Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen, through the whole missal translation saga, the truth stretched this far. I can’t let this one pass without comment.
The speaker is Msgr. James Moroney, Executive Secretary of Vox Clara, widely suspected of being the ringleader for the 10,000 changes made to the missal text after the English-speaking bishops’ conferences approved it and send it to Rome for final approval.
The topic is changes in translation theory in academia.
The claim (get ready to support your lower jaw) is that Liturgiam authenticam was issued in 2001 in response to calls from the academy for a better translation theory, after consultation with academicians. Liturgiam authenticam and the forthcoming missal translation, then, reflect changed views in the academy about translation.
The occasion is a talk Msgr. Moroney gave in Providence, RI on May 2nd. An audio recording of the Q & A got to me by a circuitous route. Here is a transcript of the relevant part, naturally in the style of spontaneous response:
This whole shebang, what happened? What triggered it was the change in the academy of translation theory… One of the things that occurred to translators in the late eighties and the early nineties is, “Oh my God, a lot of these dynamic equivalent translations are just way off the mark,” and we never, we’re not really in contact with what the original text is. And if we really mean (inaudible) that the identity of the Church is what’s at stake, and real good theology is what’s at stake when translating these texts, then one translates them the best way that one possibly can. But we didn’t want to go off and do it in such a way that we’d have to redo it every ten years…
The consultation on these translations in the last ten years (inaudible) involved over seven thousand people who reviewed it… We’ve never consulted 7000 people on anything before! Now you’ll hear people say, “Well, we need more consultation,” [and] that usually means, “You haven’t consulted me yet.” [laughter] But the reality is that this has been the most intensive thing I’ve ever witnessed in my day (inaudible) … Because translation theory all across the board is changing, and when the academy was changing it, pressure began to be brought the area and maybe we should take another look at the translations here.
I’ll give you concrete details… ICEL had redone the 1970 translation in 1991, and presented it to the conference, because even they said, looking back at the ’70 translation, this needs to be improved. But there was grave discomfort over the revised translations and the original translations, and there were very strong and heated feelings that were seeking after light, and what happened after those mid-1990s meetings is there were a series of initiatives in all of the English-speaking world, including the report on the vernacular, and all kinds of consultations, trying to bring together scholars and saying “Look, we’re killing each other over this translation stuff, what’s really going on?” And when they were able to say, “In the larger scope of things, there is a move by secular translators from dynamic to formal equivalency for this, this, and this, we’re able to identify,” and after about six years of consultation, that’s when the Holy See came out with Liturgiam Authenticam.
“Grave discomfort over the revised translations”? I don’t think so. ICEL worked with the eleven English-speaking bishops’ conferences from 1982 to 1997 creating a very fine translation of the sacramentary (= missal), and all of it was approved by wide margins, unanimously in some cases, by every conference of English-speaking bishops. The one possible exception is one section of the missal in one conference – but even in this case, and it concerns the U.S. conferences, the section of the missal was approved by over 2/3 of the bishops.
Liturgical scholars were highly supportive of the 1997 ICEL sacramentary and enthusiastic about its implementation. The critics were mostly a small group of U.S. bishops, inspired by a small but very loud group of clergy and laity, and both of these small groups found receptive ears in the Vatican.
“After about six years of consultation, the Holy See came out with Liturgiam Authenticam” ? I don’t think so. If there was a consultation with, say, members of the North American Academy of Liturgy, or Societas Liturgica, or the Society for Catholic Liturgy, or the Catholic Theological Society of America, or the faculty at Sant’ Anselmo or any other theological faculty, I missed it. No one was more surprised than Cardinal George the day Liturgiam authenticam appeared on the Vatican website – though the Cardinal was then a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, no one had even told him the document was forthcoming, much less consulted him in its production.
Widespread consultation, wider than ever before, in the production of the new translation? Perhaps in terms of numbers of people involved – but it would be interesting to tally up how many were involved in the sixteen years of work on the 1997 sacramentary. Consultation with mainstream scholars? No. If there had been consultation with the academy, and if their input had been taken seriously, neither Liturgiam authenticam nor the 2011 English missal would have happened.
The fact is that both Liturgiam authenticam and the forthcoming translation have met with widespread rejection in the academy. Consider:
- The Executive Board of the Catholic Biblical Association said this in its statement on LA:
Having studied this document in detail and having discussed our reactions to it, we conclude that although it contains much that is positive and beneficial to true liturgy, some of its provisions are sufficiently ill-advised as to be the likely occasion of embarrassment to the Church. And it is our considered opinion that the document can have a seriously detrimental impact on the reverence and love for as well as study and knowledge of the Bible in the Church.
