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What's Behind the Door

As anobserverofthere-translation of the Roman Missal since 1990 or so, I was very pleased to see that Robert Mickens has an article in the June 18 issue of the Tablet about the politics that havetaken placebehind the scenes -- leading to the latest version. There has been plenty of intrigue, and Mickens, the Tablet's reporter in Rome, is well situated to report on it.The new English translation, in case you are unaware,will be visited upon us here in the United States beginning in Advent 2011. Australia has just begun the first installment of their gradual rollout, with the people's parts being implemented now, before the full text of the Missal is ready for use.Mickens's articlewill appear intwo installments, so we have to wait to hear aboutsome of the morerecent (and most appalling)episodes, but he telegraphs the punch in the opening of the article:

It is the story of how a small number of English-speaking bishops broke ranks with their confreres and colluded with conservative papal bureaucrats to change the rules for translating liturgical texts. And it offersa sad spectacle of men who used the liturgy to further their own agenda of reinterpreting the ecclesiology envisaged by the Second Vatican Council.

Ouch. Is it really quite that bad? Well,the full detailswill only appearthe next installment, but my generaltake on the subject is yes, alas, it isasbad as that.(Unfortunately, the article is subscriber only. I'll post onit, though, when it appears.)Now, alot of people are trying to put on a happy face about the translation that is coming. Is it a good thing tolookcritically at the process which produced it? If the 2011 translation is coming, like it or not, isn't this juststirring up discontent to no purpose?I would say, first of all, that once people see and hear the texts, they will wonder what on earth happened.It is good to know theinside story just to make sense of it all. Second, we've discussedmany times the need for transparency and accountability in the Catholic Church. The sex abuse crisis has brought this home to us time and time again. In the translation saga,a good deal of thetransparencythat existed in the 1990s has been done away with, andin the end (the period from 2008 to 2011)a few people, unaccountable to anyone but the curia, haveheld sway overthe final texts of the Missalwhich the entire English-speaking worldshall receive.If these individualshad beenthe best, the brightest,the most skilled, and if they brought us a jewel of a translation, I admit we'd soon forget the vagaries ofhow we got here.There is such a thing asgiving the reins over to brilliant people -- artists in fact -- who need to be let alone to produce their very best. But that is not what happened. And because the translation we are going to receive isfar from the best thatthe Church can produce,we need to look at why.There is alsothequestion, which Mickens's article takes up, of whetherthe latest translation projectrepresents aretreat from theecclesiologyof Vatican II, which included de-centralization of liturgical decision-making. This strategic question is important.


Commenting Guidelines

What Claire said (in spades!) And it gets back beyond to the broad issue of the curial cablal that beleives in comand and control, which is the point of the thread as well.

Thanks to Rita and Bill deHaas. I just spent way more time than I should have trawling through the link Bill had provided back up in the third comment, looking for some actual evidence of the nature and breadth of the changes that were made post-vote-of-the-bishops. I was not tuned in to this part of the story, at all. Unless I missed it, I still haven't seen any analysis that gives an overall picture of the nature and extent of those changes. It is clear that a few of the presidential prayers and propers have been pretty extensively retranslated. I haven't heard or seen anything that what belongs to the people has changed much, or at all. At any rate, thanks for cluing us in - the story definitely deserves to be reported more widely. (And Bill, Kathy's right - be nice).

I do appreciate the troublesome procedural questions that have been raised by this new translation.Nonetheless, more troublesome, in my view, is the near "fetishizing" of the Latin language. Are we supposed to think that God would prefer to be worshiped in Latin, but if we can't manage that, then we should do so in our vernacular that is made to come as close as possible to the preferred Latin text? I see no reason to think that Latin, any more than any other language, is somehow sacred. Nor do I see any reason to think that, however admirable many Latin prayers unquestionably are, the Latin prayers in the present Latin rite missals and sacramentaries ought to serve as exclusive models for vernacular missals and sacramentaries. Nor do i see any reason to think that any body of prayers in any language ought to be thought of as irreformable. Consider the history of the Mass. As Fr. John Baldovin has shown, it is a rich and varied history.

Jim - here you go (nicely): that good ole George and his minions are presenting to you guys as if this new translation is the best idea since sliced bread. I do like the cynical version/name - Missale Moronicum.

BernardYou will persist in being reasonable. The MENS VATICANA is simple and closed. Its principle is this, that the Latin rite is always right and there can be no Latin wrong. Hence the preference for "incarnate" over "made flesh" and for "consubstantial" over "one in being".

I would agree with Claire's analysis @ 6:53, except to add that it is not just America, and not just English which has set off the alarm bells. All the language groups will have to retranslate everything. The new definition of what counts as a legitimate variation has been narrowed drastically, despite the provisions for inculturation in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and in the much later document devoted to inculturation of the liturgy, Varietates legitimae. When I first encountered this movement toward centralism and suppression of variety in language, I suspected that it was an over-reaction to inclusive language, and that the engine driving this project is fear of feminism, or fear of women, or something of that kind. There is an element of that in the mix here, to be sure, but gradually I became convinced that it is more than that. It is anxiety about living out the implications of the council with regard to the modern world and inculturation. The prospect of the local churches having an identity and integrity that in any way is distinguishable from Rome seems, to some, to spell anarchy, the end of Tradition, and the end of Catholicism. This relates to Mr. Dauenhauer's comment above. At the Council, the debate about Latin was heated precisely because of the concern that the vernacular would endanger orthodoxy and dilute Tradition, and actually spell the end of the unique nature of Catholicism. Seeing that the vernacular is here to stay, these dire fears have now been transferred to translation. What he is calling (rightly, I think) the "fetishizing of the Latin language" is underlying this whole project. Latin is presumed to be the key to unity. From a certain vantage point, the "answer" to the "problem" of diversity was, is, and continues to be fidelity to the Latin. From another viewpoint however, diversity is not a problem, and it does not spell the end of Catholicism, but rather is a symptom of its growth and vitality. So it is really a debate about much more than language.

