A war of wordsAusten Ivereigh
- 17 January 2004
Translation of the new Missal into English from the Latin text is the fruit of a long and bitter struggle ? one that mirrors the battle over authority in the Church
Considering that 400 years ago it took 50 black-gowned Anglican divines just seven years to produce the greatest work in the English language, the King James Bible, Catholics may be forgiven for wondering why, in the age of email, a new English translation of their Missal ? a puny task by comparison ? has taken nearly three times as long, yet is still nowhere to be seen.
It is not easy to strike the right balance in the translation of sacred texts: how to produce language that sings in the ear and raises the mind and heart, yet which is neither archaic nor artificial; how to be faithful to the original yet still produce genuine English. Finding the balance is a slow and often tendentious process. But that is not why English-speaking Catholics are still waiting for their revised Missal. The real reason is that it has become ensnared in a struggle over authority between bishops and Rome, which is in turn a symptom of a deeper dispute over the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. The King James translators in comparison had it easy.
As The Tablet reported in October last year, the first phase, at least, of that struggle is now over. Convinced that the vernacular Missals of the 1970s were too sharp an interruption in the organic development of liturgy, in the late 1990s Rome caused a sharp interruption of its own when it wrested control of translations, leading to an ugly stand-off (see box). But now the new men at the head of ICEL, the mixed commission responsible for English translations, faithfully reflect the Vatican?s new priorities. Work on the new Missal is again under way; Catholics could be speaking the new words in as little as two years. But what will they sound like?
The depth of feeling against Rome?s takeover was on view at a series of conferences before Christmas to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium , the first ? and key ? document of the council. At one of them, held at the Benedictine College of Sant?Anselmo in Rome, Fr Ignacio Calabuig captured the mood of many liturgists. Departing from his text, the Catalan turned to Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), and in a trembling voice said (in Italian): ?I feel I must tell the Prefect that the devastating impression the Congregation seems to be spreading, that people of great culture in their own lands are not capable of translating liturgical texts into their own mother tongue, is causing great discontent and concern in the Church.? The entire audience of 600 people clapped for so long that Cardinal Arinze felt compelled to join in. In his 39 years in Rome, wrote the veteran Jesuit liturgist Fr Robert Taft in a Christmas letter: ?I never saw anything like it before.?
To understand the bitterness, it is necessary to flick back 40 years. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy expressed an ecclesiology based on the eucharistic idea of the Body of Christ, which developed into the doctrine of collegiality, recovering the early-Church vision that the bishops ? not the Curia ? governed the Church with and under the Pope. In calling for the Roman Rite to be translated into local languages, the Council fathers were seeking not just to make liturgy accessible and to encourage participation, but to make it recognisably that of the local culture. The 1969 document laying out the principles governing liturgical translations noted that ?the prayer of the Church is always a prayer of some actual assembly assembled here and now? in which ?each of its members should be able to express himself or herself?. The principle underlying translation was ?dynamic equivalence?, the search for a living vernacular equivalent of the Latin. The newly established local bishops? conferences, it was assumed, were best placed to supervise that search. Inculturated liturgy and collegiality went hand in hand.
Those twin values were reflected in the International Commission on English, ICEL (pronounced Eye-Sell ), the agency which was charged in 1963 with producing a single English translation of the Missal. ICEL served the bishops, not Rome, which came into the process only at the final, rubber-stamping stage.
The result ? in England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland and South Africa ? was the 1973 Missal. The process was rushed and the results far from perfect. Translations develop; unlike the King James divines, who had at least three previous translations of the Bible to work from, there was no precedent for an English Missal. Whatever its merits, it suffers from a certain Pelagianism ? emphasising human effort rather than God?s grace ? and fails to capture the rhetorical register of the Latin. As Fr Andrew Cameron-Watt told a December conference at Heythrop College, London, the early versions of the Missal were ?clipped, devoid of poetic art, dull, lifeless and occasionally unfortunate?. A revision was needed, and ICEL set about it, producing translations in the 1990s which Fr Cameron-Watt describes as ?enriching, poetic, developed, insightful, articulate? and ?more beautiful on the ear than the first, somewhat rushed, versions?. By the late 1990s, the revised English Missal was in place and adapted for local use by the bishops? conferences. Most submitted their texts to Rome in 1998, hoping for a formal recognitio .
