Letter to The Tablet

Fr. Alan Griffiths’s measured letter about the Vatican’s wholesale revision of the 2008 Missal translation was welcome and revelatory. But perhaps it needs to be made clear that Fr. Griffiths is not repeating the points that I and many others have made regarding previous stages of the process, and might well not endorse them. Rather he is recounting a new phase of the story altogether. We have now had two sets of translation ground rules, generating two English versions of the Missal produced painstakingly by competent experts, only for the Vatican effectively to be producing a third version, with reportedly some 10,000 changes. Moreover, from the leaks currently available (and leaks are all that we have), there appears to be no stated, or even discernible, rationale for these changes. The apparent upshot is that central authority is finally uniting local specialist opinion, but unfortunately against itself. This human reality is no basis for introducing a new translation that, whatever the judgment on its merits, will be disruptive for Catholic devotional life throughout the English-speaking world.

The central issues here are not about translation as such, but rather about mutual trust. When authors give their texts to editors or translators they are making an act of faith. I have no idea whether or not the published Japanese version of an article of mine is accurate or not; I simply have to trust Japanese speakers to make the difficult judgments necessary. The ‘perfect’ rendition does not exist: some things can only be said in English, and some of the artistry or poetry in the original, having been lost in translation, will ideally be replaced by something different. The whole sorry history of the revised Missal translation suggests that the Vatican is uneasy with this reality. Moreover, the unease regarding technical issues of translation seems symbolic of wider tensions regarding the ecclesial renewal inaugurated by Vatican II: do we seek to take all our leads from the center, or should we be striving for a communio of trust, reciprocity, and harmonious diversity, centered on Rome, yes, but not dominated by Rome?

It is hard to see any good way out of the present impasse. Perhaps the least unsatisfactory option would be to call a halt, to stay with the 1973 version for the time being (which, for all its faults, is not provoking widespread discontent on the ground), and to set up a transparent, genuinely collegial process of further revision, based on proper experimentation. If this draws on the best wisdom of both the 1998 and 2008 texts, some consensus might emerge on a new version towards the end of the decade.

Philip Endean SJ
Campion Hall, Oxford, OXI 1QS
philip.endean@gmail.com www.philipendean.com

(To appear in tomorrow’s Tablet, preprinted with author’s permission.)

5 comments

  1. Fr Endean, I could not agree more. The little I have heard of the New Translation has not endeared me to it at all. I have listened to a podcast by Fr Jeremy Driscoll OSB of two talks he gave on the New Translation, and in the examples he gave its language seems far too “ornate” to my ears.
    The issue of the bishop’s collegiality is key here also. It appears the Vatican did not trust them enough to complete this task so took it away from them. This does not augur well of the future of a mature Church.

  2. What a model of common sense and courteous expression! Surely the bishops and the Vatican will have to listen to this advice — they have painted themselves into a very sticky corner, but if they proceed along the current lines a train wreck will ensue.

  3. What a thinly-veiled protest against the principles of Liturgiam authenticam.

    There are actually a few alternatives besides waiting out:
    1. Since so many people who have “seen” the texts claim that the 2008 texts are superior to the 2010 texts, Rome could be asked to simply approve the 2008 texts sans the Ordo Missae.

    2. Delay the implementation by a year so that the 2010 texts can be revised more appropriately. The 2008 texts were already the fruit of a collegial exercise with the inputs of expertise. There’s no need for a decade for that – I doubt people will be any the wiser 10 years later.

    3. Implement the new Ordo Missae and hold off the rest of the Missal until a year or two later.

    Of course, I’m assuming the rumours circulating here that the 2010 texts are quite unbearable. No other independent source seems to have verified this assertion.

  4. Simon: guilty as charged, though the gentle tone has its purpose. LA has some good things in it, but its ultimate attitude to translation is simply silly. And the process by which it was foisted on us represents a betrayal of the Council.

  5. I totally agree with Fr Endean that the way out of this “liturgical” gridlock is to stay put with the current edition and set up a more collegial process where all stakeholders – leaders and led alike – would be able to review, reflect, and pray so a much better translation would be produced. With all two editions being leaked out, the best to do for now is to wait!

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