Ed. note: Gabe Huck continues his discussion of the new translation. The column below was published in the December issue of Celebration magazine (www.celebrationpublications.org), and we thank them for the permission to reprint it here. Part I is available here, Part II is available here, and Part III is available here.

In [the previous three parts of this series] we have been thinking together on these pages about translation, its hazards and possibilities.  This is a subject of great importance given the new texts to be read aloud in the Roman Catholic assemblies, some of them anyway, beginning with the Advent season. The discussion of translations here has necessarily been interwoven with the political/ideological story that drove the translation story.

Now we leave translation aside to talk about a much less noticed disaster. In the 2010 missal, the Vox Clara missal, why are there no “alternative” collects?  These original English texts have been an element of our sacramentary since 1973. The responsible bodies in other language groups have also composed and put into use original texts in their post-Vatican II sacramentaries. Original texts in English have become part not only of the sacramentary but of other rituals such as those for pastoral care of the sick and dying.  What became the ICEL project of creating a second generation of these alternative texts, a project carried out in the 1980s and 1990s when ICEL commissioned, tested and evaluated original texts, prayers written to be faithful to the Roman Rite’s way of praying, but written also in with awareness of the seasonal and scriptural context for the assembly’s prayer. Much careful and often inspired work went into composing such prayers in tune with the genius of English, specifically of English to be proclaimed and to be heard.  Why are we now left with no alternatives to the poor-to-mediocre translations of prayers that were all too often already poor to mediocre in their original Latin?

For example.  On the First Sunday of Advent, in each year of the three-year lectionary cycle, the 2010 Vox Clara missal (they’ll have no more of that “sacramentary” talk) will have this prayer, one that we touched on [previously]:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

I’m told that is a fairly accurate translation from the Latin, a text guaranteed to touch neither mind nor heart.  Perhaps that does not matter, but what does matter is that the speaking of the text evoke the assembly’s church-forming Amen. It won’t happen.

Would we like an alternative to that text?  Let’s go back to that wild, rebellious decade, the 1980s. In 1983, ICEL explained a continuing effort to create a body of texts composed in English, a second generation of those “alternative prayers” of the l973 sacramentary.  These newly-composed texts were to relate in subtle ways to the scripture texts of the Sunday. That dictated a separate opening prayer for each year of the three-year lectionary cycle. The authority to explore original English texts came from the Instruction on the Translation of Liturgical Texts issued by the Vatican in 1969.

Texts translated from another language are clearly not sufficient for the celebration of a fully renewed liturgy.  The creation of new texts will be necessary.  But translation of texts transmitted through the tradition of the Church is the best school and discipline for the creation of new texts so “that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already in existence.”

The ICEL process involved invitations for submission of compositions for certain Sundays, review and revision of texts submitted, then publishing the resulting texts for use in participating parishes over several months. Two booklets of prayers for a limited number of Sundays were published by ICEL, one in 1983 and one in 1986.  I certainly do not know what feedback ICEL received from these experiments with original compositions in various US parishes, but the texts offered might be looked at anew in light of the abandonment of original compositions since Liturgiam Authenticam.  In their language, content, possibilities as spoken and listened to texts, do these prayers clarify or mystify why the Vatican forbid any texts that are not slavish translations of the Latin?

We should note also that some of these prayers, usually in slightly altered form, were included in the sacramentary approved by ICEL and by the American bishops in 1998.  In fact, that document included three original compositions for the collect of each Sunday, each of these designated for Year A, B or C of the three-year cycle.

Other bishops’ conferences of English-speaking countries likewise gave their approval, but when this sacramentary was sent to the Vatican in 1998 for the usual ratification, the ratification never happened.  Instead, ICEL was, in effect, disbanded by the Vatican and reconstituted to do Rome’s bidding.  What that bidding would be became clear in Liturgiam Authenticam. This document, basic to the effort to undo Vatican II, prohibits prayers composed in any vernacular for the liturgy of the church. For the story of Rome’s campaign against ICEL from the pen of one who was there, see Bishop Maurice Taylor’s recent book: It’s the Eucharist: Thank God. (The book is available from Amazon.  The Tablet said: “…this [book] presents the authoritative inside story of how officials in the Roman Curia usurped the right of the bishops’ conferences to oversee the translations of the missal into English, and destroyed the bishops’ translation agency in the form they had given it.” See the review in The Tablet here. )

Although the 1998 sacramentary and its original English compositions were never published in a sacramentary for parish use, the texts for these collects did become available. First in their experimental form in the small booklets of 1983 and 1986, then in their final form in various places where the collects of the 1998 sacramentary were included for study purposes. A book was published in England making many of them available: Opening Prayers:Collects in a Contemporary Language, Scripture Related Prayers for Sundays and Holy Days, Years A, B and C. The book is available from Canterbury Press and from Amazon.

