Msgr. James Moroney in interview

Msgr Moroney Moroney bio_0001

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Pray Tell: A milestone has been reached with the implementation date for the English Missal definitively set. How do you feel now – relieved, anxious, excited?
Msgr. James Moroney: In the past few years, I have been privileged to speak about the new translation in 97 dioceses. After each of these presentations (usually running about four hours) I have experienced great excitement on the part of Priests who were somewhat anxious before actually studying the new texts.
I am thrilled at the opportunities that await us with the reception of a translation which is both beautiful and precise. It reflects the tone, the style and the substance of the Latin texts which we have been preserving for so many centuries and will have a profound impact not only on the liturgical, but the catechetical and spiritual life of the Church for decades to come.
No work of more than 1200 pages is perfect, least of all a translation. But it is such a vast improvement over the text we now use, that I find myself very excited by the prospect of its use.

PT: Any predictions for how the implementation will go?
JM: Change is never easy. It wasn’t easy in 1965 and 1970, and it won’t be easy today. But change for a good reason, change to enhance peoples’ understanding of and participation in the Sacred Liturgy is worth it. Based upon the reaction I have experienced so far, I am certain it will go well. Thanks to the BCDW [Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, the U.S. national liturgy office], FDLC [Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions], ICEL [International Commission on English in the Liturgy] and the many liturgical publishers, we are better prepared for such an implementation than we have ever been before.

PT: Do you expect this missal text to last for many generations, or do you think the need for further refinement revision will arise rather soon?
JM: Only time will tell. While it is true that language changes very rapidly these days, it is also true that a certain stability in liturgical and scriptural translations is necessary for real catechesis. Anyone involved in the work of the liturgical reform, however, needs to pray for the humility to know that whatever we do (pray God, for the good of the Church), it is up to the Church to determine when the Liturgy needs to change. That was true for a liturgist working to implement the reforms of Trent, and it is still true today.

PT: What advice would you give to priests who don’t like some of the texts and intend to alter them?
JM: This is an important question. In any work of over a thousand pages we will all find things we do not like or that we would have done differently. We must always remember, however, that there is a great deal at stake, doctrinally, spiritually, and ecclesially, in preserving the integrity of these ancient texts and the unity of the Church’s belief and worship. I would be very careful about imposing my interpretations on translations which scores of scholars, bishops, and the Holy See have discerned to be accurate and appropriate renderings of the Roman Liturgy.
That’s why the Council Fathers reminded us that no one (not even a priest!) can add to or take away from the Sacred Liturgy. Or, as Father John Rotelle used to say, “People have a right to the Roman Rite.”

PT: Several compromises were made, such as plugging in the current “May almighty God have mercy on us…” absolution text. What would you say to the defenders of Liturgicam authenticam who are disappointed that the Latin is not always translated accurately?
JM: I’d say they should read Liturgiam authenticam no. 20, which does not call for a slavish literal rendering, but a living translation which is capable of authentically conveying the meaning of the text with beauty and memorability. There are two values here, as there always have been: accuracy and proclaimability. Without the first, you’re interpreting rather than translating. Without the second, the meaning will never be apprehended. Both are required for an authentic translation.

PT: Other churches and denominations typically have an open and transparent process for textual revision, with draft texts made available to the entire membership for input. What do you think of our more top-down and secretive process? Do you think it works?
JM: I challenge the premise that this has been a “top down and secretive process.” Bishops were encouraged at every stage to consult widely at the grass roots level for each Green Book and Gray Book. For the Green Book of the Order of Mass alone, then a 38 page text, the U.S. Bishops submitted close to 4,000 pages of comments they had received. I might also note that most other churches and denominations do not translate liturgical texts but compose them…a very different enterprise. Finally, I would be very surprised if any denomination has ever had the kind of widespread participation in the formation of prayers which the Catholic Church in the United States has just experienced.

PT: How come the ICEL musicians who have worked in setting the new texts weren’t consulted when the final revisions were made?
JM: The question you ask falls close to confidential material. The Vox Clara Committee operates under a promise of confidentiality which, I am sure you can understand in the light of our role advising the Holy See.

PT: Tell me about the work of Vox Clara. How often did you meet? What typically transpired at your meetings?
JM: The best way to answer this question is to go to the Vatican website, where all of the Press Releases for the meetings of the Vox Clara committee are posted. Vox Clara never met without publishing a Press Release describing exactly what it had done.

PT: Who was responsible for the final changes to the text and what role did Vox Clara play?
JM: The Congregation [for Divine Worship in the Roman curia] alone has the authority to confirm a liturgical text. The Vox Clara Committee was created by the Congregation as an advisory body. Its advice to the Congregation, at every stage of the work, has been held in the strictest confidentiality. The Vox Clara Committee, therefore, made no changes to the text, only recommendations to the Congregation in order to assist in its review of the text at several stages.
A not inconsiderable number of changes also originated from the amendments which were submitted by the USCCB and the other English-speaking Conferences. For example, the USCCB submitted more than 300 amendments on the Proper of Time segment. Multiply that by many segments and eleven conferences and you have a pretty hefty number of changes recommended to the Holy See by the Conferences by way of amendments.
It is the Congregation alone, then, which was responsible for confirming the text, and the Congregation which decided which changes to introduce in the light of the amendments approved by the Conferences and whatever other advice it had received. Their work, at the end of such a long process involving so many people, was to blend the whole together, ensuring accuracy, authenticity, and consistency of translation throughout the Missal.

