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June 22, 2006


Bernard Brandt

Dear Fr. O'Leary:

Thank you for this open letter to the Chairman of ICEL. I believe that four of the five arguments which you present in it are entirely spot on, and while I would have a bit of a quibble with #2 (as regards the supposed need for a "literal" translation--I believe it far more necessary to obtain a "faithful" translation), I believe that I am in substantial agreement with your underlying point: the importance of having an English Liturgy which (in the immortal words of Beevis and Butthead) does not suck.

As regards your point concerning magical thinking and Biblical literacy, I think the problem in that case is less ICEL's texts, and more those of the pedestrian quality of New American Bible. Perhaps that problem could be corrected by dumping the NAB and adopting the RSV in its place. I'm sure that the RSV's cause would be improved by the fact that the text is in the public domain; adoption of the latter would at least not cost the bishops much more than a loss of face.

One essential problem of any RC English translation is that the American Bishops and the ICEL are currently addicted to translation by committee. The resulting camels have been rather difficult to swallow. I think that Pope St. Damasus had the right idea by having one translator of the Vulgate, as has the current Ecumenical Patriarch in having Archimandrite Ephrem Lash as the sole translator of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom into English.

While we have had our disputes in Pontifications if it would mean anything to you, I would much prefer someone of your linguistic, theological, and literary skills and sensibilities as the sole translator of the current Missa. I think you would and could do a much better, and much more faithful, job of translation.

Spirit of Vatican II

Dear Bernard Brandt,
Thanks for your comment. I sent this letter to the National Catholic Reporter, since no one reads it here.
You see, what I thought anyone should be able to see, that translating a liturgy involves the task of prose composition, and that the resulting text must be a beautiful one that will wear well with use.
Now, "we must labour to be beautiful" (Yeats). Enduring prose is not "a relatively straightforward matter" as the bureaucratic bishop Roche imagined. To put the composition of a liturgy in the hands of bureaucrats, people who have never paused in admiration and envy before a page of perfect prose, is a crime.
On faithfulness, I think it is an extra, rather than the essential -- having a worthy usable text, a vehicle for contemplation, is what is essential.
Now the Vatican has turned into an Inquisition -- the Pope, the Secretary of State, and the leaders of the CDF, Council for the Family, and Congregation for Catholic Education seem all to give the bulk of their attention to the defence of orthodoxy. Meanwhile other pastoral roles of the Church are direly neglected. We are seeing this in the ICEL fiasco -- it is being rushed through and imposed by strong-arm tactics in the name of orthodoxy and in response, no doubt, to cranks who see the present text as full of heresy. The panacea for everything is yet more dotting of the "i"s of orthodoxy"!
Nothing could be more myopic or counter-productive.
Imagine, "consubstantial" is being re-imposed (in all probability) as if the word itself had a magical communicative power. It is a notoriously murky word and there is no agreement among scholars as to what Nicea actually intended by it (no doubt it was the product of a committee) nor as to how it is interpreted in its various uses when it became current in Christian language from the Cappadocians on.
There seems to be an awful lot of this contextless atomized translation in the new ICEL texts.
I would be glad to take on the task of translating the liturgy -- but I would never imagine it to be a straightforward task. It would take at least five years of intensive creative work. Every text would have to be recited out loud before a discriminating audience, with an ear for hollowness and false notes. The present set of collects, sectets and postcommunions is a monument of hollow, shallow, vacuous language, shameful in that it mimes prayer without the least show of conviction.
Of course these bishops will laugh off concerns with aesthetic quality, something they think the faithful do not need. They fob off the people of God with shoddy language, shoddy music, unprepared and undernourished sermons and shabby routinized gesturing that has not the dignity of authentic liturgical action. They mock God himself who asks to be worshipped in the beauty of holiness.
Why does not one complain? Partly because we do not expect any better, and partly because we know it is useless to try to catch the ear of our somnabulistic hierarchical church; and even if you catch the ear of a few bishops or cardinals they will tell you "we are powerless" -- as to the Curia, bishops themselves flee this "bureaucracy of nothing" as the plague!

Spirit of Vatican II

from NCR:

The majority of bishops are calling for “the mainstream liturgical community in the United States” to be the cheerleader and catalyst for implementing the new Order of the Mass (NCR, June 30). I am both chagrined and confused by such a request. Most of the bishops have never requested the comments of the mainstream liturgical community on the final draft voted on this past June, let alone sought input from clergy and laity alike who would proclaim, respond, and listen to the new texts. Thankfully, the bishop of my diocese did make such a request, inviting comments from the laity and the ordained, from those with degrees in liturgical studies to others without formal training in liturgy. The overwhelming majority found that the texts were unproclaimable, unremarkable, and by-and-large unredeemable.

I hope the 173 bishops who approved the new Order will personally go out and teach their priests, religious and faithful its merits as well as how to implement it on the local level. Since most bishops wanted to “go it alone” in approving the text, perhaps they should do the same in explaining to their parishioners how the prayers and responses will help the faithful to worship better as well as better understand the theology they intend to convey. Furthermore, many of those bishops will be at a loss when seeking help to implement these changes since offices of worship have been eliminated in a host of dioceses. I will assist Bishop Robert Lynch in implementing this new text, though I will be at a loss when it comes to explaining why this text is better.

If a certain sector of the church can petition to “celebrate” the Mass of Pius V because of its intimate connection to the sustenance of their faith life, perhaps our generation can make a similar request to use the Mass of Paul VI on a regular basis. This is the Mass I cut my teeth on, was ordained in, and have used in serving the church for the past 22 years.

St. Petersburg, Fla.

Archimandrite Ephrem Lash

In your reply to Fr O'Leary you say that I was the sole translator of the translation of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom commended by the Ecumenical Patriarch. This is not quite accurate. There was a translation committee, whose names are listed in the book. The donkey work was done by me and then discussed in committee. This meant that people only raised in discussion the particular bees in their mitres or klobuks. In that sense the translation is mine, as Bishop Kallistos was gracious enough to say at a meeting of the Friends of Mt Athos. I am flattered at being linked with St Jerome; I am certainly equally bad-tempered.

Father Ephrem

Bernard Brandt

While I thank the Very Reverend Father Ephrem for his correction, I must quibble with his characterization of his excellent translation as "donkey work". At the risk of making a donkey of myself, or of unduly flattering the Very Reverend Father, I would contend that this would perhaps be the case only if one were to say the same of the prophetic role of Balaam's ass, or of the Christophoric role of the donkey at our Lord Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm or Willow Sunday.

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