One size fits all?

Anthony Stevens-Arroyo blogs about the new Mass translation for the Washington Post’s “On Faith.”


  1. The plays of Shakespeare are read by and performed for very diverse English speaking audiences using the same texts, right?

    1. Right, cause that’s an apples-to-apples example. Of course one similarity is the need for a Cliffsnotes companion.

  2. If I remember correctly, when ICEL first came up with its sub-quality texts in the 1970s, some Bishops and people used a similar argument to ward off the imposition of ICEL’s texts. Other than a different translation of Liturgia Horarum and Lectionary responses, their argument was rejected no less than by the Holy See who wanted uniformity. The liturgical establishment also were not inclusive enough to back up their distresed brethren, and ICEL’s texts came to have dominion in English speaking lands.

    Ultimately, all these arguments are more ideologically motivated rather than genuine pastoral charity. If someone doesn’t like the outcome, people will come up with tons of excuses, all dressed up as pastoral charity, to avoid implementing it. If they like the outcome, the same people will come up with tons of reasons on why the qualms should be bulldozed over for the pastoral benefit.

  3. I would suggest that while the pronunciations will be different, the bulk of any written text would be equally accessible across the English speaking world. For example, a native Hindu speaker and a native Cantonese speaker may find themselves mutually unintelligible, but they would be able to read and understand an English language document and speak English with a fellow country man. Certain words and phrases that aren’t in use locally or which have a special local meaning could be identified and replaced by the local bishops, if they were allowed to do their job as envisioned after Vatican II.

    My son, raised speaking American English, really did find himself at work interpreting between citizens of China and India, and each employee was speaking the local version of English.

  4. I’ve been told that when the first ICEL translators were preparing their draft of the Rite of Marriage, it was because of “pastoral charity” toward the Catholics of Australia that they refrained from translating Saint Paul’s “in caritate radicati” (Eph 3:17) as “ROOTED in love . . . ”

    ROOT meaning something . . . er . . . very specific “Down Under” that would not have sounded quite right at a Nuptial Mass!

    1. “Oh quite right, Professor Rindfleisch! ICEL may not have used it in the Nuptial Mass, but I can make it work in a sentence: ‘ALL THE PRAY TELL BLOG NASTIES! ARE ROOTED” something like that?!?

    2. Well done, Christopher! THAT is why you always got an A in your class work, but always got proclaimed in culpa and had to do those dreadful penances in chapel and refectory. You know your former novice master never did come back from Papua New Guinea, poor man.

  5. Jim McKay @ 2011-11-19 12:58:00

    Ingenious! Liberal means the exact opposite in Europe, or used to, so it is near impossible to deny that there are differences between US and other versions of English, which is the point he wanted to make.

  6. Paul Inwood @ 2011-11-19 13:45:00

    This debate took place when ICEL was first started up in 1963 at a meeting in Rome of a group of English-speaking bishops attending the Council convened by Archbishop Grimshaw of Birmingham, England.

    The criticisms voiced then, which increased to a furore when it was learned that the HQ of the organization would be located in Washington DC, were along the lines that a Brooklyn taxi-driver and a civil servant in Delhi certainly did not speak (or perhaps even understand) the same form of English, and that therefore they should not be asked to pray with the same vocabulary and idiom. That remains as true today as it was then.

    Even within the confines of the British Isles, you can place a trawlerman from Aberdeen in the same room as a farmer from deepest Somerset, and they will be mutually unintelligible, even though they are speaking the same language. This unintelligibility is not only about accent (though in the case of these two accents the difference will be far more pronounced than any contrast between regional accents in the USA) but about local idiom and vocabulary as well. The BBC has effectively renounced “received pronunciation”, formerly termed “the Queen’s English”, as a medium of ensuring that all can understand the BBC’s broadcast output in favour of regional accents in great profusion, especially Scottish ones, which are felt to offer an image of clean-ness and honesty, and north-eastern ones, which are felt to offer an image of inclusivity, but some of which make comprehensibility extremely difficult for those who are not familiar with the mutated vowels of those parts of the country. Increasingly, the ways in which people in different parts of the world are able to converse using English as the lingua franca is shrinking every day. Our American friends only have to venture into deepest Oklahoma to encounter a form of English of which even Americans can only understand an average of one word in three.

    I am convinced that the Bishops at Vatican II and in the following years had this sort of thing in mind when they talked not only of vernacular languages but of the rights of individual bishops’ conferences to regulate and determine what was best for the prayer of the people of their particular regions.

    In that sense, the setting up of ICEL was a particularly early retrograde step which led to what has sometimes been described as a “lowest common denominator” approach to liturgical translation and original liturgical texts. If the English-speaking bishops at Vatican II had not done this, we might still be in a situation where individual conferences of all languages would have been allowed much greater freedom by the Roman dicasteries. It is much more difficult to police 27 different conferences than one mixed commission. Imagine the Congregation in Rome having to deal with, let us say, 50 to 100 translations of the Roman Missal, each one designed to cater for the people in a particular territory, and the distinct dialects in sub-regions of those territories. They simply could not have begun.

    I can still recall the 1970s, when England and Wales lived with three different translations of the collects: the National Liturgical Commission’s version (NLC), the ICEL translation, and the so-called “Glenstal-Headingley” translation. The first two appeared in worship aids and hand missals for many years; the third appeared in the Divine Office used throughout the British Isles. None of these went through the sort of Roman approval process that obtains today. The first and third were essentially produced and supervised at national level, the second internationally, with Rome rubber-stamping the decisions of the conferences.

    Of course it would still be possible today for episcopal conferences to flex their muscles and insist that a remote organization — based in a European country whose own borders includes several notable regional dialects of the native tongue, with their own vocabulary, syntax and idiom — is manifestly incapable of determining what is best for the prayer-life of Christians in the rest of the world. (The German bishops have done precisely that with the funeral rite.) And to insist that the decisions handed down from that body are impractical and impossible to implement with any degree of seriousness without bringing the good name of the Church into disrepute. The last thing we want is to be a laughing-stock, and yet the present situation is running perilously close to that.

  7. Jack Barry @ 2011-11-19 14:27:00

    People should stop whingeing as soon as they find out what that means. Maundering around in the English language can be discombobulating. Card. Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, had a solution to a similar problem. Noticing that Americans sometimes don’t understand Vatican documents put out in English, he suggested that his dicastery may need to add footnotes so Americans can understand the English text. Apparently the concept of writing so the intended recipient can be expected to understand the results is a foreign idea in the Vatican.

  8. Bill deHaas @ 2011-11-19 14:53:00

    At last, a true conservative writer who understands John XXIII’s ressourcement concept.

    We have the same type of historal writers in US History showing how many of today’s liberal ideas are really, at heart, conservative and some of the most conservative ideas are really liberal.

    Paul – you would enjoy this. Held a music-liturgy workshop in east Texas one year. There was a large contingent of attendees from Louisiana Cajun country. Some were students of mine. One of the team leaders was a classmate from Chicago who joined one of the student tables with all Louisiana boys. They repeatedly asked him questions during dinner and finally he asked me to join the table and translate.

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