Archbishop Leonard Blair, speaking on behalf of the Worship Commission of the conference, at the USCCB meeting this morning proposed a two-stage process to approve a new translation of the RCIA. The text will be renamed the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is the literal rendering of the Latin, Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum. (He referred to the text thereafter as “the OCIA.”)
The first vote, to be taken at the present meeting, is to approve the new ICEL translation from the Latin, which is in hand. Proposed amendments to that text have been received, he reported, and more can be submitted until the end of the business day, today.
The second stage would be at a future meeting, at which time the bishops would vote on an arrangement of the book that would (A) organize the material in a way that is more user-friendly, as the current edition does; and (B) include more material on the reception of baptized Christians into the full communion of the Catholic church, as the current U.S. edition does. At this time (perhaps a year or two hence), the bishops would also vote on a new set of National Statutes. Then, and only then, would the new translation be sent to Rome for recognition.
Archbishop Blair reported that Archbishop Wilton Gregory inquired about whether such adaptations of the text as they are considering would be acceptable to Rome, and found out that they would be.
The floor was opened to questions, but there were no questions.
With respect to the Christian Initiation of Adults, we are seeing an approach to translation of liturgical texts that is strikingly different from the path taken in the translation of the Missal.
Liturgiam authenticam instructed that the order of materials in the Latin text (even the notes) is not to be rearranged, yet the bishops fully intend to rearrange the material. And they are doing it not in the dark, but after having checked into the feasibility of this by seeking Rome’s approval.
The use of expanded texts to address pastoral situations concerning baptized candidates also departs from the rigid requirements of Liturgiam authenticam in a striking way. This too contrasts with the approach taken with the Missal.
All of this is appropriate, in my view, because the initiation texts were always intended to be adapted to the pastoral needs of the regions in which they would be employed. Yet it would have been unthinkable during the period in which the Missal was translated.
The decision of the American bishops to proceed in this manner also illustrates something more: The use of this freedom to adapt the Latin text has worked well in the past, and was perceived to work in favor of the goals of the ritual of initiation. Otherwise the bishops would not be pursuing it now.
In other words, the American bishops are, in principle, standing behind the solid success of the indigenization of the Latin text of the Christian Initiation document into English, in the North American context — a success they can reaffirm now in practical, pastoral terms.
What does this mean for liturgical translation overall? Does it mean that we are gradually returning to a more commonsense approach to translation of liturgical texts, one that prioritizes active participation and pastoral judgment over a rigid adherence to the Latin text of the editio typica? I have not seen the new texts, but with respect to the overall strategy of adaptation, it would appear that the pendulum is swinging back to the center.
The proposed new translation of the “OCIA,” as highlighted in Archbishop Blair’s comments, assures that these texts will correspond to those other texts that occur in the Missal and the Rite of Confirmation, etc. A very basic, practical outcome.
Yet overall a greater freedom is being taken in the application of the translation principles than we have seen since 2001, when Liturgiam authenticam was introduced.
Pope Francis’s motu proprio on translation, Magnum principium, surely stands in the background of this shift and supports the bishops in taking an appropriate initiative to make the book locally useful and faithfully used.
One final comment: The use of acronyms for liturgical rites has always been unfortunate. It suggests “program language” and it is at odds with our other vocabulary for liturgy: We would never say “I went to my uncle’s OCF” last week — we say “I went to his funeral.” The substitution of OCIA for RCIA remains awkward, and does not improve our practice. What this shows, however, is that we are still comparatively in the early stages of inculturating these rites. And so it is perhaps inevitable that we should use semi-bureaucratic sounding terms, acronyms, until these rites are more deeply owned. It takes a couple of generations.