It would not be granted. By that time Rome?s attempt to reverse both collegiality and inculturation ? to meet the Church?s ?crisis? by a clear statement of romanit? ? was well under way. To traditionalists, ICEL had become the symbol of the Church?s sell-out to fallen modernity, the target of wealthy American traditionalists which had the ear of Rome. They were delighted by the arrival at the head of the Vatican?s Congregation for Divine Worship of Cardinal Jorge Medina Est?vez, who with Joseph Ratzinger, now the cardinal who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had long held that the vernacular Masses were to blame for the drop in church attendance and vocations. In the late 1990s, Cardinal Medina set about dismantling both the process and the principles that had governed translations since the Council. The main casualty was the revised Missal, which was formally rejected in 2002. The fruit of 15 years of expensive work and elaborate consultation across the English-speaking world, it had been approved by at least 11 bishops? conferences. Why, if it were that faulty, many wondered, had it not been stopped earlier?
Cardinal Medina then imposed a new approach to translation, one that reversed the key tenets of the Council?s. Liturgiam Authenticam (?Authentic Liturgy?), the CDW?s 2001 Instruction, made clear that translations should now be ?as literal as possible?, rejected inclusive language, and required Vatican approval at every stage of translating and revising liturgical texts. Dr John Page, the mild-mannered and scholarly executive secretary of ICEL, was no longer welcome in the CDW?s offices; in 2002, realising his position was unsustainable, he stood down after 22 years. ICEL?s chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, also resigned. In a heartfelt statement, he deplored the ?pillorying? of ICEL.
Where Sancrosanctum Concilium called for rites to be distinguished by a ?noble simplicity? ? in language that is ?short, clear, and free from useless repetitions? ? in order to promote full, conscious and active participation, the new guidelines consciously promote artificial language, hoping that parishioners will rush up to the priest after Mass to ask him what it all means: ?A literal translation of terms which may initially sound odd in a vernacular language,? notes Liturgiam Authenticam , ?may for this very reason provoke inquisitiveness in the hearer and provide an occasion for catechesis.? ICEL was no longer to seek the advice of poets and other writers, only of patristics scholars. The language is to be distinctively Catholic, sacral, Roman; as the heart and mind are raised to God, they should be sure to stop off in St Peter?s.
Some criticise Liturgiam Authenticam for reflecting an artificial restorationism, an escape into designer Baroque faced with an increasingly multicultural world. Others see it as an expression of curial centralism, a conscious rejection of collegiality at a time when bishops? pleas to be given the responsibility with which they were entrusted at the Second Vatican Council are mounting. In synod after synod in Rome in the past decade, bishops have pleaded for greater latitude in determining how best to adapt liturgy to local languages, a concern felt particularly in the developing world.
It also reflects a new fear. Cardinal Arinze, in a recent book-length interview with Gerard O?Connell, is scathing of priests who ?arrange something on Saturday evening, and force it down the throats of the people on Sunday morning, and then turn around and call it ?inculturation?, using the people as ecclesiastical guinea pigs on which to test their latest productions?. It is a telling image of how the CDW these days sees itself ? saving congregations from the clutches of a vaudeville-loving clergy.
The post-takeover executive secretary of ICEL is Fr Bruce Harbert, a patristics scholar who told The Tablet after his appointment in 2002 that he wanted to see a translation that ?moves the reader towards the original rather than the original towards the reader?. He rightly believes that translating liturgy differs from translating the Bible: a liturgy has its own structure, and fidelity to it is one of the objectives of any good translation ? as the ICEL?s own (rejected) revisions also recognised. But what does ?fidelity to Latin? actually mean? Should the English sound like the Latin of the Roman Rite, when fewer and fewer remember the old Mass? Must it, to be orthodox, sound like a translation?
