The Quest for Authentic Liturgy
To draft principles and norms of translation for the nearly 800 vernacular languages of the Catholic world is a formidable taska task that should involve the broadest consultation of episcopal conferences as well as liturgical and biblical scholars. The Authentic Liturgy (Liturgiam Authenticam), a 36-page instruction on liturgical translation issued in early May by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, has missed a great opportunity to profit from such a collegial and collaborative effort. In the working paper for the current synod of bishops, there is a clear description of bishops’ collaboration in the Petrine ministry: A fruit and expression of this collegial union is the collaboration of bishops from every part of the globe in the offices of the Holy See, particularly in the departments of the Roman Curia and in various commissions where they can effectively make their contribution as pastors of particular Churches (No. 69).
Here are significant words from the Holy See, but words apparently not considered by one of its own congregations. Why were the cardinal and bishop members of the congregation not consulted, either by mail or in a plenary session? Why was the Pontifical Biblical Commission not formally consulted? Why were the episcopal conferences not consulted? Bishop Peter Culliane, president of the New Zealand Bishops’ Conference and its delegate to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), has stated: For more than two years, the bishops appointed to represent the English-speaking countries have tried to meet with the Congregation for Divine Worship, but no meeting was held. The congregation has missed a decisive moment to model collegiality for the church.
Undoubtedly the congregation consulted scholars of its own choosing. Who were these individuals?
Undoubtedly the congregation consulted scholars of its own choosing. Who were these individuals? How were they selected? It is worth noting that The Authentic Liturgy requires episcopal conferences to obtain clearance (nihil obstat) from the congregation for translators before beginning their work (No. 100). Is not the conference of bishops competent to approve its own linguistic experts? Who knows better the experience and expertise of translators than the native-speaking bishops of a particular country? Who is better qualified to appoint Japanese translatorsthe bishops of Japan or curial people who do not speak Japanese? How can the congregation exercise an informed judgment on translators for hundreds of languages worldwide? Who will the congregation consult? Furthermore, what criteria will the congregation use to approve or disapprove particular translators?
The non-collegial, centralizing and controlling nature of this document is evident throughout. Contrary to the clear decision of the Second Vatican Council, which gave the authority for the preparation and approval of vernacular liturgical texts to the conference of bishops, the Holy See can now preempt this authority and compose its own vernacular translations, prepared by its own anonymous experts (No. 76 and 104). The Holy See will then send these Roman-generated texts to the conferences for their approval. But how can a conference truly exercise the authority given to it by Vatican II when presented with a text already drafted by Rome?
At the time of Vatican II, the Holy See encouraged conferences sharing the same language to work together to prepare a shared text to be used in the liturgy. This pooling of resources has been especially helpful, indeed necessary, for smaller conferences or for conferences in which a language like English is a needed but minor language. The post-Vatican II directives from Rome stated that conferences should seek Rome’s permission before themselves establishing a joint or mixed commission for preparing texts. With The Authentic Liturgy, Rome claims the power at the outset to establish mixed commissions of translators (No. 93), and Rome has free rein to establish the statutes for such commissions. Do the bishops’ conferences that share the same language become mere on-lookers? What has happened to the Vatican II principle of subsidiarity?
The extent of The Authentic Liturgy’s micro-management style is shown in paragraph 108: Within five years from the publication of this instruction, the conference of bishops...shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts for singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio [confirmation] to the Congregation for Divine Worship. The congregation will need a lot of help in proofing all the musical liturgical texts from the entire Catholic world. It may well be that we have reached a stage in the post-Vatican II liturgical renewal when conferences of bishops should establish commissions to review the music that is used in the liturgy in each country. But surely the bishops of those countries working with musicians, liturgists and linguistic experts should be trusted to carry out this task faithfully and competently without having their decisions on music for their local territory submitted to Rome for its review and approval.
In Paragraph 80 of The Authentic Liturgy, the congregation makes clear that it has the right to make even substantial changes in texts submitted to Rome after a two-thirds majority canonical vote of a particular conference of bishops. One would hope that such an overruling of the authority given to bishops’ conferences in articles 22 and 36 of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would be extremely rare. Such a matter must be handled in dialogue with the conference of bishops concerned. But the fact that The Authentic Liturgy makes provision in its norms for substantial changes in conferences’ decisions makes one wonder whether the congregation would see this as a not at all unusual occurrence, rather than a very exceptional situation.
