The Church is not Google Translate

An interview with Andrew Grillo, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm.

This piece originally appeared as a feature on Rai News, and was conducted by Pierluigi Mele.

Within the Catholic Church, there is a debate among experts on the liturgy. One of its flashpoints is the document Liturgiam authenticam (2001). We discuss it here with the theologian Andrea Grillo, a professor of liturgy at the Atheneum of Saint Anselm in Rome.

Professor, there is a debate in the Church of Rome, which at first might seem only to be of interest to the “insiders,” but which is in reality important to all the people of God. We are talking about translation of the liturgy. As you know, the Second Vatican Council initiated a Copernican revolution in Catholic liturgy. Under Pope John Paul II, the document Liturgiam authenticam was issued. It provides the criteria for the translation of the liturgy from Latin to the various languages. We know that the current Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship is the ultra-conservative Cardinal Sarah, who dreams of a “reform of the reform” of the Catholic liturgy. What, in your view, are the limitations of Liturgiam authenticam?

The first thing to say is that the 2001 document is part of a long chain of texts produced by the central magisterium – papal and curial – between the late 1980s until the first decade of the new century. All these documents are united by one characteristic: they are the fruit of fear. They are a reaction to the trust and confidence that the Second Vatican Council had introduced into the Church of the 1960s and 1970s, overcoming the anti-modern trauma that had paralyzed the Church for more than a century. Now we move back to the old mistrust and suspicion. They brought back the nineteenth-century frame of mind. In this particular case, it is the mistrust and suspicion of modern languages ​​and modern cultures. The authority to translate them has been taken away, and keeping in line requires a method of translation from Latin that yields a result that is, one can say without exaggeration, comic: If you follow the rules laid down, the resulting text is incomprehensible; but if you want a text that is understandable, you have to violate the rules. This is the experience of all the national episcopal conferences for the past 15 years. It is happening widely. The events related to the Missal translation into English, German, French, and Italian are just the best known examples.

How is it possible that a “Church in missionary outreach” [the reference is to Pope Francis’s frequent call for a “Chiesa in uscita”] is now so preoccupied with textual fidelity to Latin?

The issue is that Latin became the symbol of an untouchable and mummified tradition. Latin is made the focus of attention in order to avoid dealing with reality. But one must recognize that Latin, the language in which the Church expressed itself for 1500 years, is neither the Church’s original language nor the one in use today. The Latin language is no longer alive, because it is no longer spoken by children. Dante understood this 700 years ago. This doesn’t mean we can be ignorant of Latin. But it does not justify the reactionary illusions of those who want us to “start from the Latin.” Today you have to be able to start from French, English, Italian…

A the liturgical level, in your opinion, what improvements would render the liturgy a more effective means of the inculturation of the Gospel?

Precisely at the level of “translation,” we must recognize that the modern languages can express aspects of the tradition that the Greek and Latin were unable to express. Each language has its pros and its cons. Even Latin and Greek have limitations that the French or English can overcome. In every case, the translation must always be faithful and respectful. But you have to define what that means: fidelity and respect towards a text must keep in mind two subjects: who wrote it and who reads it. As a result, a good translation is never simply literal. Language is always much more complex than a sequence of words. For word-for-word translation, we turn to Google Translate. The Church should look farther, as it always has.

Can you offer examples?

We don’t have to provide obscure and extraordinary examples of inculturation. The act of worship is by its very nature inculturated. This was the experience of the apostles Peter and Paul, of Pope Gregory the Great, and of the theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. Anyone who wants to lock the church into a literal translation from the Latin does not know its two-thousand year history and is guided solely by a visceral and boorish anti-modernism.

Benedict XVI promulgated the document Summorum Pontificum, which deregulated the celebration of the Tridentine rite. Isn’t this contrary to the spirit of the Council? What does Pope Francis think? 

You ask me “What does Pope Francis think?” I answer simply: Francis thinks. This is enough. If you really think about the question, you can’t ignore the theological and pastoral mess, this parallelism of incoherent and conflicting forms. How to change it, in what timeframe and with what approach, are among the array of opportunities that depend not only on the thing, but also on the context. And the Pope knows this and thinks about it properly.

How prominent are these traditionalistic positions in the Church?

In terms of numbers, they are few. In terms of media attention, they are great. However, one must carefully distinguish between different nations and churches. Not all countries are the same and not all the churches are on the same level. The question of dealing with traditionalists becomes unmanageable if you must follow universal rules that are valid for the whole Church. Only the competence of individual bishops, who know the local differences, can address it adequately.

Would you like to add anything?

