Rome Revisits ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’
Rome Revisits ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’
Rita Ferrone
The tightly controlled and highly centralized approach to the translation of liturgical texts that has reigned in the Roman Catholic Church over the past fifteen years is likely coming to an end. In a move that is widely expected to open the door to more pastoral guidelines and approaches, Pope Francis has inaugurated a review and re-evaluation of the 2001 document Liturgiam authenticam.
The move was at least a year in coming. To understand what happened, however, it is necessary to know some background. Championed by a handful of conservative bishops and advocates, the principles of translation articulated in Liturgiam authenticam were intended to reassert the primacy and priority of the Latin text of the liturgy. It aimed at creating a “sacral vernacular” through a word-for-word translation of the Latin. It looked backward rather than forward. Ecumenical cooperation in crafting common translations was discouraged, cultural adaptation was discouraged, and concessions to modern developments, such as gender-inclusive language, were absolutely ruled out. Because the episcopal conferences could not be trusted to maintain such tight adherence to the Latin, Roman authorities centralized the process and retained the option to impose a translation if they wished.
The new translation of the Roman Missal into English, implemented in 2011, was guided by these principles. The resulting prayers did not in fact resemble the Latin, as those who know and love the Latin language attest, for Latin has its own genius. An awkward prayer in English does Latin no honor. Yet this was the inevitable result of Liturgiam authenticam. Many of the prayers translated according to its principles were rendered long, complex, and stilted in English; hard to proclaim and difficult to understand. Even some of those who had been in favor of a new translation found the final text disappointing. A 2014 survey of U.S. priests by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, showed that only 27 percent felt the translation had lived up to expectations.
The English translation of the Roman Missal, the first of the new translations produced under the principles of Liturgiam authenticam, was supposed to be a brilliant success and a model for other language groups. Instead, it became a terrible warning. Other language groups—such as German, Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish—prepared translations according to these principles, but they did not implement them. Faced with the prospect of giving up well-known and well-loved vernacular texts, and replacing them with unidiomatic and problematic ones, the bishops balked.
In response, Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) took a hard line. When the German-speaking bishops raised objections, he lectured them on obedience. When the francophone Canadians and Belgians insisted that prayers that their bishops voted unanimously to retain be retained, he said no. These examples are not exhaustive by any means. In short, Pope Francis did not decide to re-evaluate Liturgiam authenticam on a whim. Never a popular instruction, Liturgiam authenticam’s stock was plummeting. Something had to be done.
Liturgiam authenticam was produced without consultation. Pope Francis’s approach has already shown a marked contrast with that style. When conservative Vaticanologist Sandro Magister broke the news this week that a commission was being formed at Francis’s behest to “demolish” Liturgiam authenticam, Archbishop Arthur Roche, second in command at the CDW, had already been meeting with various groups of bishops to solicit their input into the review. Indeed the new roster of members of the Congregation for Divine Worship bodes well for a full consideration of the issues. Bishop Arthur Joseph Serratelli of Paterson, who chaired the International Commission on English in the Liturgy during the implementation of the new translation, is well placed to defend the status quo. But Archbishop Piero Marini, the former papal master of ceremonies who has been critical of the instruction, will also have his say. Several of the new appointees either are or have been at the head of episcopal conferences, such as Ricardo Blázquez Pérez (Spain), John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan (Nigeria), John Atcherley Dew (New Zealand) and Denis James Hart (Australia). They will surely weigh in on questions of oversight and decentralization from their experience. BernardNicolas Aubertin, who is president of the Francophone Episcopal Commission for Liturgical Translations, is well informed on translation issues as well.
What all this will mean for the English liturgy over the long run remains to be seen. I certainly hope that those texts that have been translated according to Liturgiam authenticam but never implemented (RCIA, Baptism, etc.) will be placed on hold until church leaders discern a future direction under Francis’s guidance. As for the Missal we have now, the U.S. bishops will no doubt be loath to revise it. But just as the experience of the English-speaking world helped other language groups to see what they had to do, so the insights and experience of other groups may help English-speaking bishops to find a way forward. The way to begin is by trusting our own people and our own wisdom concerning prayer in our native tongue.

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  1. Mary Wood says:

    The “new” Mass “translation” is a near-nauseous turn-off. It has only been established by the Catholic readiness to go with the apparently inevitable and swallow any objection or defiance and continue on auto-pilot.
    We need a liturgy we can own and share.

  2. Donal Dorr says:

    Let’s hope we can soon breathe a great sigh of relief. And that ‘soon’ will be within the next couple of years.

