A number of my colleagues, good pastoral people, have been preparing the way for the new translation of the Roman Missal. They are doing this in good faith, despite the fact that they have misgivings about the product they are promoting and the process that produced it. The situation is actually quite common. We can all think of examples of people in diocesan offices and parishes who are unhappy with the new translation, but have done their best to implement it.
The focus has been on the Missal. The pressure has been to get this done. All other concerns have been set aside. The hope is: If we can get through this, everything will be alright.
What must eventually be faced, however, is that this is only the beginning. If Missal implementation is judged a success, it will give the green light to the rest of the translation project.
It is time to consider what awaits us if the current regime continues the policy followed with the Missal. I’ve put together a partial list (not exhaustive), from three ritual books, of what we can expect to see changed in our ritual repertoire beyond the Missal. I’ve chosen three books published during the 1980s: The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, The Pastoral Care of the Sick, and the Order of Christian Funerals, because they exemplify the sort of pastoral adaptation likely to be suppressed if current policy continues.
RITE OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION OF ADULTS (1988)
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has enjoyed great success in its implementation not only because of its innate genius but also because it has been adaptable. Many people have invested countless hours of labor to make a vigorous catechumenate experience part of the Church’s ordinary life and ministry, especially in North America.
In the United States, because of the culture in which we live, about two-thirds of the adult participants in the initiatory process are baptized candidates. Their needs are different but related to those of catechumens. In 1988, an entire set of rituals adapted for this population received approval from the U.S. bishops and from Rome and was implemented. These ritual adaptations have not been above criticism. Many pastoral leaders would like to see them revised in light of the experience of the past 22 years. Yet few would want to abandon the field altogether. The great majority believe there is a place for ministry—and for appropriate rites—suited to the journey of baptized candidates.
If the RCIA is retranslated according to the restrictive norms that were followed with the Missal, however, all the adapted rites for baptized candidates (Part II, chapter 4, sections A–D, and Appendix I, 1–4) will disappear. Why? Not because they have been tried and found wanting, but simply because they are not in the Latin text. The Rite of Welcome, The Call to Continuing Conversion, the Penitential Rite for Candidates, the Combined Rite for the Easter Vigil—all will be gone. The only rite for the baptized will be the Rite of Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church.
The RCIA for children will also be affected. Children of catechetical age will no longer be allowed to celebrate the Rite of Election, for example (RCIA 277–290). Including children in election is an American adaptation, the fruit of much work and striving on the part of pastoral practitioners. Out it goes.
So too will go the Rite of Sending (RCIA 106–117, 434–445, and 530–546), an American adaptation designed to be celebrated in the parish as a complement to the Rite of Election when Election takes place in a diocesan setting.
The titles of several of the rites will change. The arrangement of the notes will change. Inclusive language will be eliminated from all the prayer texts. And, of course, we can expect a translation with the same awkwardness of expression we’ve seen in the Missal.
There has been a sharp decline in the number of unbaptized catechumens since 2005. What has kept our initiation numbers up has been the baptized candidates. With the decline in catechumens and the elimination of rites for the baptized adults who normally would be included somehow in the ritual processes of initiation, the size and scope of the RCIA will be dramatically reduced. I expect that it will actually disappear in some parishes altogether, because fewer resources will be given to it. Certainly, the impact of the RCIA on parish liturgy will diminish greatly.
The rites for the unbaptized, although they will be retranslated, will remain the same in structure. This is the good news.
THE PASTORAL CARE OF THE SICK: RITES OF ANOINTING AND VIATICUM (1983)
The Foreword to the 1983 edition of these rites states that “The texts in this volume have been arranged ‘in a format that will be as suitable as possible for pastoral use’ (General Introduction, 38f).” New texts also were added to the particular edition, according to the provisions of no. 39. Relevant references from other ritual books were added wherever helpful. These include texts from the RCIA, Penance, Funerals and Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. The result has been a well-designed and very practical ritual book.
On the left hand side of each page is found the new numbering system necessitated by the rearrangement of texts and the insertion of additional texts. The Latin numbering system remains visible in the right hand column. A look down the right hand column shows that return to the original numbering, and removal of all texts from the particular edition that are not in the Latin, will result in numerous alterations and – yes – a book more difficult to use.
