“The time is right to review Mass translations”
Archbishop Wilton Gregory
The archbishop who heads the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee says that controversial changes to liturgical translations that have been fully implemented in Catholic parishes since 2011 may need to be revisited to fix “problematic” sections that fail to “bring the entire church together.”
In an April 26 interview with America, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said that when U.S. bishops voted to adopt the final translations in 2009, it was with the understanding that after a period of time, they would consider if the texts were working well.
“Let’s have a review,” he said, adding that while he does not think U.S. bishops “have the stomach to start from ground zero,” he thinks a consultation with priests and laity “would be helpful.”
Last fall, Pope Francis gave hope to Catholics who wish to reconsider the most recent translations when he released a document called “Magnum Principium,”in which he shifted control over liturgical translations back to national bishops conferences, with the Vatican maintaining veto power.
Several changes to the English-language Mass—which included responding to the priest’s “Peace be with you” with “and with your spirit” rather than “and also with you”—were described by bishops as being more faithful to the Roman Missal, the Latin text that serves as the blueprint for the Roman Catholic Mass. But critics described the translations as clunky and overly formal.
Below is a transcript of the interview with Archbishop Gregory, which has been edited for clarity.
MJO: You have been interested in liturgical translations, and the pope came out with this document saying maybe we can take another look at changing these texts.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory: What the document basically said was that going forward, episcopal conferences have much greater leeway. The document didn’t say, “You’ve got to go back and start from ground zero.” But going forward, there’s a new capacity on the part of the conferences of bishops to determine language and idiom, etc. In some respects, he’s restored the authority over liturgical translations to episcopal conferences and said, “Rome has a role, a very important role. But the prior role, and the first role on the local level should be the bishops who are serving in a given country and a given language group.”
MJO: Do you think we’ll see any—I know you said going forward—but do you think we’ll see any looking back at the current translation?
WG: When the bishops of the United States approved the most recent English translation, one of the recommendations, and I think one of the reasons that it won approbation, was something that Cardinal George said. [Editor’s note: Cardinal Francis George, the now-deceased former archbishop of Chicago, was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when the full body voted to adopt to adopt the new translation of the Roman Missal in 2009.] He said, “Well, let’s live with it for awhile and then review it after we’ve had it in possession to see what things work, what things don’t work, what modifications can be made.” And I think that’s an appropriate way to look at it.
Let’s have a review. I don’t believe that the American bishops have the stomach to start from ground zero. But I do believe that given the right structures, which would include the pastors, the guys on the firing line, a review of how these texts are being received, what’s problematic, what’s working, what’s better, what’s not better, would be helpful.
MJO: Do you think there are some issues with the translation, some “problematic” things that could be reviewed?
WG: Well, I do. Some of the [presider’s] prayers are difficult to proclaim because they are very long. The original Latin is dense and it has multiple layers of meanings and allusions, and to try to unpack the Latin into the English, sometimes creates these long, convoluted sentences. I like to use this example. There are certain things in a given language that don’t translate well in another. How do you translate Shakespeare into Japanese? Each language has its own poetic, prosaic structure, and it’s hard to just flip it and catch everything. How does Japanese haiku come into English? You have to respect the linguistic structure of each language.
We also have to look for a text that unifies. It’s not going to be perfect, but does this text bring the entire church together in a way that all of us can understand it and be moved by it?
Michael J. O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America.