LET US PRAY:
PASTORAL RAMIFICATIONS OF LITURGICAL TEXTS
A priest recently asked me, “How will the word Oremus be translated in the new missal?” Referring to the collect, he said, “It doesn’t make any sense to say, ‘Let us pray’ at that point of the mass. That implies we haven’t prayed yet, but we have.” He explained, “We should say, ‘Let us continue to pray.’” I answered it is true that everyone has addressed God already at least in the act of penitence and the Glory to God. But the priest and people have also been addressing each other in texts like the greeting and introductions. The purpose of the Oremus is to focus our attention on what we are about to do; it need not refer back to a part of what we have just done. “Furthermore,” I pointed out, “we have new rules for translations. If it isn’t in the Latin, it isn’t likely to appear in the English. If you’re worried about the Oremus, you’d better brace yourself, because there’s only one way to translate that word. It cannot mean, ‘Let us continue to pray.’ It only means, ‘Let us pray.’”
This vignette embodies for me a number of the pastoral ramifications of liturgical texts. More than grammar, vocabulary and context, these issues include the dichotomy between authorized translation and local custom, and the application of historical texts to modern needs. Above all, it deals with what we do when we worship. Participants infuse spoken words with real meaning. When the priest says, “Let us pray,” his words should genuinely prompt prayer.
Liturgical translations are not just academic exercises entrusted to specialists in history and linguistics. In the end, the words have to click with the ordinary people of God in our congregations.
Usually they do. Mass in the vernacular has formed Catholics anew as a praying people attentive to the word of God and the body of Christ. The translators who first performed this work 40 years ago deserve our admiration and gratitude.
We stand now on the threshold of a new era of liturgical translations. In Latin the third edition of the Missale Romanum has changed very little from the second edition. But the rules of translation have changed, and they will make the vernacular of the missal sound like a different book from the sacramentary that preceded it.
The pastoral ramifications of liturgical texts are many and localized. They are more anecdotal than scientific. A pastor who gives this talk is both imbued and restricted by his own experience; another pastor might give a very different talk. I wish to acknowledge these limitations up front; at the same time, I am anxious to share these thoughts with you from my perspective.
My talk is divided into two parts. The first concerns making translations; the second concerns putting them into practice. Consequently, I shall wear two different hats. I’ll speak first as a translator and then as a pastor.
Part One: The Translation of Liturgical Texts
Liturgiam authenticam (LA) offers a wide range of guidelines for translations. I would like to comment on these under three headings: syntax, vocabulary and proclamation.
Some syntactical concerns are concision, exactness, word order and connectives.
LA opens its comments on syntax with this statement: “That notable feature of the Roman Rite, namely its straightforward, concise and compact manner of expression, is to be maintained insofar as possible in the translation” (57). Now, this is a good description of the collect, for example, but very few people would call Eucharistic Prayer I “straightforward, concise and compact.” The Latin language has a muscular ability to say a lot in a few words. But pastorally, the words need to be plain. The translator must write a prayer with the virtue of concision, without the vice of density. Prayer should be evocative, not impenetrable.
The desire for concision, though, can be at odds with another of LA’s principles: “[T]he original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet” (20). The complete rendering of the Latin prayer into English has tremendous pastoral advantage. These prayers, so carefully nuanced for worshipers of old, can still speak to new generations. But it may take more words.
· Word order
LA continues, “The connection between various expressions, manifested by subordinate and relative clauses, the ordering of words, and various forms of parallelism, is to be maintained as completely as possible in a manner appropriate to the vernacular language” (57a). In many places LA uses the expressions “insofar as possible” and “as completely as possible” because you cannot do everything in the vernacular that you can in Latin. Latin word order, for example, has a poetic flexibility. But English employs different rules.
As an example of these first syntactical matters, take the Post communionem prayer for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Tantis, Domine, repleti muneribus,
praesta, quaesumus, ut et salutaria dona capiamus
et a tua numquam laude cessemus.
The translator faces several challenges. Tantis repleti muneribus can be rendered, “Having been filled with such great gifts.” So much for concision. It takes 7 words in English to do those 3 words in Latin. If you try inserting the word “Lord” in there in imitation of the Latin word order, the meaning is harder to grasp. And if you start that way, grammatically, the next word has to be “we”, to make clear who has been filled. But the command form, “grant”, also gets in the way. In English, you have to abandon the Latin word order to come up with something like this: “Grant, Lord, we pray, that, having been filled with such great gifts, we might receive salvific gifts and never cease from your praise.” But then you face other problems, like distinguishing between munera and dona, and ending up with an English sentence that does not naturally flow.
