English-speaking bishops should learn from their German counterparts

The German bishops are developing guidelines that would allow Catholics who have divorced and remarried to once again share the Eucharist. The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said the bishops cannot do that because mercy is not a valid principle to use in pastoral care where the sacrament is concerned. Doctrine? Maybe. Faith? Not so much.

In any case, the bishops are going ahead with their plan. They are affirming what Pope Francis has said, that Roman officials do not “outrank” diocesan bishops, but must serve as aids to the bishops’ ministry.

The Germans have recently made another move in defiance of Roman commands that deserves attention and belated emulation.

This past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, was to be the day on which German-speaking Catholics would begin using a new translation of the liturgy. Like the one that has been used for two years in English-speaking churches, it would be more Latin than local. The English version uses English words in Latin sentence order, Latinate repetition and vocabulary that comes from Latin rather than English roots; presumably the German is similar.

However, the German bishops recently announced that they would not introduce the new version because of wide opposition to the translation’s sins against the German language. Something that English-speaking bishops were afraid to do in the previous papacy is now being done by Germans apparently emboldened by the pastoral approach of Pope Francis.

Sunday was the second anniversary of the imposition of the English version. How have we fared after two years with it? Congregations have gotten used to their responses, though children probably sometimes think that the Holy, Holy, Holy prayer is to the Lord God of communion wafers.

But what of those for whom the greatest changes were introduced, the priests? Surveys have shown that a huge majority of priests are still, after two years, united in their dissatisfaction with the maltranslation. Many say that trying to use it actually hinders their prayerful leading of the liturgy.

If anything, their discomfort has grown as they have struggled to proclaim prayers whose tortured word order and repetitions are close to gibberish if spoken aloud before a congregation that cannot go back over the words to figure out the grammar. How does one proclaim a sentence that begins with the object of the verb rather than the subject, something entirely possible in Latin, but which English-speaking priests now know is at least strange in their language?

The answer is that increasingly priests are not trying. A pastor in the United States said that the only good thing he could say about the new translation is that it forces him to read the prayers on Saturday so that he will know how to revise them for proclamation on Sunday. The majority of priests in his diocese admit among themselves that they engage in the same editing process, turning the prayers into real English. In other words, many congregations do not hear the new version.

Two years ago I wrote: “Priests who want to help their communities pray will gradually, but increasingly, begin to rework and reword the translation we have been given. Instead of an authorized new translation from Latin such as was approved by the world’s English-speaking bishops in 1998, we will now get an unauthorized plethora of ad hoc translations from Gibberish. I am not saying that should happen, but it shall happen.”

Well, it has happened. What’s next?

The 1998 translation that was meant to correct the hastily done 1973 translation has already been approved unanimously by all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences of the world, but was suppressed by curial officials who were not even English speakers. So, why should not some conferences declare that translation valid for use in their countries? Failing that, individual bishops might take that initiative on their authority as leaders of worship in their dioceses.

Otherwise, my next prediction will come true. Priests will increasingly on their own initiative begin using the 1998 translation once they get a copy, available for downloading after only a few minutes’ search on the Internet. Or, they will dig out their 1973 Sacramentaries, even in dioceses like that in which my friend the pastor serves and where the bishop thought he had confiscated them all in order to prevent just that sort of thing.

It is time for English-speaking bishops to learn from their German confreres and take back responsibility for the life and worship of their people.

Fr William Grimm is publisher of ucanews.com based in Tokyo.

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  1. John Collins says:

    Fr William ..Thank you for highlighting again the translation (I use the word with ?) or should we say Gibberish(more accurate) debate .. I agree with everything you have to say about our lack of leadership from the Irish Bishops conference ( where is the copy of the survey from Veritas ? We get pamphlets about Emigration, Life, etc but nothing for people to fill out who have no internet access) .. Well done Germany .. (who would have thought that the Germans would be the first to think for themselves.. the Spirit always’ surprises) .. As a priest I would say that people have NOT become used to the changes ( acclamations are still a problem for most people) and I know I certainly have major issues with it. Most of it I cannot use and have to replace it with understandable rephrasing .. The Advent prayers really shows up the mess Rome has made of our liturgy (English speaking) .. I surveyed the people at our Masses and asked which version would they like to hear at Mass and 99% said the old version .. You are right when you say the Liturgy suffer’s because of maltranslation. In order to keep the Mass prayerful I have the old Missal at hand to help me with the untangling !! Ops maybe I should hide it !! Thank you again for making sense.