In an article that appeared in America last year (3/4/00), I asserted that recent directives of the congregation aimed at ICEL’s work appear to require a word-for-word, syntax-for-syntax correspondence between the Latin and English texts. The prefect of the congregation later responded in a letter to the magazine, I am happy to clarify that this certainly is not the intention of the congregation, since the successful translation of the liturgical texts cannot be achieved by such a wooden mechanism (Am., 5/13/00). Yet we now read in The Authentic Liturgy: Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient church...are to be respected by a translation that is as literal as possible, as for example the words of the people’s response et cum spiritu tuo or the expression mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (No. 56, 57 and 58). This norm is certainly an example of a wooden mechanism that seems to contradict the prefect’s response of May 13.
Let us not forget that present liturgical translations have been approved by the highest authority in the Holy See, but The Authentic Liturgy calls for the reversal of certain approved translations. At the beginning of the Nicene Creed at Mass, I believe is to be used instead of the ancient conciliar form We believe. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states why we proclaim We believe: I believe [Apostles Creed] is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during baptism. We believe’ [Nicene Creed] is the faith of the Church confessed by the liturgical assembly of believers (No. 167).
Again, in the Mass, And also with you, as the response to The Lord be with you, must be changed according to The Authentic Liturgy to and with your spirit. And also with you has been used by Roman Catholics for 30 years. It has also been used ecumenically throughout the English-speaking world. It is theologically sound, since you refers to the whole personspirit, soul and body. While some say that spirit is an acknowledgment of the priest’s ordination, this is contradicted by St. Paul, who addresses the entire community, as in the Letter to the Galatians (6:18): The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Good pastoral judgment clearly favors continuing with, And also with you. The present wording of the Confiteor or act of penitence must be changed according to The Authentic Liturgy from through my own fault to through my most grievous fault. Are we to tell our people now that the bishops’ approval of these texts 30 years ago and Rome’s confirmation of that approval was flawed? Has the English-speaking world been praying with inaccurate texts confirmed by the Holy See?
The Authentic Liturgy rightly stresses fidelity and exactness in rendering liturgical and biblical texts into a vernacular language. For the congregation that means as literal as possible. Norm 57 also implies the same principle of literalness. However, that was not the mind of St. Jerome, the greatest doctor of the Sacred Scriptures. For more than 20 years, St. Jerome devoted himself to translating the Bible from the original languages into Latin. Jerome was a careful translator, but not a literalist. He translated idiom for idiom and not always word for word. In fact he himself said: If I translate word by word, it sounds absurd; if I am forced to change something in the word order or style, I seem to have stopped being a translator (DOL 786). Jerome translated not word for word, but sense for sense.
Word-for-word translation produces not only poor vernacular linguistics, but in many ways distorts the true meaning.
Word-for-word translation produces not only poor vernacular linguistics, but in many ways distorts the true meaning. Anscar J. Chupungco, O.S.B., former president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome, wrote in the newsletter of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commisions for December 1994: Fidelity to the original refers to the content or meaning of the text, not to its form or component words and phrases. That is why a word-for-word translation is not a guarantee of fidelity to the original text.
Liturgical translation is an art rather than a purely mechanical operation. Liturgical translation deals primarily with the art of communication. Roman collects are Roman collects, not American prayers, and yet they are destined to become prayers expressed in contemporary culture and in contemporary English idiom. No translator can render a Latin text into a living language in a way that has exactly the same meaning, form, nuance, tone and feeling as the original. The translator will always be faced with choices between legitimate word alternatives and constructions. The translator will always be involved in adapting to a new grammatical structure and lexicon system. An accurate translation cannot be judged on the basis of individual words, but rather the total content, as well as the liturgical form proper to the respective language. At its very heart, translation is a transcultural act whereby words and concepts of one culture are rendered in the words and concepts of another culture.
Why does The Authentic Liturgy forbid inclusive language, when the use of inclusive language actually results in a more faithful, more accurate translation? When the liturgical or biblical texts address all human beings, that fact should be rendered in the translation. For example, the inspired Greek text of the New Testament often uses the word anthropos. That Greek word is clearly generic. It does not refer only to male human beings, but to all people. The Greek language has a word for a male human beinganer. If the inspired author wanted to limit the meaning to a male, he would have used the word aner. To be accurate, the text should be translated inclusively. The people of God have the right to hear the word of God proclaimed with fidelity to the intent of the inspired author.