Under the old rules for translation, this text appears in the sacramentary:
may we never fail to praise you
for the fullness of life and salvation
you give us in this eucharist.
Some of the Latin content is missing, but the English translation retained the concision of the Latin in a text that spoke plainly. Pastorally, it is an effective prayer. Today, though, a translation needs concision, exactness and plainness of expression. These are noble ideals, but they struggle to coexist. The purpose of this text is to lead people in prayer; if some ideal has to yield, this pastoral goal is to be kept in mind.
Other syntactical issues are relative pronouns and words expressing causality. The present English translations eliminated some of these connectives in favor of independent clauses. LA correctly presumes that the connectives add meaning.
Pastorally, though, they also add extra demands on the hearer. The first nuptial blessing is an ideal example of how relative clauses look elegant on paper, but prove troublesome when spoken. The blessing begins with three paragraphs, each addressing God with a relative clause – the God who made everything out of nothing, the God who consecrated marriage, and the God through whom woman is joined to man. I’m abbreviating. The entire first sentence of this blessing takes up 22 lines in Latin. Pastorally, the relative clauses should become independent.
The importance of words of causality can be seen in the form for anointing the sick. In Latin, the text reads,
Per istam sanctam Unctionem
et suam piisimam misericordiam,
adiuvet te Dominus gratia Spiritus Sancti, [R. Amen.]
a peccatis liberatum te salvet
atque propitius allevet. [R. Amen.]
In English, this is two sentences:
Through this holy anointing
may the Lord in his love and mercy
help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. [Amen.]
May the Lord who frees you from sin
save you and raise you up. [Amen.]
The causal relationship of the two phrases is lost in English. The translator has to find a way to keep the meaning clear without losing the concentration of a person who is already sick.
These are a few syntactical matters. Let me now consider some questions of vocabulary.
· Liturgical language and ordinary speech
When it comes to the choice of words, LA says the translation should be “understandable in the cultural context for which it is intended,” but liturgical language “differs somewhat from ordinary speech” (47). These are good pastoral principles, but the question is how far is “somewhat” from ordinary speech? After all, these translations are meant to be in the vernacular. But LA says the vocabulary should “distinguish the individual liturgical ministers, vessels, furnishings, and vesture from similar persons or things pertaining to everyday life and usage” (50c). Pastorally, the translator needs to honor the sacred with recognizable words.
LA appeals for the coordination of vocabulary among various disciplines in the Church. “In translating words of greater theological significance, an appropriate degree of coordination should be sought between the liturgical text and the authoritative vernacular translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (50a). Further coordination would also be pastorally welcome. For example, the rites of initiation use the word “godparent” for the person described in the code of canon law as a “sponsor”, making it difficult to distinguish the two roles in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (10).
· The wealth and poverty of options
In some cases, the vernacular seems wealthy with options; in other cases it seems too poor. LA advises the avoidance of “expressions characteristic of commercial publicity, political or ideological programs, passing fashions, and those which are subject to regional variations or ambiguities in meaning” (32). But it also advocates the coining of new words where the language is impoverished (21, 53).
An example of how narrow the English vocabulary can be is in the third preface for the rite of marriage, where this excerpt is found:
Qui hominem pietatis tuae dono creatum
ad tantam voluisti dignitatem extolli,
ut in viri mulierisque consortio
veram relinqueres tui amoris imaginem
quem enim ex caritate creasti
eum ad caritatis legem vocare non desinis
ut aeternae tuae caritatis participem esse concedas.
Cuius connubii sancti mysterium
dum tuae dilectionis signum exsistit,
amorem sacrat humanum:
per Christum Dominum nostrum.
The Latin employs a wide range of synonymous words. The current English translation renders most of them the same way: love. Linguistically the translator searches for a wide range of expression, while pastorally producing a text that does not sound forced.
· Inclusive language
Translations also deal with the recent development of inclusive language. In the 1970 English Order of Mass, the priest grasped the cup of the precious blood during the Eucharistic prayer and quoted Jesus, saying, “It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven.” When the 1975 sacramentary was published, the word “men” had disappeared. Inclusive language texts subsequently appeared in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and in the Order of Christian Funerals.
