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.