Critics of the New Translation Learning from Critics of the Old Translation

As a prefatory remark, I want to make clear that I mean this post quite sincerely and am not engaging in any sort of irony, though I recognize that I am pointing out a certain “situational irony.” I am in part inspired by Fr. Philip’s post on “Sense and Sensitivities” and his comment on 2/19 at 12:48 pm that he struggles to find a middle position between outright rejection and enthusiastic acceptance of the new translation that will not be spiritually corrosive. I have no answers, but I would suggest a perhaps surprising place to look for one.

Critics of the soon-to-be-implemented translation, among whom I number myself, find themselves in the position of learning from those whom they might normally consider their opponents, namely, those who enthusiastically welcome the new translation after having spent years praying a translation that they dislike, if not detest.  I was not a huge fan of the current translation, but it was familiar and, to my mind, usually innocuous, if a bit bland. But I know that some found this translation quite nocuous (yes, this is actually a word), but used it anyway. My question to these people is, “how did you do it?”

For example, I would be  interested in hearing someone like Fr. Z, who for years was a vociferous critic of the current translation, offer some reflections on his experience of celebrating Mass using that translation (I know he typically celebrates the Extraordinary Form these days, but I presume there was a time when he celebrated the Ordinary Form on a somewhat regular basis). Was he able to recite the orations without a subtle sneer in his voice? Could he pray these words while inwardly cringing at the gross simplification or even misrepresentation of the Latin? Was the act spiritually debilitating? Even if he believed that the nocuous translation did not affect the ex opere operato efficacy of the sacrament, how did he keep it from affecting the fruitfulness ex opere operantis?

I suspect part of the answer might involve a recognition of the value of obedience and spiritual mortification, and perhaps a way forward to Fr. Philip’s “middle position” might involve a re-appropriation of those values by us who are critics of the coming translation.  I’d like to think that the years to come will be able something more than a continual mortification of the senses (particularly the sense of hearing) that the new translation will involve. I’d like to find a way to love these words. But I must also reckon with the possibility that perhaps this must remain an always deferred object of hope, and that in the meantime I may simply have to cling to obedience and mortification.

But what I hope Fr. Z and other critics of the current translation would tell me is that obedience and mortification can themselves be an exercise of love. I have always tried to love the Church as she is, and not as I would have her be. Perhaps the soon-to-be-implemented translation will provide yet another occasion to cultivate such love.

44 comments

  1. It is important and relevant that these people are identifiable as “vociferous critics”.

    Please note that critics of the present translation did not practice mortification and obedience alone. They organized, rationalized, petitioned, and complained loud and long in public, while using their funds to support those who lobbied so effectively in private that we have a privately created, wholesale substitution instead of an improved translation.

    Now, before implementation, before there is any question of disobedience, this same category of people are telling those dissatisfied with this more closed process, with even the episcopal conferences shut out, that they should stop pointing out even the technical errors.

    Our liturgy has been changed through political means. What can be learned from the partisans of the new translation is how to be politically effective in the Roman Catholic church.

    Polling, demonstrating, petitioning, rational argument, academic expertise, and appeals to the plain words of Conciliar documents are all irrelevant. This is court politics in a monarchy rather than ministry to the needs of people or theological argument.

    One must learn from their success how to get influence at court, since only the whims of the insiders are relevant, only insiders get to whisper into the king’s ear and draft the royal decrees to be handed down from above, without consulting the people or the sciences.

    What there is to learn is how to avoid discussion or dialogue, how to pull the levers of power to obtain what is in one’s own desires, how to impose uniformity rather than accept the options available.

    Critics of the new mis-translation must immediately petition to be treated exceptionally, excused from obedience. They need to create a new vocabulary dismissive of the mis-translation and favorable to their view, establish independent presses, encourage Curial patrons, be vociferous.

    1. And if their efforts should not produce sufficient fruit before Advent of this year, should they use the new translation (like those who use the current translation but prefer something better, do right now), or should they choose disobedience?

      I’m not opposed to people lobbying to get a better translation today, tomorrow, a year from now, etc., but obedience to the translation when it comes into effect would go a long way towards taking them seriously.

