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Pray Tell: A milestone has been reached with the implementation date for the English Missal definitively set. How do you feel now – relieved, anxious, excited?
Msgr. James Moroney: In the past few years, I have been privileged to speak about the new translation in 97 dioceses. After each of these presentations (usually running about four hours) I have experienced great excitement on the part of Priests who were somewhat anxious before actually studying the new texts.
I am thrilled at the opportunities that await us with the reception of a translation which is both beautiful and precise. It reflects the tone, the style and the substance of the Latin texts which we have been preserving for so many centuries and will have a profound impact not only on the liturgical, but the catechetical and spiritual life of the Church for decades to come.
No work of more than 1200 pages is perfect, least of all a translation. But it is such a vast improvement over the text we now use, that I find myself very excited by the prospect of its use.
PT: Any predictions for how the implementation will go?
JM: Change is never easy. It wasn’t easy in 1965 and 1970, and it won’t be easy today. But change for a good reason, change to enhance peoples’ understanding of and participation in the Sacred Liturgy is worth it. Based upon the reaction I have experienced so far, I am certain it will go well. Thanks to the BCDW [Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, the U.S. national liturgy office], FDLC [Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions], ICEL [International Commission on English in the Liturgy] and the many liturgical publishers, we are better prepared for such an implementation than we have ever been before.
PT: Do you expect this missal text to last for many generations, or do you think the need for further refinement revision will arise rather soon?
JM: Only time will tell. While it is true that language changes very rapidly these days, it is also true that a certain stability in liturgical and scriptural translations is necessary for real catechesis. Anyone involved in the work of the liturgical reform, however, needs to pray for the humility to know that whatever we do (pray God, for the good of the Church), it is up to the Church to determine when the Liturgy needs to change. That was true for a liturgist working to implement the reforms of Trent, and it is still true today.
PT: What advice would you give to priests who don’t like some of the texts and intend to alter them?
JM: This is an important question. In any work of over a thousand pages we will all find things we do not like or that we would have done differently. We must always remember, however, that there is a great deal at stake, doctrinally, spiritually, and ecclesially, in preserving the integrity of these ancient texts and the unity of the Church’s belief and worship. I would be very careful about imposing my interpretations on translations which scores of scholars, bishops, and the Holy See have discerned to be accurate and appropriate renderings of the Roman Liturgy.
That’s why the Council Fathers reminded us that no one (not even a priest!) can add to or take away from the Sacred Liturgy. Or, as Father John Rotelle used to say, “People have a right to the Roman Rite.”
PT: Several compromises were made, such as plugging in the current “May almighty God have mercy on us…” absolution text. What would you say to the defenders of Liturgicam authenticam who are disappointed that the Latin is not always translated accurately?
JM: I’d say they should read Liturgiam authenticam no. 20, which does not call for a slavish literal rendering, but a living translation which is capable of authentically conveying the meaning of the text with beauty and memorability. There are two values here, as there always have been: accuracy and proclaimability. Without the first, you’re interpreting rather than translating. Without the second, the meaning will never be apprehended. Both are required for an authentic translation.
PT: Other churches and denominations typically have an open and transparent process for textual revision, with draft texts made available to the entire membership for input. What do you think of our more top-down and secretive process? Do you think it works?
JM: I challenge the premise that this has been a “top down and secretive process.” Bishops were encouraged at every stage to consult widely at the grass roots level for each Green Book and Gray Book. For the Green Book of the Order of Mass alone, then a 38 page text, the U.S. Bishops submitted close to 4,000 pages of comments they had received. I might also note that most other churches and denominations do not translate liturgical texts but compose them…a very different enterprise. Finally, I would be very surprised if any denomination has ever had the kind of widespread participation in the formation of prayers which the Catholic Church in the United States has just experienced.
PT: How come the ICEL musicians who have worked in setting the new texts weren’t consulted when the final revisions were made?
JM: The question you ask falls close to confidential material. The Vox Clara Committee operates under a promise of confidentiality which, I am sure you can understand in the light of our role advising the Holy See.
PT: Tell me about the work of Vox Clara. How often did you meet? What typically transpired at your meetings?
JM: The best way to answer this question is to go to the Vatican website, where all of the Press Releases for the meetings of the Vox Clara committee are posted. Vox Clara never met without publishing a Press Release describing exactly what it had done.
PT: Who was responsible for the final changes to the text and what role did Vox Clara play?
JM: The Congregation [for Divine Worship in the Roman curia] alone has the authority to confirm a liturgical text. The Vox Clara Committee was created by the Congregation as an advisory body. Its advice to the Congregation, at every stage of the work, has been held in the strictest confidentiality. The Vox Clara Committee, therefore, made no changes to the text, only recommendations to the Congregation in order to assist in its review of the text at several stages.
A not inconsiderable number of changes also originated from the amendments which were submitted by the USCCB and the other English-speaking Conferences. For example, the USCCB submitted more than 300 amendments on the Proper of Time segment. Multiply that by many segments and eleven conferences and you have a pretty hefty number of changes recommended to the Holy See by the Conferences by way of amendments.
It is the Congregation alone, then, which was responsible for confirming the text, and the Congregation which decided which changes to introduce in the light of the amendments approved by the Conferences and whatever other advice it had received. Their work, at the end of such a long process involving so many people, was to blend the whole together, ensuring accuracy, authenticity, and consistency of translation throughout the Missal.
PT: What’s next? Will Vox Clara continue to advise the Holy See for translations of other rites and sacraments?
JM: I presume that Vox Clara will continue to advise the Holy See, ICEL will continue to translate the typical editions, and the Bishops will continue to develop and approve translations of liturgical texts. There’s plenty of work to go around! May God who has begun this good work continue to bless it.
Msgr. Moroney spoke with Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, of Pray Tell.