A New Vatican Commission to Undo Liturgiam authenticam?

You all remember Liturgiam authenticam, the controversial Vatican instruction of 2001 which called for a major retranslation of all the vernacular liturgical books, right?

In English it gave us “And with your spirit” and “for you and for many” and complicated, ungracious collects that mostly no one listens to. In major European languages, not much is moving because bishops and bishops’ conferences are refusing to implement unworkable and pastorally inadvisable measures.

Now Sandro Magister reports at Settimo Cielo, which runs at L’Esspresso, that Liturgiam authenticam is to be revisited by Pope Francis:

Directed by the secretary of the congregation [for divine worship], the English archbishop Arthur Roche, a commission has been set up within the dicastery [Vatican office] at the behest of Francis, the objective of which is … the demolition of … the instruction “Liturgiam Authenticam” issued in 2001, which sets the criteria for the translation of liturgical texts from Latin into the modern languages.

Demolition? Really?

Stay tuned.

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48 comments

  1. Great news if it’s true (the tone of the whole doesn’t inspire confidence). But “demolition” is a little less dramatic when you restore the cut with the metaphor of a wall: ‘the demolition of one of the walls of resistance against the excesses of the postconciliar liturgists, the instruction “Liturgiam Authenticam” issued in 2001’

  2. I have often wondered if the quality of the old English translation had been more of the quality of the existing French and German ones, would the English speaking bishops conferences been as hasty to implement the new translation? Perhaps not, as all the conferences accepted the mangled versions that the CDWDS imposed. The conferences should have done the same thing that the German bishops did with the new funeral rites and just refused to accept them. At least the American bishops had the courage to resubmit the RGP after the CDWDS mangled the version that was submitted.

  3. The grotesque word salads spawned by LA — and the opportunity costs they entailed — scream for an explanation. Has anyone written a history of this dark chapter?

      1. @Bryan Walsh:Regarding your comments on the orations:
        …to which I routinely tune out, imagining instead the scene at the Last Supper, which I find more helpful than trying to untangle twisted syntax. I suspect I’m far from alone in the doing, too.

  4. The linguist in me, like many (not all please) shriveled up at the abuse of language. The canon lawyer in me wondered how a decision could be taken to defy a mandate of a General Council of the Church (the supreme infalible body) that the liturgy be in the vernacular (i.e. the living, spoken language and vocabuary of the people). The composer in me wilted at the complete non-musical almost Cranmerian language suffereing under the weight of unnecessary qualification and verbal obfucations. And the astrophysicist could never accept ‘and with your spirit’ because spirit is indivisible, it is pure energy and cannot be broken up or down into little bits which we each possess inside of us. The gret thing about LA is that I got $5 for it at Half Price Books!

  5. Was the original English translation really so poor?
    It was not without deficiencies, but for me it has an elegant simplicity that served us very well. Written texts should not be canonized; what is important is how they are spoken and proclaimed. We see how New Testament writings use the older Scriptures creatively. The elegant simplicity enabled adaptation to better convey depth of meaning where the pastoral situation suggested this be done, in a way which our current LA translation makes difficult.
    The simplicity of the first translation lacks the elegance of literary English, but literary English is not the primary concern. There was a reason for the Vulgate in the popular Latin of the day rather than the literary classical Latin.
    The 1998 (rejected) translation is good, and is particularly valuable for the extra resources it offers, but the first English translation still has much to commend it.

  6. The only acceptable solution is to give the conferences of bishops full authority to approve liturgical translations, with appeals to the Holy See allowed only on points of doctrine.

    English is not a Romance language, and English-speaking Catholics don’t need Italian or Spanish-speaking prelates in Rome to tell them how to pray in their own language.

    1. @Robert Addington:
      Or how about this for an idea ……
      As English is an international language a body of translators drawn from various countries could be formed. They could even be given a snappy acronym …. I don’t know, something along the lines of IELC – International English Liturgy Committee.