I want to tell a story that may help to explain the issue. I heard it from Rita Levi Montalcini, on television. Many years ago, a new piece of translation software was introduced, which could translate anything from any language. But literally. A clever provocateur went to the debut event and put the whole system in crisis. He asked for a translation into Chinese of the English axiom “out of sight, out of mind.” The computer translated it into Chinese characters. Then the same person asked for a translation into Italian. And the result was “invisibile imbecille” [invisible imbecile]. If you miss the axiom’s metaphorical sense, it is completely misunderstood. On the basis of Liturgiam authenticam, we risk continually producing translations like “invisible imbecile.”

Ninety percent of the liturgy is metaphorical language. To attempt to translate it literally is purely illusory. Through fear, disasters are created. Freedom and creativity are demonized. But without freedom, metaphors cannot be understood. It is enough to point to Liturgiam authenticam’s rule that translations must respect the rhetorical figures in the Latin original. But this is precisely what that you can never do. Each language has its own unique figures. Translating is not imposing the rhetorical figures of one language upon another, but to mediate between one and the other. And for this, one needs freedom. We can’t sell our birthright for a mess of pottage.


  1. Thanks be to God for the Latin liturgical heritage. Those who worship today with the traditional Roman Rite have none of these problems, these interminable debates between conservatives and progressives. We can use whatever personal missal we like (and there are many different translations out there, in many languages — none needs to be the one-and-only “official version”), but the liturgy itself is fixed in its beauty, clarity, and profound beseeching of the Lord. Deo gratias.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Beauty and profundity, no doubt. But ‘clarity’ is a bit more of a rhetorical stretch, I’d suggest! Tua nos, quǽsumus, Dómine, grátia semper et prævéniat et sequátur, ac bonis opéribus iúgiter præstet esse inténtos. 😉

  2. What a wonderful interview. He nailed the problem, and named well the fear that animates this retreat from the real challenges we face in celebrating the liturgy “authentically.”

  3. I studied Latin for five years and have found it throughout my life to be of great value in terms of vocabulary building and articulation. But it has never occurred to me to speak English using Latin archaisms and word order. The framers of LA believed that strict adherence to Latin texts would ensure more accurate and faithful renderings into the various languages. It has resulted in no such thing. Those who sing the praises of the translation inspired by LA are almost exclusively those who still rail against “modernism” as devotees of the individuals who took great pleasure at dismantling groups like ICEL. They emasculated English speaking bishops until they cried “uncle” and succumbed to their frightened brothers and Curial officials in far away Roma. Those of us who acknowledge the right of all worshippers to words they can comprehend are left to amend the texts in a way that truly honors their meaning. Does speaking in English word order actually violate the proscription against altering liturgical texts? May LA be consigned to the trash heap of history and be replaced with principles that truly give God greater honor and glory.

  4. I’m intrigued by the notion of a ‘Copernican’ revolution in liturgy, inspired by the Council. To my thinking, a Copernican revolution is one which brings a new systematic understanding to something previously half-understood. I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment of preconciliar liturgical thinking.

    1. @Martin Barry:
      It’s a strong statement, but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s accurate. Copernican revolution indeed it is. And like any good revolution, it was in the making for decades ahead of time, as radical thinkers went from lone ranger to fringe to questionable to controversial to respectable, – and eventually, spokesmen for the official teaching of the Church at the Second Vatican Council.

      There are a few superficial statements in Vatican II, more than a few to be sure, that suggest continuity and gradual development. But the deep structure of the texts, the underlying principles, are clearly a paradigm shift. No one could read the Council of Trent, and then read the Second Vatican Council, and claim seriously it is anything but a paradigm shift.

      Peter Kwasniewski obviously does not accept the Second Vatican Council. Hence his first comment above. I will not reply to that comment or engage his arguments – there’s not much reason too, when the underlying issue is that he and I are on opposite sides of the real question: whether the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium but also all the other documents with which it is inextricably tied, is the authentic magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        I would have to adamantly disagree with your conclusion and that of the author. If Vatican II had wanted such a Copernican revolution it would have said so unambiguously and not have couched it in vague and contradictory statements. The fact that the authors of the documents, whatever their personal agenda, had to resort to such ambiguous statements, whose meaning we are still debating fifty years latter, only shows that they would not have gotten the support of the council Fathers if they had explicitly called for the revolution that you envision.

      2. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        I think a minority of Catholics are debating 50 years ago. There’s no question the Council was a revolutionary event.

        I would add that the fruit of fear began far earlier than the 80s. I think 1968 sowed great worry because of the skepticism on Humanae Vitae and student unrest, especially in Europe. Liturgicae Instaurationes in 1970 already contains the tone of worry, a definite loss of the confidence coming from liturgy documents 1963-67.

