Conceiving the Translating Task – UPDATED 1/14

Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, monk of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, spoke to the priests of the archdiocese of Portland on the new missal translation this past October. Fr. Jeremy’s views are important because he is a member of the Vox Clara commission which advises the Congregation for Divine Worship in its approval of translations submitted by national bishops’ conferences. Fr. Jeremy is a brilliant scholar, and the case he makes here for the new translation is perhaps the strongest and most convincing I have found.

I have my own thoughts about Fr. Jeremy’s address. But I will hold back on that for a few days and let his words stand at first without my comment.   – awr

Audio: “Conceiving the Translating Task” by Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB
–  If that link doesn’t work: go here and scroll down to MMP 10 and MMP 11 for audio of parts 1 and 2 of Fr. Driscoll’s talk.

UPDATE: Transcription of Part 1 is here. Transcription of Part 2 is here.


  1. Christian’s link did not work for me. I found what I think is a summary of the talk at At the bottom of that page you will find a link to a page with recordings of the talk(s) (careful, the first part is at the bottom of the page).

  2. From what I heard of part 1 of the podcast, the presentation is very similar to Fr. Driscoll’s essay in the 1998 book “The Voice of the Church: A Forum on Liturgical Translation” published by the USCCB (see excerpts on

  3. I listened to all three recordings while doing my normal work, so I may not have paid as much attention to them as I like to have, but I was a bit dumbfounded by this phrase that Fr. Jeremy said a couple of times, “Translation is not explanation.” Does that mean “Don’t ask why, just do or die!”?

    There was an interesting answer by Fr. Jeremy in the third recording, to a question about Vox Clara and the Congregation, saying that Cardinal Canizares, after the Missal presentation to Pope Benedict, asked Vox Clara to stay on through the translations of all the other liturgical books. There was a post a few months back about an interview with John Allen of NCR and Cardinal Pell with the work of Vox Clara finishing after the Missal was done. Hmm…very interesting.

  4. Thanks, Father Ruff, for the transcript of Father Jeremy Discoll’s understanding of the task of translation.

    His presentation thus far has reminded me of a course I audited from a very prominent biblical scholar. She was very much into the world of the New Testament as much as Father Discoll seems to be into the patristic world (which as he points out are not the same). This scripture scholar also attempted to communicate her understanding of the NT world to people today, even to the elderly in her parish. She told us many of them were convinced she had lived in the first century.

    While I love the work of historical scholars, I have read enough scholarship to know that there is a great deal of disagreement about a lot of things in the NT era, the Patristic era, the Medieval Ages. All these people (including Discoll) are living in very modern “scholarly” worlds not time traveling to the past.

    I get the impression from reading Discoll, like being in this scripture scholar’s class, that both think they have come to understand the past (or even in Discoll’s case this “mystery”) better than the rest of Christianity, and they are on a mission to enlighten everyone (not only the laity but priests) who have been deprived of that light (in this case by the current translation).

    In both cases, these scholars have something to say that is worth reading, and thinking about. However, as soon as claims effectively become that only a small club of scholars really understands something, I become very skeptical. While Discolls erudition is very attractive, it ultimately undermines his case.

    1. The thanks go to Chris Angel for transcribing it.

      I share your concerns. His invitation seems to be into a world he much loves, the world of patristics. Fine. But is Christianity today meant only for those who happen to have a taste for early Byzantium?

      It is said that the new translation gives us more transcendance. After hearing this talk I said to myself, All this doesn’t make God transcendant, it makes him irrelevant.


      1. I think you’re on to something here that needs to be developed further.

        While for some, a taste for early Byzantium is a path to Christianity, for others, it may be that teenage tamborine Mass. I myself don’t like the music at the teenage Mass, but the teenagers there do, and that’s what’s important. My parish offers another Mass with different music that speaks to me.

        Many here complain that the Latin Mass has been suppressed. I think the problem here is that those who advocate for a chant Mass or a Latin Mass are perceived as insisting that all Masses be done in Latin with chant. I think that if the Latin Mass was presented as one option among many rather than as the normative Mass, it would meet less resistance.

