Friday, June 25, 2004

Liturgical English

In the Anglican context, "liturgical English" usually refers to Elizabethan English, in particular the old second person singular: thee, thy, and thou.

These days in most of the English-speaking Roman Church, with the happy exception of the Anglican Use parishes, liturgical English tends to refer the tedious See-Spot-run texts produced by the ICEL. However, with the advent first of Cardinal Medina Estevez and then of Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos as head of the CDW and some friendly persuasion from that same dicastery the ICEL has been reinventing itself. The new ICEL has produced a draft translation of (most of) the Ordinary prayers of the Mass which happily pays much closer attention to the Latin original than the version currently in use.

This is old news, of course. I mention it because I have been catching up on a stack of Wanderers and in Fr. Zuhlsdorf's indispensable column "What Does The Prayer Really Say?" I find that our Father in God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is none too pleased about that. It seems he is afraid we poor pew sitters may be too dim to comprehend all those big words. No, not "eucharist", "aggiornamento", "pericope", or "liturgy committee". It's those other big words like "holy", "angel", and "sacrifice".

Herewith Fr. Zuhlsdorf:


"I felt that there are a few improvements that are very helpful, but the effort to translate every Latin word into English has not been successful." Thus spake Roger Card. Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, in an interview with the Catholic News Service on May 11 during his quinquennial ad limina visit to Rome. His Eminence doesn’t like the new, proposed English translation. What is his main concern? He said, "Following the (clerical sex abuse) scandal, the last thing our people need is to now disrupt the liturgy, which has been a source of nourishment and strength during this difficult journey." “Disrupt” the liturgy? Let that pass. What else is the problem? His Eminence mentioned several points which are quite interesting. First, he said "We simply cannot have a translation that is labored and is not easily proclaimed or understood". I would respond saying, 1) that it all depends on what we want to understand – I want to understand what the Church actually wants me to understand, that is the authentic content of the prayers properly translated and 2), I think people are smart. Second, His Eminence said, "The danger is that that kind of new Roman Missal, if it were approved in such a stilted fashion, would simply not be used". I respond with the observations that 1) yes, that would be just about right in the case of some priests who have been violating liturgical law for years or engaging in illicit liturgical variation and 2) the new document from the Congregation for Divine Worship, Redemptionis sacramentum, covers that issue when it insists that it is the responsibility of the bishops, even Cardinal Archbishops, to make sure that their priests are using the proper texts. Third, His Eminence said, “What is the more important value? Is the more important value to have a more precise translation of Latin into English or is it more important to have a translation that helps people's prayer be nourished and deepened? That, to me, is the more important question". Hmmm…. I would respond saying that that is precisely what this new translation has attained, at least in a way that shows vast improvement.

Card. Mahony added, "I think that if we are going to make a change to have a Roman Missal that will be with us for generations, let's take our time; let's do it well; let's make sure that it really is an improvement". While I can surely understand how this could be “translated” to mean: “we must have great precision and beauty for the sake of the salvation of souls”, I think what it might really indicate is a wish to delay the new translation as long as possible and, thereby, control it and even abort it. You might know the Latin proverb: Cunctando regitur mundus… The world is ruled by delaying.


The rest of his column (most of which has to do with the second Eucharistic Prayer in the Pauline Missal) is here.