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.

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press). She is a contributing writer to Commonweal.

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