The ‘New’ Missal – the problem hasn’t gone away, yet.
In recent days well-known and respected theologian and biblical scholar Gerald O’Collins S.J. wrote an Open Letter to English speaking bishops concerning the continued use of the “new” missal.
His letter was published in The Tablet. It is a very forthright critique of the “clunky and Latinised” 2011 translation of the Missal. The Tablet reported that Gerald O Collins ‘acknowledged that the language of the Missal had aimed at a sacral style but said it fell far short of Jesus’ own “simple and direct” way of addressing God in the Our Father.’
The letter is a reminder and challenge to all of us concerning our use of this missal. While some priests seem to have accepted it and use it readily enough, many can still be heard to stumble over some of the numerous lengthy and almost incomprehensible sentences. Many make their own variations to it and more use a hybrid version of new, old, and the 1998 missal, all in an attempt to enable themselves and congregations understand and pray the Eucharist.
My question is what was the intention of the new translation? What need was it trying to meet?
A more authentic and closer translation of the Latin? The Latin scholars tell us that it is not so with mistranslations and blatant, perhaps deliberate, omissions.
As an average user of the English language it is my opinion that this translation is a failed entity and is in need of urgent revision. It hinders far more than helps the celebration of the parish Eucharist. It fails the primary purpose of language, to communicate effectively.
Could it be that there was a different intention behind it?
In his What Kind of Ecclesiology? James Dallen, a priest of the diocese of Salina, Kansas, who has his doctorate in liturgical and sacramental theology, says that by focussing “on the ecclesiology of the new translation, the understanding of Church it conveys. I will indicate ways in which I see it subtly communicating a view of Church, the Counter-Reformation institutional model, that threatens the ecclesiology of communion that is central to both the letter and the spirit of Vatican Council II.”
Could it be that this was the actual intention of the new translation?
James Dallen’s article is well worth reading, it is a balanced and reasoned article, even if disturbing in his conclusions that “Liturgy remains the area where tensions between differing ecclesiologies are most deeply felt. How this latest challenge will play out over time remains to be seen. But the kind of ecclesiology the new translation presents is unacceptable.”
Interestingly James Dallen wrote his article in 2012. Since then Francis has become bishop of Rome and has a different approach to that of his immediate predecessor.
Last Saturday Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the parish church of All Saints in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the first vernacular Mass celebrated there by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
Anthony Ruff OSB in his praytellblog.com gives a first hand report on the Mass and on comments made by Francis following the Mass. He translates the Pope’s words as
“Let us thank the Lord for what he has done in his Church in these 50 years of liturgical reform. It was truly a courageous gesture for the Church to draw near to the people of God so that they are able to understand well what they are doing. This is important for us, to follow the Mass in this way. It is not possible to go backwards. We must always go forward. Always forward (applause)! And those who go backward are mistaken. Let us go forward on this path (applause, cheers). Thank you.”
Is it just possible that the “new” missal was in fact an attempt to ‘go backwards’?
If so, can bishops and others in positions of authority be courageous and admit it was a mistake?
What was done 50 years ago now needs to be re-done and ‘the Church needs again to draw near to the people of God’ and provide a version of the Mass so that people “are able to understand well what they are doing.”
The current translation does not allow for such understanding and distances rather than draws near.
Mistakes can be rectified but only when admitted ? Can we hope for a u-turn !!
Thanks Mattie for your reflections and for the connection to James Dallen’s article on “What kind of ecclesiology?” that is behind the new missal.
I was taken up with everyday work at the introduction of the new missal and did not realise what was going on at the time.
However, its introduction has radicalised me! I now approach everything got to do with ‘Church’ with more open and critical eyes. I find it very difficult now to trust most Church authorities.
Dallen suggests towards the end of his article, that one must put up with the new missal for the sake of communion. He also states that we are stuck with this missal for the next 40 years; in reality because Cardinals/ Archbishops/ Bishops are too arrogant and will not admit an own goal.
There’s a feel of passivism and despair about having to put up with this for 40 more years. I too will be long gone by then.
Surely the fiery spirit of Jesus in the Temple propels us not to put up with this kind of stuff! Dallen’s arguments flesh out why in conscience I should continue to ignore the new missal.