      1. Sorry, but as a worker in the international business community, I can assure you that the many versions of English spoken in the world may require different versions for the different faithful communities. “International English” is not really a thing . ..

      2. ROTFLOL with thanks to Reyanna and Robert.

        Chip. I studied theology & actively participated in my parish planning and liturgical ministries. The revisions were not well-written–they were so difficult to track that I couldn’t describe the gist of a prayer one minute later. Prayers at Mass are not things that “go in one ear…” unless they are too awkward to achieve the sensible ‘rhythm’ that results from good usage.

  7. Probably not “demolish” but “repeal and replace simultaneously.”

    I appreciate Francis’ behest to address this issue and hope that the result is a group of translations set in motion by women and men with pastoral backgrounds.

  8. I would not get hopes up about dramatic change here. Part of Magister’s beat is to stir up his traditionalist-oriented readership – it’s performative, shall we say? – and this piece (in its fuller form) is consistent with that. (It’s the mirror image of the “the Pope told me X” when “X” happens to be what the speaker champions. Both are standard rhetorical arrows in the Vaticanista quiver.)

    Additionally, I’d note that it’s not like Pope Francis has transformed the US episcopate as a body into something that would champion the adoption of something like the 1998 missal translation. Some influential sees have changed in the past 3+, yes, but the USCCB and its most influential staff appear to be waiting Pope Francis out, as it were. So, even if LA were replaced, that doesn’t portend a ditching of the 2011 translation.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:

      I would not get hopes up about dramatic change here.

      Yeah. The commission sounds legit, but its mandate probably has little, if at all, to do with the English missal but with the overall inadequacy of LA, especially (but not exclusively, of course) in regards to the languages spoken in, say, the peripheries of the world.

      So, I’d go with “revise and update,” rather than “demolish” or even “repeal and replace.”

      Anyway, is this why this happened:

      https://twitter.com/ASchwibach/status/819180898650296320

      “Your Holiness, that other Holiness is trying to demolish one of the walls of resistance against the excesses of the postconciliar liturgists! He’s undoing the good work in the liturgy begun by you!”

  9. I fervently pray that Francis sees that LA has been a source of endless controversy and needs to be set aside in favor of principals that permit actual translations into the vernaculars actually spoken and comprehended by ordinary Catholics around the world. The present translation into English clearly resulted from clergy and prelates who thought that “God Talk” needs to differ from ordinary English.

  10. I’m no theologian, just a 54 year lay catholic, but “for you and for many” seems in line with what Jesus taught.
    Matthew 13 1-9
    John 6 22-71
    I have no problem with approved liturgical texts in use. Maybe it’s good for Catholics to have to listen and try to understand (Active participation anyone?) the prayers. Perhaps meaning of the text will linger a while in the gray matter, and not fly in one ear and out the other.

  11. I note that the article includes:
    “the pope had given to a dicastery head to summarily fire three of his officials, an order given without explanations and without accepting objections.
    “But all it took was a tattle lifted from one of his private conversations to bring him into disgrace with the pope, who brought the whip down.
    “Cardinal Robert Sarah, he too the object of repeated public humiliations on the part of the pope,…”
    None of this suggests gentle persuasion or an attempt to win the trust of those not already tuned to the Pope’s thinking.

  12. How about go back to the English “translation/interpretation” that we had been using just prior to the change? It was more inclusive, communal, understandable, prayerful!! This exact translation is way too cumbersome to be used to pray with!! Con-substantial? really? We instead of I! all instead of some!! Can we all imagine that Jesus came to “save” only some souls and not all!! It is our choice to accept his loving embrace or not.
    A change in the language to be more pastoral, again, would truly be refreshing!

    1. @Bob Healy:
      Because it was never intended to be a permanent translation, just temporary. In any event, now we have a growing number of people in the Church who never encountered it.

  13. I hear the frustrations on the Collects. I, too, fumble over “consubstantial with the Father,” as I am accustomed to “being of one substance with the Father.”