      3. @Todd Flowerday:
        The truth is that only a minority of Catholics today are concerned with Vatican II one way or another. These debates have always been between elites on both sides. The sad fact is that today the majority of Catholics have dropped out of active participation in the Church altogether.

        As for the Council being a revolutionary event, it is true that it set off a revolution. But this is because it became a catalyst to forces outside of the Council and not because of the intention of the Council itself. Shoot, even Archbishop Lefebvre signed all of the Council documents. This is the difference for the actual decrees of the Council and the “Spirit of the Council” which took on a life of its own.

        To characterize the opposition to a radical interpretation of the Council as “fear” is a cheep and dishonest way to discredit those with whom you disagree. The motivation is not fear but an honest reading of the Council in light of the entire Tradition of the Church. Nor does the use of the charge of “fear” address my points made above of why the Council cannot be interpreted as calling for a revolution.

      4. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        On #1, perhaps true in the realm of reason. But I would wager that the repeals of the 19th or especially the 21st amendments to the US Constitution would renew quite a bit of discussion on those matters, though decided about a century ago. Vatican II is foundational.

        Fear is a powerful driving force in human affairs. We all have it. We may not like the word because it suggests various qualities we prefer not to acknowledge. But God sees and knows. His messengers, the angels and prophets often announce themselves with “Ne Timeas.” Even Saint Joseph and the recipients of the Lord’s Gospel miracles are advised not to fear, that fear is useless, etc..

        Post-conciliar liturgy documents were a careful study of mine. There is a decided change of tone between the second (1967) and third (1970) instructions for the implementation of SC. Cardinal Ratzinger himself experienced a change of tone (and school) because of student uproar in 1968-69.

        The Lord counselled his listeners, “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” Trust is an important attitude in the spiritual life. We can disagree with situations and documents, but the world and the Church move forward. I suppose one could debate the Council as catalyst or excuse. History scholars know more, but I would think that compared to Trent, which narrowed the road for the pilgrimage, after Vatican II we had a change of direction.

        Read Tres Abhinc Annos and Liturgicae Instaurationes–they are not long–and see if there’s not a course correction based on certain concerns.

      5. @Todd Flowerday:
        It is rash judgment to impute motives to others that they deny. I come to the critique of what has happened after the Council not with fear but with a confidence and faith in the entirety of Catholic teaching throughout the ages. But if we are to discuss the question of fear then I would say to you, do not fear a return to Tradition.

        I too, as hard as it may be to believe, have studied the post-conciliar documents. Yes, there was a change of tone in the latter documents but I would submit that this was a response and a correction to the over-correction of the the previous documents. If it is just to correct the manner of worship that the Church has done for at least a millennium and a half, then you should admit that it is also just to correct what has existed for less than a lifetime. The great fault of so many advocates for a radical change is absolutizing a single moment and refusing to see it within the context of the entirety of Church teaching. As the Church moves forward may it move beyond a narrow and radical interpretation of Vatican II.

      6. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        We agree on revolution! Paradigm shift there certainly was, and to my mind undoubtedly in accord with the intentions of the Council fathers. But for the shift to be Copernican would require a sudden, new, fuller understanding of what it was all about, replacing something erroneous or incomplete. I’d rather think we’ve recovered many things that were lost over the centuries, than lay claim to a new understanding that Christians of, say, the first millennium missed out on. (Maybe all I’m saying is that Copernican revolution, used in the sense merely of major revolution, is careless writing.)

      7. @Martin Barry:

        (Maybe all I’m saying is that Copernican revolution, used in the sense merely of major revolution, is careless writing.)

        That was the wording of the interviewer and one can easily see how loaded almost all his questions were.

        Thankfully, Grillo didn’t bite and gave straightforward answers.

        (Would that other prominent figures, who for some reason get interviewed all the time, could do the same.)

      8. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        Either the council is continuous with the per-existing magisterium of the Church, or it is not. If it is, then your thesis is false. If it is not, then what is the principal of authority that requires us to accept the council? Conciliar positivism?

        I don’t see how your view of the council isn’t self-refuting.

        Also, on the issue of whether these thinkers were “radical”: Protestants had gotten there 300 years earlier. Everything single thing that is longed for by spirit-of-the-council types, every change in Church structure and practice and doctrine, is on offer every Sunday in a thousand Protestant denominations. If you don’t like the new Missal translation, check out the myriad Bible translations that Protestants have churned out, adopting every possible translation theory, without the interference of a “central magisterium,” as Prof. Grillo so ominously puts it. What are you waiting for?