PT: What’s next? Will Vox Clara continue to advise the Holy See for translations of other rites and sacraments?
JM: I presume that Vox Clara will continue to advise the Holy See, ICEL will continue to translate the typical editions, and the Bishops will continue to develop and approve translations of liturgical texts. There’s plenty of work to go around! May God who has begun this good work continue to bless it.

Msgr. Moroney spoke with Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, of Pray Tell.

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31 comments

  1. Q. What do you think of our more top-down and secretive process?


    A. I challenge the premise that this has been a “top down and secretive process.” …

    Q. How come the ICEL musicians who have worked in setting the new texts weren’t consulted when the final revisions were made?

    A. The Vox Clara Committee operates under a promise of confidentiality which, I am sure you can understand in the light of our role advising the Holy See.

    * * *

    If I reflected on how much this sounds like 1984 I would get depressed. So here’s a more lighthearted quote from Yes Minister

    Sir Humphrey. How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?

    Sir Arnold. Sorry, I can’t talk about that.

  2. Thisis depressing indeed: the antithesis implied in ‘whatever we do … it is up to the Church’; the doublethink about secrecy; the sense that just anything would be supported provided only some Roman authority had approved it.

    I would welcome some bishop who voted for 1998 telling us about the conversion process he went through in order also to approve of some ancestor (before it vanished into Rome’s secretive maw) of the version that is about to be visited upon us. If we can find bishops able sincerely to tell us how they really, as human beings rather than as appratchiks, can now believe that LA represents an improvement on CLP, then that might actually do something to help people become reconciled. But if this interview is typical of officialdom’s stance, then the future is bleak indeed.

    1. This is like wondering how the same bishops who
      approved the 1965 translation turned around and approved the ICEL Order of Mass on November 13, 1969.

      The more things change the more they stay the same.

  3. a translation which is both beautiful and precise.

    More precise it may well be (though the recent changes show that this is probably not a quality that will shine consistently through the final product), but beautiful it certainly ain’t. Is the Monsignor living in the real world?, one asks oneself.

    And to say that Vox Clara did not make any changes itself but only made recommendations to the Congregation is like saying that civil servants do not write the laws on the statute books, they only recommend what ministers should write. It’s disingenuous.

    1. Perhaps they are not more beautiful to you but they are more beautiful to him. This is subjectivity. I bet there are quite a few who find the EF more beautiful than anything found in the current translation of the OF or the forthcoming one.

  4. Q. Tell me about the work of Vox Clara. How often did you meet? What typically transpired at your meetings?


    A. Vox Clara never met without publishing a Press Release describing exactly what it had done. … Its advice to the Congregation, at every stage of the work, has been held in the strictest confidentiality.

    * * *

    Given all this confidentiality perhaps the Committee could be renamed Vox Obscura.

    Yes Minister makes it all clear:

    “It is only totalitarian governments that suppress facts. In this country we simply take a democratic decision not to publish them.”

  5. The good Father Moroney sounds a tad bit defensive in his responses.

    PT: How come the ICEL musicians who have worked in setting the new texts weren’t consulted when the final revisions were made?
    JM: The question you ask falls close close to confidential material. The Vox Clara Committee operates under a promise of confidentiality which, I am sure your can understand in the light of our role advising the Holy See.

    What? Confidential material? We’re not talking national security here. Good Lord.

  6. This interview is an eye-opener. Msgr. Moroney is probably closer to the situation on the ground than anyone else, and he sounds confident and excited about the prospects for successful implementation of this translation. Looks like it’s all over, doesn’t it. The time for second-guessing, I mean. Time now to all pull together for Church and Faith. Isn’t it?

      1. Well, Fr. Ruff, it’s difficult to disguise a deep sense of personal gratitude and eager anticipation as the long dark night of the current translation nears an end. I’m confident that many Catholics in the pews will share my profound sense of relief on the First Sunday of Advent in 2011.

        I do judge the new translation to have a beauty and dignity of liturgical language that several generations have missed, to the detriment of their faith and worship. While there are expressed objections to the process of translation—which appears to me to have been open and deliberate–I do not find credible the claims that the result is anything last than a palpable improvement in virtually every substantive way, fidelity to the received Latin liturgy received being the most important for a revitalization of the Mass of Paul VI.

    1. CHE,

      Also, I think I detect a tone of gloating or rubbing it in. I kindly ask you to be satisfied with respectful critique of others’ positions, and clear statement of your own position, minus the attitude. If nothing else, your tone serves to make you less credible in others’ eyes, I suspect.

      awr

      1. Do we get a tone of satisfaction whenever delay is suggested? I think we do and if credibility is sought it should be noted on both ends.