LA 30 challenges whether or not inclusive language is an “authentic development.” It suggests that catechesis should ensure that “words continue to be understood in the ‘inclusive’ sense.” The question is whether or not inclusive language does represent an authentic development in English. In journalism one still finds the use of “man” for “mankind” or “humankind,” as in the expression “God and man.” Christmas cards will retain traditional formulas like “Peace on earth to men of good will” and “Wise men still seek him.” But beyond that, those who write for media as diverse as the newspapers and highway billboards avoid language that might seem to exclude women. For the sake of precision, many writing professionals avoid using the word “men” by itself if they mean “men and women.” People hear the word “men” differently now. All men have to be alert to it. All women do too.
The issue has become emotional. Many women feel slighted by noninclusive language, and many men find it offensive as well. When liturgical texts sound noninclusive, many people feel the Church is uncaring. These feelings inhibit the community’s ability to pray, and they feed the perception that the Catholic Church with its exclusively male leadership has misogynistic tendencies. This can often be avoided, and the translator senses the pastoral task of expressing the Church’s care while translating with accuracy.
The very same paragraph of LA says that language serves the mission of the Church. The Church “must freely decide upon the system of language that will serve her doctrinal mission most effectively, and should not be subject to externally imposed linguistic norms that are detrimental to that mission.” LA 29 says there is a “right interpretation of the texts that excludes any prejudice or unjust discrimination on the basis of persons, gender, social condition, race or other criteria, which has no foundation at all in the texts of the Sacred Liturgy.” In their context, these arguments intend to say inclusive language is not necessary in liturgical texts, thanks to catechesis and right interpretation. But the same sentences will also justify the use of inclusive language, which avoids unjust discrimination of gender and consequently supports the doctrinal mission of the Church. Especially when we gather for the eucharist, inclusive language demonstrates the love of neighbor so prized by the gospel and expressed in sacramental communion.
When speaking of the Church, LA 31d says, “Insofar as possible in a given vernacular language, the use of the feminine pronoun, rather than the neuter, is to be maintained in referring to the Church.” A translator can do this without much difficulty. But the results are mixed. It is not common in spoken or written English to use the feminine pronoun when referring to the Church. This raises the question, “What is the vernacular?” If we can pray in the vernacular, common vernacular usages should apply. It may be argued that the Church is the Bride of Christ and therefore feminine. But the Church is also the People of God, which you could say is plural, and the Body of Christ, which you could say is male. The use of the feminine pronoun for the Church narrows the field of reference, while it employs a linguistic idiom that sounds quaint. One of the scripture passages supporting the image of Church as Bride of Christ is Ephesians 5:22-33. It begins, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” There is an inflammatory subtext to this little personal pronoun. LA 3 calls for words that are “free from all ideological influence.” From a pastoral perspective, this pronoun choice is hard for the translator to justify.
A third area of pastoral concern for the translator is proclamation. We need texts that can be proclaimed well and that sound right.
· The Latin hermeneutic
LA 59 says, “Since liturgical texts by their very nature are intended to be proclaimed orally and to be heard in the liturgical celebration, they are characterized by a certain manner of expression that differs from that found in everyday speech or in texts intended be read silently.” Typical of LA’s hermeneutic, the style for proclamation comes from the original Latin text. Verbal tools like alliteration and assonance, repetition, parallelism and contrast should enter the translation wherever possible. If it is not possible, the translator “should employ the full possibilities of the vernacular language skillfully in order to achieve as integrally as possible the same effect as regards not only the conceptual content itself, but the other aspects as well.”
· The voice
But there is more to proclamation than imitating Latin style. A vocal inflection can create contrasts and parallelisms that words do not capture on their own. A well-placed pause can draw deeper meanings from a prayer.
· The number of words
Sometimes, zealous to translate every word of Latin, the English becomes verbose, weakening proclamation. The creed, for example, in Latin includes a series of phrases that begin with et. Et in unum Dominum, et ex Patre natum, Et incarnatus est, et resurrexit tertia die, et ascendit, Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Et unam sanctam, Et exspecto, and et vitam venturi saeculi. If you say all those “and”s in English, the text will sound childish. The connectives unify the chain of beliefs on paper, but in English the proclamation of independent clauses accomplishes what the ets intended.