        The radicals of the council are the slowest of slowpokes, arriving at the party centuries too late.

      9. @Christopher Brown:
        The Council is both continuous and non-continuous with the previous magisterium. Just read the texts! The non-continuity is of a scale unprecedented in Catholic Church history and defenders of the Council should just admit that. But the point is: Vatican II really happened. I get the impression that you don’t entirely accept that. This is the crucial point.

        There are many similarities with the text of Vatican II and the efforts of the Protestant reformers. Just read the text – this is obvious, it seems to me. Might as well admit it. But similarity is not identity. A reformed Roman Catholic Church, along the lines of the “spirit of Vatican II” which many of us think is found IN the texts of the Council, would not be a Protestant Church. It would be a reformed Roman Catholic Church.

        As to whether we got to the truth 300 (do you mean 450?) years late, the ‘when’ question is entirely unimportant to me. The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ is what’s important. That we came to agree with Protestants on many (not all, obviously) points is a grace, a gift of God, a compliment to Reformers, and the work of the Spirit. – IF, as I keep emphasizing, one accepts Vatican II.

        I do.


      10. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        I guess it depends on what you mean by “accept,” and by “Vatican II.”

        There’s no denying that Vatican II is a brute fact of the history of the Church, and it cannot be ignored or wished away.

        But just as its critics must honestly face it and, I think, attempt to read it sympathetically, so must those who celebrate it face the uncomfortable history of the Church since Vatican II happened. The critics do not necessarily start from the premises that guided the conservatives at the council. They also look at what has happened to the Church since the council and wonder what role the council played in that.

  5. I am mystified by the comment that “even Latin and Greek have limitations that the French or English can overcome,” considering the impact that the Greek language had on the faith. Could anyone offer an example of this?

    1. @Doug O’Neill:
      Although this may well apply to deep structures of language, it is perhaps easier to call up some examples with respect to vocabulary. The resonances that accrue to words and expressions in various cultures because of their history are matters to which language is linked, but which go beyond the words themselves. It would be easier to give an example of English if it were not my native language, because then I would notice the loan words and expressions from English that are imported because there is no other word quite captures the same meaning without added explanation. The examples I think of therefore are not English but German and French. The use of German terms in biblical studies is one example. You can say “sacred history” in English, but when you use the term heilsgeschicte it calls up a whole raft of associations with the development of biblical criticism, the critics themselves, what they emphasized about the biblical witness. Weltanschauung is another one (“world view” just doesn’t quite capture it). A contemporary Roman church document, The Directory for Catechesis, when talking about formation of catechists, uses the French “savoir faire” untranslated. Why do that? Because the French term fills a need to express something that is not equally rendered in other words.

  6. As I’ve studied Vatican II, especially the constitutions, I have come to the conclusion that what the Roman Catholic Church intended to do there is to come back into Orthodox Christian ecclesiology in both theory and practice, with the clear goal of reestablishing communion with the Orthodox Church. This is source of both the fidelity to Holy Tradition AND the greater openness and freedom one sees in the documents. Fidelity to the documents of that council would have produced a Liturgy, at least initially, like the Western Rite Orthodox Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great, in the vernacular, but essentially a cleaner, less repetitive version of the Roman Missal. We can never know what would have happened, but my suspicion is that this approach would have allowed the sense of the Liturgy to penetrate the sensus fidelium because of the way a mother tongue works on the mind more immediately, and would have given more time and energy to realizing that the job of a return to the Unity of Faith was faltering due to the failure to excise the remaining cancerous deformation of ecclesiology that remained in an otherwise great document, namely the Western deformation of primacy manifested in the related doctrines of papal supremacy and infallibility. As I was witnessing the entire LA debacle, as a highly involved Roman
    Catholic this sad reality became very clear to me. The problem isn’t traditionalism, necessarily, but the attachment to a particular cultural and even nationalistic (nation being the Papal States in this case) groupself identity, which is ultimately unfaithful to Holy Tradition, the Faith (and church) once given to the Saints. We have a heresy label for this called something like Ethnophylitism in the OCC. Maybe that’s the underlying issue.

  7. Another cheap shot in the article: “they are a reaction to the trust and confidence that the second Vatican Council had introduced into the church.” Could they not be a reaction to what has happened to the Church since the council? Those of us who are skeptics at least of the “spirit of the council” have come to that skepticism in part because we see the post-council period as a disaster for the Church that the council did more to bring on than to hinder.

