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Why have our bishops done nothing to prepare us for the new Mass translation?

The new text is resonant and accurate: it puts to shame the translations we use at the moment

By on Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The US bishops have put the new translation on their website

The US bishops have put the new translation on their website

One profoundly important aspect of the Pope’s visit, one nevertheless hardly spoken of yet, is that for its central event, the beatification Mass, texts from the resonant and accurate new English translation of the Mass will be used for the first time.

It may be safely surmised that the impulse behind the decision to use these texts on this supremely important occasion came from Rome, not the English bishops. Ever since Pope John Paul II published Liturgiam Authenticam in 2001, Rome has been driving the new translation through against the resistance of far too many English-speaking bishops (who have, of course, been backed in this by the Tablet).

When Liturgiam Authenticam was issued, I was editor of The Catholic Herald; I knew that the question our readers were asking was simple: will the Pope’s clear intentions be allowed to prevail? I commissioned a piece from Fr Bruce Harbert, a well-known Catholic liturgist who was critical of the existing translations, and asked him to begin by answering the question: will Liturgiam Authenticam actually change our liturgy? His answer was simple. “The answer is yes; provided those responsible for our liturgy follow these useful guidelines, there will be changes.” But would they? That was the question. Well, Rome answered it unambiguously: about a year later, Fr Harbert himself was appointed as executive secretary of ICEL; he would have special responsibility for overseeing the new translations.

His Catholic Herald article of nearly nine years ago is worth returning to now. It wasn’t just, he explained, that the current texts were ugly and flat; it was that they “repeatedly overestimate the value of human effort and undervalue the role of divine grace in human life: that is, they tend towards the Pelagian heresy”.

“Liturgical texts revised with the guidance of Liturgiam Authenticam,” he wrote, “will sound less like everyday speech than those we are used to. They will contain expressions that require catechesis and repay reflection, leading us into the mysteries of the faith. Their smoother, connected syntax will sound more like carefully considered prose, less like improvised speech. The coherence of the thoughts they express will reflect the coherence of Catholic doctrine. Such a liturgical language will not only be shaped by our everyday speech but will shape it, enriching the English language from the sources of Catholic tradition.”

Now, we have his translation; and it is everything he predicted. The utter impoverishment of the old ICEL “translations” will become more and more evident the more we become accustomed to the new one. I looked at some of the examples Fr Harbert had cited in his Herald piece, to see if his ideas had indeed prevailed.

One of his most striking examples of how oversimplified paraphrase rather than faithful translation had reduced the transcendent to the crudely quotidian, was his criticism of a familiar passage from the fourth Eucharistic prayer: “…so that from East to West a perfect offering may be made …”. “A more faithful translation,” Fr Harbert had suggested, “might run ‘so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered’.”

The difference of meaning is vast: “from East to West” is merely geography: from sunrise to sunset contains also the element of time; the Harbert version is not just more memorable, it also implies God’s creative activity, universal and unceasing throughout time and space, a dimension clearly present in the Latin original: “et populum tibi congregare non desinis, ut a solis ortu usque ad occasum oblatio munda offeratur nomini tuo”.

And the Harbert Catholic Herald version of these words is there in the new text, word for word. This translation could not have been in better hands. The question is, why our bishops won’t let us have it now. The American bishops already have the new text on their website, as part of a process of preparing the faithful to use it. Our bishops have done nothing. Nothing. Why not?

  • Paul

    You could argue equally that from sunrise to sunset implies that God isn't worshipped during the night! The original text was written by a people who thought the earth was flat and that the sun went away during the night time.

  • Mollybenton5

    Because no-one here will notice a new translation! We never say any of the right words in this parish anyway – the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei are always paraphrased and the priest omits the word 'man' from the Creed. He brings in all sorts of paraphrased Eucharistic Prayers too.They probably won't even use the new translation here, and if they do everyone will just think it's the same as what usually happens – liturgical innovations again. No-one will turn a hair.

  • homemaker

    Some of us would like to see Pope Benedict bring in more flexibility with regard to Tridentine mass.In no way am I calling for the replacement of the vernacular, as this was a good thing whose time had come. Merely that I would like to see Tridentine brought back for special occasions or even a regular midweek mass.
    Tridentine is glorious and younger people are losing touch with this jewel of our church. Perhaps the time has come to take this old jewel out now and again.