Listen sometime when people make the sign of the cross. I most commonly hear, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” But there are 2 ets in Latin. “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Or, if you want to make the genitives clearer, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But most people don’t say it that way. Some people abbreviate the text even more, a hand darting quickly in front of the face while the voice mumbles, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” In English, we generally do not separate a group of 3 with 2 “and”s. We use a comma after the first member and an “and” after the second. Pastorally, the translator tries to imitate the language of the people. If we say, “Through him and with him and in him,” in imitation of the Latin, it sounds overstressed.
Sometimes there are not enough words in Latin. The blessing at the end of mass may be amplified in one of two different ways. We have prayers over the people and solemn blessings. A prayer over the people concludes with a formula like, “through Christ our Lord.” When people hear it, they say “Amen.” But a solemn blessing is a series of 3 petitions that conclude with no recognizable formula. Everyone is supposed to answer “Amen” to each of them, but they usually don’t. The Latin text does not provide a workable cue, so the translator has a hopeless task in rendering a workable vernacular. The priest may start with a spoken rubric like “Please answer ‘Amen’ to these prayers.” It’s a pastoral solution, not in the Ordo missae, outside the box, to a problem the Latin did not foresee.
A cue problem also appears in the Rite of Marriage. The second Latin edition of this rite appeared in 1990, and we have reason to believe we will see its English translation within our lifetime. The revised liturgy now includes an acclamation. After receiving the consent of the couple, the priest or deacon invites all those present to praise God. He says, “Let us bless the Lord.” All then respond, “Thanks be to God.” At least, they do on paper. But they won’t in practice because this is not a common acclamation, and because weddings are attended by people unfamiliar with even the most common of Catholic prayers, postures and gestures. You can print the response in a program, but you have to hope that everyone is following. Or the priest can tell them, “Please respond, ‘Thanks be to God,’” but this is hardly the stuff of good pastoral liturgy. One solution is to sing the acclamation. But it will take generations for this to become a custom.
We also need words that can be sung. LA 60 is aware of the challenge: “the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music.” The translator has to make this happen, but sometimes the original text seems devoid of inspiration. LA 108 says that sung texts and liturgical hymns “should remain relatively fixed so that confusion among the people may be avoided.” In some parishes, the assembly knows a very small musical repertoire; their music is not only “relatively fixed”, it is terminally fixed. People can sing a wide range of choices without LA’s feared confusion.
We have the additional situation of copyrights and royalties in the United States. If the repertoire of music is to be relatively fixed, blessed are the composers who survive the final cut, and blessed are their pastors if those composers tithe.
Part Two: The Implementation of Translated Texts
These last remarks on repertoire introduce the second part of this talk, the implementation of translated texts. I now switch hats from translator to pastor. Once the texts are translated, they end up in parishes. We pastors will hear from our parishioners words of appreciation. We will also hear complaints. And we will hear questions. Please remember, we will be praying aloud most of the words that appear in the third edition of the Missale Romanum. These words will become part of our daily spoken prayer. The leadership of Sunday’s eucharist is a pastor’s foremost task, and we must be at prayer to lead the prayer of others. These translations form us even before they lift the community’s prayers to God.
There are three areas I’d like to consider in this second part of my talk: the celebrant, catechesis and concluding remarks.
First, the celebrant. The praying of a prayer lies somewhat beyond the translator’s duty. A translator is like someone who transcribes a bassoon solo for viola. The transcription needs to honor the composer’s intent, while accommodating the score for another instrument. In the end, the music does not rest with the transcriber alone; it rests with the performer. A stilted execution, though technically accurate, can miss the heart of the music. In the same way, a priest can recite a prayer accurately, but miss its heart. He needs to sink himself into its meaning and express it with his voice, his face, his hands and his life. He needs to be a person of integrity.
Most priests are. They want to live responsibly and inspire the faith of others. But not all of us have the skills to make our belief understood. When we proclaim a prayer out loud, we may fall into speech that sounds patterned, theatrical, or disinterested. Our tone of voice may not match the exultation or sorrow of the prayer. Presiding succeeds well when the priest says the words with meaning, and these prayers reach their full potential.
