Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, GA was keynote speaker at a conference on “Celebrating the Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” held last Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, FL, hosted by Bishop Robert Lynch. Archbishop Gregory was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2001-2004, and chair of the conference Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy 1991-1993.

In response to a question on the missal translation, Archbishop Gregory gave his interesting appraisal of the way forward. Go to 1:40:35 for that excerpt – Pray Tell transcription of his comments is found below.

Questioner: Thank you, sir, for a wonderful overview of the development of the liturgy. I wonder if you would like to speak more or less specifically to the present translation into English of the liturgical texts which [applause breaks out] I know some people lament as being far too tortured. Personally I happen to be a translator and so I see some of the things that I would consider to be infelicitous, and what do you think about principles like, say, subsidiarity and so on, in at least trying to fix some of the real strange things. Thank you.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory: A couple of things I would say.

Certainly the new translation is not… [pause] … without its difficulties. How’s that for being diplomatic? [laughter] I think that what we need to do with that translation, to be perfectly honest, its imposition, [correcting himself] – it’s in possession, we need to live with it for a while before we take up the task of saying, “This is not adequate to the worship needs of our church, for this reason, for that reason, for this reason,” the pastors of the church have said, “This is a difficulty, that is a difficulty, let’s look at it.” I think what we had to do was receive it, try to live with it, and come up with a much better and informed review of its flaws and difficulties.

I like to look at translation as an art – it’s not a science. And it has to be sensitive not just to words, but to culture and to context. There are certain works of art and literature that were written in a particular culture that don’t translate well into another language. Shakespeare, in spite of the best French translators, in spite of the best German translators, loses some of its English poetry when it goes into these other languages. Japanese poetry, haiku, which is that tightly constructed limited number of letters and characters, doesn’t translate adequately into Spanish. We know that.

What we need to do now, after a period of time of living with it, come back and say, not: “We told you so!” – which I think a lot of pastors want to say – “We told you not to do that!” [laughter] [Bishop Lynch raises his hand and says, “Guilty!”] – but to say, “It’s inadequate for this reason, that reason, this reason; we’ve tried it, we’ve lived with it, we think it needs correction.”

Bishop Lynch: I just want to say that I totally agree – that as difficult as the moment may be for some, it is in possession, and … I totally agree… we need to live with it, or we’ll come up with something that won’t meet the expectations of another time. I’m saddened by the fact that we lost that beautiful piece from 1995 [Bishop Gregory nods], or 1998, or whatever year it was. But I think he’s spot on.a

Pray Tell has a series of posts on translation and the new missal planned for coming days, including release of the final results of a national study of the attitudes of clergy and lay leaders on the new missal carried out by the CARA research center.