The congregation continues to insist that man in English is generic. The evidence points to the opposite. In the United States today, major newspapers, national magazines, television and textbooks employ gender-inclusive language. Continued use of terms that are interpreted as gender-exclusive harms the church’s pastoral mission. Consult any number of contemporary English Bible translations, even those being printed by Christian fundamentalists. They employ inclusive language. Note that the Holy See in 1982 approved the omission of the word men from the words of consecration over the cup in the eucharistic prayer. Few question the necessity of that action, but there is no consistency. Consider the following passage from the catechism that attempts to promote celibacy: Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord they give themselves to God and to men (No. 1579). For many people, and certainly those under 25, the use of men in this fashion would be perplexing and likely open to an unhappy misunderstanding. This is not a prudent translation. When can English-speaking people take charge of their own language?
On the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time this year, we heard the following as part of the second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians: It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ (Col. 1, 24-28). This wording was approved by the American bishops in 1992, and their decision was confirmed by the Holy See in 1997. Previously the passage read: This is the Christ we proclaim while we admonish all men, and teach them in the full measure of wisdom, hoping to make every man complete in Christ. Men/man has been replaced in the present approved version by everyone. The norms and observations of The Authentic Liturgy suggest that the Congregation for Divine Worship already regrets the official recognition that it gave to the revised U.S. Lectionary four years ago. Why this retreat?
Using inclusive language is not a question of being politically correct; it is a question of accuracy in translation. Whether we like it or not, in the English-speaking world exclusive language has become objectionable.
Using inclusive language is not a question of being politically correct; it is a question of accuracy in translation. Whether we like it or not, in the English-speaking world exclusive language has become objectionable. If liturgical and biblical texts are proclaimed in words not resonating with contemporary culture, they fail to communicate. Such texts also fail the doctrinal mission of the church, since they do not teach clearly that both men and women are included integrally in the original text.
In paragraph 37 of The Authentic Liturgy, biblical scholarship suffers a major setback. The Neo-Vulgate, a Latin critical edition of St. Jerome’s translation, becomes the determining factor for those versions of Scripture to be used in liturgy. According to The Authentic Liturgy, the Latin New Vulgate edition is the authoritative text of reference for all Bible passages, including those with varying manuscript traditions. Imaginea non-inspired text, based on deficient manuscripts of the fourth century, superceding an inspired text! How in conscience can a Scripture scholar follow this norm? The encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, cogently states: The original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any, even the very best, translation, whether ancient or modern (No. 16).
Consider the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiastes). Alexander DiLella, O.F.M., of The Catholic Universitya specialist on the Book of Sirachhas demonstrated that the Book of Sirach in the Neo-Vulgate has more variants, glosses, and interpolations than any book of the Latin Bible. How then can this Neo-Vulgate text become the absolute norm for scriptural texts used in the liturgy? The Authentic Liturgy is simply wrong in making the Neo-Vulgate the primary authority for translators of Biblical texts for the liturgy. The executive board of the Catholic Biblical Association, composed of our foremost biblical scholars, concurs in this judgment. Making the Neo-Vulgate the final arbiter in textual questions, when it is clearly known that the Vulgate is based on deficient original texts, appears to be a disservice to Scripture scholarship and the high standards of the Holy See. In this regard, The Authentic Liturgy is truly an embarrassment.
What can be done? The church has in its possession a blemished but authoritative document released by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and approved by the Holy Father. It is not realistic to expect that it will be rescinded. For the sake of the church and its scholarship, it should at least be reviewed formally by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Furthermore, to resolve the serious and fundamental questions raised by this document, a group of bishopsincluding bishops with liturgical and biblical backgrounds, bishop representatives of national and international translating commissions, other biblical and liturgical specialists designated by the conferences of bishops, and representatives of the Holy Seeneeds to meet to plan for implementation of the document at the local level. No one questions the need for a careful, well-reasoned document to assist in the challenging task of providing the church’s vernacular texts. After study and broad consultation, the document could be refined and made more complete and exact in its vision, especially with reference to the Neo-Vulgate. This would help all fulfill the words of St. Paul: Come to some mutual understanding in the Lord (Phil. 4:2).
Pope John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte refers to the Second Vatican Council as the great grace bestowed on the church in the twentieth century. He calls the council a sure compass by which we take our bearings in the century now beginning. The Authentic Liturgy uses a different compass, since it points away from the liturgical and biblical renewal of Vatican II. In many aspects the document is a disappointment; its compass needs to be reset.