For over 30 years priests have been praying with a certain style of translation. An opening prayer, for example, might contain several full stops. It could be spoken one concept at a time. The new translation rules call for the insertion of the connectives, eliminating the intermediate full stops. This results in more intricate sentences, which will give people more to think about at one time. This is not impossible to do, but it does shift the style of prayer and proclamation. Priests who have learned one style will need to learn another. Some will make the transition easily, but others will not. A priest who cannot proclaim today’s opening prayers effectively will be especially challenged by tomorrow’s collects. Again, the transition is not impossible, but it is a shift that priests need to prepare for.
The second area of pastoral implementation is catechesis. LA concludes with this hope: “that this new effort will provide stability in the life of the Church, so as to lay a firm foundation for supporting the liturgical life of God’s people and bringing about a solid renewal of catechesis” (133). Indeed, at several points in the document, LA encourages the use of catechesis to explain liturgical texts. “It is the task of the homily and of catechesis to set forth the meaning of the liturgical texts” (29). “[I]t may be necessary by means of catechesis to ensure that such words continue to be understood” (30). “[A] literal translation of terms which may initially sound odd in a vernacular language may for this very reason provoke inquisitiveness in the hearer and provide an occasion for catechesis” (43). “[A] suitable period of catechesis should accompany the publication of the new text” (74). The idealism of these goals is admirable. A liturgical text will be understood, misunderstood and reinterpreted in many different ways. Homilies and catechetical sessions will help explore these meanings.
The twin solutions, homilies and catechesis, are seemingly the best means at our disposal. But, realistically, neither of these solutions is airtight. Priests are asked to preach on a variety of themes from the lectionary, the liturgical texts, the feasts and seasons, the political stew of Catholic hot-button issues, the need for vocations, the second collection, the parish capital campaign, the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful and the importance of Sunday mass. We have enough to talk about without having to explain what a particular translation meant to say. Even if we did, there could be 99 different explanations in 99 different parishes. And many people quit listening after the first 10 minutes. There is only so much the homily can do.
That leaves the second solution, catechesis. LA does not explain the context of this catechesis, but a typical forum would be adult education. It sounds good, but calling any event in a typical parish “adult education” is to give it the kiss of death. Adults don’t come for education. That’s for other adults to do. Besides, adults are already busy getting the kids educated, running errands, working a second job and watching football. They don’t need to come to the parish on a weeknight for something to do. Invite people to adult education and less than 1% may show up. Invite them to adult education on the principles of translation from Latin to English, and you might as well give the presenter the night off.
Priests understand the value of catechesis, but we also understand the frustration. Catechizing people about the liturgy is a good idea, but it is an uphill battle. The translations we start with will bear the primary burden of catechesis. They’d better be good. If they “initially sound odd in a vernacular language,” a possibility LA 43 foresees, we are in trouble.
Catechesis may founder, but questions will remain. People are going to wonder why we have a new translation. Any change to the Order of Mass in particular will raise questions. Pastors are going to need answers. Good answers. These are difficult to give because we don’t know yet what the changes are. But here are some potential sample problems.
1. There are 4 memorial acclamations in English, but only 3 in Latin. No Latin text directly corresponds to “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” LA 73 cautions, “The parts that are to be committed to memory by the people, especially if they are sung, are to be changed only for a just and considerable reason.” So “Christ has died” and the other acclamations may survive. But suppose they do not. People will want to know why, when the words basically mean the same thing. Pastors will answer, “Because this is a more literal rendering of what is in Latin.” People will ask, “Why would that be important?” Pastors will answer, “For a greater sense of unity in the church.” But people still won’t get why tinkering with a memorial acclamation is going to make them more at one with Catholics in Cameroon.
2. Or consider the Lamb of God. Suppose we change the pronoun from “you” to “who”: “Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world.” A similar conversation will ensue. People will ask, “Why did we change that word?” Pastors will explain that “who” is a more direct rendering of the Latin relative pronoun than “you”. Never mind that we don’t much use relative pronouns in conversation this way. We say, “Danny, you have season tickets. How do you explain what happened to the Cubs this year?” We don’t say, “Danny, who have season tickets, how do you explain what happened to the Cubs this year?” It isn’t enough to tell people that the new translation matches the Latin relative pronoun, even if it does divert attention from the Cubs.
