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Friday, August 27, 2010

Philip Endean SJ on the Roman Missal translation

I haven't been paying much attention to the issue of the new translation, though I did notice Bryan Cones has had a series on the subject at US Catholic. Here's part of his Getting to know the new Mass, Part 3: Wait a second... ....

As I was singing the Holy, Holy (Sanctus) last night at Mass, I was struck by the fact that all the well-known settings of the Ordinary are being rewritten to accommodate a single change in the Sanctus, from "God of power and might" to "God of hosts" (armies, not wafers). Then, as I sang "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," I was angry that such a simple text, composed in English, that so well captures the "mystery of faith" will be lost to us on the First Sunday of Advent 2011. Incidentally, that acclamation has been picked up by our Christian family in the churches of the Reformation, used at almost every Lutheran and Episcopal liturgy I've been to.

So it is with some dismay that I am already hearing a general surrender among the liturgical literati who taught me what I know about the liturgy. "Make the best of it" seems to be the attitude: In other words, let us try to contain the pastoral damage by making this a teaching moment on the liturgy. Let us protect the faithful from their sacred pastors and not tell them what has really happened here, and why they will be saying something as meaningless as "And with your spirit" four times during the liturgy ....

Today I noticed a post at America magazine's blog (English Jesuit on New Translations Process: "Abusive") on a Tablet article (Worship and power) by Philip Endean SJ on the translation. As I've been reading Fr. Endean's books on Karl Rahner lately, I thought I'd post something on his Tablet article. The article is really good (and long), so be sure to read the whole thing, but here's just a bit of it ....


Worship and power
- Philip Endean

[...] There are problems here about what counts as good translation. There are also serious questions about how authority is being exercised. In some ways, there are overlaps with the clerical-abuse scandal. Of course, the objective damage done by bad liturgy is as nothing to the moral wrong of children being violated. But in both cases authority has dealt high-handedly and secretively with the sacred, the intimate, the vulnerable. High officialdom has been evasive; lesser authority has tacitly colluded. What the situation needed was salutary English plain speaking .....

The best advocacy for the new translation that I have seen, from Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra and Goulburn - who has also written well on the abuse crisis - refers to "an extraordinary level of consultation" in the preparation of the new translation. Perhaps, but I was myself involved in a couple of peripheral ways, and I was instructed to maintain strict secrecy when, through my then provincial, I was asked to comment on a draft of the Ordinary ....

This situation hardly inspires confidence or trust. Given that there are also strong objective arguments against Liturgiam Authenticam, we have a serious problem. How are responsible Catholics to cope? The standard answer to that question is: "trust the authority of the Church's office-holders; give them the benefit of the doubt; make the best of the situation." But it is just such moves that have proved so catastrophic in matters to do with sexual abuse. Why are we to suppose them appropriate in this liturgical context? ......

How might sensitivity mark the impending transition? .....

In general, the new translation's significance has to be situated within the conflicts underlying everything in Vatican II and its aftermath: how the Church deals with change; the relationship between Rome and local churches; how the Church addresses contemporary culture. Options about translation often imply controversial positions on more intractable human and spiritual issues. If Rome's real agenda when liturgical change is in question is that the English-speaking Churches got Vatican II wrong (or indeed the other way round), we should have that conversation openly. Arguments about ecclesiology are not conducted well in code ..... recognise that reverence and accessibility are theologically complementary. Vatican II's liturgy document speaks of the rites radiating a "noble simplicity" (n. 34). To be true to the Gospel, the liturgy needs to be both dignified and straightforwardly intelligible. It is as un-Christian to choose between these as to opt for Christ's being either divine or human. Orthodoxy could be defined as the refusal to fall into such ways of thinking. If the introduction of a new text can be described as one side "winning" some kind of competition between gospel values, things have gone badly wrong ..... at no point - on this or any other subject - should pastoral ministers teach or preach anything to which they cannot personally assent. Still less should they come under any pressure from their superiors so to do. Defending what you do not believe will be far more harmful to the Church than any public disharmony. Surely we have learnt by now the dangers of keeping up appearances "for the good of the Church" .....

This new translation, both in its content and in the manner of its imposition, represents a retreat from the salutary, evangelical reform of church style and mood that Vatican II represented. Those of us who experienced pre-conciliar Catholicism as abusive received Vatican II as a powerful reassurance that the Church was mending its ways. That gave us hope and liberation. It will be a scandal, in both the common and the theological senses of the word, if - at a level that really hurts - the new translation takes that reassurance back.



Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi Crystal,

I, for one, am underwhelmed by the new translation of the Roman Missal. I agree that the current English is flat in many places, and I know that it is technically imprecise in places -- that much was evident to me from my own history as an altar server who knew the Latin responses AND their translations.

However... in this new translation, many times new words show up that are just plain archaic. Does that mean that the original Latin word was also archaic? More likely, it had meaning in a clerical culture 400 years ago... but not for the People of God today. It choice may demonstrate a certain "academic prowess" on the part of the translators, but for many it will be a bunch of clerical baloney.

1:32 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Clerical baloney :)

I think Fr. Endean's righ too about the way the church has handled the whole project. I like "And also with you" :(

2:48 PM  
Blogger sjy said...

I havent yet seen the Eucharistic prayers which the Tablet mention disparagingly in their editorial today as being far too complex and verbose but I have read the new mass responses and find surprisingly little altered. 'And with your spirit' IS rather churchy perhaps but it IS used like this in the Anglican liturgy (the last time that I attended one) and it DOES have dignity. My question really is what were they trying to achieve with the new translation? I read somewhere that they wanted to be truer to the original Latin but what was the reasoning behind that idea? Does the hierarchy feel that the present liturgy is too "dumbed-down"?

10:31 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


"My question really is what were they trying to achieve with the new translation? "

A good question. A good place to read more about the whole subject is Fr. Anthony Ruff's liturgy blog, Pray Tell. You can try reading all the archived posts under the tag Translation / New Missal too.

1:05 PM  

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