I believe in Incarnation – of a God who became a human being – not a spirit! I will continue to use ‘and also with you’ and hold on to my humanity – so much of which the new missal disrespects.
The new missal translation is bearable only if Catholics are taught that the words of the liturgy have not importance and are encouraged to go through the liturgical experience in a state of trancelike inattention. That is a formula for Gnosticism.
The slow haemorrhage of faith that the new translation is bringing about is something diabolically subtle. One aspect is when someone says to himself or herself, “Hold on, what I just heard (e.g. “like the dewfall”) doesn’t really make much sense or is not really intended to be taken seriously. Is the whole show just a sham?” or “Hold on, what I just heard (e.g. “we acclaim, Holy, Holy” is not really English at all — if they can’t bother to get the English right how do I know they are getting anything right? Am I just being led by the nose through a mockery?”
If “the salvation of souls is the highest law” then our obligation is to override or alter the texts when their impact is so negative, either by substituting something respectable from the 1973 and 1998 translations or by giving voice to the faith in newly minted words.
This report in this week’s Tablet is not a hopeful sign.
Vatican archbishop rules out 1998 Mass translation
19 March 2015 10:19 by Christopher Lamb
A Vatican archbishop has ruled out the possibility of Catholics being able to use a different English translation of the Mass.
There have been growing calls for the 1998 version to be made available as critics are unhappy with the current missal text which is judged clunky, awkward, and a too literal translation of the Latin.
The 1998 text was approved by English-speaking bishops’ conferences after 17 years of work. It was, however, rejected by the Vatican and a revised translation, introduced in November 2011, was then implemented.
But Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship, said using a different English version of the missal could not happen.
The archbishop told The Tablet that the Roman liturgy “expresses the unity of the entire Church” and that while the 1998 version translated the 1975 Roman Missal, a new Latin Missal was introduced in 2002 thus making the 1998 edition outdated.
Archbishop Roche, who as Chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) oversaw the introduction of the current English Mass text, also said that “the principles governing the translation of liturgical texts of the Roman Rite had altered by 2001 which would have, in any case, required a new translation of the Roman Missal.”
He was referring to the document Liturgiam Authenticam whch called for translations to convey the “integral manner” of the original Latin “even while being verbally or syntactically different from it.”
This week, a former chairman of ICEL said many Catholics are dissatisfied with the current Mass text and should be allowed to use the 1998 version.
The Bishop Emeritus of Galloway, Maurice Taylor, who was in charge of ICEL from 1997-2002 said: “Many people are dissatisfied and unhappy with the present translation which we have to use. Our bishops have an opportunity to remedy the situation by asking the Holy See to grant its recognitio of the 1998 translation, a text that was approved by all the English speaking bishops’ conferences which are full members of ICEL.”
He added: “A precedent for having a choice of approved translations of the Missal already exists. Those who prefer to continue with the  Missal, on grounds of either taste or expense, would do so; others would opt for the 1998 translation.”
In The Tablet earlier this month Jesuit theologian Fr Gerald O’Collins wrote an open letter to English-speaking bishops, urging them to press for adoption of the 1998 text.
I wrote this NINE YEARS ago — bishops like this have dug in, too vain ever to admit that their pet project is a scandal to the faith.*
June 22, 2006
To the Chairman of ICEL
AN OPEN LETTER TO BISHOP ROCHE, CHAIRMAN OF ICEL
Dear Bishop Arthur Roche,
I should like to comment on your address of June 15, 2006, to the American Bishops.
THE GRAVITY OF THE PROBLEM
I have spoken to countless Irish Catholics who have given up on the liturgy because of its flatness and dullness and its lack of theological perspicuity. Some have found spiritual refreshment in the Anglican Church. Others send their kids to church, knowing the kids will get ‘zilch’ there, but hoping it will be good discipline.
Soulless and sloppy liturgy has done more to undermine faith in recent decades than the combined labors of Voltaire, Nietzsche and all their cohorts.
Bad preaching, lack of scriptural culture, failure to encourage lay participation, including in the realm of music and art, routinization, and above all soulless language are undermining the vitality of Christian communities, especially in the Roman Catholic world.