    2. Tom,

      I thought about including this as another lesson that could be learned, but thought I would focus on what is for me the more immediate lesson of how to pray texts I dislike.

      Jeffrey,

      My thought is obedience and mortification. . . then organize and lobby.

      1. The thought I have long espoused is: solidarity. Crosses are opportunities for solidarity, and grace flows by going through rather than around crosses.

        The people in the pews have zero choice over liturgical texts, no matter whether they have Father Dutiful, Father Pragmatic or Father Renegade. That priests consider their own choices in this regard without considering that their flock does not have any such choice (except to switch to a different worshiping community, which is easier for some than it is for most) would be red flag of self-centeredness. And using one’s flock without consulting it widely and deeply and at length (priests will often hear most from the like-minded, with a few cranks to pepper the impression of limited opposition, and to extrapolate from that experience is usually an exercise in both selection and confirmation bias) is more of a Potemkin village of wish-fulfillment than truly pastoral. True consultation is much harder work than most parish priests have time for, let alone skills and acculturation.

        Solidarity does not mean being a patient Griselda, but it does involve prudence in making choices about witnessing. Agitprop can be satisfying in the moment but self-subverting in the long run. The nursing of resentment and feeding of ego needs in the guise of prophetic witness are red flags that one is going in the wrong direction.

    3. I am sure those who you describe as using “politics” to end the present translation would never substitute their own words for the official words of the Missal. Perhaps that is the difference? Those who are not fond of the current translation and favor the new continue to pray the current until the new is in effect, whereas those who do not favor the new plan to use their own words come Advent (and perhaps use their own now??).

  2. Deacon Fritz – here is a link to the second part of an excellent article on “ritual” and this new translation inititative: http://www.catholica.com.au/gc2/dd/032_dd_190211.php

    Point – In the immoderate haste to implement the “new” Sacramentary, the Mass has been described as “a means of catechesis” or a vehicle for “theological language” but on both counts those who engage in this line of argument simply display their complete lack of understanding of rituals in general and the Mass in particular.

    1. FC – see the link above and review part I and part II. It posits a line of action and thought that makes Fr. Z’s whole rant just that – a rant – that completely misses the point of liturgy; communal worship; sacramental theology, etc. His rant is embarrassing; misses the point of liturgy by a mile, etc. (His usual tact is to cite one example (in this case, a “letter”) and then draw sweeping conclusions. He skips over liturgical history; the principles of SC and the early liturgical documents towards the end of VII). His revisionist history/liturgy violates almost every process that I was taught or know concerning the study of history.

      Sorry, the best approach I have heard on this blog to date is: go forward realizing that this is “A” translation not “THE” translation given what VC, etc. have done to it.

    2. What Fr. Z has done is to catechize people, lay and clergy as to the abysmally poor translation of the current text, but also the history of the original Latin and its meaning, which is so often lost in the current one. To be honest with you, I had never heard any of this in the seminary–there were no courses in Liturgy that helped seminarians to understand the “theology” of the prayers let alone their history. Of course there was no history with the new poorly translated prayers. Most of us didn’t realize how poorly the Gloria and Credo had been translated either, until on the internet we saw a comparison with a literal translation of the Latin and the current English. It was rather shocking as well as looking at literal translations of the Eucharistic prayers compared to what we have. But most of us also know that there are many ways to translate from Latin into English as evidenced by the 1973, 98, 08, 10. Look at the variety of personal translations of the EF Mass from 1950’s hand missals.
      What Fr. Z and those higher up do is to work within the system of authority we have, “say the black, do the red” until authority changes what we have. Traditionalists are more focused and better organized in this regard compared to progressives who are more emotional and all over the place. Just look at how successful more liberal, progressive talk radio has been–no success whatsoever. Progressives are more individualistic and in “private practice” for themselves. That’s not a recipe for success in a communitarian Church like the Catholic Church.

