South African bishop Edward Risi takes a publicity campaign to the readers of The Southern Cross and explains some of the thought behind the new English translations. Whether or not the bishops there have to pull the translations now or not, there will need to be considerably more catechesis on it. This piece is a start.
My friend Father Paul Turner, whom I respect as a scholar and a liturgist, also touts the advanced connections with Scripture in the new translation. But the argument is an empty one. The laity of South Africa don’t object to the references to the Bible. They don’t like the exalted tone rendered into unintelligibility.
If there’s a concern about the connection of the Roman Missal to Scripture, it doesn’t require a close translation to Latin (which isn’t a Biblical language at all). ICEL produced a translation of Roman Missal II in the 80’s that harmonized the opening prayer with the three-year Lectionary cycle. That effort was vetoed by the curia, and eleven years later we’re still stuck with what nearly everyone concedes is a weaker translation.
Bishop Risi also makes a case for “saying ‘please.'” And this is a good point. The way of saying please and Latin construction transliterated into English changes a short text with two periods and four commas:
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
to one period and ten commas:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, sustained by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope, and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Let me tackle one significant comment from Bishop Risi:
The new text requires more effort to be attentive to the meaning of whole sentence and to what is being said prayerfully. But the effort may be well worth it! The same can be said for most of the new translations.
The bishop, others on ICEL, and most advocates of Liturgiam Authenticam (LA) have lost track of an important liturgical principle: progressive solemnity. While usually applied to the overarching celebration of the liturgical year and the implementation of singing and other features of solemnity, the principle has no less application within a single celebration of Mass.
The highlight texts of the celebration of Mass are the Scriptures and the Eucharistic Prayer. They deserve more attention, reverence, and effort by all celebrating the liturgy. The peripheral texts do not operate on the same level. While these texts cannot be omitted from the Mass, their mandated inclusion doesn’t mean they have equal importance to all other required texts.
The serious flaw in the new approach to translation is that, as Bishop Risi concedes, it takes effort. Scholars and contemplatives might well embrace the effort. But is a concentrated effort through the whole celebration of Mass really a desired quality? People should make the effort during the Eucharistic Prayer to understand what is happening and what is being prayed. Gesture and tone should always highlight the epiclesis as it does for the institution narrative. Acclamations should be well-introduced and vigorously sung by the assembly. The intercessions should be clear, and the Amen and Lord’s Prayer offer a certain closure here. A ten-comma sentence is not what the liturgy needs to follow this “effort.”
Put simply, within a thirty- or sixty- or two hundred-minute liturgy there are times when worshippers should be challenged. And there are times when people will simply tune out. It’s not a question of intelligence or perceptibility or education. It’s a matter of pacing. A marathon runner doesn’t sprint for twenty-six miles. Like a challenging run, good liturgy needs to provide a certain pace to ensure the really important moments are engaging the people, and the less important moments don’t call undue attention to themselves.
I believe the principles of LA are open to question and debate. That debate may be ineffective at present I’ll grant. But within the goal of making the liturgy more meaningful, I think applying LA will fall far short of the potential a thoughtful and crafted whole of the Missal would be.
If we want to say “please” to God more often, it can be done without LA. If we want more Scripture allusions, we need more prayers composed in the vernacular, and we can draw those Scriptures out with approved translations … without LA. I don’t feel any less loyal to the Church or to good liturgy by saying that these justifications are just a policy in search of a theology–any theology–that can back up a decision made in secret in the mid-90’s. This isn’t about prayerfulness or reverence. This is about the politics of control, and the addiction to power.