You say you thought that translating the liturgy would be ‘a reasonably straight-forward task.’ This suggests that you are not fully aware of the grievous damage done to the church by the flat, sloppy liturgical translations of the last 35 years.
It suggests that you do not understand the effort and inspiration needed to compose beautiful prose, prose that will endure the wear and tear of decades of daily use, prose that will serve as a vehicle for contemplation. ‘We must labour to be beautiful,’ said Yeats. Have any of the authors of the new ICEL translation gazed in admiration and envy at a page of perfect prose?
You may say that this is an esoteric concern and that the faithful are contented with functional prose as they are happy with mediocre music. The result of such an attitude is the sapping of the faith itself.
I suspect that a lot of magical thinking is going on in Vatican circles. They thought that hurtling pellets of Scripture at the faithful would create a scriptural culture in Catholicism, and must be good for the faithful in any case. Now they think that literal translation from the Latin will magically render the English liturgy dignified and beautiful.
This magical thinking is shown in the idea that the authorship of liturgical texts is best accomplished by Bishops, acting in a spirit of prayer and trust (in the words of Liturgiam Authenticam). Bishops are not necessarily skilled writers, nor are they often scholars. Can you tell us who actually composed the new translations? Did they read them aloud before a discerning audience so that any awkward, false or hollow part could be detected? Did the Bishops involved think of drawing on the work of qualified poets and writers, in accord with Vatican II’s teaching that ‘the art of our times must be given free scope in the Church.’
‘In using a translation that is more faithful to Sacred Scripture we are teaching ourselves and our people to speak bible! Lex orandi, lex credendi.’ You cannot speak bible without years of practice. This is like someone strewing their speech with mispronounced and out-of-context French phrases, a la George Bush, and then having the illusion that he is speaking French and helping others to do so.
I suggest that we need the humility to consult the Anglican and Protestant churches whose biblical culture and sensitivity infinitely outstrips our own, as to how to use Scripture in such manner as to enrich, deepen and clarify the liturgical action.
AN UNTRIED THEORY OF TRANSLATION
You say that the English translation must have literal accuracy because it is to be used by many translators who do not know Latin well enough to translate directly from the Latin. Now, what is so important about translating Latin texts, many of them of recent vintage in any case? If someone needs an English crib to translate a Latin text he or she should not be translating it at all. If knowledge of Latin is as scanty as your anecdotes suggest then the retention of the Latin as the Ur-text of the liturgy becomes problematic.
‘Faithfulness in translation’ is a difficult idea. The Italian adage, traduttore traditore, works both ways. An excessively literal translation can be unfaithful as much as a loose one. That is why someone who does not know Latin well cannot translate faithfully from the Latin, even if he has an English crib.
‘Its stipulations differ markedly from those of the earlier document known as Comme le prévoit. That was issued in 1969 by the Consilium with the responsibility for putting into effect the Council’s Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium.’ The basic norms of translation have been altered, leading to resignation of the old ICEL in 2002. Frankly, many things differ markedly between what the Vatican today does and says and what the Vatican of the 1960s did and said. Some leading church historians have claimed that this is because a spirit of Vaticanism has replaced, or betrayed, Vatican II.
Liturgiam Authenticam was a quite controverted document. Is it wise to give it such overriding authority in taking a step whose consequences will last for decades? There is even a disturbing of strong-arm tactics in the way the new translations have been imposed on the US Bishops.
You point to the phrase ‘from the rising to the setting of the sun’ and say ‘we have produced a richer and more evocative version, bringing to the mind of the worshipper the beauties of the sunrise and sunset and the closeness of these texts to Sacred Scripture.’ But a poetic prophetical text is not necessarily what one needs for everyday recitation. I find ‘from the rising to the setting of the sun’ an over-heavy adornment of the mass-text for daily use.
Merely to repeat in 2006 a semitism such as ‘fruit of the vine,’ already used in the Offertory in any case, is not to convey the deliciousness of wine, as you claim. In any case the deliciousness of wine has no bearing on the function of the words in the context of the consecration. To speak of ‘powerful salvific resonance because of the symbolic value accorded to the vine plant and the vineyard in scripture, as recalled by Jesus’ elaboration in John 15 of the image of Himself as the true vine’ is a red-herring. And if one wishes to remind the faithful of John 15 (which is distracting in any case in the context of the words of consecration), this is not the way to do it. Such vague, sloppy and promiscuous allusion cheapens the biblical text.
