By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt. From La Croix International
Catholic bishops in the German-speaking countries of Europe have been at odds with the Vatican for years over a controversial and never-implemented translation of the Missal, the Latin prototype for the celebration of the Roman Catholic liturgy.
Germany’s bishops never even mentioned the disputed translation last month in the final report of the national episcopal conference’s autumn plenary. Instead, they thanked Pope Francis at length for his recent “motu proprio” Magnum principium, which gives such conferences greater authority over liturgical translations.
They also expressed gratitude that the pope had once again underlined, as he did in his 2013 exhortation Evangelii gaudium, that the “genuine doctrinal authority” of episcopal conferences needs to be more fully elaborated (EG 32). And they said the liturgy commissions of all the various German-speaking conferences would now begin discussing Magnum principium and its consequences in detail.
The German bishops’ president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, said the first reaction he and his confreres had to the new “moto proprio” was a sense of “huge relief”.
During a press conference at the end of the September 25-28 plenary assembly, he said he believed the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) had taken too narrow a view on liturgical translations in the norms it issued in 2001 with the document, Liturgiam authenticam. The cardinal pointed to the long ordeal of producing the English translation of the Missal, saying he thought it was “altogether excessive” the way the Vatican had insisted on a strictly literal rendering of the Latin.
Cardinal Marx revealed that some of the English-speaking bishops had turned to him for help and that even he found it hard to pray some of the prayers in their Missal.“
The language is simply unacceptable,” he said.“Liturgiam authenticam was a dead end. Rome is responsible for dogmatic interpretations but not for matters of style. Now, thanks to Magnum principium, the bishops’ conferences have far greater freedom,” the cardinal added.
He agreed that it was legitimate to revise the Missal translations every 40 or 50 years, but he said he does not see any hurry for a new German translation. He said the present translation dating back to 1976 wasn’t “that bad”. However, he added that the conference’s liturgy commission would discuss the subject of a possible new translation at its next session.
The majority of German-speaking bishops have always been in favor of leaving the final translation of Latin liturgical texts to the national conferences. To the surprise of some, this also included the late Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, one of the four conservative cardinals that signed the now-famous dubia challenging the pope’s document on marriage and the family.
Meisner headed the German conference’s liturgy commission for over 20 years (from 1989 until 2014) and was also chairman of Ecclesia celebrans, the CDW-sponsored committee similar to Vox clara (for English) that’s been responsible for revising the German Missal translation.
The late cardinal and close ally of Benedict XVI actually led the German bishops’ first open clash with the Vatican over the translation of the funeral rites that Rome published in 2009. After protests from all over the German-speaking countries erupted in 2010, Meisner announced that the new translation had “failed” and that the German bishops were extending the use of the version from the early 1970s.“
In their language area, the bishops have the final responsibility for the liturgy,” he told domradio.de at the time. And he stressed that, on no account, should the Latin be translated literally.
Meanwhile, the new German translation of the Eucharistic Prayer – which includes the Vatican-imposed change of pro multis from “for all” to the strictly literal “for many” – has still not been approved by the bishops’ conferences. And yet it appears in the 3.5m copies of the revised German hymnbook, which contains the Order of the Mass and is known as the Gotteslob (“Praise of the Lord”).The new books were supposed to be introduced in all German-speaking countries on the first Sunday of Advent in 2013. But opposition to the new translation remained strong.
Already in March 2012, the then-president of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, told Pope Benedict XVI on a visit to Rome that the new text could cause a split in the German-speaking countries. He said many bishops and priests would not accept “for many” and intended to continuing using “for all”.
At that point Benedict wrote a four-page letter (14 April 2012) to the German bishops in the form of a catechesis, explaining in detail why the Holy See wanted to revert to “for many”. He urged the bishops to use his catechesis to prepare priests and the laity for the new translation.
Some months later, in October 2012, two senior clerics in Germany and Austria – Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz (former German conference president) and Archbishop Alois Kothgasser of Salzburg – took issue with Benedict’s decision on the pro multis question.
The cardinal told German state radio that the increase in Vatican influence was “most worrying”. The fact that Rome had “pettily censored” the German Missal translation was a “breach of the right to liturgy”, which “one shouldn’t really put up with”. He also emphasized that “the style of church leadership must change”. For his part, Archbishop Kothgasser told a meeting of deans that Benedict XVI’s decision to revert to “for many” was not an “official decision” and that he would prefer to continue using “for all”. As the date of publication drew near, a few overly eager traditional priests began using the new translation out of anticipatory obedience. In April 2013 the Austrian bishops’ conference, therefore, issued a clarification stipulating that the only permitted translation of pro multis was “for all”. The conference emphasized that the Missal of 1975 remained binding.
Then new hymnbook was finally published. And it contains the never-approved translation of the Order of Mass, including “for many” in the Eucharistic Prayer. Thus it also includes a notice explicitly stating that only the older (1970s) and current translation is valid – not the words in the new book.
Obviously, this has created some confusion for churchgoers in German-speaking countries. But their bishops seem convinced that they can resolve the situation by exercising the greater authority and freedom Pope Francis has now granted them.