  3. Brendan Hoban says:

    Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

  4. I was thinking that this was definitely a Ted Heath moment too, Brendan.

  5. Pascal O'Dea says:

    Great to hear of sense prevailing, this bodes well for other road blocks that need to be dismantled.

  6. Mary Burke says:

    The Irish bishops didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory around this sorry affair. They colluded with a process which ended up by silencing people, literally, by taking away their voice in their Father’s house. Misguided loyalty, if not abject sycophancy to the Roman curia won out over asserting their own apostolic right. The Irish bishops let us all down badly.
    I suppose the unconscious logic, or maybe it was very much in their conscious minds, ran something like this: “Since I was appointed out of an office in Rome, I had better take the Roman side in this affair- over and against the side of the successors of the apostles. I may even be promoted to a bigger or more prestigious diocese.” The bishops let us all down badly.
    This way of thinking and operating has been castigated on more than one occasion by Pope Francis, especially in his remarks to the curia for the past two years. So what difference will the presence among the bishops of new bishops appointed since then, under Francis’ watch make? The older bishops let us down badly. Will the reconstituted Irish conference take a bolder, more pastoral and more courageous stance – one with integrity?
    The Irish bishops let us down badly. Hope springs eternal.

  7. Mary, this below is an excellent piece in today’s Tablet.
    Authentic liturgy needs to be understood
    16 February 2017
    If the language with which we pray is not the language with which we think, write and speak, it constitutes a barrier that separates us from God. This is the major flaw in the current translation of the Latin Mass into English, and it could hardly be more serious. It can leave congregations reciting the words of the Mass only notionally, without entering into their meaning with their hearts and minds. Or it jolts them with its insistence that “he” and “him” mean “he and she” and “him and her”, a perverse reminder that as far as the Church is concerned they live in an exclusively male universe where non-males are invisible.
    The fault lies with a 2001 document, Liturgiam Authenticam, a product of the years of Pope John Paul II’s final sickness, when the Vatican curia became a law unto itself. Its publication wrecked a promising project to provide a new translation in good understandable English that had received the unanimous support of all the English-speaking episcopal hierarchies. The responsibility also lies with those same hierarchies, who feebly submitted to this dictatorship of the literal-minded.
    Literal, because Liturgiam Authenticam’s basic principle was not the equivalence of meanings and concepts but the close matching of words. So consubstantialem became “consubstantial”, not “of one being with” as in the previous version. One clumsy technical term never used in any other context replaced four simple words said hundreds of times a day. And clumsily verbose English sentences had to be constructed to replicate the Latin’s literal meaning.
    Pope Francis is reported to have asked for Liturgiam Authenticam to be reviewed, possibly in the light of objections from French and German-speaking bishops to proposed alterations to their own vernacular texts. They are exercising the collegiality which is theirs by right: in this respect it is they, not the Vatican, who are the guardians of the tradition.
    This is a signpost towards a more open and consultative – and inclusive – Church. In 2001 it might have been reasonable to wonder whether inclusive language was here to stay, but the verdict is now clear. “Him” does not mean “her”, nor does “men” mean “men and women”. The translation is therefore inaccurate even by a literal test. Salvation is not on offer to only half the human race.
    The essential first step to becoming a synodal church is to get into the habit of asking the people. Bishops’ conferences do not need Vatican permission to do so. Allow the distribution and use of the text the Vatican suppressed, and let priests and people decide which they prefer. If they want to keep the newest version, the clumsy literal translation, then let them. If they want the more fluent and comprehensible version, which their bishops approved, then that should be their choice. With the Tridentine Rite and the Ordinariate liturgies now authorised for use alongside the present version as well as the original Latin text, liturgical pluralism has already arrived. There would be no change there. And priests and people could celebrate Mass on Sunday and understand every word, rejoicing in the simple beauty of the language.

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Tablet was rather silent in the build-up to the translation disaster.

  9. Mary Vallely says:

    Thank you so much for this, Paddy.
    ” If the language with which we pray is not the language with which we think, write and speak, it constitutes a barrier that separates us from God.” Yes, yes, indeed!
    I suggest we forward this article to every priest in our parish and to our local bishop and that we begin, as many already do in a quiet unobtrusive way to answer as sense and heart dictates. After all most of us want to dismantle barriers, to tear walls down, not build them up, to make the table longer, not keep people away from taking a seat at the table. I do realise, of course, that we are commanded above all to feed the poor, house the homeless etc; but words ARE important especially those we use at our most sacred and precious moments. I can just imagine the Nazarene scratching his head at our lack of courage. Lord, but we are slow to learn!

  10. Joe, I don’t think it was. There were articles virtually every week expressing the view that we would all share.

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