- Fr. Joseph Jensen, OSB, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association, said this of LA:
If implemented, it would have serious impact in at least three areas: ecclesiology, inculturation and biblical scholarship. Gravest would be the ecclesial impact. What does such an arbitrary exercise of authority by a Roman office over conferences of bishops implies for collegiality? The earlier move of the Congregation for Divine Worship to impose its authority over the International Commission for English in the Liturgy would reduce conferences’ control over their own liturgies; thin new document lays the foundation for Vatican micromanagement of almost every aspect of liturgical texts.
- Fr. Edward Foley, co-founder of the Academy for Catholic Liturgy, stated at the most recent NAAL meeting:
[LA] suggests a kind of cultural hierarchicalism, that the “genius of the Roman Rite” is smarter or better than indigenous cultures or languages. Is God adequately revealed only in a liturgy that conforms to Latin thought patterns, syntax and language? … What happens to collegiality … when the text the U.S. bishops approve and send to Rome for recognition comes back non-recognitio? The U.S. bishops’ process has been superseded by Vox Clara in this retranslation process and the bishops have received back a text they never approved. … [H]ow hospitable are these texts to young adults, to longsuffering women worshippers who admittedly constitute well over 65% not only of worshippers, but of church volunteers and lay ecclesial ministers? How hospitable are these texts that do not accept inclusivity as a prevailing or determinative standard?
- No one in the last five years has stood up at a meeting the Catholic Academy for Liturgy or the North American Academy of Liturgy, as I recall, to defend LA or the forthcoming translation. I have heard, year after year, critique, anguish, frustration, outrage, sadness, disappointment, and at best, a willingness to try to make the new translation work despite its flaws.
- Chant scholar Peter Jeffery, self-described liturgical conservative, wrote this about LA:
[W]hat it lacks in factuality it makes up with naked aggression. It speaks words of power and control rather than cooperation and consultation, much less charity. … It is particularly embarrassing that all this muscular Christianity comes to us vested and mitred in the most ignorant statement on liturgy ever issued by a modern Vatican congregation. But in a millennium when a Pope can apologize to the Jews, it is not too much to hope that the Dicastery, too, will find the courage to lead by example, and practice what it preaches on the matter of accepting correction. … Liturgiam authenticam should be summarily withdrawn, on the grounds that it was released prematurely, before proper consultation with a sufficient number of experts had been completed. Then only the hard part will remain: what to do about the issues and tensions that produced it.
- On December 11, 2003, a conference at Sant’ Anselmo on the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II liturgy constitution brought hundreds of scholars to Rome, along with Vatican officials such as then-prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Arinze. John Allen gives us Fr. Robert Taft’s report on an extraordinary occurrence at the conference that says much about scholars’ attitudes toward LA.
Towards the end [of his talk, Fr. Ignacio Calabuig OSM] turned to Arinze, who was seated there, and, in a trembling voice, departed from his written text, saying (in Italian of course) something like this (I am paraphrasing what I recall, not translating literally):
“I feel I must tell the prefect that the devastating impression the congregation seems to be spreading throughout the church, that men of great culture in their own lands are not capable of translating liturgical texts into their own mother tongue, is causing great discontent and concern in the church.”
At this point the entire audience, some 600 strong in the basilica, spontaneously exploded into prolonged, enthusiastic applause that thundered on for about three minutes. It was an historic moment, the message was crystal clear, and even His Eminence himself felt finally constrained to join — albeit timidly — in the applause that went on and on and just would not stop. I hope the reporters were there to record that one for posterity! This is my 39th year in Rome and I never saw anything like it before. I could not have been more delighted, and have told the story to anyone willing to listen.
So much for the academy calling for LA and supporting the translations done according to LA.
Be honest, Jim. Most scholars in the academy did not and do not support Liturgiam authenticam. Most scholars in the academy do not support the forthcoming translations. Do not claim, then, that the efforts you’re involved in are carried out in response to changed views in the academy.
Church officials and those who produced the forthcoming translations have decided to go forward despite the resounding opposition of the academy. Church officials, in a major change of course, are no longer guided by the work of leading liturgical scholars, as had been the case since at least the middle of the twentieth century.
Maybe church officials are right about the direction of liturgical reform. Maybe most of the academy is wrong. (The current pope seems to think so.) Maybe there is good reason to ignore the academy.
But if that’s what you’re doing, at least be honest about it.