Missal Translation at the US Bishops’ Conference Meeting

The new Roman Missal came up at the meeting of the US bishops yesterday morning. The question on the agenda was whether to approve the “Scope of Work” for the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours. Protocol is that bishops’ conferences give the go-ahead, and then work on the translation can proceed, eventually to be brought back to the conference for approval and submission to Rome. (Actually, work begins when Rome tells ICEL to work on a project, but the conference still has to give its go-ahead.)

Cardinal Dolan, president of the US Bishops, put it to a vote, and the motion to proceed with the Liturgy of the Hours passed 203-14, with one abstention. Then a point of order was brought up: the floor should have been opened for discussion before voting. Cardinal Dolan assured the body that the vote would be re-taken after discussion.

Then Bishop Brom of San Diego, California, rose to say this:

May I take a few moments to explain my opposition to moving forward at this time with this action on the part of the Committee on Divine Worship? And the reason for my opposition includes a bit of background.

I have listened to the priests in the Diocese of San Diego, and consequent to that, I communicated with Archbishop Aymond and the Committee. After that I was part of a meeting by RECOPS – Region XI representatives of priests’ councils and senates. And I again communicated the results of that listening to Archbishop Aymond and the Committee.

The long and short is this: that I’m hearing, especially from the priests, and from lay people as well, real reservations regarding the English translation of the new Missal, and consequently, reservation that the collects from the new Missal be taken into the Liturgy of the Hours as we presently have them.

The representatives of the various presbyteral councils throughout Region XI said they have special difficulty with many of the collects and prefaces and parts of the Eucharistic prayers as we have them now in the new English translation. They added, too many prayers, or parts of them, begin with a dependent clause, which is not the way we usually pray. There is complicated and awkward phrasing, and a strange vocabulary sometime, and that this does not make these prayers sacral, but on the contrary, aggravating.

The new Missal, the priests expressed in something of unison, is more of a burden than a blessing, and should not be the basis for other liturgical rites or rituals, or for translation into other languages such as Tagalog. They’re particularly interested or concerned, once again, that the new Missal with its English language deficiencies be the basis for the revision of other liturgical texts such as the Liturgy of the Hours.

One priest said clearly: “We are anxious that we will not be heard by our bishops. We need good tools to do a good job, and this is not a good tool,” – that is to say, the translation in toto. It needs to be perfected. And according to the listening sessions I’ve had, this should be the priority of the Conference, and in particular, of the Committee on Divine Worship.

We should be asking, how is the new translation, the English translation of the Roman Missal, being received? And how might it be approved [sic]? Does formal equivalence, one priest asked, necessarily lead to bad English, poor choice of words at times, questionable grammar, complicated sentence structure, and paragraphic sentences?

The invitation that I’m hearing from the priests to whom I listen is that we not rush headlong into further translations and using the Roman Missal that we have now in its English version as the basis for it all. We should not deny the flaws. We should not procrastinate in improving the Missal. We should be asking the question, how might it be improved?

Then Bishop Matano of Burlington, Vermont rose to say this:

I appreciate my brother bishop’s observations, but I do think it is a bit counter-productive to go back in time and give a critique of the new Roman Missal, when so many of us are doing everything possible to nurture support for the new Missal, and to create a unity in our dioceses, particularly with our presbyterates, many presbyterates, which have been supportive, and are working very hard with their people to elevate and to communicate again the awesome and the transcendent nature of the liturgy.

Naturally, being human beings with human language, we will not reach the perfection for which we are striving. But to go back, after such a long, long process to produce the third edition of the Roman Missal, and continue to give critiques on it, only opens the door for further criticism and disunity. I think we really do have to accept, this is the third edition, work very hard to support it, and encourage it, and encourage our priests prior to the celebration of Holy Mass to read the orations, try to look ahead and prepare yourself for the Mass, and be able to pray them, as they can be prayed, in a very beautiful manner.

There is a marked contrast between the two bishops’ statements: two quite different visions of leadership, two quite different visions of the relationship between the bishop and his priests, two quite different visions of how to unify the Church, two quite different visions of what to do with input from priests and people.

After Bishop Trautman expressed his agreement with Bishop Brom, the re-vote was taken. The motion to go ahead with the Liturgy of the Hours project again passed, this time 189 to 41 with one abstention.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Bishop Matano’s vision of authority and leadership works for the bishops: regarding translation but also regarding every issue and challenge facing the Catholic Church.

