In February Pray Tell reported on and linked to an article by Fr. Philip Endean SJ in The Tablet, “Sense and Sensitivities,” in which he called on bishops to speak honestly about what moved them to approve the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary, but then do an about-face and approve the forthcoming Missal translation. This week’s Tablet has the first public response given by a bishop.
I agree with what Fr. Philip Endean SJ (“Sense and sensitivities,” February 19) has written concerning the kind of episcopal leadership called for in respect of the new translation of the Missal, the need for transparency (at all levels) and for something better than mere conformism.
But I also think the long-standing debate has focused too narrowly on the work of translating. One thing is the role of translators (who by now have carefully and conscientiously done their job), and another is the role of the presiding and other ministers.
Faithful translations bring out the meaning of the texts, and make them available on the pages of the liturgical books. Those translations then have to be lifted off the pages and given voice. The role of the translators does not dispense with the roles of the priest and other ministers, whose responsibility is to help the congregation make the prayer of the Church their own. Ministers would be shirking their responsibility if they merely parroted the written text regardless of the different circumstances and different levels of understanding of the congregation present.
When asked about the need for uniformity, the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy spoke of the liberty allowed by the liturgical books themselves. The need for such liberty was so that the celebration may be adapted in an intelligent manner to the church building, or to the group of faithful present, or to particular pastoral circumstances, in such a way that the universal sacred rite is truly accommodated to human understanding (Notitiae, 1965, p. 254).
We need good translations; but we also need the kind of formation that enables priests and other ministers to responsibly make the kind of small adaptations that enable all present to feel included and able to participate. The nature of the liturgy requires this. It is not a matter of changing what is given in the Church’s liturgy, but of enabling people to enter into what is given, so that they can make the Church’s prayer their own.
Some of these small accommodations are a matter of courtesy and common sense, but by the nature of things cannot be made by the translators! The debate about translation needs to be relativized by taking into account the roles of the ministers.
(Rt Rev.) P.J. Cullinane
Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand
Member of the ICEL Episcopal Board, 1983-2003