  2. John Collins@1: Don`t hide the “old missal” please!
    I don`t know why you would, since so many people in the congregation think the same way about the new translation.
    For me, the most dispiriting thing about this vexed question is that so many people seem to be quite happy to go along with this new translation, somnolent and acquiescent, though on this as on so many questions, I don`t think mere majoritarianism should be allowed free rein. In dejection, I conjecture such people either have no ear for our language, or they think that reverence and holiness are best evoked and expressed by obscurantist mumbo-jumbo, and so for them then it becomes the more impressive the further away it gets from ordinary living language.
    I think there is a certain moral element in the acquisition and recognition of aesthetic good taste. It reminds me of a similar sensation of uneasiness with falsehood when confronted by the occasional poem posted here to underline or enforce a point being made by a contributor. Quite often, poems posted here – even by supposedly educated persons, like professors (not of poetry, I hasten to add)- are poor efforts as poetry, even if their authors are worthy and well-meaning and even distinguished in other fields, the “poem” itself often remains self-consciously “sensitive”, linguistically solemn and/or tortuous(a sure sign of the effort to express the tortured soul, that!), often heavy-handed in using great crashing rhymes, and freighted with sanctimonious and clichéd symbolism utterly, crashingly banal as poetry. But then, we can say, obviously we all have our own tastes, don`t we, and a right to our own preferences? What I`m suggesting is that by dint of effort one can become able to see the difference between the real thing and the bogus.
    Which brings me back to the bishops, who should be arbiters of good taste in matters of the language of the liturgy. Irish Bishops as leaders in this respect? They seem more interested in preservation of the “plant” as one local bishop here called the church buildings in our parish.

  3. If 99% of people don’t like the new translation there should be no problem announcing that it won’t be used.

  4. John@3, you inquired some time ago what people in Scotland feel about the new translation. Well, they feel, as far as I can judge, the same as most people at home in Ireland feel — browned off.
    Certainly, priests will tell you how unhappy they are but, of course, there has been no public uttering of unhappiness.

  5. Shaun the Sheep says:

    I posted a comment about the German Church. I just made the point that the German Church benefits from the Church tax, so it is possible that the bishops want to attract the divorced and remarried back to Church (or deter them from leaving) by changing the teachings on divorce and remarriage. It’s just a possibility.

  6. Teresa Mee says:

    I’m after reading what John, mjt and Paddy have to say about the literal translations of Mass texts; tá me tar eish a dheanamh.

    Furthermore, I refuse to refer to myself as a man. ‘For us men and for our salvation’.

    Still furthermore, the Mass is a believing community’s celebration of the Eucharist – ‘We believe in one God’, rather than ‘I believe’…

    We’re waiting for the Curial bishops to admit their mistaken understanding of translation from one language to another as a word for word exercise. I’ve joined those of my fellow pew members who pray and respond in English at the risk of creating a cacophany.

    It’s not enough to blame the Irish bishops. We have to blame ourselves if we don’t get moving.The more polite way would be by writing letters to, and arranging group meetings with the hierarchy. Possibly the more effective way would be to stay with a form of language we understand. Speak English rather than Anglicised Latin.

  7. Alas, as for waiting for them to admit mistakes, the curial bishops in this case included and were guided by Cardinal George Pell, who is at the moment helping Pope Francis with his reform of the church.

  8. I was at a Mass in London at the time the new translation was introduced. In his address, the (new and young) parish priest spoke fervently about the importance of the new translation. And then the moment came : the priest intoned loudly : “The Lord be with you.” The packed congregation replied automatically : “And also with you”. And the priest shouted back : “Wrong! Say it right”. And so they were led again through the “correct” reponse. My friend, with whom I had been staying for the weekend, had attended a meeting convened by the new parish priest about the new translation. Although he did not like the new translation I don’t think he spoke up. My conclusion : a timid congregation and bullying by a young priest on the make.

  9. Teresa @6.
    Furthermore, I refuse to refer to myself as a man. ‘For us men and for our salvation’.
    In an introductory module in theology Mary T. Malone posed the questions: Where are the women in christian history? What have women thought? What have women believed? Have women made any difference whatever to the central understanding of the Christian faith?. She goes on to say that once a woman becomes aware of this exclusion ‘it is usually accompanied by anger, and even by desolation, but also by a strange sense of relief. There is at last an explanation for the uneasiness that one has experienced in one’s life of faith: the sense of being on the outside looking in, and of not being addressed or appreciated as a full member of the community of faith’.

    This is why I believe things will not change in the Church from within. Too much would have to change. Errors would have to be admitted, for example Humanae Vitae. Doctrine would have to be revisited, for example a male Trinitarian God. To use exclusive language in the liturgy of the Mass which is so central to the teaching of the Catholic Church is saying loud and clear that the exclusion of women is part and parcel of that teaching. The change will come because soon the diminishing numbers in the Church will get to a critical stage. This is because traditionally it was the women in the home who were the primary teachers of the faith. But women who have been estranged from the Church through the Church’s teaching on marital sexuality, through its exclusion of woman, through its male dominated language will not encourage their children in the faith. I wonder if in thirty years time, when the Church has been confronted with its errors because of empty churches will it say it was ‘not aware’ of the damage it had done to women or it had no understanding of the impact of the teaching of Humanae Vitae on responsible married couples trying to live up to its teaching?

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Nuala@9, you know as well as I that the Church cannot err and so cannot admit to error. On another bleak December afternoon in 2043, at the close of the Irish Bishops’ Conference Winter Meeting at Maynooth’s Columba Centre, the Bishops’ spokeswoman will release a one-paragraph Press Release to Patsy McGarry’s shivering daughter and the frostbitten male Editor of the Irish Catholic, explaining that “the triple repetition by Saint Pope Francis in 2013 that he had a notion that the Church needed a (new) theology of women proves that the Church was on a steep learning curve on the distaff side in the early decades of the third millennium. END OF SPIN. EMBARGOED TILL WE GET HOME SAFE TO OUR DIOCESES”

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