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42 comments

  1. This is the first time that I have seen an expression of understanding by a Bishop of the difficulties faced by many, both clerical and lay, with the New Translation. Bishop Brom is to be thanked for his appreciation and congratulated on his courage. Time might move on but problems do not go away that easily.

  2. My hat is off to +Brom…finally someone is willing to talk about what every one of the bishops knows to be the case…that the language of the missal is verbose, ungainly and needlessly pompous…to say nothing about being unprayerful. But fear of what Rome will think seems to capture them…sad, very sad. And so we are stuck with such a poor translation. +Dan Trautman was right…but who listened to him?
    On another note…have any of the bishops on the economic pastoral commission heard of the Economic Pastoral of 1986?

  3. Bshop Matano’s remarks are not surprising in the least. I have known him since he was Fr. Matano and, while he is a nice man, he has always been “more Roman than the Pope”, supporting the “party line” at all times! I give Bp. Brom all the credit in the world for being able to stand among his brothers and voice what he knew would be a difficult opinion. But I think he is right on point! Why perpetuate the awkward sentence structure of this “English” translation?

  4. It shows how fragmented we are today and it’s all based upon opinions and style of leadership and as in a cafeteria, picking and choosing which opinions and styles of leadership one likes the best and then making a good case that the one chosen is the Vatican II model of doing things.

    There’s a reason why there are so many denominations in Protestantism and no end in sight of new ones coming about. It does cause one to wonder what should distinguish the Catholic Church from all the babel and opinions that abound and that ultimately when decisions are made, we simply comply for the sake of the unity that Christ desired for His Church in His farewell address.

    But if there is a refined English translation in our future, which I suspect will happen, or no English whatsoever which could happen, I’ll be the first to experiment. 🙂

  5. Brom – yes, salute his stand. Unfortunately, over the recent past, liturgy appears to be well down on the priority and interest list.

    Brom along with some other speakers on liturgy recently do not have much credibility given their own diocesan problems. Brom’s Sand Diego messes with the courts, judge, abuse claims; the University of San Diego, etc. do not favor him.

  6. I’ve been using the new RM 3e English translation collects for memorials, feasts, and solemnities in the small morning prayer group which I lead. Even as an unpracticed simple layman, I see no basis for anyone’s claim of difficulty in proclaiming them meaningfully in a graceful (and grace filled) manner. Hence I wonder whether complaints on this score are actually based on some other consideration–perhaps, for instance, on dissatisfaction with the process by which the Church developed this particular English translation for liturgical use in the foreseeable future (perhaps the biblical forty years?).

    1. @Henry Edwards – comment #8:

      Henry, for a simple unpracticed layman your perceptions are precise. There’isn’t any basis for anyone’s claims that that the new translation is difficult or awkward. This backlash hasn’t anything to do with the translation.

  7. “…when so many of us are doing everything possible to nurture support for the new Missal, and to create a unity in our dioceses….”

    Never mind the leadership question and let’s first deal with the more obvious, unasked question. If the new Missal is a “good tool,” why does it take so much work to “nurture support” and “create a unity”? Why are those tasks so arduous, so labor intensive that the bishops can afford no distraction from them to even deal with questions from fellow bishops?

    1. @Steve Millies – comment #9:
      Hasn’t been arduous in my parish in the least, illicitly or licitly! As someone else has written the dramatic rebellion that it would create once implemented turned out to fizzle more dramatically than the Y2K hysteria of, let me see, how long ago was that, yes, almost 13 years ago.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #10:
        Fr. Allan, delighted to see you agreeing that +Matano is wrong and, since it is no work to sell the translation, we can permit some questions to be raised about it. After all–if everything is perfectly alright, what harm can come from “a critique of the New Roman Missal”?

        It’s always good when we can agree.