    And the same point applies to the discussion of liturgical translation. It’s all well and good to speak in flowery terms about your preferred theory of translation, casting your own as commensical and obvious and the other guy’s as ideology. But the debates over Liturgiam authenticam are not just about theory. They’re about actual transactions. And it’s disingenuous to argue about LA and about the 2010 translation without coming to grips with the previous translation, without facing the very substantial criticisms of that translation, and without distinguishing your principles, not just from those of LA, but from those that produced the superseded translation.

  8. The first order of business at VII was the renewal and reform of the sacred liturgy. It called for revised rites which would be simpler to understand and would facilitate full, active, and conscious participation of all God’s priestly people. This meant a Mass in which the Mystery of Faith was not confused with the mystifying shuffling of clerics from one side of the altar to the other while mumbling what seemed like private prayers to God. It also meant a Mass in which priests did not have to be perceived as superior beings while rendering the service of convoking and leading the people in prayer. A Mass in which worship in spirit and truth welcomed the participation of the baptized in roles once performed exclusively by priests. A Mass that was not just a Holy Sacrifice but a Sacred Banquet in which Christ himself becomes truly present as transforming Food and Drink. Those who seem to worship traditions apparently believe that bowing, genuflecting, precise positioning of one’s hands, and the like are the foundational elements of piety and reverence. The reformed rite certainly requires some external forms of reverence, but ones which are consistent with ordinary human beings humbly seeking holiness. The Mass continues to correspond to the command of Christ that we do this in memory of Him, but in a way that allows full and meaningful participation by people who have no interest in Latin nor in medieval and pre-medieval sensibilities.

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      I would additionally argue that there is a linkage in developmental trajectory that is too often neglected because it was so occasionally episodic that the linkages seem to be disruptive rather than connected.

      The pivot point as I see it is what I’ve called the sacramental revolution of Pope St Pius X, who finally implemented the norms for frequency and age of reception of Holy Communion by the laity (and not mostly outside of the Sacred Liturgy…) that Trent called for (but which nearly everyone today forgets was called for by Trent). And he likewise engaged in a liturgical revolution considering liturgical music. (The revolutionary nature of these is such that there are Catholic liturgical restorationists who identify them as the source of Big Trouble for the Future.)

      To my sense of history, Vatican II picked up the implications of those revolutions.

      They were disruptive – but still very much connected to the Tradition.

      I realize there are folks who believe that Tradition only exists when it is passively received and then lovingly burnished in amber. That’s traditionalism, not Tradition.

    2. @Jack Feehily:
      An interesting check list of reforms but you should recognized that it is yours, not that of the Council. It should also be kept in mind that liturgical reform is a means, not an end in itself. The goal is greater participation in the mysteries and union with God. The near universal collapse of participation at Mass around the world, the emptying of seminaries and religious houses, the mass abandonment of Catholic moral teaching clearly show that, despite the intentions of the liturgical reformers, this end has not been achieved. At the very least, there should be an opening to an unencumbered return to a traditional form of worship for those who desire it. The object of our worship is the Triune God, not the liturgical theories of fifty years ago.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        I am not blaming Vatican II. I have repeatedly made a distinction between the Council itself and what some have presented as the teachings or intentions of the Council. I believe that the Council can be read in way that is in complete harmony with past Tradition. I do not reject Vatican II but the notion that it contained a hidden code that called for a “Copernican revolution.” But I thought that PTB would be interested in dialogue and not just presenting one side of an issue.

      2. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        Let me clarify one thing:
        Pray Tell’s interest in dialogue is in fact limited. We are not a neutral “Catholic Common Ground.” We have a mission and a purpose, and we publish what we think advances that mission and purpose. We make no apologies for this: Fr. Virgil Michel did the same in his day when he founded Liturgical Press and the journal Orate Fratres, and began promoting in the US the ideals which eventually issued forth in the Second Vatican Council.
        Most blogs have an agenda. We’re no exception.

  9. Fr. Forte said:
    “The near universal collapse of participation at Mass around the world, the emptying of seminaries and religious houses, the mass abandonment of Catholic moral teaching clearly show that, despite the intentions of the liturgical reformers, this end has not been achieved.”

    Did you ever consider that the reason for the decline in the numbers of participants in Sunday Mass is because the reforms of the council were so successful that it became clear to huge numbers of people that they were never really all that interested in becoming actual followers of Christ? As inadequate as homilies may be in place to place, a large number of priests since Vatican II have been preaching that Catholics are called to be missionary disciples, that there is an essential link between what we pray at Mass and how we live our lives during the week. Many “church-ians” just don’t buy that. They’re not even sure what they want, but it doesn’t include loving our enemies, forgiving one another as Christ forgives us, seeking Christ in neighbors who don’t look like us, or maybe not even extending the sign of peace because it seems irreverent.
    As far as moral teaching goes, did you ever consider that with exceptions Catholics were always better at naming them rather than actually following them. Or that the rise of secularism was already in full bloom in the 1960’s. The Council occurred in the same time frame, but is hardly the cause for moral laxity.