        Which raises the question, what is normative? How do we get from insisting that we all follow the Roman Missal in lock step to something that speaks to our individual communities without some of us going off the deep end? When Native Americans celebrate Mass on a buffalo hide and burn sage instead of incense,, is that going too far? I find that adaption beautiful, but find the lace and magna cappa of the Pontifical Mass to be an exercise in overweening pride, far from the Spirit.

        For me, it is not important that every community celebrate Mass in an identical fashion. What is important to me is that every community would welcome me or any other stranger to join them at Mass.

    2. Father Discoll helps us to understand the good work that he and other members of Vox Clara are doing. Much thanks to him and to his confreres in this liturgical apostolate. The Church owes them much.

      1. Yes, sir! Overcome with paschal joy even the Powers of heaven rejoice! By a bond of love so tight it can never be undone! To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners,,, give or take a few commas. He might present to the immensity of your majesty. That, freed from disordered affections, they may so deal with the things of this passing world as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure. For, when your children were scattered afar by sin, through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit (no wait that clause goes with the next part) you gathered them again to yourself, that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity, made the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, might, (remember that might we’re gonna need it down the line) to the praise of your manifold wisdom, (now remember the long ago might) be manifest as the Church. And when you give the sign (two thumbs up!) we shall be raised up. Yup, bang up job there Vox Clara! Thanks a lot!

  5. Father Ruff,

    Your comment, “All this doesn’t make God transcendent, it makes him irrelevant” makes me quite uncomfortable. How can God ever be made irrelevant? I sense that your dislike of the new translation and your removal from ICEL has made you bitter.

    Perhaps our opinions are irrelevant. Perhaps we need to enter into this new translation with a spirit of humility, meekness, and obedience. Perhaps we need to be uncomfortable with the new translations so that we can actually use our brains at Mass and not simply settle for something we can fully understand. Perhaps…

    1. Dear Irene Kelly,

      Thanks for your comment and feedback.

      I don’t feel bitter, I feel relieved and at peace. But I know that we’re masters at deceiving ourselves, so your comment helps me reflect further.

      ICEL and I agreed that my separation frees me to speak more honestly, now that I’m not bound by my work for them. I’m pretty sure that future work on liturgical projects is not ruled out, although obviously I would only consider this under changed playing rules. My parting ways with ICEL was amicable and mutually respectful, and I remain friends with folks in the ICEL office.

      I know that my feelings toward the Holy See are less positive, and there’s a lot there for me to pray about. I’d appreciate your prayers as well.

      “Irrelevant” is a strong word, and I see how my use of it could be misunderstood. Of course God is never irrelevant! I wouldn’t have the energy as a monk to get up in the morning and go to all the Offices if I thought this. I meant to say that the Church’s presentation of God and his revelation becomes irrelevant to people if the Church cloaks it in layers of cultural baggage from another time and place.

      The challenge – which the Church will be working on until the end of time – is to mediate the revelation of our immanent/transcendent God in ways appropriate to all the cultures the Church finds herself in.

      I hope you don’t find my opinions “irrelevant.” I don’t yours. 🙂



  6. This beautiful exposition says many things which are true and several which are problematic. Some of the good things here are: a sense that one enters a “world” in liturgical texts; the importance of understanding nuance and tone in the original language and worldviews represented by the text; the acknowledgment of complexity in the translator’s task; the sensivitity to register and tone in the vernacular. All this is fine.

    Let me focus now on the problems. First, the notion that we are still fixed on the Arian controversy, as though this is a point that we dare not yield in the present age, strikes me as peculiar at the very least. Unless you put this in different terms, no one knows what this means outside of academe. No one.

    If we want to fight the Arian controversy today, it won’t be won by the frequent repetition of unigenitus in liturgical texts. This will simply be meaningless to people.

    Second, I think it most unfair to compare the 1973 texts with the 2008 or 2010 as if 1998 did not exist. The whole sleight of hand by which so many presenters put forward their case: “See, how much richer this is” completely and unfairly ignores the fact that one could have said the same about 99% of the 1998 translation, which was deemed not good enough. Yet 1998 did better on other measures–proclaimability, euphony, clarity, etc.

