The ongoing missal problem – light at the end of the tunnel?

We carry two interesting articles about the proposed  review of ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’, the Vatican’s official guide for liturgical translations.

The first, an article in NZ Catholic (the only national Catholic newspaper in New Zealand, it is published fortnightly by the Catholic Bishop of Auckland), reports “The New Zealand bishops are delighted with the news that Pope Francis is arranging for a review of the 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam.”

Rita Ferrone writes in www.commonwealmagazine.org and asks “Why haven’t the American bishops or the other English-speaking conferences joined the New Zealanders in welcoming the review? Have they so bought into Liturgiam authenticam that they now oppose Pope Francis’s plan to review and revise it?”

We could well ask what do our Irish bishops think about this issue?


New Zealand Bishops welcome review of ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’,


New Zealand’s Catholic bishops are pleased that a review is looming for the document that spells out the way liturgical translations from Latin to vernacular languages are done.

Recently, it was reported that Pope Francis has formed a commission to review Liturgiam Authenticam, a document issued by the Vatican in 2001. The commission will reportedly be chaired by Archbishop Arthur Roche from England.

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Bishop Patrick Dunn said the New Zealand bishops welcome the move.

“The New Zealand bishops are delighted with the news that Pope Francis is arranging for a review of the 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam, and we will be very happy to support Archbishop Arthur Roche in this work,” Bishop Dunn said.

“The New Zealand bishops agree that translations for liturgical texts should be 100 per cent accurate, but our concern has been that Liturgiam Authenticam has produced texts that impose Latin syntax on contemporary English,” he said.

“Latin favours long subordinated clauses, but contemporary English prefers to say the same things but with short and clear sentences.”

Bishop Dunn referred to a principle for translation set out by Pope Benedict XVI, pertaining to sacred Scripture.

“In 2010, Pope Benedict wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (#115) that ‘a translation, of course, is always more than a simple transcription of the original texts. The passage from one language to another necessarily involves a change of cultural context:

concepts are not identical and symbols have a different meaning,  for they come up against other traditions of thought and other ways of life’.”

Bishop Dunn continued: “We believe that this principle for translation, which Pope Benedict endorses for sacred Scripture, should apply also to translations for liturgical use.”

“We believe that some modification to the principles of liturgical translation as imposed by Liturgiam Authenticam could produce liturgical translations that could speak more easily to the hearts of English-speaking congregations and produce liturgical texts that are truly beautiful, as we believe the liturgy should be.”

Speaking to Auckland diocese priests last August, Australian theologian Fr Gerald O’Collins, SJ, called on New Zealand’s Catholic bishops to, among other things, appeal to Pope Francis to suspend Liturgiam Authenticam, which Fr O’Collins described as “a desperately bad piece of guidance for translations”.

Writing on the Australian Jesuit website Eureka Street this year, Fr O’Collins reiterated his call, recommending not so much the revisiting of Liturgiam Authenticam, but rather its repeal.

“The road will then be open to revisit the clumsy, difficult 2010 Missal and replace it,” the theologian wrote.

He suggested that this be replaced by a 1998 ICEL translation that was rejected by the Vatican despite having been approved “by all the conferences of English speaking bishops”.




Revisiting ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’: An Update

Higher Expectations, but More Questions

By Rita Ferrone

In January, I wrote in Commonweal that Pope Francis has authorized a review and revision of the document that gives the Church its guidelines for liturgical translations: Liturgiam authenticam. Since then, some additional facts have come to light that should raise our expectations further.

First, a list of names of the people appointed to this commission was leaked on March 8 by a blogger in Spain. I wrote about this list of people and the challenge of their task here and here. The list has been confirmed by a reliable source, although it has still not been announced publically by the Vatican.

Second, the bishops of New Zealand have gone on record applauding the decision of Pope Francis to review Liturgiam authenticam and offering their full support:

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Bishop Patrick Dunn said the New Zealand bishops welcome the move.

“The New Zealand bishops are delighted with the news that Pope Francis is arranging for a review of the 2001 document Liturgiam authenticam, and we will be very happy to support Archbishop Arthur Roche in this work,” Bishop Dunn said.

“The New Zealand bishops agree that translations for liturgical texts should be 100 percent accurate, but our concern has been that Liturgiam authenticam has produced texts that impose Latin syntax on contemporary English,” he said.

A couple of questions are inevitable in light of these developments. First, why is the commission (or committee, or task force, or whatever) being kept under wraps? It should be announced so that people are not kept wondering whether it really exists and who is actually appointed to it.

Two possible reasons occur to me. One is purely practical: There might be another appointment in the offing. For instance, there is no one from Latin America on the list. Are they waiting for another invitation to be accepted? The second reason I think of is less laudable, but, sadly, not impossible. A number of translation efforts are currently underway around the world. Most, I daresay all, of the translations that have been produced according to Liturgiam authenticam have been produced under pressure, and amid quiet misgivings if not flaming controversy. If it becomes clear that the rules of translation are going to change, the commonsense solution is to stop the presses. Isn’t it?

Yet that outcome is one that some people will vigorously oppose. Suppose you are all in favor of the uniformity and closeness to Latin that Liturgiam authenticam demands—as Cardinal Robert Sarah has said he is. Surely you would want to go full-steam ahead and approve as many texts as possible that cleave to these standards, before the ax falls on Liturgiam authenticam. Then standards will change, but too bad: you have your highly literal Missal translation or whatever, and it will be too expensive to change it. Being “tight-lipped” could very well be an attempt to thwart the purpose of the review for a key period, until those pending texts are locked in. Continual uncertainty about whether this committee exists assists in this strategy.

This brings us to the English-speaking world. Why haven’t the American bishops or the other English-speaking conferences joined the New Zealanders in welcoming the review? Have they so bought into Liturgiam authenticam that they now oppose Pope Francis’s plan to review and revise it? Or are they too being kept waiting for the memo? Quite a number of additional translations into English are pending approval or in preparation. They are all being made according to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam–norms that have resulted in a divisive and unsatisfactory translation of the Missal. The commonsense strategy for the bishops now is to stop the presses until the new guidelines come out. If they don’t do this, it’s fair to wonder why.







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  1. Sean O'Donnell says:

    I am a bit worried that I appear to be the only one commenting on this. Is it because most are now happy with the current translations? Well I’m not! I still find it distracting and getting in the way of my prayerful mood at Mass. I have always loved the use of language in the liturgy and how it can help me to feel joy and spiritual fulfilment, but since the new translation there has always been a feeling that what I hear misses the mark. All power to the New Zealand Bishops’ elbows – pity there appears to be silence from the rest of the English speaking communities.

  2. John Collins says:

    Sean you are not alone !! I just dont use the new version..we had a vote in the parish and most wanted the 1998 version so we use that .. You are right though silence is deafening from our bishops …

  3. If anyone bothered to look, when Queen Elizabeth I decided to translate the Latin liturgy into English back in the sixteenth century, she commissioned the finest literary agents at the time. She wanted a prayer book that could speak to the people. Why would the RCC not do the same thing?

  4. Mary Burke says:

    This is the chance for the Irish Catholic bishops to reclaim some of the integrity they lost when they allowed a Vatican department to trump the role of bishops’ conferences in the translation process. In so doing they reversed roles outlined at Vatican II between these constituencies. It’s the bishops who are successors of apostles.

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