  • W Oddie

    That they thought the earth was flat is simply untrue: a piece of secular propaganda believed by far too many Christians. Very few people have ever believed it. The church assumed and taught that the earth is a globe, in Latin, Orbis Terrarum (“the terrestrial globe”). The sign of Christian kingship was a globe (i.e. an “orb”) surmounted by the cross, as a sign of the authority of Christ over the world: this was and still is held by the monarch at all Christian coronations.

  • W Oddie

    If your priest isn't using the authorised text of the Mass, the mass may well not be valid and in any case you should complain, first to your priest and then if he doesn't respond positively to your bishop: you have a right to the Order of Mass the Church authorises. If he doesn't give you any satisfaction, you should complain to the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith in Rome.

  • nytor

    Um, didn't that happen 3 years ago? Summorum Pontificum…

  • nytor

    Indeed, the priest should NOT be making it up as he goes along and he should NOT be “paraphrasing”.

    I doubt the bishop would do much, though, as they are usually loftily disdainful of the concerns of parishioners concerning liturgical abuses and NEVER ensure that Redemptionis Sacramentum is enforced with regard to extraordinary ministers or with regard to the use of base materials for sacred vessels, amongst other things.

    In response to the question posed by the main article: they like the current translation. It reflects their theology. They regard even a better English rendering of the Tridentine as “going back”. Their ideals of Mass being a “community meal around the table of the Lord” and not a Sacrifice upon the Sacrificial Altar are less easy to propagate when the language is more transcendent. If the language is everyday, it is easier to present the event as everyday.

  • Andrew

    Fr. Harbert, THANK YOU!!!

  • Paul

    Bill, I'm sure you're aware the original source is PS 112, there is little evidence that the ancient Israelites had much real understanding of the world, after all they believed that the Sun was drawn across the sky in a chariot drawn by Angels. I actually believe the return to “sunrise to sunset” is better because it more directly reflects the scriptural origin.

  • Paul

    PS Apologies for calling you Bill, my brain slipped into TV celebrity mode!

  • Paul

    The central proposition of this article is that the Bishops are withholding the new translation. In my own Diocese there have been 4 training day for clergy, covering the major changes and the reasoning behind them, attended by over 200 clergy; there is also a plan for formation for the laity starting in a couple of months. The problem is that the final translation does not appear to have yet achieved recognitio -an essential step. As I understand it, we are also planning for introduction next year.This is a major project, it will take several years for people to become comfortable and familiar with the new language. It's not helpful to try and start the project in an atmosphere of criticism.

  • Ted

    Because many of the American Bishops are Godless faithless men who need our prayers and sacrifices desperately but they don't even know it. I would venture to say that many are most likely in a state of utter confusion and even some in a state of Mortal Sin. They have free will just like everyone does and God Grace is sufficient for them just as it is for us! I think in this culture of death many have succumed to sins against the sixth commandment and therefore are in the darkness at to the truth. They see the Holy See as a mere place too far away to make any sound judgements or decisions for the Catholic church in America. The demons must be quite pleased in their anger and fury to have darkened the hearts and minds of so many church leaders. Listen to the Holy Father! The Pope is Jesus Christ on earth and if the Bishops would only humbly repent and follow the Pope's lead and teaching the church would be renewed quickly. The other path is full of suffering and many innocent victims – this is the path we are following but the good news is that Jesus Christ will renew his church and bring it to a new splendor and Glory hiterto unknown in this world! Praised be Jesus Christ and help us Mother Mary we are in big trouble!

  • Steve

    The pope is NOT Jesus Christ on earth. The pope is the vicar of Christ, quite a different thing.

  • Steve

    Recognitio has been achieved, and the starting date for use is I Advent 2011, at least in the United States.

  • Phillip

    Hopefully by avoiding the translation it will go away. Hopefully Benedict XVI will realize on visiting the home of the English mother-tongue that Vatican theocrats are ignorant of good and dynamic, simple and profound, liturgy. Forget the Latin – it is dead, the People of God have moved on.

  • Winston Lewis

    Obvious he likes the babal of the presemt “translation” let us get bick to the Roman Canon