—to advance specific agendas.” In my view, present efforts are precisely seeking to reclaim “the great vision of the council’s” constitution. Over the years my various apostolates have provided me with a vantage point from which to consider liturgical life in this country and abroad. So much of what I have witnessed or had described to me by eyewitnesses has been nothing shy of a betrayal of the council’s great vision and, in my judgment, largely responsible for the rapid emptying of the pews.
What curial officials and the pope are arguing for, with the enthusiastic support of junior clergy, is not a moribund “rubricism” but a genuine ars celebrandi that makes the sacred mysteries palpable. Not a few observers have noted that much of the liturgical change that occurred after the council—both officially sanctioned as well as in explicit violation of church law—would have been unthinkable to the council fathers. What is required now is a careful re-building process. Is this “turning back the clock”? In some sense, it is. Permit me a mundane example. If a man is told by his physician that he must lose 50 pounds or face serious problems, he must “turn back the clock” to the time when he was lighter in order to save his life. Mutatis mutandis—that is what the church at the highest levels is calling us to do.
Father Ryan writes that “before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program…” The author makes such efforts sound almost sinister, but in my book he is simply describing the process of catechesis…
Bishop Trautman cited paragraph 36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which he argued gave the episcopal conferences the authority to produce and approve liturgical translations. Yet the paragraph in question in no way calls for what Bishop Trautman demands: it stipulates that episcopal conferences are to approve translations (not produce them), with subsequent approval by the Holy See. Ironically, the very same paragraph of the conciliar constitution also states that, “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites... Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” In other words, if paragraph 36 had been followed in regard to the primacy of Latin, the Ordinary of the Mass would not have been translated into the vernacular in the first place!…
Joseph, spouse of the same Virgin. This line comes from the Roman Canon. The Latin speaks of Joseph as eiusdem Virginis sponsi, which is exactly “spouse of the same Virgin.” One reason the church was reluctant to highlight St. Joseph until relatively recent centuries was the fear that his relationship to Mary would or could be misunderstood. And so when Pope John XXIII added Joseph’s name to the Canon, it was determined that no one should be led into error or confusion, thus giving us “of the same Virgin.” Which is to say, that while Joseph and Mary were indeed husband and wife, Mary remained a virgin—a critical theological point.
We are warned by Father Ryan to expect “discredit to the church” and “disillusionment to the people” if the new translation sees the light of day. He tells us of the “chilling reception” it has received in South Africa, in spite of a “careful program of catechesis in the parishes.” I beg to differ. There was no “program of catechesis” to speak of in South Africa and, in fact, some liturgical observers even argue that the translation was thrust onto the faithful precisely to cause a negative reaction. [CONSPIRACY THEORY?] Having conducted several workshops on the new texts over the past year, I can only attest to very positive reactions, from clergy and laity alike.
How did the final texts receive such overwhelming support from the American bishops, if they are so bad? Father Ryan contends that the bishops were just “worn down” by the Holy See and so caved in. I disagree. The majority of the bishops saw the merit of the work and were tired of the delaying tactics of a vocal if tiny minority of opponents. [IN FACT THEY DID NOT READ THEM.] Is this translation perfect? Of course not. No translation is, but we ought never make the best the enemy of the good. It is a vast improvement over the uninspiring, banal and all-too-often theologically problematic texts we have been using for nearly 40 years. The New Testament speaks of chairos, [RECTE: KAIROS – the author does not know basic Greek; why should we trust his Latin?] an especially fortuitous moment. We are approaching a liturgical chairos for English-speaking Catholics, which we should embrace with gusto.
In addition to Father Ryan’s article and the Web site he set up to summon support for further delays, he has also written to the rectors of all the cathedrals in the country seeking to rally them to his cause. His campaign has provoked a counterreaction among younger clergy and seminarians who have helped to set up the site “We’ve waited long enough.” The site has already garnered thousand of signatures and should give pause to Ryan and his supporters. [WHO GARNERED FOUR TIMES AS MANY SIGNATURES] It is these young priests, after all, who will be using these texts when our generation (God willing) will be participating in the Liturgy of Heaven, where language will not be an issue.
*Fr. Stravinskas's article ignores a major point. The new translation of the Mass is different, to be sure, but it's based on an assumption that is not in evidence: the closer the English version is to the Latin version in all respects - including vocabulary, grammar, and syntax - the more appropriate it is. Such schoolboyish touches as literal translation of the ablative absolute, as is present in the absolution prayer in the penitential rite, do not lead us to an English text that conveys the cognitive and affective substance of the Mass in any kind of effective manner. The text we've used the last 40 years is in no way artistic, but neither is this new version. This whole project needs to back to the drawing board, with our best artists in English prose fully involved. Otherwise it is nothing more than a liturgical version of laetrile: a quack remedy that will not cure what ails the celebration of the Mass in most places (poor music and poor preaching).
*Unlike Father Ryan, Father Stravinskas seems to have had very "thin" pastoral experience. He has hopscotched from diocese to diocese, including a change at one point from a Latin to an Eastern Rite diocese. He is rather hard to keep up with in terms of ecclesiastical provenance. For sure, he has for many years associated himself with various small, highly conservative fringe movements. On the other hand, Father Ryan has faithfully served in the archdiocese of Seattle for forty-three years. Scoring (tendentious) points seems to be Father Stravinskas's metier; being a devoted pastor, Father Ryan's life's work. I go with the priest who is close to the people rather than the one who travels to Rome frequently to meet with friends in the Roman Curia. Couldn't AMERICA have found a more credible respondent to Father Michael Ryan? Strangely, Father Stravinskas passes over the fact that ICEL engaged in a total revision of the 1973 Missal during a fifteen-year period, from 1982 to 1997. Eleven conferences of bishops gave their canonical approvals to that thorough and careful revision. After a four-year review, Rome refused its confirmation of the eleven conferences' canonical decisions and also refused to enter into dialogue with the bishops' conferences on the rejected text. As a text that was literate, memorable, uplifting, the rejected text was far superior to the present proposal, which is often rhythmically insecure and syntactically disjointed. It is a slavishly literal translation that so exalts the Latin that the result is in too many instances scarcely recognizable as English. If Rome had only allowed reasonable dialogue, a workable compromise could have been achieved several years ago. Instead Roman power prevailed, and the whole process was begun all over again. The money, the people's money, that has been wasted and continues to be wasted is itself a scandal, which no one seems to be addressing.