Not Over Yet

In a somewhat surprising development, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishopsmeeting this week in Orlandofailed to approve a new translation of the portion of the Roman Missal that contains the priests prayers for each season. Part of the problem, apparently, was that a number of bishops were absent from the meeting. Since canon law requires a 2/3 vote of the entire conference to approve a translation, mail ballots will have to be sent to those bishops who were absent. If enough of them vote yes, the translation will be considered approved.

The vote was just the latest development in the long struggle over a revised translation of the Roman Missal. While English-speaking parishes are still using a translation of the Missal prepared in the early 1970s, a revision has been in the works since the mid-1980s. A revised translation prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was approved by ICELs member episcopal conferences in the late 1990s, but was ultimately rejected by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) in 2002. Shortly before that rejection, the Congregation promulgated new norms for liturgical translations in the 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam. These norms call for a much more literal approach to the translation of Latin into English. The documents norms also led, in the same year, to a restructuring of the ICEL and a replacement of its staff.

It is interesting that it is this particular section of the Missal that is causing controversy at this point. The Proper of Seasons is the part of the Missal that contains, among other things, the Opening Prayer and the Prayer after Communion for each Sunday and Weekday. Of all the prayers in the 1974 ICEL translation, it is these prayers that proved the most controversial because many were translated very loosely.

In some cases, this had ironic outcomes. In order to make the prayers more accessible (and to clarify the Trinitarian economy in the liturgy), the word Father was often used to translate Deus (God). When concerns about inclusive language began to surface in the late 70s and 80s, it was realized that this decision created another problem which had not been anticipated!Critics of the new translation that was brought forward this weekand there seem to be more than a few among the bishops gathered this weekcharge that it moves too far in the other direction, favoring a word-for-word correspondence that results in prayers that are hard to say and perhaps even harder to understand. Bishop Donald Trautman, the former chair of the Bishops Committee on Liturgy (recently renamed the Committee on Divine Worship) has expressed concern about the use of words like ineffable and phrases like ancient bondage, which he thinks are not in the vocabulary of the average person in the pew.In all likelihood, there are enough votes among the absent bishops to approve proposed the translation. However, the bishops also voted not to send the translation back to the ICEL if it fails to be approved. This would mean that the bishops would have to revise the translation themselves. One of the ironies of this is that Liturgiam Authenticam spends a fair amount of time cautioning against a heavy reliance on mixed commissions like the ICEL and calls for the individual conferences to take clear ownership of the translation process. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the USCCB ends up taking that advice to heart in this case.HT: Rocco on the Trautman article

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