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #10: There are some interesting subtexts behind the lack of “dramatic rebellion”: 1. Those of a progressive demeanor, often do not fight ‘city hall’ as ardently as those of a more traditional persuasion. 2. These same people often do NOT believe even saying something will make a difference – so why sign a petition, write a letter or voice your opinion, if you believe the hierarchy really does NOT care! Better to use your time to serve the poor, sick or others in need. 3. How many have just left the Church since last year because the Mass is no longer truly prayerful for them? Is any ONE of the Shepherds of the Church looking for even ONE of those people! 4. Many are in the pews still but not participating fully one year later – hmmm, what about that, anyone care to ask why? 5. If the English speaking Bishops of the world didn’t have the guts to stand up to the powers that be in Rome, when Rome nixed the completed, beautiful, prayerful, and almost unanimously approved (by the 11 English-speaking Conferences of the world) 1998 Sacramentary – why would ANYONE believe they would have the guts to do so now because the people asked them to do so?!?

        Sad, very sad!!!

  8. I appreciate Bishop Matano for speaking up for all the lay faithful and the priests of his dioceses that support the new translation. May many more bishops have a backbone like Bishop Matano and defend us who had such a poor innacurate translation foisted upon for the last 40 years. What a great leader who pastorally considers the plight of his people.

    1. @Fr. Sanchez – comment #11:
      Just love it – especially on PTB after all of the careful research and postings about the new translation.

      And thus, we have …..*a poor innacurate translation foisted upon for the last 40 years”….the plight of the people.

      Besides the fact that both the sentence and spelling are *inaccurate* – have you just ignored, misunderstood, or what when things such as these articles were posted:

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2011/02/21/translating-the-roman-canon-1967-and-2010-part-i/ (THERE WERE THREE PARTS POSTED)

      OR

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2010/11/06/translation-directory-watch-this-space/

      Talk about research, eisegosis vs. exegesis, academy vs. Vox Clara, ideology vs. reality

  9. In someways it probably is a little too early to take the pulse of the wider Catholic community on RM3. The Prefaces in general need to be prayed/proclaimed, particularly the Seasonal Prefaces, for at least another year or two to assess ease of use, prayability.
    As I look out at the faces of those I minister to, migrant workers, exchange students, professionals in teaching English as a foreign language at High School and University level, specialists in cross-cultural communication and international businessmen – both ex-pat and Japanese, I still see a look on a face here and there saying quizically, “What was that you said?”.
    One would have hoped for at least an acknowledgement from the US bishops that the “reception” of the present translation of RM3 is still ongoing. Cardinal Dolan’s chairing style is much as one would expect, the bulldozer with bonhomie.

  10. Delighted that their electoral humiliation is bringing some of the bishops to their senses. As St Bernadette said, “it takes many humiliations to create humility.” But what Bp Brum said is what Bp Trautman was mocked by his fellow-bishops for saying years ago. The report that people are leaving the church because of the wretched new translations suggests that stubborn posturing and hunkering down in non-negotiable bunkers is not paying off pastorally. Indeed Trautman’s words “a pastoral disaster” are beginning to be verified.

    1. @Joe O’Leary – comment #15:
      People are leaving, you say, because of the new translation???!!!
      Wonder of wonders is that they didn’t leave years ago during the dreary, artless, reign of the ’73 translation. It still genuinely puzzles me how people sat through it without a whimper.
      Too, if indeed they are leaving because of this translation, that speaks volumes about their Catholic faith, doesn’t it? Just imagine: some of us left the likes of Cranmer for the vapid pablum which never received half the inharmonious disgruntlement heaped upon its replacement.

      1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #22:

        I just wished it were possible to write something like Cranmer did in modern english, but I suspect it is beyond anyone but a literary genius, the likes of which are rarely in the right place at the right time.

      2. @Scott Smith – comment #24Oh, it could be done. We have the talent. But asking the right people and agreeing to take the literary masterpiece we would get from them would never happen because of the oversight of too many committees and congregations + plus people howling for street language (you know: the ‘we dohnt tawk lyke thayit’ crowd..

        My advice to those who THINK that the new translation is a lemon is for them to make lemonade.

      3. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #25:
        I think it could be done also. But I also agree that there are too many committees–Vox Clara would be the perfect one to jettison.

        On the other hand, there are sixteen-some English-speaking bishops conferences, and I’m not sure which ones of those need to be cut.

        And lastly, what parallel universe have you popped into where people are advocating for street language? Can you cite one example? Aside from under the 3am bed or in the closet of a reform2 advocate?

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #27:
        You are right, Todd: we could have done without the street language slap.
        Sometimes I say things that I would wish not to have said.

