The Tablet recently published an article, “Mission Intelligible,” penned by Michael G. Ryan, rector of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral regarding the translation of the Roman Missal in light of the pontificate of Pope Francis. Calling reconsideration of the translation a game-changer, Ryan argues, “in the wake of the recent changes at the Vatican, the bishops should call for the repeal of the unfortunate Liturgiam Authenticam and the elimination of its handmaid, Vox Clara.”

Ryan believes that Pope Francis would have handled the situation differently were he elected pontiff a year before:

For one thing, I am quite certain that the Missal would not be the one we are still trying to get used to. More likely, it would resemble the one that was painstakingly produced over a period of 17 years by the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (Icel), only to be rather unceremoniously consigned to oblivion by Vatican officials who had got it into their heads that liturgy had become too casual and colloquial.

However, the fix, he contends, is not a revision of the Missal in use currently:

Three years after the new Missal’s introduction, it is hard not to note the serious dissatisfaction many continue to experience with it. It is not all bad, of course – some of it has genuine merit. But the problems are legion. And that emboldens me to suggest, not that the new Missal be revised (it is probably too soon for that and, besides, many priests seem to be doing that on their own) but rather that the 2001 document from the Congregation for Divine Worship, Liturgiam Authenticam, which governs liturgical translations, be revoked. This is something that should be done as soon as possible, certainly before any further translations are made.

I make the suggestion because our public prayers should not be second-rate compositions that would earn poor marks in any secondary-school English (or theology) class. Think, for instance, of all the tortured grammar and syntax in the Missal – not to mention the jerky, whiplash phrasing, which leave priests scratching their heads (or sometimes stifling a smile) and the people in the pews simply tuning out. Think, too, of the tone of the prayers, with their exaltation of merit over mercy, their emphasis on human weakness at the expense of human dignity.

Ryan also notes some shift among bishops on the matter:

Public comments made by two American bishops, Wilton Gregory (of Atlanta) and Robert Lynch (of St Petersburg, Florida), at a national meeting celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on liturgy give some hope. So too does the continuing outspoken opposition of such figures as Maurice Taylor, former Bishop of Galloway (and former chairman of Icel). Could this be the start of a groundswell to change the rules for translations? And, if so, is it possible that, like their confrères in places such as Germany and Austria, who have firmly held the line against translations made according to flawed norms, the English-speaking bishops will now find themselves emboldened to speak up and speak out?

A new moment, such as a young pontificate and the greater lay engagement that has resulted, calls for a “bold, new initiative,” Ryan contends.

Read the article in its entirety here.

*               *               *               *               *

Ryan’s piece received a number of responses. These letters originally appeared in the Tablet, 13 December issue,

I fully endorse Michael G. Ryan’s thoughts on the new translation of the Roman Missal (“Mission intelligible”, 29 November). I do not understand how Liturgiam Authenticam could replace, or still worse, change the basic teachings of an ecumenical council, as expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium. Can a document of a Vatican dicastery, or even a papal document, have more teaching authority than that of an ecumenical council? Looking at the ecclesial events of recent decades, the response seems to be in the affirmative though I wonder how doctrinally correct it is.

(FR) Vimal Tirimanna CSsR, Accademia Alfonsiana, Rome, Italy

Michael G. Ryan’s disgusted parishioner who said “Some of those [2010 Missal] prayers might as well be in Latin” was unfair to Latin. The Romans who created the vernacular Latin liturgy stuck to the rhetorical rules that their Roman education prioritised euphony, speakability, sharp intelligibility. The 1975 translators, with those same priorities, got Muriel Spark, accomplished translator of Latin poetry, to recreate that grace and lucidity: in English, though, so that Late Latin’s tautologies, repetitions, prolonged sentences, redundant conjunctions – like its “enim” added purely for rhythm to “hoc est corpus meum” – and fulsome address (alien also to the injunctions of Matthew 6:7-15) all had to go.

But the euphony and lucidity of the fifth and twentieth centuries were not priorities in the twenty-first. The executive secretary of the Curia’s new International Commission on English in the Liturgy was not translating for the speaker or the hearer, but, he told The Tablet, for “the reader”. Bishops and disgusted parishioners can hardly complain then if he faithfully produced a translation that preserved every cultural oddity of the Latin and none of the Latin’s euphony, speakability or clarity for understanding.

Tom McIntyre, Frome, Somerset


Send to Kindle