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The new text of the Mass ROBERT MICKENS


Unlocking the door of the vernacular


In the second of a series on the controversial new English translation of the Missal, to be introduced to the faithful later this year during Advent, The Tablet’s Rome correspondent looks at the start of the move away from Latin and where it began to go wrong


adequate. The debate has raged between those who have insisted on a text that is more literal and faithful to the original Latin and those who want something that can be proclaimed more easily in literary English. It has been a heated and important discussion. But there is also a subtext to the Missal saga, characterised by betrayal, heavy- handedness and bitter infighting. It is the story of how a small number of English- speaking bishops broke ranks with their confrères and colluded with conservative papal bureaucrats to change the rules for translating liturgical texts. And it offers a sad spectacle of men who used the liturgy to further their own agenda of reinterpreting the ecclesiology envisaged by the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II opened the possibility of using modern everyday languages, commonly called the “vernacular”, in the Catholic liturgy. The bishops spent much of the autumn of 1962, during the council’s first session, discussing the need to reform the Mass and the celebra- tion of the other sacraments. The following session, on 4 December 1963, they over- whelmingly approved – and Pope Paul VI promulgated – the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC). The document allowed only a restricted use of the vernacular in the liturgy, but it unlocked a door that would soon be flung wide open. While SCclearly stated that the “use of the


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Latin language” was “to be preserved in the Latin rites” (36:1), it also permitted the “com- petent territorial ecclesiastical authority” to “decide whether, and to what extent, the ver- nacular” was “to be used” (36:3). The authority it had in mind was that of “the various kinds of bishops’ conferences” (22.2). The bishops were allowed to decide on the language for the liturgy in their countries, as long as this was “confirmed” by the Holy See – which it eventually was. And not only that. The work of carrying out the translations of liturgical books was left to the national hierarchies. How much of a “revolution” was this? It was nothing less than a “decentralisation of


iscussion over the controversial


new English version of the Roman Missal has focused largely on whether or not the translation is


the liturgical decision-making”, according to Fr Joseph Ratzinger, a peritus (or theological expert) at the council. He called it a “funda- mental innovation” for the Latin Church. “The formulation of liturgical laws for their own region is now, within limits, the respon- sibility of the various conferences of bishops. And this is not by delegation from the Holy See, but by virtue of their own independent authority,” he wrote in the first of a series of pamphlets that were later translated into a single English volume called, Theological Highlights of Vatican II (Paulist Press, 1966). “Perhaps one could say that this small para-


graph [ed. SC 36], which for the first time assigns to the conferences of bishops their own canonical authority, has more significance for the theology of the episcopacy and for the long desired strengthening of episcopal power


Some people condemned the work of the Consilium as an all too hurried, amateurish and ideologically driven plot to protestantise the liturgy


than anything in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, itself,” the future Pope wrote. As it had already become clear in 1962 that the “mind of the council” was opening towards the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, several bishops from England and the United States started discussions on how they could work with their confrères in other English-speaking countries to produce a common translation. One of the major figures behind this was


Fr (later Mgr) Frederick McManus, a priest from Boston and a highly respected peritus at Vatican II. There is probably no one person more responsible for helping to sensitise the bishops on the liturgy in the vernacular than McManus.


And so it was that in October 1963, during the council’s second session, bishops from 10 episcopal conferences met at the Venerable English College in Rome and set up plans for a joint committee that would eventually be called the International Commission on


English in the Liturgy – Icel. The principles that were to guide its work, and indeed the entire post-Vatican II liturgical reform, were found in paragraph 34 of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “The rites of worship should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s power of comprehension and as a rule not require much explanation.” At the heart of this was an even more basic goal, as stated earlier in SC14: “In the restora- tion and promotion of the sacred liturgy, the full and active participation of all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.” Icel was officially established on 17 October 1963 as a joint commission to oversee the immense and historical task of putting the liturgical books into English. Chief among these was the Roman Missal, which the member-bishops would designate by using the more ancient name “Sacramentary”. Three months later (January 1964), Pope Paul VI issued a motu proprio – Sacram Liturgiam (SL). This actually curtailed the bishops’ authority over liturgical translations as was stated by the council (SC22.2 and 36.4), decree- ing that such texts “must always be reviewed and approved by the Holy See” (SL IX). The motu proprio also established the “Consilium ad exsequendam”, a group of schol- ars, experts and bishops that would meet at the Vatican over the course of the next few years to implement the reform mandated by Sacrosanctum Concilium. The Icel bishops set up their own advisory committee of dedicated priests and laymen (no women until about 1972) to begin the staggering work of translations. Meeting for the first time in 1965, these men attended the working sessions at their own expense and without any stipends. They had no computers, but had to rely on the typewriter, the photo- copier and the telephone. All this led to the caricature of Icel’s initial work as being a whirlwind process that was done on the back of an envelope. It is a myth perpetuated to this day, often by the same people who con- demned the work of the Consilium as an all too hurried, amateurish and ideologically driven plot to protestantise the Catholic liturgy. (Continued on page 12.)


18 June 2011 | THE TABLET | 11


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