I add my voice and prayer to Fr O’Collins SJ, call for the 1998 English Missal translation, which was approved by more than two-thirds of the United States bishops, to replace the present failed text of the New Roman Missal.
In his address to the bishops of Brazil in 2013, Pope Francis remarked: “At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and impart an intellectualism foreign to our people.”
That statement is clearly verified on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception when the New Missal prayer over the Offertory reads: “On account of your prevenient grace”. “Prevenient grace” is a technical theological term that neither priest nor people understand.
In the New Missal we have these words: consubstantial, incarnate, oblation, conciliation, ineffable, unfeigned, and so on. And yet the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which came out of the Second Vatican Council, declared: “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity, they should be short, clear – and they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension and normally should not require much explanation” (paragraph 34). These words of an Ecumenical Council trump any document of a curial congregation on translation.
The present New Missal does not communicate in the living language of the worshipping assembly; it fails as a translation. It fails to lead to full conscious and active participation. There have been three national surveys of clergy regarding their views of the New Missal translation. All three surveys confirmed that the celebrants are dissatisfied with the text that is ungrammatical, unintelligible and unproclaimable.
Our translated text is intended for prayer, worship, and lifting up the heart and mind to God. If a translation – no matter how exact – does not communicate in the living language of the liturgical assembly, it fails as a translation. The believer must be able to make the prayer his or her own. St Jerome, the great doctor of the Sacred Scriptures, who spent 20 years translating the Bible into Latin, was not a literalist. He said: “If I translate word by word, it sounds absurd.”
When Pope Francis celebrates Eucharist, he prays at the words of institution that “the Blood of the new and eternal covenant – will be poured out for you and for all.” So do all the bishops and priests of Italy; so do all the bishops and priests in Germany. And yet in the English-speaking world, we pray “for many”. Lay people rightly ask, why the difference? If the liturgy is to evangelise God’s people, there ought to be consensus on such a key doctrinal issue.
I served for six years as the chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, and can attest that the 1998 Missal translation was discussed, debated and approved by more than two-thirds of bishops. That was collegiality in action. But our approved text languished in Rome without comment until the Congregation of Divine Worship issued its own new rules for translation in the 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam.
It is time for church leadership to heed the words of St Jerome. Thank you Fr O’Collins for focusing on this pastoral and theological issue that cries out for attention.
Bishop Donald W. Trautman is the Bishop Emeritus of Erie, Pennsylvania, and the former chairman of the US bishops’ conference’s Committee on the Liturgy