      1. Fr. Allan – know that I can be fairly negative so, let me say, that my experience in the seminary and in teaching liturgy completely supports what you have written…..with one difference: I was lucky enough to have some internships that introduced me both pastorally and in class work to the issues you have clearly laid out. (thanks to classmates and NotreDame/CTU/LTP under its founder) Given that, I sought out mentors and teachers in liturgical style and preparation (homilists also) so that I could both understand the history of liturgy; what we were praying in 1980 (for example) and was allowed at times to work with ICEL translators (which was a fascinating experience and opened up a whole other world). This led me to a different outlook than what you have expressed – rather, I realized that ICEL was on track to continue the work of improving our liturgy, sacraments, etc. rather than condemning the 1973. 1998 would have happened 13 years ago and resulted (possibly) in setting up a liturgical process that would have allowed each conference (language group) to incorporate pastoral experience (litrugists, pastoral leaders, composers, music leaders), improve translations, alternate settings, chants, etc. every 30-50 years. All for the good of the church.

        As I have said repeatedly, what we have now feels more like a “grudge match”!!

  3. I am pretty sure Fr Z was aware of your post in writing his. He has indirectly referred to this site before. No one here, sadly, is engaging in your fascinating question. People will always have strong feelings and liturgical preferences – your question rises above ‘I prefer the X version; the Y version is dreadful, [thank God for/God protect us from] Z version. Nobody properly engages on that point here. My questions here before about how those upset about the introduction of the NO felt were dismissed out of hand but now many here 40 years on are in that same boat. How do we deal with liturgies we personally dislike? Offer them up for our sins? I don’t know but would like to hear from others. Again, your position may be up or down today, but that may change.

  4. I actually share Fr Z’s views of the preces in the current translation. I have to disengage my brain when reading them and I sometimes just replace them, especially in the postcommunion prayer. Of course Fr Z does not refer to the excellent preces in the 1998 translation. That would be above, or below, his pay grade.

  5. I would like to know more about the 1998 version. Some of the translations of the Propers I’ve seen seem very good indeed. To what extent did ICEL exceed its remit by composing its own prayers? Did it get round to re-translating the Ordinary, in particular the Eucharistic Prayers?

    Back in the 1970s my Parish Priest was of a conservative cast of mind. He used the Novus Ordo (sung Latin for the principal Sunday Mass) but always celebrated ad orientem. He retained biretta and maniple. He stuck to the NO text, except that he replaced the ‘yous’ with ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. In 1976 the current ICET Gloria, Credo and Sanctus came in – he avoided using them by the simple expedient of putting them back into Latin.

    1. Smart & forward thinking priest John. He was nearly prophetic when we consider recent developments and the Bishops’ and Rome’s disavowal of the existing (ICET) translation.

  6. ICEL did not exceed its remit at all, but when the new CDW head Medina ( friend of the Chilean dictator Pinochet) came along the remit was suddenly changed. Bp Maurice Taylor has the details.

  7. JN – would venture to say that the 1998 ICEL did not exceed its remit. Unfortunately, like many things some obviously did feel that it exceeded its remit and to justify that opinion, LA and RT have been written (re-written). The “remit” was to not only improve/elevate the syntax, language, connection to scripture, chant, antiphons, etc. but to provide alternative sacrament rites; alternative situations e.g. funerals; alternative collects to use at appropriate feasts, occasions, etc. If you review some of the essential documents posted in the right hand box, IMO what you see is a “political” change in the mid-1990’s instigated by Medina – he refused to work with ICEL; rather he fired and replaced them without cause in order to solidify his own opinion about liturgical translation and liturgy.

  8. In a previous post I boasted that my parish went hyper-traditional under the new pastor. My mother, who works in that city as a nurse, did not rally behind me when I learned that the pastor was under the threat of removal by the bishop.

    She reminded me that the influx of “traditional” types displaced the local congregation and their traditions. The families of the neighborhood pulled their children out of the parish school rather than watch their children’s education be handed over to an alien culture and faith. The parents sacrificed mightily to send their children to a school they fostered with their hard-earned dollars. This school was one of a very few places where children of the neighborhood could receive a sound and safe education. The bishop was inundated with bitter letters from the displaced. Meanwhile the traddies became infuriated with the bishop’s anger at us!

    “Oh? They can’t stand instruction in the orthodox faith? Their loss!” “Can’t they see we are giving them the gift of the historic liturgy?” “Can’t they see the vast catechetical improvements we’ve made!” Only now do I realize the arrogance, lack of charity, bald prejudice, and racism behind these statements. We stole a church and brag of it!

