Cardinal George on the New Translation in America

I will be interesting to see whether Cardinal Francis George’s evaluation of the new Missal in a recent America interview carry the day. While he admits that “there were a few more justified criticisms of the process, which was open in places to accusations of last-minute manipulation,” – that statement could win an award for understatement! – the cardinal thinks that the new translation has been “well done” and “the collects are truly beautiful.”

Cardinal George says this about the new Missal translation in the America interview:

8. You were prominent in the work of  the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and the development of the new liturgical translations. Now that they have been in use for nearly two years, are you satisfied with the translations pastorally and theologically?

It’s hard for me to give an unbiased judgment on the value of the new translations. First of all, the first full translation of the missal of Paul VI was ideologically charged. Since the liturgy, along with Sacred Scripture, is the primary carrier of the tradition that unites us to Christ, the loss of the theology of grace, the domestication of God, the paraphrasing that deliberately omitted nuances of understanding, the deliberate omission of biblical references in the liturgical text itself, etc. left the church for forty years without a way of worship that adequately expressed our faith. This was clear for those of us who used the Roman missal in Spanish during those years; their translation was far more adequate. The bishops had the obligation to see that the translation into English of the third edition of the Roman Missal was faithful and also able to be used communally. I believe it has been well done. Some of the expressions in the Prefaces are a bit “clunky,” but the collects are truly beautiful if a priest takes the time to interiorize the structure of  dependent clauses and use his voice so that the prayer is comprehensible to the faithful. Normally, people paid little attention to the collect; they couldn’t tell you what the priest said as soon as they sat down. Hopefully, a more deliberate style of declamation with a more adequate text will help draw people into a climate of worship and prepare them to hear the Word of God in Scripture. The canons are very well done, even the most difficult, Canon One, because it is a compilation from various sources. Criticism of the scientific inaccuracy of the word “dewfall” in Canon II is a bit absurd coming from those who easily accept and speak of “sunset.” Some of the criticisms have an extrinsic rationale. The bishops’ choice of experts meant that many who had been more involved in the work of ICEL previously were no longer engaged. The loss of a work to which one had given oneself is always hurtful. Some others just opposed any exercise of episcopal authority; in principle, the bishops were just supposed to rubber-stamp what the “experts” were doing. Some, surprisingly, objected to the re-introduction of the biblical metaphors and allusions, while others underestimated, I believe, the native intelligence of the average English-speaking worshiper. There were a few more justified criticisms of the process, which was open in places to accusations of last-minute manipulation. I have to say that I enjoyed going back and working through Latin texts, something I hadn’t done since minor seminary.

Cardinal George’s comments are interesting because he played a role in the demise of the old ICEL and the imposition of the Vatican’s new translation rules. Former head of the ICEL bishops’ board Maurice Taylor called it “a cold wind from Rome.” Some years ago, John Wilkins recounted what happened in Commonweal:

The clouds were now dark across the sky. In June 1998, the storm broke. … George asked that the order of the agenda be changed. He wanted immediate discussion of the relations between ICEL and the Vatican congregation. The bishops froze. … When the time came for Cardinal George to speak, in the late afternoon, he warned the participants that the commission was in danger. They were at a turning point. … The project as ICEL understood it was no longer considered legitimate. … [ICEL] had to change both its attitude and, in some cases, its personnel. Otherwise it was finished. If necessary, the American bishops would strike out on their own. George spoke vehemently.

Next morning, Archbishop Hurley made a frank and formal response … The change in translation practice announced by the cardinal, and the manner in which he had expressed himself, seemed to Hurley to mark a distressing departure from the spirit of collegiality in favor of authoritative imposition. …

In a further intervention, Cardinal George reacted strongly to Hurley. He felt he had been insulted, he said. He apologized if anyone had felt attacked by him, but he was telling the members of ICEL things they needed to hear. They must be receptive to criticism of their texts, but they were not listening. That was the road to disaster. It seemed to George that he would have to report to the American bishops that they must choose between ICEL and Rome. Several times he pushed back his chair, causing some of the participants to fear that he would walk out.