        And, Joe O’Leary: I did not compare the new translation to Cranmer. (Who could?) What I said was that some of us gave up Cranmer to be Catholic in the days of the awful ’73, so I have little appreciation of the Catholic faith of those who would leave the Church because of their dis-like of the new translation. People do, in fact leave the Church all the time for a variety of reasons. I know some who have left for Anglicanism or the Orthodox because they could not (understandably!) endure the poor liturgy and music. No one is upset about their leaving, are they?

      5. Such whataboutery! The 1973 translations were meant to be temporary and to be improved, as was attempted in 1998. What has happened now is that they have been disimproved. Instead of flat language we now have sick language. Instead of artless language (though I think the 1973 translation of the Roman Canon has artistic merit) we have fake pretensions at art by a committee of philistines, which stinks nauseously as simple artlessness does not. To mention Cranmer in connection with the new translation is such a joke, like comparing Skyfall to Shakespeare!

      6. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #22:
        Why didn’t people leave over the 1973 translation, you ask? How about the fact that there was an open effort for many years to develop a new translation (the ’98) that spoke to people better than the ’73, where people with expertise were consulted and developments were made public as they occurred. With that effort discarded and the new translation carried out under rules that arguably run counter to the dictates of the Second Vatican Council (without a supportive, superceding conciliar teaching) and no voice in the process, perhaps some of us feel that the Church as an institution is a lost cause. I still watch this space and pray for you all, but I’ve found that the only meaningful way I can speak is with my feet.

  11. “it’s all based upon opinions and style of leadership and as in a cafeteria, ” Bishops Brom pointed to the feedback from the clergy whom he had the humility to consult. To dismiss his views as you have done is to repeat the sin of the bishops who mocked at Trautman.

  12. “I appreciate Bishop Matano for speaking up for all the lay faithful and the priests of his dioceses that support the new translation. ”

    Did he consult them? If not, how can he claim to be speaking up for them?

    “May many more bishops have a backbone like Bishop Matano and defend us who had such a poor innacurate translation foisted upon for the last 40 years.” But the new translation is more inaccurate — “be” in your presence instead of “stand” for example, or “acclaim” for “dicentes”, not to mention the diffuse inaccuracy of a translation that choose wooden literalism over beautiful and effective use of language.

    1. @Joe O’Leary – comment #18:

      And if we could just agree what constitutes beautiful and effective use of language, we might actually be able to have a translation without these arguments.

      It occurs to me that sometimes, on all sides, we seem to be comparing the mass texts with some impossible ideal.

      And even when we do use a real comparison, it often seems better just because the other side does not like it. I strongly suspect the 1998 texts, oft praised here, would have received similar level of attacks overall (though perhaps with some differences on who was doing the attaching).

      At the end, perhaps we need to accept you can’t please all the people all the time, and that there is a large element of subjective taste involved. We can then accept someone has to decide, and since it is unlikely to be us personally, it will not be precisely to our taste.

  13. “Hasn’t been arduous in my parish in the least, illicitly or licitly! As someone else has written the dramatic rebellion that it would create once implemented turned out to fizzle more dramatically than the Y2K hysteria of, let me see, how long ago was that, yes, almost 13 years ago.”

    Fizzle, fizzle, fizzle… a far more disturbing sound than “dramatic rebellion”

  14. As an orthodox member of the laity, I appreciate Bishop Matano’s interest in giving all of us a bit more time with RM3, and I continue to pray that I will find more to appreciate in it than I have to date. However, after a year with RM3, I am grateful for Bishop Brom’s response. Week after week, I find myself for the first time in my adult life experiencing the mass as a burden and not a joy, thanks entirely to the turgid and awkward prose produced by the naive theory of translation enshrined in Liturgiam Authenticam. If recent experience is a reliable guide, we may have to wait 40 years for translational reform, but I do hope that some improvements are not decades away from serious consideration.

  15. Did anyone else look in on the bishops’ meeting? I was hoping for some sign of prophetic utterance and didn’t notice. Looks like Trautman and Brom stepped forward when I wasn’t looking. RM3 is not a disaster but it is not an improvement on what went before…..unless of course you are a fan of the reform of the reform like the good bishop of Burlington.

  16. “And if we could just agree what constitutes beautiful and effective use of language, we might actually be able to have a translation without these arguments.”

    It is not rocket science to judge the merits of alternative translations. The 1973 version of the Roman Canon is clearly superior to the new one, and the 1998 preces are clearly superior to the new ones.