    But I find it hard to relate to objections to “and with your spirit” and “for you and for many,” as these are what the texts actually say.

    There must be a via media here.

    1. @Shaughn Casey:
      “There must be a via media here.”

      And we can be sure that loyalty to cultivated resentments (the bones of which can be lovingly gnawed on for a lifetime and then some) among the most active partisans (who will claim they are acting/speaking for the less-engaged vast middle – which won’t be a complete untruth so much as it would be a partial truth) will make it less likely that it will be found and adopted.

    2. @Shaughn Casey:
      “… I find it hard to relate to objections to “and with your spirit” and “for you and for many,” as these are what the texts actually say”.

      Which texts? I don’t care about ‘and with your spirit’ even if it isn’t a phrase any English speaker would use, but ‘for you and for many’ has all sorts of Calvinistic predestination issues for me, and saying that in Mass is confusing at the very least to what we teach in general. I am not at all sure that matching a literal translation is valuable when it can be interpreted as teaching something that we do not believe.

      1. @Charles Day:

        huh? did the original Matthew in Greek say “for all” in Greek but somewhere along the way, it somehow got changed to “for many” in Latin?

      2. @Elisabeth Ahn:
        Matthew has περι πολλων “peri pollon”
        Mark has υπερ πολλων “huper pollon”
        Luke does not use similar sentences but in the mention of the cup after supper uses υπερ υμων “huper humon” = for you

        Pollon being many. However, I have seen an argument that the reason for this in the Greek was that Hebrew/Aramaic did not have a suitable word and that the Greek was an attempt to stay true to the original words of Jesus.

        Pope Benedict in his book on Jesus of Nazareth seems to say that the use of “all” is acceptable. In Italian which Pope Francis uses daily “tutti” = “all” is used.

        It is interesting that in Anglican eucharistic prayers “many” is used while in the Scottish Episcopal prayers “all” is used.

      3. @Louie Macari:

        Pope Benedict in his book on Jesus of Nazareth seems to say that the use of “all” is acceptable.

        well, that’s interesting because according to Magister, this is what Benedict 16 had in mind:

        With Benedict XVI [LA] had been further reinforced, in particular through the pope’s intention to hold firm the “pro multis” of the Gospel and the Latin missal in the words of consecration of the blood of Christ, against the “for all” of many current translations.

        But then, this may very well have been yet another of his “good intentions” that went nowhere and all over the place, all at the same time.

      4. @Charles Day:

        “for all” also “can be interpreted as teaching something that we do not believe.” That’s why that angle is not a strong or dispositive argument.

        Remember, the conciliar reforms moved the “mysterium fidei” from the institution narrative to bring it closer to its amalgam* of scriptural sources. The pro multis rendering is in that spirit. (I believe “chalice” was unfortunate, though driven by having Latin as the foundational text than being able to go beyond the Latin to more original layers of source text; the reason being that “chalice” has a prissier than grave connotation – the effects of word choices in English are different from those in Latin. However, I don’t think it’s a hill worth dying on, either.)

        * http://moleski.net/cac/Institution_Narratives. I use “amalgam” to refer to the same process by which Nativity creches amalgamate Matthew, Luke, apocrypha and custom.

      5. @Charles Day:

        I’ve been saying “And with thy spirit” since I was a kid. Are you in the habit of saying “The Lord be with you” outside of church? 😉

        I don’t mind an other-worldly quality to liturgical language, if it’s not clunky. As for “for many,” it’s a matter of formal equivalence vs dynamic equivalence, I suppose, and I usually incline toward formal equivalence. I’d rather it be formally equivalent and hear an explanation in a homily once in a while than take a dynamic equivalence for granted.

  14. I have grown to love the NRSV. Their general approach to the translation of scripture is “as literal as possible, as free as necessary.” I think this would be a good way to go.