    Third, for all this talk about “entering into the world of the text” and knowing all about its nuances and meanings and antecedents, we still got, in the end “mother bees” (plural) in the Exsultet, when the singular in the Latin is significant because it’s a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We have also gotten the prayer on Good Friday asking that the catechumens should “open wide the ears of their hearts”–an expression in English so cartoonish as to be laughable. We know what it means, but it’s ridiculous. It hasn’t enlarged our world one iota to imagine ears flapping in the chests of catechumens.

    1. Finally, how strange to see his enthusiasm for the text which says we are “overcome with paschal joy.” When I think of someone being “overcome” I imagine them fainting. It’s one thing to overcome something else with paschal joy, as in sorrow being overcome by joy. But if “we” are overcome, I expect waving handkerchiefs and smelling salts.

      In sum, I think he has left out a step in the translators task, and that is: discerning the difference between things which are pointlessly peculiar, and things which are not.

    2. Yes, Rita

      The great sadness for me is that in trying too hard to exalt the language of the liturgy by parroting the Latin, and badly in places, we are turning the Mass into a parody of itself. The irony is that the Mass ends up being defamed and its dignity belittled by the pompous, inelegant and sometimes ridiculous language that’s supposed to achieve the very opposite.

      And it’s all because we understand our language. This is such a simple truth, but something the liturgical authorities are blind to because, perhaps, it’s too simple and they’re looking elsewhere.

    3. +JMJ+

      Does the (non)state of the Arian controversy today justify simplifying the translation of “unigenitus”?

      I think there are other issues with the final translation worth our attention that the presence of “unigentius” and other language which attests to the history of our faith.

      And I think the repeated mention of things in our liturgical texts is of value. It formed people in the past, and I think it can still form us today in the future.

      1. Does the (non)state of the Arian controversy today justify simplifying the translation of “unigenitus”?

        Yes, Arianism is still quite alive… Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Unitarians, and perhaps Mormons being all potential candidates.

      2. “Yes, Arianism is still quite alive… Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Unitarians, and perhaps Mormons being all potential candidates.”

        The problem is that saying “only begotten” over and over is not going to get you there. Never. I guarantee you, not one person in one million is going to have any idea that unigenitus has anything to do with holding the line against Oneness Pentecostals. There are more effective ways to do this.

      3. Lets look back at what you wrote again:

        First, the notion that we are still fixed on the Arian controversy, as though this is a point that we dare not yield in the present age, strikes me as peculiar at the very least.

        This is insanity. Of course we dare not yield in the present age in our position on the Arian controversy. I assure you that there are a lot more than 300 people in the U.S. who can figure out from the creed that it is written (among other things) to oppose Arianism.

        This is part of why we have a liturgical creed, and the liturgy in general: to form our concerns about what matters and doesn’t matter for Christians. If the Creed says refuting Arianism matters to some degree we need to let that regulate us.

        Many of your objections to the language of the missal come across to me in the same way. Being so joyful about something that you faint is a perfectly fine image. The “ears of the heart” is a phrase so ridiculous in English that it gets four million hits on Google and “ear of the heart” gets another 2.3 million. Let yourself be formed in what you think is foolish by the liturgy. The religion is after all founded on that which is “foolishness to the Gentiles”.

      4. Samuel – but the problem is not that our religion is “foolishness to the Gentiles”. It is that our religious praxis is is looking foolish to believers.

  7. Thanks for your response, Father.

    I am not so sure that the Church “cloaks itself in layers of cultural baggage” as much as it brings a rich treasury of history and tradition to the present day. It’s not so much “another time and place” as it is timeless. I think this is the hermenutic of continuity the Pope is looking for in the liturgy, and why such a literal, elevated style is necessary.

    I also think we spend too much time and energy compromising ourselves by trying to be “relevant” to the people in present day. Perhaps the people of the present day need to start “thinking with the Church” and rather than against her?