  10. Why don’t more people on both sides of this interminable argument simply admit that there is ambiguity in the texts? There are revolutionary elements, and there are conservative elements. The documents required consensus. The councils all were and all remain important events of clarity and course correction. But let’s move on without always looking back 50 years or 500 years to see what exact roadmap was given. We can argue points on their current merit not simply on how much the council fathers did or didn’t favor our particular ideas. People needed to move past Trent (some still need too) as Vatican II clarified. People also need to move past Vatican II.

    1. @Steven Surrency:
      In a way, the matter of ambiguity in some of the texts is irrelevant. Unlike other councils that settled matters of heresy, Vatican II was a beginning, not an end. I wouldn’t necessarily term the conciliar documents as ambiguous so much as open-ended. The latter so that bishops and others could continue the many vectors already begun before the council and during its deliberations.

      I’d say we live in an era where there is more openness to discernment.

  11. Todd,

    The argument that the council fathers intended continued change as seen by these important seeds of innovation can also be made regarding the conservative moments in the documents. Indeed history shows that cartain conservative positions were highlighted and ambiguity was intentionally embedded to ensure smooth passage of the documents. That said, it seems disingenuous to emphasize the main impetus of the text without the limiting, conservative nuances. I am not saying this to further a traditionalist reading. I think VII offers an important message, a largely revolutionary but sometimes ambiguous and sometimes conservative message. But VIi is a word in the history of the Church. It isn’t the last word. Let’s debate topics today on their merit today.

    1. @Steven Surrency:

      I think VII offers an important message, a largely revolutionary but sometimes ambiguous and sometimes conservative message.

      This is so well said!

      and that is also how the Gospels come across.

      @Fr. Anthony Forte:

      I thought that PTB would be interested in dialogue and not just presenting one side of an issue.

      So, what did you think about what Grillo had to say? 🙂

      1. @Elisabeth Ahn:
        I have hesitated to comment further in this thread because it has been made clear, and not for the first time, that my comments are not welcomed. But since you asked me directly I will respond.

        I have already objected to his characterization of the more recent instructions from Rome as being the product of “the fruit of fear.” This is an unnecessary ad hominem attack directed toward those who disagree with him. While there are strong disagreements within the Church we should at least respect the sincerity of those who hold contrary opinions.

        As is often the case, he also misrepresents what Liturgiam authenticam actually calls for. Thus he states: “The authority to translate them has been taken away, and keeping in line requires a method of translation from Latin that yields a result that is, one can say without exaggeration, comic: If you follow the rules laid down, the resulting text is incomprehensible; but if you want a text that is understandable, you have to violate the rules.” This is an old charge but is false and contrary to the instruction, which actually states:

        While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.

        Thus the instruction clearly allows for an adaptation to the vernacular language. Indeed, the term “as possible” occurs twenty time in the instruction. The claim that Liturgiam authenticam requires a Google like word for word translation is not true. If there is any infelicity in the present translation it is not because of an adherence to LA but because of a…

      2. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        Fr Forte

        With respect,

        “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.”

        The introductory “while” clause appears to get eaten up by the “insofar as possible, must” qualifier.

        Hence what we got.

      3. @Karl Liam Saur:
        And what is the “must?”: “…be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.” There is nothing here requiring word for word translation, only an exactness in the vernacular insofar as possible while allowing the translator “to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer.” So what is the problem?

        I am afraid that those who are opposed to the present translation are objecting to a caricature of Liturgiam authenicam rather than to what the instruction actually calls for. Does the present translation contain some poor renderings? Yes. Could it be improved? Certainly. But this can, and should be, done in fidelity to Liturgiam authenicam.

      4. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        Fr Foote, until LA is implemented in the manner you believe it can be, your interpretation remains to be demonstrated.

        Realize that I am not a partisan of the previous translations. I am not a fan of either set of translation principles that have been issued since the council. One thing that LA established for certain: translation principles can change. And therefore LA can be replaced by something better.

      5. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        Would you consider, Fr Forte, that the rendering of a single, 60-plus-word Latin sentence into two, three, or four sentences in a target language such as English, to be a sober and discreet adaptation to the characteristics of that language?