    Sure, we colonizers can shake the rafters with our Asperges me. For every one of us in the pews, there is another person locked out of a home remodeled by brute force. Still, I dread the day when the original owners will return and (perhaps, though I cannot admit it to myself) rightfully repossess their home.

    Brutal displacements will happen in many places under the new translation. The lack of charity will be fierce and betray the worst aspects of human behavior. Many traditional Catholics, in their extreme disdain for the Sacramentary and new liturgical traditions, have recreated the “glory of the Church’s heritage” at the expense of others. We have not paid our penance.

    1. Thank you for your brutally honest remarks.

      The imposition of a flawed translation by people working behind closed doors is only a sample of what tends to happen in every parish, liberal or traditional, when a new pastor is assigned. Inculturation in Africa is respected; inculturation in an American parish is not. Inculturation in American suburbs is treated with disdain (How dare they approach Mass in a relaxed fashion!)

      As was noted on another blog, if those in the middle want to be listed to by those above, maybe those in the middle should start listening to those on the bottom!

      1. Brigid,

        You don’t define what you mean by “inculturation” in a suburban setting. It makes little sense anyway because our people have been worshiping in Latin for 1000 years. Our “tradition” includes the ringing of sacring bells, Latin, vestments, highly formal & traditional liturgy, etc…. It is easy to misinterpret liturgical corruptions for inculturation. That is why true inculturation takes centuries, not decades. We Catholics have definitions for “tradition”, the 30 year and 200 year rules, for example. Sometimes items we though were becoming “traditions” have been declared “reprobate” as happened in the “Instruction on the Eucharist”.

    1. You are welcome. I love my pastor, “our priests”, and our community. I am still very much a traditional Catholic through and through, and will never cease being one. However, my deep joy cannot be borne on the backs of others. That is not only unjust but cruel, especially to those who have no other church to attend. If I have to go back to the “indult days” and huddle around a side altar in an obscure church to hear a quick low Mass, at least I am hearing Mass in justice. I would rather deceive myself otherwise, but that is not possible.

      EF Catholics are still, nevertheless, sheep of Universal Church. We are not to steal churches. On the other hand, many bishops still refuse to let us build our own churches or renovate churches that will be torn down or sold anyway. It is just to let traditional Catholics have their own churches furnished for traditional worship and even request the services of traditional orders so long as no other group has been displaced. As I have said earlier, the EF _is_ the indigenous rite of some Catholics, including myself. Let us then worship freely, honestly, joyfully, and justly in our traditions.

  9. Where did you people ever get the idea that the Church is a democracy. A very few people engineered the Novus Ordo 40 years ago. There was no democracy then.

    If you want to make some changes, I would like to see a new translation of the Bible, taking into effect of the use of euphemisms to be politically correct (servant v. slave), you singular (thee/thou) v. you plural, love v. like (“Do you love ME, Peter?”), etc.

    1. “…..a very few people engineered the Novus Ordo 40 years ago” – your statement is inaccurate as documented repreatedly by this blog. Your opinion is based on faulty information. Read Bishop Taylor’s book about the original ICEL; its formation; its process of translation; its involvement of thousands of experts,linguists, pastoral musicians, etc. and realize that the process had to be approved step by step by each conference (language group/country) and all of these deliberations, decisions, etc. are published and public.

      Contrast that to the process since the mid-1990’s which requires and demands secrecy with threats of reprisal; has deceived conferences who voted on preces that have since changed; have moved forwarded secretly, publishing nothing; and granting itself complete authority while negating the principles laid out by VII.

      Your comments go along with some others who continue the “old” and “incorrect” meme that the 1973 translation was “foisted” on the church.

  10. @ Bill de Haas #19: Thanks for that, but I’m still confused – who gave ICEL the remit to provide alternative sacramental rites? A main feature of the post-V2 reform was the imposition of normative rites which was more prescriptive than the 1570 reform – Paul VI made it clear that the previous books had been superseded, although it would appear now that they were never in fact formally abrogated. I find it difficult to believe that the CDW would allow a quango like ICEL to take it upon itself to alter the Roman Ritual and apply it to only a part of the universal Church. I may be wrong, but can you quote me chapter and verse?

