By Chris McDonnell
Our Bishops have spoken. Following their November meeting in Leeds, the Bishops of England and Wales have issued a statement of no-change; the current translation of the Roman Missal will remain in use in spite of the recent statement of Francis restoring the responsibility for liturgical translation to local churches.
“My Oh My Oh My’, to quote a line from a Leonard Cohen lyric.
After their meeting, the Bishops are quoted as saying that they were “grateful” for the guidance they had received from the Congregation for Divine Worship advising that the ‘Motu Proprio’ “concerns future liturgical translations and cannot be applied retroactively”. Grateful? They should have expressed their dismay and disappointment that the 1998 text could be so easily dismissed. Caught between a rock and a hard place they have taken the ostrich option.
Just as they rolled over when the current text was foisted on a voiceless people in 2011, so they have done again.
Their voice hides behind legalistic phrases and the people are blamed for misunderstanding Rome. We are told that we must wait until there is a new standard Latin text, with the jocular comment from Archbishop Peter Smith -“I am not sure I will be around to see that”. Nor, I would suggest, will many others, given the level of frustration felt by so many of the diocesan communities that they pastor.
The Archbishop goes on to acknowledge that “a lot of people were very upset” with the current translation but then adds “I think that most of us have got used to it”. And just where are the evidential facts to support such a statement? Whose hand in Rome added historicity to an understanding and interpretation of this text?
Meanwhile, a much-praised translation from 1998 approved by all of the English-Speaking conferences lies gathering dust when it could be assisting in our Eucharistic prayer. Many whose theological background and personal writing is both recognized and respected have expressed their support for this text, anxious that the great creative effort which went into its production should not be wasted. But no. Ignore all that. Just wait for a new Latin Text and start again.
A door was opened and a beam of light crept in. At that point, there should have been a bishop’s foot firmly planted to prevent closure while the collective voice of our bishops was raised in welcome at this long-awaited initiative. A bishop cares for his people, recognizes the difficulties of their journey in a particular time and place and acts accordingly. A teacher who teaches without regard for the cultural background of those being taught should not be surprised if they stop listening.
With the exceptional leadership and caring example of the Bishop of Rome, recent years have returned credibility to the Church in spite of efforts within the Curia to inhibit change. When a power base is threatened there is always a response from those whose current position is called to question.
Now that a clear attempt has been made to redress the balance and return rightful responsibility to where it belongs, with the bishops, some are finding excuses to limit the outcome.
Words matter. In the Introduction to the re-printed Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez writes “…all language is to some extent a groping for clarity.”
Right on the mark, language is indeed a groping for clarity and we should make every effort not to get in the way and hinder understandable discourse.
There has to be poetry in our prayer, for it opens to us a whole new realm of experience, not just of our forming words with which we offer prayer, but of our being exposed to thought-provoking language that quietens us and makes us listen. Silence is the space between words.
Maybe this is why there has been so much concern expressed over the New Translation of the Roman Missal since its introduction on the first Sunday of Advent 2011. Literal translation doesn’t help with appreciation of expression for it can so easily miss the nuance of contemporary language. It can also disturb the historical root that feeds our linguistic exchange. Many priests I know express their concern that with use it is getting harder, not easier, for them to pray the Eucharist with the words we now have in the Roman Missal.
After Vox Clara, countless changes were imposed on us without consultation.
In an earlier statement from the US Association of Catholic Priests they assert that the translation has “caused disharmony, disruption and discord among many… frustrating rather than inspiring the Eucharistic prayer experience of the Christian faithful, thus leading to less piety and to less ‘full, active and conscious participation,” and that it “has created pastoral problems, in particular because of its cumbersome style, arcane vocabulary, grammatical anomalies, and confusing syntax.”
We have been let down again.
So where was the foot in the door?
Reprinted December 1, 2017, in the Catholic Times.