      6. @Gerard Flynn:
        What you are addressing is the implementation of Liturgiam authentic, not its principles. The question here is not of translation but of good English composition. What you propose, if used judiciously, could be accommodated by LA. The former translation, however, was wholly lacking in this. The result was often clunky and disjointed sentences. That being said, we should not shy away completely, either, from the use of subordinate and relative clauses. Good English does not require prayers written in short phrases at a 5th grade level. Take a look at the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

        When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

        It has 71 words and multiple clauses. While the debate is often put in a form of a critique of Liturgiam authentic, in reality it is really about what form of English liturgical prayers should take, formal or informal. This is a question of balance. In the words of LA: “So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision.” It should be remembered that the original Latin was not the common Latin of the street either.

      7. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        The proper comparison is not with 1970/75, but 1998. Nobody I know is defending the English MR1 as anything other than what it was: a temporary stopgap, which, if memory serves, was left in service for well over a decade by the CDWDS over the discernment of 16 English-speaking bishops’ conferences.

        English, also, is not a static language. 1776 is not 2017. A political document is also not prayer. The argument is reminiscent of the kind of thing that didn’t pass muster with my mom, “Just because your friend is (n)ing doesn’t mean that you can.”

      8. @Todd Flowerday:
        A political document is not prayer but liturgical prayer is also not an informal conversation. But let us keep in mind what the true source of the dispute is here, what form of English is proper for the liturgy, not the principles of Ligurgiam authenticam. Both an informal and formal rendering of the prayers could be accommodated by LA. The charge that it requires a word for word Google-like translation is false. Rather than trying to belittle opponents with ridicule, let us focus on what are the real issues.

      9. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        We agree on the larger genre of formal speech, but we also recognize important and distinctive subdivisions within the scope on which we agree.

        I would submit that a number of English forms are proper for the liturgy, each adapted to the service of the people (and under a basic assumption that all glorify God). Nearly any language with which I’m familiar has a variety of forms within “formal” speech. If the framers of LA and Vox Clara have failed to make that distinction, they deserve appropriate criticism, then replacement.

        I think you are incorrect to equate legal language with the poetic. Prayer is meant to express a relationship. A political declaration is a one-way street. The 1776 Declaration was not part of a dialogue. But the Missal is. It is also an immensely larger and more varied document, and contains many different kinds of texts.

        The real issue with LA and 2010 is not 1970, but 1998. Let’s focus on *that* conversation and leave MR1 where it belongs. It was a transitional product and after the90s, no longer relevant to a serious liturgy discussion.

        Let’s also focus on particular problems in MR3 and be appropriately critical where they are unfaithful not only to LA, but also to a larger intent of the Church and its missal.

        For the record, I’m in favor of your continued commentary here, but I think Anthony is right to remind you to stick to the topic.

      10. @Todd Flowerday:
        My purpose of using the opening sentence of the Declaration of Independence was not to equate legal language with poetic but to show that English is capable of long sentences with many subordinate and relative clauses. A good translation does not have to limit itself to simple and short sentences.

        Actually, the 1970 translation is relevant inasmuch it is one of the main reasons for Liturgiam authenticam. To understand LA properly you need to know what it was trying to correct.

        But there is a more fundamental issue, what is the proper form of language for liturgical prayer and what is the proper role of the translator. The harping on LA obfuscates this and has become a proxy battle for this discussion. As I have mentioned before, the Latin of the Missal is not the common conversational Latin. It is a formal and stylized Latin crafted especially for the liturgy. The question, then, is this proper to liturgical prayer or should we seek a more conversational or, as you might put it, more poetic style? Also, given that this is the form used in the Latin missal, is it the role of the translator to preserve this or to take the opportunity of the translation to change it? At heart, I believe that the real dispute is not with the adequacy of the translation but with the language used in the original Latin of the Roman rite. And this dispute arises from that of different understandings of the nature of the liturgy.

      11. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        Good prose composition includes a balance of short and long sentences. Like music, it requires variety to catch and maintain attention. It depends on the purpose. When the Roman Missal attempts to imitate that which it should not, it creates a distraction from prayer, rather than an enhancement for it. A poet, however, can create artistry and interest with short lines only.

        I think you are incorrect about the reason for LA. The 1970 translation was in progress when Comme Le Prevoit was promulgated. The 1998 English Missal addressed many of the deficiencies of the interim missal, and was approved by every English-speaking bishop through 16 conferences. Most of us moved on from MR1 in the 80s, from the time when the second edition was in the translation pipeline, and we were told our sacramentaries would soon be obsolete. So indeed: MR1 is totally irrelevant. If it was behind the drive to LA, those framers missed the boat.