    Finally, I believe we are spinning our wheels trying to control the things we think we should control. If the Church is truly the Bride of Christ, then Christ and the Holy Spirit will guide her in the direction she needs to go under the guidance and leadership of our Holy Father. If we remain fixed on this idea, I don’t see how we can go wrong.

    Prayers and best wishes.

  8. Lots of personal honesty here and soul searching. Not sure I found these three talks to be much – is it an “apologist” presentation that defends the 2010 translation?

    Echo Rita’s comments:
    – always a tension between cultural expressions and remaining true to the “history/nature” of our liturgy
    – the church seems at its best when liturgy can be “both/and”

    – his points skip over not only 1998 but any honest drill down in terms of translation and linguistic expertise; proclaimability; the poetry of a text; and nothing about how to arrive at a text that is also able to be chanted
    – he appears to cite two reasons for 1998 – theological words; adding words that aren’t in the original latin. Rita does a good job of citing problems with his first point (does anyone have a list of the latin/liturgical words that reach the level of unigentus?) IMO, the debates around “original” latin will go on forever; in some ways it is a “euphemism”
    – his historical progreesion around dismissing 1998; then the emergence of VOX CLARA; then LA, then RT – behind the scenes, the politics around this tells us a whole nothing story. His interpretation skips over much and highlights what fits his final “Conceiving the Task” – historians would question his methods
    – he makes no mention of serious experts who question the very validity of LA; to be honest, RT seems like an ever expanding document that can fit anything into it to justify what you are doing in terms of “conceiving the translation”

    1998 – why couldn’t the issues he raises have been inserted into this 17 year long project? No mention of that? No mention of the VII and subsequent ICEL and document such as Comme Le Prevoit? Why? He seems to start from my high school latin – “in media res” – but then never went back to the beginning?

    Finally, this whole 2010 project ignores one of the biggest pastoral/liturgical challenges – too many current presiders can’t proclaim or understand basic…

  9. Fr Driscoll isn’t a member of the Vox Clara Committee, as all its members are bishops. In the Vox Clara press releases he is listed as an advisor.

    1. Nice to see you back on the blog, Bruce, and good to know you read the blog so faithfully.

      Father Driscoll speaks of his work for the bishops AFTER the 1998 translation was rejected. Odd that we did not hear him mention the fact that he himself prepared ORIGINAL TEXTS IN ENGLISH FOR WHICH THERE WAS NO LATIN EQUIVALENT – long, of course, before Liturgiam Authenticam.

      Postcommunion prayers I think they were, and they were rejected by the Committee . . . a rejection Driscoll did not take kindly to.

      Driscoll’s postcommunion prayer that stands out forever in the memories of all who hear it, and which has been shared on this blog before, went something like “With lips enpurpled at your intoxicating chalice, O Lord . . . ”

      So I suppose Driscoll must have some satisfaction in seeing this new translation get the confirmatio. I predict he’ll not take kindly to the multiple revisions that will be necessary to repair the mistakes of Vox Clara . . . or its “advisors.”

  10. 1. At the two-day November 1998 Forum on Translation, sponsored by the then US BCL, seventeen, not seventy, bishops were present. (Two were present for only the first day.) Three speakers, representing different points of view, were asked to address the bishops: Father Driscoll; Father Gilbert Ostdiek, OFM, of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago; Brother Stanislaus Campbell, FSC, of St. Mary’s College, Moraga City, California.

    2. Yes, there were divisions among the US bishops concerning the 1997 Missal text, but the favorable votes on the eight segments (1993-1997) far exceeded the required two-thirds majority, with one exception. The Order of Mass in June 1995 received seven votes over the stipulated two-thirds. (In the other ten conferences that are members of ICEL the votes were all but unanimous. In fact, a number were unanimous.)

    3. Liturgiam authenticam was, as stated, issued in 2001. But this was the year before, not after, the denial of the recognitio to the eleven conferences’ canonical votes of approval (approbatio). It is worth noting that the rules were changed three years after the last of the conferences had submitted their canonical decisions to Rome. The changing of the rules allowed the CDWDS added reason to deny the confirmatio to the 1997/98 text. Yet in 1995 the conferences had been assured that the Missal revision, begun in the early 1980s, would be judged by the translation norms then in effect, those of 1969. (There was a change of prefects in 1996.)