Fr Cameron-Watt believes it is a myth to suppose that the Latin of the Roman Rite has a fixed meaning, or is in some way an ideal. ?It is impossible to understand what the Latin text means unless we translate it into what we think it means,? he argued at the Heythrop conference in December. ?And let?s be honest: much of the Latin in the Roman Rite itself is inelegant, repetitive, hard to speak out loud.?
Experienced liturgists fear that the English of the new translation will end up sounding eccentric ? a Latinate hybrid that is arcane without being godly. Dr Page, ICEL?s former executive secretary, believes it is a risk inherent in downgrading the target language in favour of the original. The translator has to aim for a parity between the two, he believes. ?If you have to adhere to the structures of Latin too closely, you obviously end up doing damage to the beauty of English, which is a major part of God?s creation, and should be valued in and of itself,? he told me.
The first draft translation of ICEL?s new Missal is being sent out to bishops? conferences this month. From a copy obtained by The Tablet , it is clear that the change in approach is startling. The Confiteor , for example, begins: ?I confess to Almighty God/and to you, my brothers and sisters/that I have sinned exceedingly.? At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant says: ?The Lord be with you? to which the congregation replies: ?And with your spirit.? He says: ?Let our hearts be lifted high.? They reply: ?We hold them before the Lord.? He says: ?Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.? They reply: ?It is right and just.? Preparing the altar, the priest says: ?By the mystery of this water and wine / may we be made partakers in his divinity / who deigned to share in our humanity.? At the consecration he says: ?Who on the day before he was to suffer / took bread into his holy and venerable hands.? The Creed, perhaps surprisingly, says ?For us and for our salvation?, but in Eucharistic Prayer IV gender-inclusive language is jettisoned: ?You formed man in your own image / and entrusted the whole world to his care?.
We asked a senior British liturgy expert who has long argued for greater fidelity to the original to look over the translation. His verdict: it is closer to the Latin of the Roman Rite, and in this respect a marked improvement on the Missal in use. But it is otherwise ?less successful than the 1973 versions in finding a consistent modern English register?. Many of the translations are ?mannered? and ?pointlessly archaic?, he says, while others are ?unnecessary and rather aggressive departures from venerable renderings which long predate the 1973 ICEL versions?. He also believes it is ?ecumenically retrogressive? to abandon versions of the Gloria and the Creed agreed for common use with other Churches.
The translation is still in draft stage, and subject to revisions by the bishops? conferences. Bishop Arthur Roche, ICEL?s new chairman, believes the new guidelines mean that it is not just the Vatican but the bishops who are now ?more involved in the process? ? something which everyone agrees was lacking in the old ICEL. But now that the process must go via the CDW, there are a host of unresolved questions about that process, according to Fr Allen Morris, who heads the liturgy office of the English and Welsh bishops. ?If one bishops? conference makes an improvement, should the others do the same?? he wonders. An already unwieldy process has become, he says, ?a bureaucratic nightmare?.
Nor is it clear how how the bishops are to exercise their oversight now that the orchestra is being conducted from Rome. There are questions about the role of Vox Clara, an ad hoc committee of archbishops ? chaired by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney ? set up to advise the CDW on translations, whose role has never been clearly defined. Does it just advise, or will it have the final say? Whichever it is, the fact that Rome is defining the objective of translations means ?bishops can no longer evaluate rites in a way that keeps the people entrusted to their care uppermost,? says Fr Geoffrey Steel, a former ICEL translator and parish priest in Carlisle. ?Instead their concern is: ?Will Rome buy this???
Fr Morris believes that whatever results, ?after 30 years of a very simple form of English, close to ordinary conversation, it is going to be a shock to go to something with a heightened form of language.? That shock is not, in itself, a final verdict: even if the reaction of clergy and congregations is initially negative, the new Missal may eventually win hearts and minds and raise them to God. After all, as Adam Nicolson notes in his recent history of the making of the King James Bible, the Authorised Version was, at first, a flop.
