BY DAVID V BARRETT
HEATED disputes between bishops and liturgists are likely to delay the new English translation of the Mass by more than two years – despite Rome’s insistence that it should be finished as quickly as possible.
Members of ICEL, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, held an emergency meeting in Leeds this week to discuss a situation that one source close to the English bishops called “a complete shambles”.
The source added: “Various people are totally out of their depth, and the Vatican is wondering why on earth this is taking so long.” The bishops of England and Wales threw out a draft translation last year, and now many of the American bishops’alterations to the revised text have been rejected by ICEL.
The American bishops, however, are determined not to accept the revised text. Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of their committee on liturgy, told The Catholic Herald: “It’s accurate, it’s theological but it’s not pastoral. It’s imposing a sacred speech.” The unprecedented delays have infuriated members of the Vatican-appointed Vox Clara committee, which advises Rome on English translations. It was set up by Pope John Paul II in April 2002 to speed up the work of ICEL.
It now looks as if no translation will be ready for use at Mass until 2007 – a situation that is unlikely to please Pope Benedict, who wants the liturgy urgently reformed in order to make it more beautiful.
The main area of dispute is over ICEL’s philosophy of “inculturation”, adapting texts to make them relevant to modern English speakers. In contrast, the Vatican prefers a more literal faithfulness to the Latin text of the 2000 Missal, seeing it as a safeguard of doctrinal accuracy.
In 2001 the Vatican issued a document, Liturgiam Authenticam, which established more conservative principles for translation of the liturgy into vernacular languages.
A draft Mass along these lines duly appeared – but some critics complained that parts of it read as if they had been put into English by Google’s automatic translation facility.
Anumber of basic issues still have to be resolved. There is a continuing conflict over whether the people’s response to “The Lord be with you” should continue to be “And also with you”, as it has been since the Mass was first translated into English in the 1960s, or whether it should be “And with your spirit”, which is truer to the Latin original. The delay has been compounded by disagreements over ecumenically agreed texts. The Catholic Missal shares a number of texts with other denominations, including the Credo, the Gloria and the Sanctus. The question is whether the English translation of these should be the same in different churches, or whether the Catholic Church should ignore other denominations and go it alone.
In March this year Vox Clara issued a statement which described the completion of an English-language Missale Romanum as “the highest priority” and insisted that “all possible resources should be devoted to the expeditious completion of a vernacular edition that is at once precise in its rendering of the Latin texts and appropriate for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in English”.
Martin Foster, assistant secretary to the department of Christian Life and Worship of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said this week: “The process will take time – it’s over 2,000 pages. It can’t happen overnight.” He described any discussion of possible dates for the finished liturgy as “unhelpful”. ICEL is an independent organisation with the remit to provide common Mass texts in any country where English is used as a liturgical language.
Although it is not directly controlled by bishops’ conferences, 11 English-speaking conferences are represented on its episcopal board: England and Wales, the United States, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Philippines, India and Pakistan.
ICEL submits its draft translations to all the bishops’ conferences, which suggest amendments. This is where the process hits problems, as one bishops’ conference after another objects to different elements of the Englishlanguage liturgy. Only when a consensus has been reached is the liturgy submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship for its “recognitio”.
“This business could move much faster if the Congregation flexed its muscles,” said another unnamed senior source. “The amount of translation left to do is not massive.” One possible solution floated by Vox Clara is that the Church adopts three separate Mass translations – one for Britain and Ireland, one for North America and one for the rest of the English-speaking world.
It is not essential for there to be just one version of the Missal per language: Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile all have separate Spanish missals.
Editorial Comment: Page 11