American Media Picks Up On Translation Tussles

Three months after the uproar, the North American media have picked up on the distaste of South African Catholics on the new Order of Mass translation. I think we all know had it happened in America, there would be a tad bit more publicity. As it is, the NYT sniffs blood in the liturgical waters with this quote from Thomas Reese, SJ at Georgetown:

I think the church has been very lucky that the South Africans jumped the gun because it’s showing the Vatican that there is going to be a worldwide problem when these new translations are put into effect. Once again the Vatican isn’t listening to the critics, and we’re going to have another major embarrassment to the pope when these translations are put into effect and are forced on the people in the pews.

 And Bishop Kevin Dowling from South Africa:

I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II.


Well-managed? Given the recent Vatican troubles, that may be generous.

The way I see it, there are complaints on no less than four fronts:

1. Resistance to change. Many Catholics won’t see anything good coming out of it, and will object to getting yanked from their comfort zones.

2. Resistance to Rome, bishops, and clergy. Some Catholics will see this as dawdling by the hierarchy when there are other more important (in their eyes) issues that need to be tackled. Those issues might range from conservative concerns about doctrine and discipline and life issues to liberal ones about social justice, subsidiarity, and independence.

3. Resistance to a poor translation. A good argument can be made that this translation is of lesser quality than 1970’s. While the vocabulary is impressive, and the adherence to Latin grammatical forms is undeniable, the overall effort is not stellar. Rather than a focus on Christ and the Scriptures, the thrust is on faithfulness to a human language, Latin.

4. Resistance to the dismantling of Vatican II. This is largely symbolic, but I think this will be the rallying cry for post-conciliar Catholics outside the realm of the liturgy geeks.

And the pro- camp?

1. They can cite the poverty of the existing translation, and they would be right. But how to make that case without alienating an English-speaking culture in North America and Australia (if not worldwide) that eschews the “exalted” language of centuries past and its identification with elitism, aristocracy, and exclusion.

2.  Because the pope says so.

Is there any hope?

1. I think the laity would swallow some of the changes in their texts if they were set to music superior to what they are singing now. The dialogues, if sung (and that means Sunday and daily Masses) would be embraced, I think.

2. The bishops will need time to convince their priests, and if there was an effort to improve the level of praying and proclaiming new texts, there is a chance the laity would not mind if other people were using new words. Do you think the bishops have enough credibility to convince their clergy? I see this as the key connection.

3. Maybe ICEL will pull back some texts and throw a few bones. Do you think this will convince the laity?

4. Pope Benedict will realize that his clergy and bishops won’t be able to control the protest and there will be a substantive threat to Church unity. The whole experiment will be abandoned and ICEL will return to the drawing board. Fat chance, right?



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to American Media Picks Up On Translation Tussles

  1. Matthew says:

    I think things will actually go quite smoothly in places where Pastors, Music Directors and other visible leadership support the change.

    I was at a Diocese-wide meeting a few months back and one Priest was very open and angry about the translation – his voice full of sarcasm and his body language full of eye-rolls. His parish will likely have trouble with it.

    I don’t foresee mine having any problems. Even if the Pastor isn’t really in favor of the changes, he will communicate the reasons with clarity and never speak ill of them in the way that some other Priests have. I have a lot of enthusiasm for them as do some other staff… So I’m very optimistic.

  2. Anne says:

    I’m not optimistic. I believe that there will be some reluctance and protesting from the faithful. However I would be disappointed if my pastor spoke negatively to the people when there is nothing he can do to change the way it is. I can’t imagine a pastor doing that.
    Teach with a positive attitude,whether you like it or not and let the faithful make up there own minds.

  3. Katherine says:

    Something I haven’t seen anyone address: supposedly the new translation, in being more faithful to the Latin, will ALSO be closer to what people are saying in other languages. Surely this is not a non-issue, especially given the increasingly multilingual realities of some parishes?

  4. Tony says:

    Pope Benedict will realize that his clergy and bishops won’t be able to control the protest and there will be a substantive threat to Church unity.

    I lived through Vatican II, and it’s taking all my willpower not to retreat into a “how do you like it” mode.

  5. Jimmy Mac says:

    The parishioners now are very different from those of 40+ years ago. Then they were still conditioned to believeing that “Father Knoweth Best.” No way that happens these days. I doubt that too many parishes have seen everyone bow prior to receiving communion, or that every priest retreats to his little area of safety during the passing of the peace. Folks now are quite used to saying: “Thanks, O Ontologically Favored Ones, but no thanks.”

    If Humanae Vitae has been disregarded to the extent that it has, and if the confessional lines are ancient history, then don’t expect the old “pray, pay and obey” mentality to be suddenly resurrected in a cloud of incense, lacey blouses and watered silk.

  6. Anne says:

    Thanks Jimmy Mac..I was trying to figure out how to word my response to Tony. You said it for me.

  7. David says:

    I encourage readers of this blog to have a look at the Southern Cross website and see for themselves how the small English-speaking minority in South Africa (laity, bishops and priests) has reacted to the new translation – the site contains arguments on both sides.

    The strength of the reaction by the laity against the translation though, coming as it does for a usually very passive section of Catholic society is a troubling sign for the American Church, which has a much more assertive laity.

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