Napier On Translations

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa, member of ICEL’s episcopal board, wades into the liturgy mess he authorized this past Advent in his country. In his opinion piece, he offers an impassioned defense of recent Vatican documentation on translation. So you get his view on why the upcoming translation is a good one.

The title “Why the new Mass translations were necessary” dodges a few questions for which we’d like to get answers.

Just three choice quotes:

(T)oday (bishop’s) conferences have suitably qualified lay people, religious and priests serving on liturgy commissions, and even parishes have liturgy committees. So the possibilities of wider and more meaningful consultation are infinitely better. As a direct result of this latter fact, when ICEL consults its member conferences, the responses they receive include a far wider range of views. Therefore it is not accurate or true to say that the bishops decide alone, or without hearing what the laity have to say.

Some might say the bishops hardly decide at all. Remember when the US bishops leveled complaint at their input being ignored by ICEL? They managed a vote for the Order of Mass; after all they get to stick us laity with a poor effort there. I think they realize they will be getting an earful from their brother priests who will be on the front lines implementing. Why else would Roman Missal part II have failed to muster support? Cardinal Napier, no doubt, has a rector at his cathedral and a music director/liturgist on hire. Unlike most clergy, he won’t have to stare down upset and unwilling parishioners.

Not only were experts consulted, but non-experts should keep their noses out of the matter:

… I believe not every lay person is qualified to criticise the work done by hand-picked experts in a variety of fields, ranging from liturgy, Church history, biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), patristic theology, anthropology, and so on.

I would therefore strongly challenge the assumption that a free-for-all on the quality of the ICEL translation is fair, and even more that it is right for The Southern Cross to promote such an impression.

More of the notion of the poor, dumb laity: we know what’s good for you; just do as you’re told.

Cardinal Napier takes a swipe at the messenger:

Most disappointing, disturbing indeed, is the editorial in which the editor openly encourages dissent [Editor’s note: The editorial, titled “Liturgical anger”, did not promote dissent, but merely observed the nature of the reaction]. When oh when is our beloved Southern Cross going to become again the voice of a Church which believes implicitly and explicitly in the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.


Why was Napier so eager to implement? He’s on ICEL’s special bishop’s committee. Doesn’t he know the game plan? The assumption here in the US has been that no changes will be made until the whole body of the Roman Missal has been approved. A commenter here reports that Cardinal Napier has been asked to yank the Order of Mass he promulgated this past Advent. That’s not going to end well for him.

If he pulls back the new to obey Rome, it will appear as if his “inexpert” clergy and laity have won. If he dawdles, his opponents will paint him as disobedient and unfaithful. Does a cardinal archbishop have the pull to negotiate an exception? And if he does, what happens if his ICEL colleagues and Rome decide on a few adjustments?

An important matter like liturgical translation is seen as something more flighty than sound, something that can be done and undone at personal whim. Make a decision, then fabricate a theology to match.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Napier On Translations

  1. DMJ says:

    The Tablet has it in its headlines today.

    Vatican tells South Africans to stop using new Missal
    26 February 2009

    Catholics in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, who have sharply criticised new English translations for the Mass, which they became the first in the world to adopt in December, will no longer hear them used for the time being. The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) has ordered the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) to stop using the Vatican-approved texts. The bishops had believed that it was permissible to begin using them. Sources in the region told The Tablet that the CDW had written to SACBC president, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, asking him to withdraw the new translations until the entire missal has been published. The SACBC has begun using new translations of the people’s responses during Mass, but there are still some less frequently used prayers that have not yet been finalised. But the source said: “The bishops have decided to appeal Rome’s decision and want to press ahead.”

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    He’s just a good old boy towing the party line. He didn’t get the scarlet piping on his toga by being forward thinking or pastoral.

  3. LP says:

    After reading the correspondence and looking online it is clear that the Bishops in SA have messed up. They should apologise and we should return to the old translation. To my utter surprise I see (and have heard) that they are appealing Romes instruction to withdraw this translation. I guess that they are trying to ’save face’? That is a further insult to us, the laity. Instead of appealing and trying to justify their mess why can they not just apologise and let us all revert back. Or is this the way the Catholic Church continues to operate? Cover-ups? Have we not learnt anything from the sex-abuse in the US? If the Bishops who are behind this translation and so-called appeal cannot simply just apologise to us and let us revert back they haven’t got much integrity. Perhaps the best would be for them to resign. They are not the people we want in leadership.

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