    1. JN, You really should learn more about the history and the documentation behind the post-V2 liturgical reform. Vatican II explicitly allowed for regional differences for reasons of inculturation. The Vatican approved the newly-devleoped Zaire rite. The Vatican approved the sacramentaries/missals with various regional differences – e.g., the “Orate Fratres/Suscipiat” is mandatory in the Latin (and English) but optional in German.
      ICEL doesn’t approve anything, and never has. It provides resources to conferences, and then conferences submit this to Rome for approval. ICEL provided alterate opening prayers, for example, but it was conferences which approved them and got Roman approval. The 1969 translation directives explicitly said that translating from Latin was transitional, and eventually original prayers in each vernacular language would have to be developed.
      ICEL proposed various alternative ritual forms for the Opening Rites. But (at least in the case of the US) the national conference didn’t accept it, so it was a dead issue and never sent to Rome.
      awr

      1. Fritz, I’m happy to be corrected. Back in the 90s I wasn’t tracking all this. Todd Flowerday has said here and on his blog that US bishops didn’t approve the opening rites, so that’s my source. I’d happy to be corrected so we can get the correct story.
        Either way, my larger point stands – ICEL doesn’t approve such things, only conferences do.
        awr

  11. Thanks, Fr Ruff, I’m a little more enlightened but still confused. If original prayers in each vernacular language are allowed to be developed, you surely end up with an agglomeration of ad hoc local rites in the vernacular existing alongside a normative rite which applies when Latin is used; and since the vernacular is the norm, then the Missal of Paul VI would be used only rarely and would not necessarily have anything in common with the liturgy as normally celebrated.

    In short, a complete dogs’ breakfast; the more you study the history of liturgical reform since V2 the more you appreciate the damage that can be caused by a gang of headstrong reformers and a weak Pope. In fifty to a hundred years time, when things are back to normal, I wonder what historians will make of it. I wish you luck in trying to make sense of it, but woudn’t you rather stick to music? I wish you every success in all your endeavours, and share some of your concerns over the new translations. I think I’ll stick with the Latin.

    1. In fifty to a hundred years time, when things are back to normal, I wonder what historians will make of it.

      You presume the post-Tridentine West as the norm, when, historically speaking, it is not. Maybe future historians will see the plurality of local rites as a return to the norm after a 500-year interruption.

  12. I would summarize the setting of the post-Vatican II language reforms in this way: broad consultation, involvement of students of language and liturgy, gradual introduction and compromise and overwhelming consensus. The reforms responded to a pastoral desire to make God’s work accessible to everyone. Those of us who lived through those years know this. We didn’t hear the volume of misgivings and begrudging comments or see the crossed fingers back then, at a magnitude anywhere near what is being reported here and on other blogs at this time. It was something 99.5% of us wanted and now we had the blessing of the institution as we carried it out.

    Those who are ramrodding the latest language and gestures down the throats of bishops’ conferences through to the parishes have certainly achieved a gradual restoration of the ordained clergy’s status. Otherwise they have much to learn from the leadership of the 1960’s. If their endeavors were to have any credibility, they ought to have involved the same level of consultation, involvement from start to finish, more than token compromise and unforced consensus. Since they did not, they should not expect widespread acceptance or even acquiescence. And based on their cheerleading, they are not expecting it.

  13. Thansk for setting the record straight, Paul Schlachter. But the tawdry talking point will continue to be shot again and again by the defenders of the new translation, even though it is a total falsification of history, simply because they have no other arrow in their quiver.

  14. “It was something 99.5% of us wanted”. How many do do include in the “us”? , and how did you arrive at this statistic? I don’t know what the situation was in the USA but in England there were few lay Catholics demanding liturgical reform. When you live in a country where the historic Catholic churches and cathedrals are occupied by an established State Church which happens to be Protestant, and whose members treat you with polite condescension, you tend to want to hang on to your cultural identity. The Mass “for which our martyrs died”, as we were constantly being told, was central to this identity; the Anglicans might have our buildings, but they couldn’t take this away from us.