3. Already a careful reader of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal has noticed a new philosophy of capitalization. “Cross” is capitalized, but not “candle”. “Funeral” is capitalized. So is “Bishop”, but not “priest”, not “deacon”, not “lector” or “sacristan”. LA 33 explains that the capitalization of the Latin texts is to be retained in the vernacular insofar as the structure of a given language permits. But we don’t write that way. It’s not our vernacular.
Most US Catholics are not linguists. They have a simple understanding of translations. They assume that when someone says something in Bulgarian, there is one way to translate it into English. They accept without question the translation of quotes from around the world on the evening news. They have not reflected that the first two memorial acclamations, “Christ has died” and “Dying you destroyed our death,” are two ways of translating the same Latin sentence. They have not thought about theories of translation. But now they will. They will want to know why, especially where, from their perspective, the results indicate a change but not necessarily an improvement. They will suspect the real reason is an issue of control.
LA’s philosophy of translation emerges in various passages. A translation should be “endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High” (3). It specifies “that the content of the original texts [should] be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation” (25). Translations should “respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself” (25). The goals then include the transmission of the faith, worthy worship, and a response to humanity’s hunger and thirst for the living God.
LA also proposes various means to these goals. Translations should be “exact in wording, free from all ideological influence” (3). They “should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression” (27). “[I]t may happen that a certain manner of speech which has come to be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage may continue to be maintained in the liturgical context,” but paradoxically the liturgy should be free “from the necessity of frequent revisions when modes of expression may have passed out of popular usage” (27). These means contrast with the former means of dynamic equivalency.
The goals of translation are nobly expressed. But in the pastoral realm, some fear that the means, especially achieving texts that are “exact in wording” will impede rather than realize these goals. What you gain in precision of translating ancient texts may be lost in responding to the hunger and thirst for the living God in our own time. Dynamic equivalency achieved the same goals: the transmission of the faith, worthy worship and a response to humanity’s hunger for God. Translations can be better, but these goals of translation need not favor one philosophy to the exclusion of the other.
There are many examples; here are two where the current English translation rather boldly differs from the Latin, the Exsultet and the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ. The current Exsultet in English omits the sections that refer to bees. Apiologists and chandlers alike were chagrined. The translators eliminated the references; they are clearly there in the Latin, and they reappear unchanged in the third edition of the Missale. According to the new translation rules, the bees are coming back. It will surprise people that they are there at all, but it will also surprise them to learn what the Church says about bees. The Exsultet praises the mother bee for producing the wax for the candle. But mother bees don’t do wax. Drones produce wax. The translators have avoided this slippery embarrassment in the English-language version of the Exsultet. So it raises the question why the erroneous medieval Latin text should remain unchanged when our knowledge of biology has grown.
The second example is the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ from the Roman Martyrology for Christmas Day. It appears in the 1994 Sacramentary Supplement, and the English differs from the Latin in a few ways, most notably, by the introduction of the Old Testament figures Sarah and Ruth, who expand the Latin’s gender-exclusive references to Abraham, Moses and David. No harm was done to the transmission of the mystery of salvation, and in a small way the translation reached out to a wider segment of the population hungering and thirsting for the living God. Today the translation rules would frown on such additions, but they were made and approved with the best pastoral intent.
Finally, I’d like to make some concluding remarks about other present and future issues pertaining to liturgical translation and the place of pastoral wisdom in its progress.
· Economics and scandal
There are a couple of tangential issues that deserve brief mention. These are economics and scandal, or money and sex.
A new translation has economic repercussions. The lectionary used to be in one volume. Now it has four. Renewed interest in the Book of the Gospels adds to the lectionary library. Multiple volumes are useful, but many pastors accused publishers of expanding the book in order to increase profits. Publishers had nothing to do with it; they followed the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The new lectionary placed a financial burden on some parishes, but it probably did not affect the weekly collection.
The missal, however, is another matter. I don’t know if you’ve seen the size and weight of the third edition of the Missale Romanum, but if you’ve ever played the board game Clue, the new missal could replace one of the weapons. If the book is translated into English in a single volume, no fifth-grade server will be able to hold it. If it goes into multiple volumes, the cost goes up. Unlike the lectionary, the new missal will change what people say. As soon as the words of the mass change, the collection will too. Whenever some significant event shakes the order of the world, the stock market grows unstable. When something happens to the parish mass, the collection grows unstable. Translators don’t worry about these things, but if the new missal is released when some parish is ready to launch a campaign to build a new hall, the timing will be most unfortunate.