Some very fine pastoral material will be deleted. Here are a few examples of what will disappear: visits to a sick child (PCS 47–50, 62–70); care of a dying child (PCS 168–174, 280); passages concerning the link between the sick person and the eucharistic community (PCS 51, 73); pastoral notes on the anointing (PCS 104–107), and a note on emergency rooms or casualty wards (PCS 152). The 1983 edition also makes a distinction between prayers for the sick and prayers for the dying, something not so well marked in the Latin edition yet important to their appropriate use.
It is strange to think that, for example, attention to the needs of children would be looked upon as an attack on authentic liturgy rather than a permissible extension of its benefits, but the terms of Liturgiam Authenticam are clear. Anything not in conformity with the Latin text is an intrusion to be eliminated.
THE ORDER OF CHRISTIAN FUNERALS (1989)
The arrangement of the texts for the 1989 Order of Christian Funerals, like the Pastoral Care of the Sick, has made the book much easier to use without flipping pages. These adjustments have been well-accepted. In fact, one is hard-pressed to think of a single complaint raised against them. They will be undone however, because the Latin edition must be followed in all its particulars.
All the introductory material (OCF 1–68), which sets out beautifully what is important to note about the ministries and the liturgical elements of each of the rites, is particular to the American edition. It will therefore be deleted.
Entire sections from Related Rites and Prayers, including introductory material and texts for Prayers After Death (OCF 98–106), for the Gathering in the Presence of the Body (OCF 109–116), and for the order for the Transfer of the Body to the Church or to the Place of Committal (OCF 119–124) will be gone.
The notes for the Funeral Liturgy (OCF 128–158) and the Introductory Rites (OCF 159–163) of that liturgy as well as texts for the General Intercessions (OCF 167) and the Final Commendation (OCF 170) are not in the Latin original. The introductory rites include such well-loved items as the placing of the pall and Christian symbols on the casket, and the blessing of the casket with holy water. Will any of these elements be permitted to remain? The bishops can ask, of course. But given our experience with the Missal, it seems unlikely that they will receive a favorable answer.
Finally, the notes on the Rite of Committal (OCF 204–215), as well as some of its texts (cf OCF 216, 218B and C, 219B, and 223), will also be taken out.
Again, one faces the heartbreaking fact that what blossomed into an entire section of notes and prayers pertaining to the funeral of a child (OCF 234ff) will probably be rejected simply because there is no word-for-word equivalent for it in Latin.
Many original prayers for individuals (bishops, priests, deacons, religious, married persons, the young, the elderly, several persons), sadly, will be lost. More painful still is the thought that prayers for those who died accidentally or violently (OCF 43), or by suicide (OCF 44, 45), will be deleted. Our current text even includes a prayer for a deceased non-Christian married to a Catholic (OCF 36). Presumably it won’t in the future.
LITURGY AS PASTORAL CARE
As one steps back and considers the big picture, things look bleak. The example of these three rites shows that, if current policy continues, pastoral care through the liturgy will be made smaller in scope and less effective. This is not an outcome in keeping with the Church’s mission. Nor is it likely to result in more effective evangelization and witness in the world.
As anyone who has worked in pastoral ministry can attest, the moments of the Church’s ministry surrounding sickness and death are some of the most critical. Likewise, the initiation of adults is a matter of fundamental concern, and also an occasion for outreach to the unchurched and non-believers. Scaling back our liturgical rites, making them less accessible and less adaptable, is surely the wrong way to go.
Yet here we are. In service to the ideology which says our English text must adhere so closely to Latin that even the arrangement of notes is identical, we are poised to pursue outcomes that will hurt and diminish the Church.
I began by saying that many well-intentioned, loyal servants of the Church have put their shoulder to the wheel of this “new translation” machine, perhaps not fully realizing where it would take them. Indeed, I doubt very much they are itching to get rid of prayers for dying children and the like. Yet the jettisoning of rites for two-thirds of the participants in the RCIA, the exclusion of special prayers for children who are sick, dying, and deceased, and all the rest of the changes outlined above, are foreseeable results of the self-same project. If we can foresee it, we bear responsibility for what we do — to support it, or to oppose it.