Jim P., you are welcome. The one change to the people's parts, introduced in 2010, which I have heard criticized, is the introduction of three more instances of "I believe" into the Creed. Because this makes the new text sound more like the one currently in use, it will not be noticed. Most of the changes do seem to be in the priest's prayers, as the link from Bill @ 1:13 shows.

Bill d, Rita and all - I have to say, I'm perplexed. I've been plowing through some of the links that Bill has provided, and I would say that, based on what I'm reading, I *don't* agree with Claire's suggestion that 'all roads lead back to Liturgiam Authenticam'. I say this because, based on what I'm reading, it appears that the 'Received Text' - which, btw, based on the examples given in these essays, are not simple punctuation tweaks and the occasional substitution of a word here and there, but entirely new translations of prayers - is substantially *less faithful* to Liturgiam Authenticam than what ICEL produced and the English-speaking conferences approved. Really, it doesn't go far enough to say that the Received Text is less faithful to Liturgiam Authenticam - it seems, in many instances, to be "slippage" back into the approach that Liturgiam Authenticam was supposed to correct: Words are now omitted that are in the Latin original; words have been added that aren't in the Latin original; the intensity found in the Latin original has been dialed down; scriptural allusions have been made less clear; etc.One can only wonder whether, sometime in the last ten years (coincident with papal succession?), another sea change in translation philosophy has taken hold at the Holy See, that the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam are now superseded, and Liturgiam Authenticam is, for all purposes, already a dead letter.I will add this: I have never felt as strongly as many liturgical professionals have about the promulgation of Liturgiam Authenticam and its philosophy, except that I regretted the loss of jobs and the ridicule heaped on the good work of dedicated people. I viewed some of the fruits of the translation exercise, especially the clearer scriptural allusions, as very positive developments. But the more I think about what I'm learning today, the more concerned I'm becoming about the utter overthrow of the bottom-up process of liturgical translation. The bishops of the English speaking world just went through ten years of, if not hell, at least a lot of stress, trying to do this thing up the way they were told to do. At ICEL, some careers were ended and a lot of good work unjustly vilified, trying to implement Liturgiam Authenticam. And now, at the end of the road, the ICEL text - the text of the reconstituted body that Liturgiam Authenticam directed! - is wrapped up in pretty paper, a bow affixed to it, and flushed down the toilet. I really, truly, don't get it.

"What he is calling (rightly, I think) the fetishizing of the Latin language is underlying this whole project. Latin is presumed to be the key to unity. From a certain vantage point, the answer to the problem of diversity was, is, and continues to be fidelity to the Latin. "Hi, Rita - except that, according to those articles at PrayTell written by Xavier R, the 'Received Text' is substantially *less* faithful to the Latin than the text prepared by ICEL and approved by the bishops.My own speculation, obviously not very well-informed, is that there is a theological viewpoint being inserted into the 'Received Text'. Cf the wikispooks link that Bill d provided in his 1:13 comment a few above this one - p.4, discussion of the single-minded use of the word "nourish" - I'm guessing that someone is hitting us over the head with his Eucharistic theology.

JimP - yes, there is an ideology at work that undermines the ecclesiology outlined in Vatican II. See Rita's points above. As Rita says, it goes way beyond the intracacies of a translation - it is being used as a tool to make an ecclesiological point.

As an illustration of Bernard's point about Latin as fetish consider the following version of the Nicene Creed:Version A.We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,eternally begotten of the Father, Version B.I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,the Only Begotten Son of God,born of the Father before all ages.Version CAnd in one Lord Jesus Christ,The only Son of GodBegotten of the Father before all agesVersion A is the one in current use. Version B is the new version and it adheres closely to the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed. Version C is taken directly from the Greek original.

Jim, I was really commenting on the 2008 text. The 2010 text sent to the publishers, in my view, is an abnormality, so, looking ahead, I'm assuming the missal will more or less revert to the 2008 version. That version closely follows the instructions of Liturgiam Authenticam, and the objections people raise about it are always met with the frustrating answer "but that's what Liturgiam Authenticam calls for". But maybe I am jumping ahead and we first have to deal with the problem of a published text that, compared to the version approved by the US bishops, is riddled with errors.

"Jim, I was really commenting on the 2008 text. The 2010 text sent to the publishers, in my view, is an abnormality, so, looking ahead, Im assuming the missal will more or less revert to the 2008 version."Hi, Claire, I don't think that's a safe assumption. My understanding is that the 2010 text is what we will soon be praying. If history is our guide, we'll have it for decades. I imagine that few in the church will have the appetite to tackle it again for a long time.

you're right. It seems that a lot of people on all sides of the usual divisions are all upset about this and find it unacceptable, so I am hoping that they will succeed in correcting the grammatical, theological and translation mistakes in short order. (If you have any say in your parish, maybe you can get them to hold off buying the most expensive new missal for as long as possible...)

Hi, Claire, I have no say in my parish, no budget, no nuthin'. "Deacon" and "authority" should never be used in the same sentence. :-)