Read Wilkin’s full story, “Lost in Translation, here.

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36 comments

  1. The Cardinal says “The bishops had the obligation to see that the translation into English of the third edition of the Roman Missal was faithful and also able to be used communally,” but then conveniently forgets about the 1998 translation approved by those same bishops.

  2. I found this quote striking:
    “Since the liturgy, along with Sacred Scripture, is the primary carrier of the tradition that unites us to Christ, the loss of the theology of grace, the domestication of God, the paraphrasing that deliberately omitted nuances of understanding, the deliberate omission of biblical references in the liturgical text itself, etc. left the church for forty years without a way of worship that adequately expressed our faith.”

    Wow!
    I didn’t think that a)I have been unable to “adequately express” my faith for the past 40 years, and b)that the publication of MR3 corrected that “inadequacy” in any way.

    I still very much miss the alternate opening prayers, many of which were beautiful and to the point.

  3. Cardinal George is heading into a well-deserved retirement. He has been well and heavily used by his overseers in the CDWDS. That the man has been made to continue in office for years after his illnesses began to overtake his physical life (at least) is a sign that there are some in the institution who are satisfied to chew people up and spit them out, even useful allies. Or lackeys.

    That said, Cardinal George has never impressed as an intellect. I say, happy retirement, but on the liturgy front, good riddance.

      1. @Todd Orbitz – comment #16:
        Hmph. Spare me the sarcasm, dude.

        The cardinal invites criticism. He’s a pro and I’m a pro. I’m saying it was a juvenile effort, given his very own words. He’s free to defend himself in this forum, if he wishes. Other folks, too. That you chose to attack me suggests you have little or nothing on the liturgy front. I accept the concession.

        If I had the authority, I would have paid attention when he tendered his retirement. The man has been a cancer sufferer, survivor, and sufferer again these past years. A person showing love would have accepted his retirement. A person showing love would have nursed him, cared for him. I certainly would have no problem bringing the Eucharist to him were he in a hospice in my parish. Withholding criticism shows no more love than frank words.

        Anything more on love? Don’t forget to mention Rome when you bring it.

  4. “while others underestimated, I believe, the native intelligence of the average English-speaking worshiper.”

    I love the new translation and the beauty and richness it brings to the liturgy. I believe the quote I pulled above sums up a large portion of the problem with our Church today. That is, the “dumbing down” of liturgy, and catechesis to the lowest common denominator, which presupposes the lack of intellect of the faithful.

    1. @Chip Stalter – comment #4:
      Chip,

      You write of the “‘dumbing down’ of liturgy, and catechesis to the lowest common denominator, which presupposes the lack of intellect of the faithful.”

      Once long ago when I made this type of argument, someone asked me, “Are you speaking on behalf of the bright people who think the others should get it, or are you speaking for the dumb people??

      🙂
      awr

  5. For me, Cdl George is most memorable for his egoistic, grandiose, and melodramatic rush for his see to claim the crimson of martyrs (with not much lingering with the white of confessors), aped by other prelates, clerics and self-anointed prophets in the American Catholic church. The contrast with, say, the Christians of Mosul, has been, well, interesting.

  6. Regarding his statement on the Collects, I don’t know if they are “beautiful” because I can hardly understand them. Well, I guess that makes them not beautiful then, for me at least. I rarely listen anymore.

  7. Cdl. George, like everyone else in the Church, is permitted his viewpoint. I’m not as sanguine, and I don’t think that the current version is a finished product by any means. Still, if he’s happy saying Mass from this missal, let him be happy.

    I think a computer science analogy is apt. The computer I’m using right now is part of a family of Linux (Ubuntu) based operating systems. All the operating systems use the same base code, but users can choose between different interfaces. We have a core text for the missal (the typical Latin edition). Maybe it’s time we “fork” the typical edition into different vernacular interpretations. Decentralization is anxiety provoking for some leaders because it is a loss of control. Still, no pep talk on the new missal will quell the lukewarm (at best) reception of the text by clergy and laity.