An amazing rigmarole about biblical references to dew cannot justify the contested phrase ‘make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit,’ which introduces distracting associations at one of the most solemn moments in the Church’s worship. (The US Bishops have wisely asked for ‘dew’ to be replaced with ‘outpouring’ as in the Italian ‘effusione’; but will Rome accept this commonsense proposal?)
‘But surely, dew still exists. I noticed an advert on the street yesterday for a drink called Mountain Dew!’ This kind of fatuous remark could sound as if you were mocking the people of God.
‘If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an Advocate as well.’ But no one is objecting to dew. The objection is to speaking of the epiclesis in terms of dew. If one speaks of the dew of the Spirit one speaks of it as refreshing the heart, a quite different context. You might say, to be obtuse, that ‘in the beginning, the dew of the Spirit was upon the waters’ would be an acceptable paraphrase of Gen 1.1-2 by your reasoning.
One ICEL statement suggested that if people did not like ‘dew’ they could say ‘dewfall’ instead: ‘Conferences that do not wish to adopt “dew” may wish to consider “dewfall” as an alternative.’ Forgive me if I find this somewhat reminiscent of the famous statement attributed to Marie Antoinette: ‘Let them eat cake!’
This kind of pseudo-poetic reasoning is that of an amateur who has just signed on for Poetry 101.
The same remarks apply to the ungainly expression ‘serene and kindly gaze.’ ICEL noted of ‘gaze’ that ‘some have expressed doubts about the use of this word’ but that after its ‘frequent’ presence in the English translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Lenten message earlier this year, the word ‘seems… to have enhanced its status within Christian vocabulary.’ What kind of sycophantism is this? If a pope uses a word it then becomes desirable for liturgical use? And again I note the atomistic focus on single words rather than on context and overall intelligibility.
PLEONASM AND FLATNESS
Soulless flatness has been the hallmark of ICEL translations. I see signs that the new translations will have the same quality.
You find exemplary the prayer, ‘Stir up your power, O Lord, and come to our aid with mighty strength…’ But ‘mighty strength’ is a pleonasm, a stylistic fault. No poet would be found dead using it. Why not say ‘with mighty might’ or ‘with strongest strength’ while one is at it? The fact that ICEL presents this weak language as exemplary again undermines confidence in their qualifications for their task.
Another text you single out has the phrase ‘grant us the help of your compassion…’ Again this is pleonastic and odd. (‘Sir, could you kindly grant me the help of your compassion?’), as are ‘graciously grant’ and ‘sustained by the help of your mercy,’ etc.
What is needed is a real text, a text with unity, rhythm, persuasive impact, not a string of broken flat sentences such as the current Eucharistic Prayers offer. There is no sign that ICEL thinks in terms of such rich unified rhythmical eloquent texts (even the Roman Canon lost much of its luster in the dull translation). Rather we have a fuddy-duddy fussing about fetishized Latin phrases.
If what we have seen, or been allowed to see, of the Eucharistic Prayers is so full of dubious English, what must be the case with the Collects, Secrets, Prefaces and Post-Communions? Who ever looks at these pieces of linguistic and spiritual sawdust, so expensively printed in our Missals? Who ever asks for feedback about their value? Why not allow a period of testing, so that the people of God can give their response to these texts?
You will reply, perhaps, that such openness to correction would militate against the ideal of having the whole English-speaking world pray in one voice, following a Roman basis. This, you claim, will be a marvelous demonstration of Catholic unity. I see rather a display of uniformity without conviction, and I predict that it will cause nothing but further malaise and embarrassment throughout our paralyzed, silenced Church.
Yours, in sincere concern,
Joseph S. O’Leary
Thanks, Joe@5, for making this marvellous letter available. This is the level of engagement on which this ACP forum should be engaging the Irish hierarchy and its individual members on many fronts, particularly between now and October 2015.
I fondly hope that it was your sincere concern over his admiration for linguistic and spiritual sawdust that prevented +Arthur’s literal translation from Leeds back to us in Westminster in 2009. But as second to Cardinal Sarah of Conakry, can he do more damage from Rome?