No foot in the Slamming Door

The English and Welsh Bishops’ Statement on Translation

Chris McDonnell

Friday December 01 2017

Our Bishops have spoken. Following their November meeting in Leeds, the Bishops of England and Wales have issued a statement of no-change; the current translation of the Roman Missal will remain in use in spite of the recent statement of Francis restoring the responsibility for liturgical translation to local churches.

“My Oh My Oh My’, to quote a line from a Leonard Cohen lyric.

After their meeting, the Bishops are quoted as saying that they were “grateful” for the guidance they had received from the Congregation for Divine Worship advising that the ‘Motu Propio’ “concerns future liturgical translations and cannot be applied retroactively”. Grateful? They should have expressed their dismay and disappointment that the 1998 text could be so easily dismissed. Caught between a rock and a hard place they have taken the ostrich option.

Just as they rolled over when the current text was foisted on a voiceless people in 2011, so they have done again.

Their voice hides behind legalistic phrases and the people are blamed for misunderstanding Rome. We are told that we must wait until there is a new standard Latin text, with the jocular comment from Archbishop Peter Smith -“I am not sure I will be around to see that”. Nor, I would suggest, will many others, given the level of frustration felt by so many of the diocesan communities that they pastor.

The Archbishop goes on to acknowledge that “a lot of people were very upset” with the current translation but then adds “I think that most of us have got used to it”. And just where are the evidential facts to support such a statement? Whose hand in Rome added historicity to an understanding and interpretation of this text?

Meanwhile, a much-praised translation from 1998 approved by all of the English-Speaking conferences lies gathering dust when it could be assisting in our Eucharistic prayer. Many whose theological background and personal writing is both recognised and respected have expressed their support for this text, anxious that the great creative effort which went into its production should not be wasted. But no. Ignore all that. Just wait for a new Latin Text and start again.

A door was opened and a beam of light crept in. At that point there should have been a bishop’s foot firmly planted to prevent closure while the collective voice of our bishops was raised in welcome at this long awaited initiative. A bishop cares for his people, recognises the difficulties of their journey in a particular time and place and acts accordingly. A teacher who teaches without regard for the cultural background of those being taught should not be surprised if they stop listening.

With the exceptional leadership and caring example of the Bishop of Rome, recent years have returned credibility to the Church in spite of efforts within the Curia to inhibit change. When a power base is threatened there is always a response from those whose current position is called to question.

Now that a clear attempt has been made to re-dress the balance and return rightful responsibility to where it belongs, with the bishops, some are finding excuses to limit the outcome.

Words matter. In the Introduction to the re-printed Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez writes “…all language is to some extent a groping for clarity.”

Right on the mark, language is indeed a groping for clarity and we should make every effort not to get in the way and hinder understandable discourse.

There has to be poetry in our prayer, for it opens to us a whole new realm of experience, not just of our forming words with which we offer prayer, but of our being exposed to thought-provoking language that quietens us and makes us listen. Silence is the space between words.

Maybe this is why there has been so much concern expressed over the New Translation of the Roman Missal since its introduction on the first Sunday of Advent 2011. Literal translation doesn’t help with appreciation of expression for it can so easily miss the nuance of contemporary language. It can also disturb the historical root that feeds our linguistic exchange. Many priests I know express their concern that with use it is getting harder, not easier, for them to pray the Eucharist with the words we now have in the Roman Missal.

After Vox Clara, countless changes were imposed on us without consultation.

In an earlier statement from the US Association of Catholic Priests they assert that the translation has “caused disharmony, disruption and discord among many… frustrating rather than inspiring the Eucharistic prayer experience of the Christian faithful, thus leading to less piety and to less ‘full, active and conscious participation,” and that it “has created pastoral problems, in particular because of its cumbersome style, arcane vocabulary, grammatical anomalies, and confusing syntax.”

We have been let down again.

So where was the foot in the door?

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  1. Gerard Moloney says:

    Fine piece. Needled to say, the Irish bishops are no better.

  2. Colm Holmes says:

    Three cheers for the small number of communities who did not accept the gobbledygook 2011 missal!!!

    With todays online and photocopying facilities this is certainly feasible for many more communities who could now follow suit.

    Or will the majority prefer to wait another 5 or 10 years until our bishops give “permission”?

  3. Mary Burke says:

    An Irish bishop in the north of the country has been heard to remark that the people have no problem with the 2011 translation, that it is only the priests who have. The implication of course is that if that is the case 2011 won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

  4. Mary Burke@3 The said bishop `s information on this may be rather askew.
    But first, one might wonder how he arrived at such a judgement. Has there, for example, been any public exercise undertaken in any diocese in Ireland to ask either priests or the People of God -parishioners / the baptised/ the faithful – use whatever term you want to use, about the 2011 translation? If there has, it has certainly escaped my attention, and I regret it very much, because I would have relished the opportunity to say in detail what I think of it. But I`m sure I can see how many will find it laughable, the idea that people should be consulted about such matters, even after the exercise preluding the Synod on Family of afew years ago, set in motion by Pope Francis.
    If there has not been such a public study done – and of course we know there hasn`t – it may be that his idea that it`s not a problem came from his imagining that people`s continuing attendance at Mass can be taken as happy acceptance of the translation? Dubious grounds, one would have thought, for any judgement.
    Or could it be that it is an impression he has formed because, being happy with it himself he fondly imagines the rest of us must be so too? Again, rather dubious grounds.
    But in any case, why should the bishop, who is a well-educated man, have needed to consult anyone? Would the bishop`s own standards of literacy and taste not have brought him to see for himself how unworthy it is, because it is bad as English, the language which the vast majority of Mass-goers here have as mother tongue? Should he even need to consult anyone to realise how obstructive the translation is to the profound and joyful experience which Mass could be for us?

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