  8. Jordan Zarembo : I think a computer science analogy is apt.

    I like your idea. I’d put it more simply. What we have now is Roman Missal 3.0. And nobody in his right mind buys the “dot oh” version of anything!

  9. We have paid a high price for ignoring the dynamic equivalence principle of translation. The Eucharist is about sharing. Thomas O’Loughlin, professor of historical Christianity in the University of Nottingham UK, in his article “Giving or Sharing” (published in May 2014 – The Furrow) makes this point. “So what is the Eucharist? Clearly, this is a place of sharing par excellence. We share in Christ’s praise of the Father, we share in his Spirit dwelling within us, we become sharers in the new covenant, and we share in the meal at his table! The Eucharistic verbs-when we are in a reflective mode-are all linked to sharing, participating and acting together”

    It’s the togetherness that is now at risk

  10. This quote is telling:

    “I have to say that I enjoyed going back and working through Latin texts, something I hadn’t done since minor seminary.”

    And if this were the case with most of the VC bishops, the results show. We got a result from a bunch of high school boys, when we really needed Latin experts, poets, and people who can actually craft language that lasts beyond a joke from the pulpit or a sound bite for the modern media.

    Cardinal George praises the effort? Let me balance with the thought that the project borders on disgusting.

  11. While I respect the advice that priests should use their voices well to make the collects comprehensible to the faithful, I’ve found these texts difficult to follow when prayed by our pastor, who is from Haiti. He speaks English fluently, and I can follow him easily when he preaches, but the cadence and vocabulary of the collects makes them hard to follow even when prayed by native English speakers. I grew up in a California parish with priests from Italy, I lived in Chile for several years, and I’ve had teachers whose first language was not English; I know it takes time to become familiar with other accents. But part of that comprehension comes with a familiarity of rhythm and vocabulary, and a sense of what the speaker intends to say. The prefaces and collects in the current translation remain hard to pray because of their complicated auditory paths.

  12. Cardinal George is happy with the notion of “Roma locuta est….Causa finita est.” As one who stated so openly his belief that “the liberal cause” has been exhausted, he seems happy as well to embrace the victory of the traditionalist project with LA and RM3. More power to him! As for me and my house, we shall choose good and common sense when it comes to employing intelligible English (including English word order) in seeking to give glory and praise to God. For the record, I found nothing substantial lacking in the 1973 translation nor, to the best of my knowledge, in the 1998 one as well. The present translation, while perhaps pleasing to the few, is a can of worms for most priests and many lay people as well.

  13. I would love to have been a fly on the wall as some people, like Abps Mark Coleridge and Alfred Hughes read G’s disingenuous or downright duplicitous remarks. They well know the truth: both of the corrupt process that produced the Vox Clara Missal and the unconscionable way in which George treated some very good people for the sake of his career.

  14. There will be continued talk about the clarity of the Roman Missal III. When I know an awkward Collect is coming, I smile as the presider works his way into the prayer and then tries to climb his way out.

    What I don’t appreciate is the way the promoters of the changes claim this “no agenda” just “pure Latin” response to the changes. There is/was an agenda just as there is/was with the translations immediately following the Council and subsequent. To me, Cardinal George’s vehemence in the midst of the ICEL confrontation and Bishop’s meeting speak to the shadow side of the whole process.

    Some of the changes bolster my faith, some suppress it, but let’s be honest; these changes were not because someone went back to their initial seminary Latin text books and realized translation errors, they had to do with control…so much that the next step will be to change the words of Jesus so He will be justifying our translations… We can start with the July 25 feast of St James Gospel.

  15. Jordan Zarembo : Cdl. George, like everyone else in the Church, is permitted his viewpoint. I.

    Does that include progressives? Because for 35 years we’ve been called “heretics,” been threatened with being denied Communion, and told that if we had any disagreement with the pope we should leave the church. That last admonishment, interestingly enough, has been forgotten by those who hang on ever word Cardinal Burke utters as he has frequently expressed disagreement with Pope Francis, most recently saying that under Pope Francis the church is like “a ship without a rudder,” but I digress.

