This will interest Pray Tell readers who remember the whole Roman Missal Crisis: Cardinal George Pell, chairman of Vox Clara, talked on translation at a Vatican II 50th anniversary conference in Rome recently.
It’s a lengthy talk. The first part is an interesting and very informative review of the history of vernacular in the liturgy. Then it gets dicier in the second part, with Pell’s version of the history of the Roman translation documents Comme le prévoit (1969) and Liturgicam authenticam (2001).
Alas, Pell apparently thinks it useful to distinguish between “dynamic equivalence” ( = bad, 1960s, inaccurate, from Eugene Nida and he’s Protestant) and “formal equivalence” (= good, up-to-date, accurate, where scholarship has now moved). Pray Tell once ask leading translation expert Anthony Pym (“Academic Justification for Liturgiam Authenticam?”) about all this. He said this:
Does this mean that we are all reacting against Eugene Nida and his concept of dynamic equivalence, supposedly embodied in the prior doctrine of Comme le prevoit in 1969? Not at all. I think it is quite plausible to read Nida in terms of a spectrum of possible translation solutions, ranging from “dynamic equivalence” at one end (“Lamb of God” becomes “Seal of God” for Inuits) to “formal correspondence” at the other (it becomes Agnus Dei, teaching us Latin). Nida recognized that there is a time and place of everything along that range, and his great historical virtue was to open up that plurality.
Pell drags out the old Good News Bible (also known as Today’s English Version) as Exhibit A for dynamic equivalence in action. This sleight of hand reminds me of a talk Msgr. Bruce Harbert (former executive director of ICEL) gave at Mundelein, later published in Antiphon, “The Roman Rite and the English Language.” Surprise, surprise: the primitivistic Good News Bible falls short in every way, so Liturgiam Authenticam comes to rescue us from that, and from Comme le prévoit.
But putting out the Good News Bible as the exemplification of Comme le prévoit and dynamic equivalence is rather like arguing against Classical music (rationalistic, thin) and for Romantic music (rich, complex) by comparing Salieri and Clementi negatively with Beethoven and Mahler. Anyone heard of Mozart and Haydn? Anyone heard of a certain missal translation worked on for some 17 years and approved by all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences by 1998? Dealing with the fine 1998 translation, which doesn’t fit neatly into the supposedly opposed categories of “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence,” would be highly instructive.
And then Pell says this: “I have been surprised to find that there is so little academic examination of Liturgiam authenticam.” Good grief. What about Peter Jeffery’s Translating Tradition: A Chant Historian Reads Liturgicam Authenticam,” the 168-page LitPress book based on four articles previously published in Worship magazine? 209 footnotes in English, Latin, French, German, Italian, and Polish; references to history and experience in numerous Western European lands, South India, China, two Mayan groups, Chiapis, Fiji, and to rites Coptic, Ethopian, Chaldean, Armenian, Byzantine, hagiopolite, Egyptian, and West Syrian, and throw in the Rastafarians and a Caughnawaga manuscript besides. Sure looks like “academic examination” to me.
The devastating conclusion of Jeffery’s “academic examination” might interest Pell. Jeffery says this:
But the most worrisome thing about LA is that what it lacks in factuality it makes up with naked aggression. It speaks words of power and control rather than cooperation and consultation, much less charity… It is particularly embarrassing that all this muscular Christianity comes to us vested and mitred in the most ignorant statement on liturgy ever issued by a modern Vatican congregation. But in a millennium when a Pope can apologize to the Jews, it is not too much to hope that the Dicastery, too, will find the courage to lead by example, and practice what it preaches on the matter of accepting correction. … Liturgiam authenticam should be summarily withdrawn, on the grounds that it was released prematurely, before proper consultation with a sufficient number of experts had been completed. Then only the hard part will remain: what to do about the issues and tensions that produced it.
This reminds me of Msgr. James Moroney’s claim (see “No, Msgr. Moroney, I Don’t Think So”) that Liturgiam Authenticam came about in response to calls for something like it in the academy. But when 600 scholars at a liturgy conference in Rome heard the speaker extemporaneously critique Liturgiam Authenticam, as Robert Taft reports, they broke into applause that thundered on for about three minutes.
Pell is aware that the new English missal was not exactly greeted by all the clergy. Responding to an informal Tablet survey which registered discontent, Pell conceded,
Neither is there a unanimous enthusiasm, especially among the clergy as they adapt to more sophisticated patterns of thought and language. It is also of interest that those who were apprehensive before the texts appeared generally felt their fears were justified.
(This is the same survey discussion in which Abbot Cuthbert Johnson of Vox Clara admitted that “there is a desire for an improvement that will ensure that the English flows more smoothly, and that the vocabulary, while being more dignified is not, as sometimes appears, a little abstruse and pretentious.”
Oh well, so it goes. Meanwhile, Pray Tell is expecting any day now the results of the CARA study we commissioned on the reactions of clergy and lay church staff to the new translation. And with that, I will offer a few thoughts, constructive thoughts I hope, on the missal situation and some helpful paths forward.