  15. Pollon clearly means “many,” not “all.” Speculations about what Jesus might have said in Aramaic are just that: speculation. I suspect the use of “many” is an allusion to Isaiah 53:11-12, where the Servant of YHWH is said to bear the sins of “many” (רַבִּ֣ים—rabbim).

    In general, I agree with those who say that a new translation document is not likely to change the English translation any time soon. It’s a done deal. It might, however, embolden bishops in English-speaking countries to think about at least tweaking the translation, particularly the orations, which for the most part really are awful (funny, they were the awfullest part of the previous translation as well, though awful in a different way).

  16. One of my strong wishes is that the liturgy (including its language) change as little as possible and as rarely as possible. Effective ritual requires consistency, I believe. Any change will entail more pain, I fear. I am almost used to the new texts now.

  17. How about “It is meet and just.”

    Seriously, with regard to the translation of creed previously in use in US the nearly all departures from the literal translation of the Latin credo use words found in the Anglican translation. So much so that this must not have been a coincidence. Does anyone have any history of how this came to be in the 1960s? You may write me directly at wcarroll38@gmail,com.

  18. The editor in me is delighted. The person-in-the-pew in me has been mentally “translating” the current messes back into the former eucharistic prayers as I prayed at Mass.

    I hope this story is accurate. oh please oh please…

  19. I thought I was alone in this. The term “for many” became such a stumbling block for me. In my understanding Jesus shed his blood for all. Many accept him, some do not. I found myself silently saying “all”, and feeling I was being disobedient. I was taught Jesus died for all. I hope that this is one change I will see.

  20. I can only hope it is so, the current language is so stilted and awkward I’ve often wondered about “for many” when I know Christ died for all

  21. I think the early English poetic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer serve as a model for contemporary “authentic translations” of the ancient Latin (Sarum Rite) texts better than the recently Vatican-approved translation.

    I also recall the first English translation of the Roman Missal appearing in 1964, particularly some of the better phrasings in the Nicene Creed and the more poetic “Lord, I am not worthy.” (That said, it is a loss to no longer adopt the ICET/ECLL translations of “prayers we have in common” with other Churches and ecclesial communities.)

    Finally, it is also interesting to see how the ancient Latin chants for the ordinary of the mass have been kept alive in the English-speaking world by some in the Anglican Communion and Lutheran synods for over 100 years.

    May the next English translation of the Roman Missal review the many Englis resources of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

  22. And can we put women back into the creed. “For us men and our salvation.”
    Really? There are a whole lot more of us practicing our faith than men.

  23. On a positive note, perhaps a revision to Liturgiam authenticam will permit us to say the Lord’s Prayer correctly (again). And it’s been a while.

    Reference: “Epiousios”

  24. The deficits of Liturgiam authenticam (a ludicrous title!) are well known and documented, as is the truly evil process by which it came about.

    It is interesting that an 11th century Georgian saint, Ephraim the Lesser, working almost alone in the mountains of Turkey a thousand years ago could figure out some rules of translation which seem to have escaped the members of the Curia. Ephraim had three rules:
    1. A composition must be translated from the original, that is, from the language in which it was first written.

    2. The translation must carry the same literal meaning as the original, but accuracy in this regard must not violate the nature of the language into which the text is being translated.

    3. A section of commentary that examines all relevant historical, grammatical, and literary issues should be included with the translated text.

    Number 2. is particularly germaine. Maybe the folks in Rome can now figure it out. And maybe, just maybe, we can repair some of the ecumenical hurt and distress we have caused. Apparently, it is easy for some to forget that Vatican II was the largest, most representative ecumenical council ever held. That needs to count for something, even beyond recognizing its ecumenicity. Rome’s one-sided, arbitrary abrogation of our ecumenical agreements with other Churches was and is a complete disgrace. The loss of real English is also not inconsiderable. (I’m still waiting for that article entitled “Look! We prey upon the oblation of the church”.)

  25. Is there any particular reason that the Latin originals are treated as though they were divinely inspired holy writ?
    To the best of my knowledge they are human confections with all the permanence of other things we have made.

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