    1. @Norman Borelli – comment #23:

      Does that include progressives?

      Most certainly.

      Traditionalists have lodged similar complaints. I do not wish to minimize your grievances, but the extremes of the post-conciliar perspective have maligned both each other and an proposed centrist course.

      Now that we are removed one to two generations from the liturgical renewal/revolution (depending on how one wishes to consider the events), there is room for out and about dissent. This includes Cdl. Burke’s snark at Pope Francis. I get this sense that Pope Francis’s great strength is a resiliency in debate and personal discourse. So, Pope Francis gets some flak from the curial gallery? I’m sure he’ll just dish it on back.

      I wish CTV had a video feed for the synod, with subtitles or access to the UN style simul translation feed. Who needs prime time TV?

  16. “(T)he loss of the theology of grace . . . .”

    Is that why all that “merit” vocabulary is in the presidential prayers? I understand that the English word “merit” does not accurately translate the Latin. Can anyone weigh in on these matters?

    1. @Lee Bacchi – comment #26:
      I’ve always felt “to be found worthy” would have been a better translation of mereor. Merit to me carries overtones of Pelagianism.

  17. His suppression of all mention of the 1998 translation and of his own bullying tactics in getting that suppressed and in ramroading through the new translation is tout simplement écoeurant. Do US bishops confuse such confident bullying with firmness in faith?

  18. Fr Ryan’s website quoted many experts on Latin and on translation, who were APPALLED at the new translation. George comes across as a philistine illiterate when he admits that he hadn’t worked with a Latin text since minor seminary. His whole performance is quite disgraceful, and has done deep pastoral damage to the faithful and even to the disgruntled clergy. .”

    ” We got a result from a bunch of high school boys, when we really needed Latin experts, poets, and people who can actually craft language that lasts beyond a joke from the pulpit or a sound bite for the modern media. ” So well said, Todd Flowerday.

  19. Regarding “togetherness and sharing”
    It is my understsnding that prinipally, the Eucharist is about Sacrifice, entering into and recieving Grace from the Fathers’ acceptance of the ‘oblation’ (great word we have recovered!) and secondly, flowing from that is the Churchs’ sharing of that’s Sacrifice. Togetherness (unity?) occurs because of the cost of Christs’ Sacrifice for which we offer praise.

    1. @Gregory Hamilton – comment #31:
      Thomas Aquinas disagrees with you. He says that the res tantum of the Eucharist (of the Eucharistic real presence) is the unity of the church.
      St. Paul also wrote on this topic in the New Testament!
      awr

  20. Thanks, Dennis and John, for those suggestions. I appreciate it very much.

    Can anyone give me a reference for Christine Mohrmann’s work on the word mereor? Thanks!!

  21. For what it’s worth, Comme le prévoit, no. 17, mentions “mereri” as problematic, and an article in Notitiae, 1970 (v 6), pp 194 ff, by A. Dumas, osb (in French), comments both on “meritum” (pg 202) and “mereri” (pg 206). Re: “meritum,” Dumas deems it to be “faux amis” (false friend). The only reference I’ve found by Mohrmann to “mereri” is in her “Liturgical Latin” set of lectures, in which she speaks about “periphrases with mereri” (p 77).

  22. I seek your assistance. Why do we continue to divide the Body of Christ into all kinds of parts/factions, into liberals, conservatives, traditionalists, etc., etc.? Didn’t Jesus teach us very simply, “Follow me?” If we are following Him, should we not expect that when He turns to the right, we turn to the right, when He turns to the left, we turn to the left when He rests, we rest? Why is that so difficult to understand and accept? Didn’t He teach, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”; not “my kingdom come, my will be done”? One last consideration: we wonder why the world does not accept that Jesus was indeed sent by the Father. At the Last Supper didn’t Jesus pray simply, “that all may be one that the world will know that You have sent me”? Why can’t we seek God’s mercy give us the humility to allow such unity to be achieved here and now? I sincerely seek your assistance in this.

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