    “I strongly suspect the 1998 texts, oft praised here, would have received similar level of attacks overall ”

    This is just skeptical relativism. The preces of 1998 and 2010 have been compared one by one on this site and elsewhere, and it is perfectly clear that the 2010 ones show up badly in the comparison.

    “At the end, perhaps we need to accept you can’t please all the people all the time, and that there is a large element of subjective taste involved.”

    Yet it is pretty objective that many artistic products such as movies and plays can “bomb” with the public, no matter what money and advertisement is put behind them.

    ” We can then accept someone has to decide, and since it is unlikely to be us personally, it will not be precisely to our taste.”

    The public generally recognizes quality and are not tyrannical sticklers for quirks of a narrowly individual taste. And the public also are quick to recognize lack of quality.

  17. “Week after week, I find myself for the first time in my adult life experiencing the mass as a burden and not a joy, thanks entirely to the turgid and awkward prose produced by the naive theory of translation enshrined in Liturgiam Authenticam.”

    A very widespread experience, not to be written off as quirks of subjective taste or ideology. The emperor has not clothes, as I have been pointing out for nearly a decade now. The fact that the unease with the new translation stubbornly persists and even grows is clear indication of its failure.

  18. Is it possible/licit for a consortium of clergy, laypeople, philologists, English language authors, theologians, liturgists etc. (not necessarily in that order!) to create a fresh English translation of Liturgia Horarum? Could this receive recognition for liturgical use from the Vatican? I can’t see why there couldn’t be an “alternative breviary” for anglophones. It’s easier to just start all over again than try to patch up a forty-year old office with bits from a newer missal translation.

    A fresh translation of the typical Latin office would be an immense task. Still, the collaboration of many contributors would both lighten the load and create an office vastly superior to the work of circles of bureaucrats.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #31:

      There is more than one English version of the office (the British Isles and Australia is quite different from what is used in the US, and those who have used both, as I have, would say that the British Isles version is better, even if far from perfect).

      My personal view is that ICEL should leave the Liturgy of the Hours severely alone. The Church has already savaged priests with the new Missal (as any amount of data will reveal) and many of them are in despair. To do the same with their daily prayer life would be a pastoral disaster, for it is certain that ICEL would have to follow Liturgiam Authenticam principles. One could foresee a scenario where those bound to the canonical recitation of the office would migrate towards their nearest user-friendly monastery, with its own (often home-produced) office which is not subject to Roman straitjackets.

    2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #31:
      Paul Inwood (comment 34) has given a wise response, but I am also intrigued by the idea of developing future translations via wiki. Could an open access, translation-by-community process produce anything of value? I wonder. Experts could participate if they wanted to. Debates and discussions could be recorded in a wiki’s “talk” pages.

      It’s entirely possible, though, that translations would constantly be tinkered — battled, even — and might never approach a text that could be considered for official approval. Translations could be pushed in wrong directions by folks with good intentions but weak formation for such an endeavor. Each translation could just turn into one more unauthorized composition that one minister or another might use imprudently, and that would be more detrimental than beneficial.

      I hear me talking myself out of the idea, but I’m still intrigued by it.

  19. Jordan —

    The KJV is the gold standard of English liturgical language. It was done, really, by a committee.

    Has anyone ever studied how they came to produce such masterpieces? Did they have principles of translation? Principles for resolving disputes? Principles for criticizing their own work? Etc. If we knew at least generally how they proceeded that might provide a guide for a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours.

    A year or two ago there was a book about its production, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten its name. Anybody read it? Any suggestions?

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #36:
      I have never understood all this admiration for the KJV. Honestly. It never made much sense to me when I was growing up Protestant, and even if I had found it beautiful, it never occurred to me that prayer should be more beautiful than it was comprehensible.

      Not really pertinent to current discussion — except for my opinion that the new translation of the RM3 fails at BOTH beauty and comprehension.

  20. Ann -“God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible” by Adam Nicolson.

    Note: Tyndale’s work is the foundation as is his method of translation (not literal but dynamic). Nicolson highlights that committees with designated leaders (roughly 50 men largely working in private and not well remembered) translated various sections/books of the bible and then worked together to produce the final version. It is obvious that the goal was to focus on meaning and not word for word translations.

    This history is based upon only recently discovered notes about the men and process that had been kept secret for hundreds of years.

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