    On the final page of the Congregation’s March 2002 letter denying the recognitio, there was a sentence which said that the 1998 text had much to offer that would provide a good basis for a revision. But in late 2002 the work was started all over again. Lots of people’s time and lots of money.

    There were difficulties over the Order of Christian Funerals in the late 1980s, but these were amicably worked out through dialogue. That was not allowed in 2002.

  11. Thanks, john robert francis. Your historical detail highlights my points above. It also gets at one of Fr. Ruff’s points ….*…..that only one of the section votes was close to the 2/3rd’s required.

    There has been a number of posts that have highlighted your “there was a change of prefects in 1996). Notice that Driscoll never refers to that nor does he describe the bishops’ conference – it would appear that his talks of 1997 had little impact on the subsequent 8 section votes or with any other conferences. Yet, he makes it appear as if his talks stimulated the correct translation project that just suddenly started in 2001 – there have also been claims that some had started to translate, order of mass, etc. well before or around 1996?

  12. Reading the opening section of his first talk, I thought he was setting out a splendid argument for dynamic equivalence — but then he didn’t follow it through.

    I think we all agree that the new translation will be more accurate in terms of faithfulness to the Latin. Where we disagree is in the area of what he calls ‘register’. Driscoll’s position is clearly that it is important to convey the flowery and convoluted language and syntax of the original. But is that a primary value?

    We live in a culture which is consistently trying to cut through the labyrinths of gobbledy-gook, officialspeak, jargon, academic verbiage and other manifestations which threaten to paralyse and stifle our lives. What is presented as beautiful and rich and deep in the new Missal translation is nothing more than yet another manifestation of the same tendency towards obfuscation.

    This is precisely what the original ICEL translators sought to avoid. They were convinced that the translator’s task was to render the complex processes of 6th and 7th century Latin culture accessible to those of our own time and culture. In particular, they opted for pitching it at the level of the working class Catholics who populated the parishes in which some of them were serving. In hindsight, we can see that this particular ‘register’ was perhaps not as well judged as it might have been. The 1998 translation redressed that balance, with both accuracy and elegant English. With 2010, we will have accuracy but certainly not elegance, and the potential for misunderstandings and sheer obscure-ness will be dramatically increased.

    The cursus of Latin rhetoric is not ours today, and attempts to impose it on us are as misguided as asking us to speak with the vocabulary and syntax of Shakespeare or Chaucer, neither of which we would ever contemplate. The argument that this is sacral language for worship, and that therefore it must be different, is specious.

    1. (Ctd). We pray with the heart, not solely with the brain. Of course it must be different, but that does not mean that it must be any the less real. Using a style that can easily come across as artificial, insincere and remote from who we actually are as 21st-century human beings is a very risky enterprise.

      My fear is that the new texts will only only alienate many of those working class people who in fact make up the majority of Catholics in our parishes but will also alienate many of our hard-working clergy. There are already more than enough cynics in the priesthood without trying to add to their number!

      1. Paul

        A cultural difference across the pond: in the States, we only have two classes: middle and celebrity. There are no poor people (or at least poor people we deem worthy of our attention as such – politicians assiduously avoid talking about the poor), nor are there rich people (OK, if you’re a multibillionaire, you’re rich), but everyone who is worthy of attention is either middle class or a celebrity.,

      2. Leaving aside, for the moment, the often repeated refrain about today’s lay Catholic being the best educated laity that the Church has ever seen, my thought is that it is the Church’s professional class, not the typical pew sitter who risk being alienated by the actual tone, words, phrases already present in the prayers of our Roman liturgy.
        Thanks to the article written by an Australian priest we know that it is the prayers of the rite themselves that alienate some not the process, after all, a far less collaborative and much more speedy process gave us the 1973 version we’ve had for forty years.
        In justice, the alienated should avoid working to stall the renewal that the Church calls them to in our day.