But it is also conceivable that the new Missal will prove a disaster ? stuffed with archaisms and artificiality, reeking of a restorationist putsch , reflecting a fundamentalist response to modernity, and so suffer a longer-lasting rejection. In that case, history may record that at the precise moment when liturgical translation was finding its own, better, balance between inculturation and fidelity, a fearful Rome intervened aggressively, alienating experienced liturgists just when they were most needed. As a method of translating sacred texts, the King James divines would doubtless agree, it does not look like a recipe for success.
How the Vatican seized control
1963: Vatican Council?s first document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, calls for the Mass to be translated into local languages. The Commission on English in the Liturgy, ICEL, based in Washington DC, is charged with producing a single English translation of the Roman Rite. It submits translations to its 11 member bishops conferences, which amend them according to local requirements. Each conference then submits its Missal to the Vatican?s Congregation for the Divine Worship (CDW) and the Discipline of the Sacraments for a recognitio.
1969: Comme le Pr?voit (CLP) urges that preference be given to cultural influence if there is a conflict between fidelity to Latin and the target langauge.
1970s: New English Missals agreed by bishops? conferences, adapted and published after approval by Rome.
1972: Frs Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Medina Est?vez complain to Pope Paul VI that vernacular translations are not faithful to Latin.
1980s: ICEL revises the Missal.
1997, March: Archbishop (later Cardinal) Jorge Medina Est?vez becomes prefect of the CDW, which rejects ICEL?s translation, of the draft ordination rite. Fidelity to Latin is now ?prime criterion? of translations.
1997, April: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says in an autobiographical book that Pope Paul VI?s drastic reforms of Mass caused ?extremely serious damage? to the Church.
1998: Revision of new English-language Missal, drawn up by ICEL and approved by the bishops? conferences, is complete after 15 years.
2000, January: CDW accuses ICEL of procedural irregularities and faulty translations. Demands veto over staff and redrafting of statutes within six months. ICEL resists.
2000, April: CDW says ICEL?s translation of the psalter is ?doctrinally flawed? and should be withdrawn. ICEL no longer welcome in the CDW.
2000, May: Bishops? relations with CDW turn sour, after emergency meeting where they defend ICEL and their own right in canon law to ?prepare and approve translation of texts?.
2001, April: New General Instruction issued containing rubrics.
2001, May: Without consulting bishops?conferences, CDW issues new guidelines demanding translations from the Latin be ?as literal as possible?. Inclusive language rejected. Vatican approval now sought at every stage of translating and revising liturgical texts.
2001, November: Rome issues new standard Latin edition of the Missale Romanum. The third such editio typica since the Council must now be the base text used in all translations.
2002, March: English-language Missals formally rejected by CDW.
2002, April: Vatican establishes a 12-member oversight committee of English-speaking archbishops from nine countries chaired by Archbishop (later Cardinal) George Pell of Sydney, a longstanding critic of ICEL. Vox Clara (?Clear Voice?) charged with ensuring ICEL translations meet the new requirements of Liturgiam Authenticam.
2002, August: The American executive secretary of ICEL, Dr John Page, stands down after 22 years, along with its Scottish chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway. They are replaced by two Englishmen: the new executive secretary is Fr Bruce Harbert, the new chairman Arthur Roche, coadjutor Bishop of Leeds.
2002, October: Cardinal Francis Arinze takes over as CDW prefect.
2003, October: Unprecedented meeting of all the presidents of the English-speaking bishops? conferences with Cardinal Arinze, Fr Harbert and Bishop Roche. Participants afterwards express their relief that dialogue has replaced stand-off and that translation can now proceed.
2003 November: , Conferences held on anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Vox Clara says work on the English translation is off to an ?excellent start? and that new translations are in an English style which conforms to guidelines.
2004, January: New draft revision of the Missal sent to English-speaking bishops? conferences.