      2. I didn’t sense that at all. Relief is what I sensed. I have often read CHE post and really do not think his post gloat at all. From a poster’s perspective. Other responses that clearly gloat by stating so are not singled out.

  7. “Perhaps they are not more beautiful to you but they are more beautiful to him. This is subjectivity. I bet there are quite a few who find the EF more beautiful than anything found in the current translation of the OF or the forthcoming one.”

    Defenders of the forthcoming translation rarely argue directly that it is beautiful, but often argue that beauty is a matter of subjective perception. However, the faculty of aesthetic judgment can be trained and developed, by reading good English in this case. It is significant that so many of those who find the forthcoming translation abominable are precisely people who have devoted their lives to English and Latin literature (see Msgr Ryan’s petition and its appended comments). Countries where there is a high degree of sensitivity to elegance of diction, notably England and Ireland, will probably register the shock of the forthcoming translation most acutely. Countries inured to crassness might contain many people who will find the forthcoming translation “elegant” just as some people perceive any treacly music played by a string orchestra as “classical”.

    1. All the comparative texts I have read are clearly, to me, more beautiful than the current translation.

      And, on the subject of “tone” I’d offer that Mr. O’Leary’s remarks are as condescending and victorious sounding as the editor accuses CHE of being.

    2. I’ve been around for long enough to know that the existing translation has been lamented as too American in the British Isles.

      1. Despite the fact that several of the primary translators were Brits…..

        As well as translators, they were pastors, based in working-class parishes. From their experience, they knew that plain, simple language was much more likely to lead their people into prayer than rococo excrescences and convoluted syntax. And they have been proved right.

        And, for what it’s worth, amid the somewhat bland prose there are some extremely beautiful moments in the existing translation. It’s not all as bad as its critics have portrayed it.

  8. “And, on the subject of “tone” I’d offer that Mr. O’Leary’s remarks are as condescending and victorious sounding as the editor accuses CHE of being.”

    But the “tone” of the translations tells the story just as plainly as Katia’s cracked voice tells hers: “It is truly right to give you thanks, truly just to give you glory, Father, most holy, for you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abide for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light. And so, in your presence are countless hosts of angels, who serve you day and night and, gazing upon the glory of your face, glorify you without ceasing. With them we too confess your name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven as we sing (say):”

  9. Or again: “Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them and all who are dear to them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and fulfilling their vows to you, the eternal God, living and true.”

    1. This is no longer the proposed text. The most recent revision is less awkward: “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.”

  10. Re. whether the new texts are “beautiful.”

    It is as well to remember that the idea that liturgical prayers should be “beautiful” is a comparatively recent one.

    It took a long time (some 250 years) for the English Bible of 1611 or the Book of Common Prayer to be thought of as “beautiful” texts. They had to bed into the common mind first.

    My sense of this is that we need a lot more time, and some serious intellectual effort (systematic study of prosody, rhythms, imagery, etc. of the new texts) to decide on the ‘beauty ‘ or otherwise, of the new translation.

    Instant reactions simply mirror the taste of the author.

    On the subject of the recent revisions, whoever did them, my judgement based on looking at those in the Order of Mass and in the Proper of Seasons (I can’t get “Proper of Time,” without thinking of expressions like “now is not the proper time for …”) would be that many of the revisions actually improve the text, but that has to be a provisional judgement.

    Alan Griffiths.

    1. My judgment is more mixed than this. Some of the changes are improvements, including very good improvements. But some of the changes, I think most people would probably say, are bad and even disastrously bad. It will be interesting to see how various people assess the balance between improvements and impoverishments (or errors).
      awr

      1. What do you consider to be an improvement specifically? So very little positive is said here at PrayTell, that I sometimes wonder if there is anything at all about the translation that its contributors think are an improvement.

        Personally, I consider the strength of the new missal to be in the people’s parts of the ordinary. I don’t think the priest’s parts are as awful or awkward as others seem to think (they’re not as bad as the current translation is), but I can at least understand some of the criticism waged against them. The people’s parts, which the 1998 translation failed to address (the biggest impoverishment of that translation, IMO), are a vast improvement and are generally a lot more beautiful than both the 1973 and 1998.

  11. So the new translation now reads: “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.” How often will the text change again until the faithful start hearing it in Church? Has the US Bishops website put up the latest version of the translation? At one stage the US Bishops had a version in which Mary was made the mother of Joseph her spouse (only corrected when I wrote to Bp Trautman about it). Will the new translation begin in the form of last minute xeroxed texts that the celebrant and faithful will see only that very morning? This is a farce!

    1. This article is almost a year old, so the split among bishops it refers to is that back when they were approving the final text to submit to Rome.
      awr

  12. I agree that it would be both interesting and revealing to see what (if anything) the contributors to the comments on this blog found positive about the upcoming corrected translation.

    1. +JMJ+

      From what I’ve seen of it, I’m mostly quite happy about it. (Just click my name to see what I think of it.) From what I haven’t seen but have heard about it, I have some reservations. The “Xavier” article here raises some very good questions, most of which I agree with.

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