  13. Thanks for making this available, Father. I’m glad it’s here for this reason – it makes clear that good-willed and theologically astute observers can have different opinions about the value and effectiveness of the new Missal translation. (Note that Driscoll is not just a translator of patristics, but an accomplished liturgical theologian as well.)

    While I certainly see how one could be disappointed by some aspects of the new translation, I’m also put off by the way some have dismissed the whole thing as ridicuous, quick to suggest that only a fool or someone who cares more for clerical power than community worship could embrace it.

    I’m far from the expert many are, but in my own exploration of the new translation when it first became available, I too was pleased to find new jewels of theology and spirituality that had not been there before, but which had been present all along in the Latin.

    It’s our lex orandi. Surely there is great value in presenting it to the ears and hearts of people of the Church in the English speaking world. And if that’s done imperfectly at times, even ham-handedly, we can say that. But let’s not act as though those who did it have revealed themselves as stupid or evil.

    1. The way Fr Ruff and Fr Griffiths were handled just how would you describe that Barry? Intelligently? Charitably?

  14. After the historical approach in the first part of Driscoll’s lecture, it was refreshing to shift to a literary approach (rhetoric) in the second part.

    As much as I have found historical approaches to scripture not very worthwhile, Dianne Bergant, in a wonderful course on the Psalter at ND, convinced me of the value of literary approaches to Scripture. She gave us a model for analyzing a psalm; we had to do our analysis without commentaries. It was more a laboratory than a lecture class. I was surprised that we could come to an agreement based just on the English texts as to the basic structure and interpretation of the psalm. Of course she was relentless in her critical “where exactly did you find THAT in the text.” The experience suggests to me that we should be able to approach the English texts of the liturgy without knowing the Latin and without knowing the history of Christianity.

    I liked Driscoll’s idea of giving us basic models for each prayer type, and some pointers on how to analyze them; that was similar to Bergant’s approach. The challenge is whether or not people can do the analysis on their own without a text explaining it step by step as he does in his examples. For that is what people are going to have to do in practice, to understand the models sufficiently so that the priest doesn’t spend his homily giving us a class on understanding the prayers, or that people don’t have to come to a catechesis session some other night to understand the Sunday liturgy.

    I got the impression from the examples that the big difference is “God, Who” versus “God, You.” When I began praying the English Divine Office as a high school student in the Fifties, it was full of “Thou” etc which I always translated as “You” etc. So I guess it is back to DIY.

    As for the long sentences: Priests cannot say the triple blessing at the end of the Mass with sufficient inflection to cue people into when to say Amen!!!

    1. +JMJ+

      we should be able to approach the English texts of the liturgy without knowing the Latin and without knowing the history of Christianity

      While you can approach them without knowledge of Latin and history of the Church, I think those two elements give you a better sense and increase your ability to understand the texts.

      To me, it sounds like you’re saying it should suffice to read the Constitution of the United States of America as it stands today, without knowing what life was like under British rule, and when each amendment was made and why, and which amendments were repealed and why.

      1. Two things were particularly valuable about Bergant’s literary approach of focusing upon the world of the text rather than the world behind the text, or the world we bring to the text.

        First it created a sense of community in arriving at a common understanding of what is going on at the level of the text. I was very skeptical that this could be achieved, but at least with a skilled teacher who keeps the focus upon the text it can be done.

        Second, it created a great sense of personal empowerment. I used to read one commentary on scripture finding it very convincing, then another different commentary finding it very convincing. After learning how to focus upon the text, I begin to read commentaries very differently, and find that a lot of them did not have much to do with the text at all, even though they might be interesting scholarship.

        Community and personal empowerment are important to the experience of liturgy as well as that of scripture. In my experience of Scripture, using a literary approach that focuses upon the English text(s) does these things; focusing upon understanding the past, where the text comes from, and translation of text is not nearly as helpful. Those things tend to result in arguments which make consensus more difficult, and appeals to competing experts which are not empowering.

        In terms of Driscoll’s article and catechesis, it is not worthwhile spending time on the history and the Latin text and why it was translated in a certain way. On the other hand it might be useful to elaborate the rhetoric models that he develops and then let people evaluate for themselves how the various translations fit the models with the goal of becoming proficient at detecting the models rather than deciding upon what is a better or more correct translation. Notice that he actually focused more on comparing English translations rather than dealing with the Latin text itself.