    I’m neither defending nor condemning this attitude. In 1964 Evelyn Waugh wrote that in his “Sword of Honour” trilogy he had inadvertently written the obituary of the Catholic Church in England: “All the rites and most of the opinions are now obsolete.”

  15. In 1963, of course there were few lay Catholics demanding liturgical reform because lay Catholics were completely disenfranchised and taught to merely pay, pray, and obey.

    However, if you had asked those lay Catholics whether they would prefer to have Mass in their own language rather than in Latin, how many of them would have said, “Obviously.”?

    The response at the time to the introduction of the vernacular reflected that such a want existed without such demands. Despite the human tendency to object to change, the overwhelming majority favored getting the Mass in words they could understand.

    Only small numbers of people, mainly those older at the time, did not want to change from the Latin. Pastor after pastor commiserated with these few and explained their understanding of those with a desire to keep the Latin, but pastor after pastor also explained that the vast majority of their parishioners wanted Mass in their own language.

    This dialog is repeatedly mis-cited as if the hierarchical church or some determined monomaniacs forced vernacular Masses on a generally unwilling laity. That just does not match with what happened at the time.

    I do not doubt that such reports reflect the subjective feelings of those who wanted to keep Latin, but, if one read parish and diocesan and national publications of that time, it was and is obvious that few wanted to to keep Latin, that the majority of those who did so went along with the change to their own language and eventually became comfortable with it, and only a tiny minority maintained a strong sense of loss.

    Note that none of this had to do with the quality of the translation. It was a question of Latin or something the majority could understand.

    Note that the translation principles were similar to those for Scripture which had been evolving for a century. Dynamic translations are better for public presentations. Literal translations are better for deep study. Greek is the original…

  16. I was a sophomore in high school, 1962, when our very conservative bishop said that Pope John wanted to hear from the grass roots proposed agenda for the Council. I wrote to the bishop that I would like the Mass in the vernacular or audible Latin. Our bishop would not allow the Mass to be said in out loud. I was an acolyte so I got the privilege of hearing the Latin.
    One Ascension Day I got the date confused and showed up on Thursday for what I though was a holy day. I could not understand why so few people were in church. The next Sunday the holy day was announced for the coming Thursday. I was a week ahead but there was no way I could tell what Mass I was at since the Easter Season required the same white vestments and the readings for each day were about the same length. Since every thing was inaudible there was no clue what Mass it was.
    When I went to Mass Saturday noon in the cathedral there was the same problem when a votive Mass was chosen. Ribbons on my daily missal had to be re-arranged according to my guess when the vestment colors did not match what I thought was going to be the Mass of the day.
    Of the different, audible translations I have seen so far, I prefer the 1998 translation. New prayers do not make a new rite if that is the objection to 1998. The new prayers for the many new saints now required because of John Paul II’s canonizations have enriched the liturgy. That was what I thought 1998 did.

    1. That’s funny! It matches my mother’s memories of being an altar server at low Mass in the 1930s and ringing the bells “when she felt like it and it seems like it might be close to the right time” – she added that the kind old priest never made a complaint about it.

  17. John Nolan: I’m still confused – who gave ICEL the remit to provide alternative sacramental rites?

    Anthony has already dealt with this: read the Instruction Comme le prévoit of 1969.

    Paul VI made it clear that the previous books had been superseded, although it would appear now that they were never in fact formally abrogated.

    Not so. Read Chad Glendinning’s magisterial article in the January 2011 issue of Worship. The previous rites were formally abrogated, but (possibly) not technically forbidden.

    1. Paul, isn’t “(possibly) not technically forbidden” another way of saying that in fact the previous books were “abrogated” as the ordinary, normal usage in the Latin Rite, but now these same books can be used in an extraordinary way (out of the ordinary, not the normal usage.) I really don’t see anything different even in SP in terms of that other than making it possible to use these older books since never have they been “technically forbidden.” I think too it is telling that the Holy Father himself has not used this option which he has graciously liberalized.

  18. Yet another negative thread about the new translation with people repeating the same ideas and comments they’ve been posting for months now, and father Ruff pointing out how ignorant of history those wh disagree with him are. Maybe we should take all this energy and do some heavy duty praying for the people of Japan instead of wasting time blogging about the same old issue ad nauseum.

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