This new translation may suffer from the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in 2002. When the communion rite changed last year, some Catholics combined these two events. Communion ministers were told not to enter the sanctuary too early, not to break bread, not to pour cups, not to receive communion when the priest does, not to do dishes. To some of them, it seemed that the clergy were trying to take over the Church. This came on the heels of the scandals that so hurt the credibility of our priests and bishops. Many lay people were coming to a different conclusion: they needed to take more responsibility at Church, not less. Very few lay people are asking for a new translation of the Order of Mass. It will be handed to them by bishops and priests. If our trust is broken when the new missal comes out, the timing will be most unfortunate.
These are some of the issues a pastor thinks about. I predict ten years from now, when the new texts will have been in place for a while, everything will be all right. But I’m nervous about how we get from here to there. There will be casualties along the way. People who have issues with the Church may find new translations too much to bear. The whole process needs to be executed with honesty and integrity. Why are we having new translations? If it’s closer adherence to the Latin, that is not a good pastoral reason. If it’s because different people are in power, that is heinous. The only convincing pastoral reason will be the deepening of our prayer.
· Embracing the future
LA justifiably defends the liturgical tradition of the past. LA 12, 36, 74 and 133 all sing the virtue of stability. LA’s interest is not just the translation of texts from Latin to English. It trumpets the preservation of these texts. Indeed, the texts of the Catholic liturgy are treasures. But in its zeal to safeguard the past, LA perhaps overprotects the future. In treating inculturation, for example, LA 5 says, “The work of inculturation, of which the translation into vernacular languages is a part, is not therefore to be considered an avenue for the creation of new varieties or families of rites; on the contrary, it should be recognized that any adaptations introduced out of cultural or pastoral necessity thereby become part of the Roman Rite, and are to be inserted into it in a harmonious way.” Truly, adaptations should not be distinct from the Roman Rite, but part of it. But it would be nice to see more encouragement for the development of adaptations to meet contemporary needs.
Adaptations do happen in parishes. Children beginning their preparation for confirmation come on a Sunday with their sponsors for the prayer and support of the people. Bereaved members of a family decide – contrary to the wishes of the Catholic Church – to spread the ashes of their loved one in a local park, in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. Graduates from a Catholic school receive their diplomas at mass. All these occasions may call for ritual prayer on the part of the priest or some other minister. We don’t have services specific to these needs. So people make them up. And sometimes newly and locally composed texts are as beautiful as the ancient ones.
The brochure for this conference says that the 3rd edition of the Missale Romanum “introduces the concluding chapter of the liturgical reform, begun a century ago by Saint Pius X.” But this is the editio tertia, not the editio extrema. And the liturgical reform did not begin with the tenth pope named Pius, but with the first letter to the Corinthians. A concluding chapter of the liturgical reform could never exist. The liturgy always has and always will evolve to meet the needs of people in every time and place.
· Authentic liturgy and pastoral wisdom
Liturgiam authenticam recognized the importance of pastoral wisdom. The very first sentence of this document stresses how critical this is: “The Second Vatican Council strongly desired to preserve with care the authentic Liturgy, which flows forth from the Church’s living and most ancient spiritual tradition, and to adapt it with pastoral wisdom to the genius of the various peoples so that the faithful might find in their full, conscious, and active participation in the sacred actions – especially the celebration of the Sacraments – an abundant source of graces and a means for their own continual formation in the Christian mystery” (1). Notice the distinction between authentic liturgy and pastoral wisdom. The council desired two different things: the preservation of authentic liturgy – you know, a better translation would be “original liturgy” – and its adaptation with pastoral wisdom. Pastoral wisdom is placed in dialogue with the original liturgy. If all you have is the original liturgy, all you are doing is preserving the past. The council, according to the first sentence of LA, did not desire the original liturgy unless it was coupled with pastoral wisdom. The combination is what produces authentic liturgy. The goal of our worship is the full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful. It is there, not in the past alone, not in the present alone, but in their working together, that they find “an abundant source of graces and a means for their own continual formation in the Christian mystery.”
This talk was given at The Liturgical Institute in Mundelein IL for its conference on Liturgiam Authenticam, October 28, 2004.