      2. I suspect Jeffrey and I may be partly in agreement about this.

        Focusing on the text without a context assumes that the text has any inherent value of its own, and risks making it into a ‘sacred cow’. In fact it may have little or no inherent value as such, and analysing it as a discrete object may therefore be a waste of time.

        It’s essentially the same kind of point that one English bishop made when he said “It’s all very well talking about being faithful to the Latin, but what if the Latin isn’t any good to start with?”

        There is certainly a strong argument for saying that 6th-7th century spirituality was very different from our own, and that we can’t simply transplant it into 21st century Catholics. It just doesn’t fit. And using rhetorical constructions from another equally remote age and culture merely compunds the problem.

        You are left with a situation in which you ask two questions:

        (a) Do we really want to pray like this, using these sentiments? Is it even possible for us?

        (b) If we actually do, do we want to express those sentiments in this unnatural way?

        Driscoll does not go anywhere near that kind of discussion, let alone the discussion which asks how far it is important to preserve every jot and tittle of the Tradition, or whether in fact Tradition can change, evolve, move on to something else, rather like the gradual development and transformation of a great cathedral over the centuries as structures are built over, substantially added to, and altered to fit the needs of the age. The preservation in aspic of the monuments of one particular moment in time in the history of a religion is a problematic area, and one that we should not shy away from.

      3. +JMJ+

        Jack, while the narrow-context approach to the texts might create a “sense of community” and a “sense of personal empowerment”, what about all the Harrison Bergerons out there who are stifled by an artificially level playing field? And not just personally stifled, but prevented from providing the insight drawn from additional contexts? And I do not think these other contexts (history, nuances, etc.) are a periphery matter, just as I don’t think the history of the USA is periphery to its founding documents.

        I’m not saying we have to focus on the past, the text’s cultural environment, and the translation, to the detriment of the text itself; I’m saying we have to acknowledge that the text did not drop from the heavens. It was produced in a certain place and time for certain reasons. I also think it is an over-simplification to discount the history (etc.) of the text in its study because such things make consensus more difficult and requires us to rely on other experts (thus hindering the senses of community and personal empowerment).

        Let me give an example: the arguments that have flowed on this blog about Vatican II’s documents and their proper interpretation. I don’t have the Acts of the Council (as john robert francis and Chris Grady so aptly pointed out). I rely almost exclusively on the final Council texts. If I were to try and restrict others here to only use the text (and they did not resist), I still don’t think we would sense “community” and “empowerment” over the documents, and reach a consensus.

        I simply disagree that “spending time on the history and the Latin text and why it was translated in a certain way” is not worthwhile.

        Two last points:

        1. The Latin of the Missal makes clear references to Scripture. Some of those references are lost in the current translation. But the text is contextually bound to that reference! Without knowing the scriptural basis of a liturgical phrase, you’re handicapping yourself when it comes to interpreting (or translating) it.

        2. The quality of the English translation drastically effects the outcome of the community-empowered consensus. One Creed translation implies that Jesus became human only at His birth, the other, at His enfleshing in Mary’s womb. Big difference!

  15. Paul,

    In a literary approach to the Liturgy, the context for the “text” of a prayer would not simply be the prayer itself but the whole liturgy, first of the particular service being experienced but then also of the whole liturgical cycle, including the Divine Office.

    We have greatly enriched the Roman Rite with many more scripture readings, with many new prefaces, and with a substantial number of Eucharistic prayers. How do all these now fit together? Maybe the Oration, Secret, and Post-communion prayers need to be revised in light of the scripture readings, both of the day and the total cycle. Maybe even the prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers need a more scriptural language.

    This brings us to the whole issue of MR4.