But what of the texts themselves?  How good were they? How substantial?  How attuned to the context of the assembly doing its liturgy?  Do they call forth a presider’s effort to speak them clearly, aware that they don’t do their work if the presider doesn’t cannot be caught up in their proclamation?  Part of making a judgment about texts for prayer demands reading through a prayer more than once, then proclaiming it aloud. Consider the original text of the collect for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A, as given in the ICEL trial booklet of 1986:

Above the clamor of our violence
your Word of truth resounds,
O God of majesty and power.
Over the nations enshrouded in despair
your justice dawns.

Grant your household
a discerning spirit and a watchful eye
to perceive the hour in which we live.
Hasten the advent of that Day
when the weapons of war shall be banished,
our deeds of darkness cast off,
and all your scattered children gathered into one.

We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose Day draws near:
your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

When the 1998 ICEL sacramentary was approved by the various conferences of bishops in English-speaking countries, the above text had been modified:

God of majesty and power,
amid the clamor of our violence
your Word of truth resounds;
upon a world made dark by sin
the Sun of Justice casts his dawning rays.

Keep your household watchful
and aware of the hour in which we live.
Hasten the advent of that day
when the sounds of war will be forever stilled,
the darkness of evil scattered,
and all your children gathered into one.

The concluding sentence (“We ask this . . .”) is essentially the same in both prayers. I find some of the changes between 1986 and 1998 to be improvements, others simply changes. But both are strong texts.

I would never argue that it is crucial to have shared images between the Sunday scriptures and the opening prayer. But I would argue that excellent texts like these, well proclaimed as the opening prayer, allow images in the scriptures to be heard anew and to open our ears. Do you find a poetry in these two texts above? How well do they or do they not lend themselves to proclamation, spoken or chanted, in a way that can be readily grasped by the assembly? Count the times you hear an echo of scripture. Do they meet the high standard we should have for any words spoken and heard in the assembly?  Why do you think so? Hold either of these original texts against “Grant your faithful people,” the Vox Clara translation of the Latin collect, and ask which text could, properly spoken, call an assembly together to celebrate eucharist and keep the Advent season.

A homilist needs to heed texts like these that respect the scriptural images as images, as shapers of our prayer and a way to grasp the times and our own lives. All of us gain when we hear these lively images spoken aloud with care, even with passion, in the heart of the assembly’s prayer. What the prayer puts into words may itself be pondered by the homilist, almost as an example of how scriptural texts don’t wear out but continue to define our selves and our assemblies.

Between the early 1980s and the completed sacramentary of 1998 the project of original English compositions became a basic element of the coming ICEL sacramentary.  The bishops, advisors and others involved in ICEL’s work  understood that the new sacramentary would have original English compositions – and many of them.  They agreed to and arranged for the writing and evaluation, rewriting and editing of optional, original texts.  In the case of the collect there would be three such texts for every Sunday, one text for Year A, one for Year B, one for Year C. These were part of the volume approved by all the English-speaking conferences of bishops and sent to Rome in 1998 (never to be seen again).

Look at one further example of these original texts, the Third Sunday of Advent.  First, the following is the only prayer we will find for that Sunday in the 2010 Vox Clara missal:

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord . . .

And here is Year B in the 1998 ICEL sacramentary:

O God, most high and most near,
you send glad tidings to the lowly,
you hide not your face from the poor;
those who dwell in darkness you call into the light.

Take away our blindness,
remove the hardness of our hearts,
and form us into a humble people,
that, at the advent of your Son,
we may recognize him in our midst
and find joy in his saving presence.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain . . .

If we demand of the Sunday collect what we ought to demand, which one would we take to the assembly?

At some point we have to stand up and say: Latin rhetoric was Latin rhetoric and still is –but you can’t translate it and get acceptable English rhetoric.  Even alive Latin was just one of the many languages of early Christianity. It has never been the language of all the churches in union with Rome. What foolishness to let Latin’s rhetoric control the sound of any assembly gathered to do their liturgy in their own language.  All this time we are wasting when the real task is so obvious: An English (or Chinese, or Arabic, or Spanish) able to bear the weight of an assembly’s ritual. The 20 years of work by ICEL leading to the 1998 sacramentary made clear gains toward the texts we need for the liturgy envisioned by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  But that work became the nearly helpless target of those dedicated to rewriting the story, erasing Vatican II altogether.

So in the 2010 Vox Clara missal we have no such prayers as the 1998 ICEL sacramentary.  The Vatican’s Liturgiam Authenticam simply declared original compositions unacceptable and the English-speaking bishops buckled (they bent and bowed both). In doing do, they chose also to ignore what caving in would mean to the other language groups of the world. We should remember that English speakers are not the only Roman Catholics who had begun to use original vernacular texts.  The Polish and the Italians are among the language groups that have had and continue to have original texts in their own languages in their sacramentaries. The Vatican clearly singled out the English-speaking hierarchy to give an example for less humble hierarchies.

Most of the chatter has been about the other ill effects of LA and they deserve attention, but this prohibition on original texts in vernacular language should not be ignored.  If enforced, it will change the fine sacramental rituals that were approved and published before LA appeared ten years ago.  Hold unto your copies!  And remember: It isn’t that hard to find the texts of the 1998 ICEL sacramentary.