        I would agree with your fundamental issue. However, there is no single proper form for liturgical prayer. It can be as succinct as “Praise God” or “Kyrie eleison.” It can involve a complex sentence with multiple clauses. (Just as music can involve a single melody or a complex accompaniment or polyphony.) To suggest that complex sentences somehow communicate a deeper spirituality might verge into the heresies of pelagianism, the notion that human beings can somehow construct more fitting praise just by adding clauses.

        One of the tragic flaws of the English MR3 and the work of ICEL and VC is that they failed to recognize the importance of difference genres within the Missal. The Roman Canon, for example, demands a certain formality and structure in keeping with its use on significant feasts. Less is needed when priest or people utter words daily.

        The disputes are many. They involve a lack of understanding of liturgy, both in Rome and among some clergy and liturgists. They involve actions which denote fear, a fear of letting go. They are also political, and point to the purpose of the CDWDS: servant, consultant, counsellor, legislator, boss. They are also literary and artistic disputes–qualities not always found in Rome or among the clergy. And the Roman Missal itself may have its own flaws–I wouldn’t totally blame translators of either generation.

      12. @Todd Flowerday:
        While the 1998 translation may be more polished that the present translation, let us not pretend that it, too, has its problems that its rejection by CDW was purely arbitrary. These problems were spelled out by Cardinal Estévez in his letter of March 16, 2002, where he spells out the reasons for its rejection. If we are to address the stylistic problems of the present translation we should also be honest enough to address the problems of content with the 1998 translation.

      13. @Fr. Anthony Forte:
        I have read Cardinal Estevez’s letter. As a scholar he raises important points, but not all of his criticisms stick. His opening point on distinctions between sacramentaries and a missal, for example, is just plain semantic fussiness. I hold to my point that 1998 is the departure for comparison, not because it’s perfect, but because it was the first permanent post-conciliar Missal. I have no interest in discussing or defending MR1 except as a transitional document in church history.

        I think a lot of scholars would welcome a more open discussion on many points among the main players in translation efforts. The most damning criticism of the CDWDS under Cardinal Estevez was its unresponsiveness. Four years to arrive at reasons for rejecting English MR2? Some might consider that fodder for conspiracy. I think it’s just incompetence.

      14. @Gerard Flynn:
        Fr. Forte and I are on a similar wavelength. Lest the 71-word opening not be enough, it was followed by sentences of 35, 75, 45 and 48 words respectively. Pretty good writing too.

      15. @Fr. Anthony Forte:

        Thank you, Father, for your response.

        I disagree with you on the merits of LA, but, as you seem to say, for me also the greater fault lies with those who misapplied the already problematic instruction of LA.

        “Hence what we got.”

    2. @Steven Surrency:
      Agreed. I’m not sure that I place the highest value on progressive or conservative nuances. In many ways, people with extreme sensibilities found themselves disappointed by Vatican II: no women’s ordination, too much emphasis on the Church in the modern world, to give two examples.

      I would emphasize instead the message of the Gospel. We don’t really preach Sacrosanctum Concilium so much as use it (as a tool) to preach the Scriptures and the sacraments. Where tradition and experimentation get in the way of the Gospel message, they should be discarded. If that means an experience of rupture for some, then so be it. We shouldn’t serve the liturgy from a sense of easing the feelings of the 99. So I’m in total agreement about dialogue and discernment on topics, even women’s ordination or the role of the Church in today’s modern world, and looking at their merits in light of the kerygma of the mission of Christ.

  12. La cattiva riuscita di LA non dipende da una cattiva applicazione di una buona Istruzione, ma dalla impossibile applicazione di una pessima Istruzione.

  13. Giving any credit to Liturgiam Authenticam is a bit like saying, “candidate X has clearly fiddled his income tax returns for many years, but because we cannot prove beyond all doubt that he is a murderer, we’ll elect him to high office.”

    LA displays ignorance of history, of the way languages work, even of Latin itself. Many critiques have been written of this idiotic document, some by very liturgically “conservative” scholars. Start with Peter Jeffery’s work and go from there.

    The issue is not which paragraphs are objectionable, or which parts of LA get in the way of a good translation, but the philosophical and linguistic underpinnings of the whole thing.

    The discussion constantly gets bogged down in claims about “fidelity to the Latin”. But any translation that rigorously follows the precepts of LA is likely to become a mockery of the Latin text being translated, not a faithful rendering.

    So the first step is to revoke Liturgiam Authenticam. If that puts the principles outlined in Comme le Prévoit back into force, so much the better. CLP isn’t perfect, but it is at least not shockingly ignorant.

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