    What I would like to have is the equivalent of BibleWorks for the Roman liturgy. (Hint! Hint! Liturgical Press!) The whole Latin Roman Liturgy (including Divine Office) in both OF and EF forms in a computer program with a search program and a morphological text so that I can get all the inflections of a word with one search. I would also like all proposed translations, approved and unapproved, in as many languages as possible. The program would include the lectionary, too, as well as the BibleWorks materials for the study of Greek and Hebrew Bible texts. This would be the way to begin to take this out of the hands of the bureaucrats and experts, and allow anyone who wants to become a scholar.

    The text as a whole is what needs to make sense both in Latin and English. Tinkering with particular isolated texts, especially with all sorts of historical , theological and political agendas (liberal or conservative) that are not transparent to the reader, will continue to produce inferior patch quilts.

    1. Jack,

      A word of caution. The process you describe does not make anyone a scholar. The reason is simple. Scholarship is not a matter of knowing texts but of understanding them. In fact, it’s a generally recognized hallmark of inferior scholarship when the person in question knows and can manipulate much data, but does not manifest a grasp of the deeper questions of meaning, historical and philosophical complexity and demonstrate creative thought. Education is what makes a scholar, and this itself is a complex process of developing human capacities, many of which take place in the interactions with mentors and by the cultivation of an individual’s capacity for creative thought processes. Making sense is not always a project which is facilitated by consistency or conformity to type. Information is useful, but it is no substitute for education.

  16. Jeffrey,

    My judgment of “worthwhile” is contextual, meaning the context of parish life and adult education rather than the context of seminary formation or scholarship.

    In the 1980s I discovered the social approach to studying scripture which was then in its infancy (at least in terms of English language scholarship) and have read a lot of its literature since (it has now come to dominate the historical approach to scripture). As someone trained in the social sciences, I think this is very worthwhile for scholars and I enjoy discussions with scripture scholars who are social science oriented since they use social science approaches very differently than sociologists and psychologists would.

    Understanding that ancient societies were very different at a broad level of abstraction, e.g. that families in those days were the powerful institution since they did not have nation states and corporations, is useful for the average bible reader, and for people who preach.

    However, scripture scholars, employing a detailed social science approach, have written commentaries virtually reconstructing the society of Jesus’ time along the lines of the social structures of very rural Mediterranean society as it existed recently prior to globalization. That is not really worthwhile for the average Bible reader, nor very useful for people preparing homilies.

    Literary approaches to the Bible have been far more useful in my own prayerful study of the Bible than all the social approach books on my shelves.

    I don’t see much use in “trickle down” approaches; i.e. if we just give the thinking of scholars to priests who then give it to the people, then the people will know what to do with it in their own lives.

    I am all for people using their own talents and interests in approaching Scripture and the Liturgy. I certainly try to do that with my social science interests.

    1. +JMJ+

      My judgment of “worthwhile” is contextual, meaning the context of parish life and adult education rather than the context of seminary formation or scholarship.

      I’m neither a seminarian nor a scholar, and the parish I spoke at a week ago (on the Mass in general, and on the new translation here and there) was not a seminary or scholarly audience. But the scriptural and historical background I provided for certain parts of the Mass (such as the prayer at the mixing of water and wine in the chalice) were well-received, as part of the mystagogical formation of the faithful. Now they know what “mystery” is being prayed about, and why that prayer is used (since I showed them the prayer’s evolution since the 7th century Leonine sacramentary). And they know what the mystery has to do with them; a little nugget from St. Cyprian on the imperceptible presence of water in both the bread and the wine did the trick!

      So I do not agree that the average Catholic adult (who wants to learn about the liturgy) could not benefit from a richer approach to the prayers of the liturgy. We needn’t save the juicy stuff for our priests; we lay people might like some grown-up food too!

      I do agree, however, that there are some scholarly things which are less important than others. I’ve heard many an EWTN homily full of cultural context explanation and short on pastoral wisdom and practical application.

  17. Rita and Jack – no expert on either scripture or liturgy but do enjoy some of the approach that Jack outlines. At the same time, completely agree with Rita’s comments. Given that, we need a both/and approach – would love to see, read, study Jack’s suggestions while keeping in mind that my conclusions, opinion, etc. is just that vs. Rita or Fr. Anthony or Paul Inwood/David Haas who have the educational and experiential background.

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