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The new text of the Mass ROBERT MICKENS

How Rome moved the goal posts

The new translation of the English Missal to be introduced during Advent has had a difficult birth. A text approved by the English-speaking bishops was rejected by Vatican officials, as The Tablet’s Rome correspondent explains in the second part of his account of the journey to a new Missal


nder way in different parts of the world is a campaign aimed at help- ing Catholics embrace the new English version of the Roman

Missal. It rides on the claim that the new translation of the Mass prayers is superior and more theologically accurate than the English Sacramentary that has been in use since 1973. “In the earlier translation not all the meaning of the original Latin text was fully expressed and a number of terms that were used to convey the teachings of the faith were lost,” the Bishops of England and Wales asserted last month in a national pastoral let- ter. “This was readily acknowledged by the bishops of the Church, even back in the 1970s, and has become an increasing cause of con- cern since then.”

But what most of the world’s English-speak- ing bishops did not say was that they had already approved a replacement for that earlier translation, and overwhelmingly so, back in 1998, but that the Holy See had eventually rejected it. The long and painstaking work was begun in 1982 by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (Icel) set up during the Second Vatican Council and made up of 10 episcopal conferences. In undertaking the revision of the 1973

Sacramentary, the Icel-affiliated conferences were navigating in perilous waters. Certain quarters of the Church had long contended that the various modern-language translations of the Latin liturgy contained doctrinal impre- cisions and even errors. Already in 1972 several members of the Vatican-sponsored Interna- tional Theological Commission (ITC) made the charges in a letter to Pope Paul VI. Among the signatories were Frs Joseph Ratzinger of Germany and Jorge Medina Estévez of Chile, two council periti (experts) who would become central figures in an contentious struggle between Rome and the Icel bishops over the English liturgical translations. After more than a decade Icel completed

the translations for the new Sacramentary in 1993 and the English-speaking conferences began reviewing them in segments. A lengthy process of consultation and several re-trans- lations led to completion in 1997,

the 8 | THE TABLET | 25 June 2011

culmination of 15 years of labour. The bishops’ conferences gave the new Sacramentary their overwhelming canonical approval in 1998 and sent it to Rome for final ratification. They believed they were endorsing a finished prod- uct that was richer than the one approved in 1973. They were convinced that they had achieved this goal without sacrificing clarity or intelligibility in English. But they failed to heed developments in Rome that should have told them trouble was on the horizon. Five years earlier, in 1993, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – had rejected the (non-Icel) English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was despite the fact that Cardinal Bernard Law, highly favoured in Rome and one of the men who oversaw the translation, proudly defended it. Then, in 1994, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) withdrew its per- mission to the US bishops for the use of a newly translated English lectionary. The demise of both texts was largely due to the fierce criticism of the German Cardinal Ratzinger. He strongly objected to their wide-

Liturgiam Authenticam

drove a stake into the heart of ecumenical efforts at composing common texts

spread use of inclusive language and, regarding the Catechism, its lack of literal equivalence with the original French version. Although it was becoming clear that Rome

rejected inclusive language and wanted more literal translations, the Icel bishops apparently were not alarmed. They seemed to be working under other expectations and assurances. In October 1995, Cardinal Antonio María Javierre Ortas SDB, CDW prefect, had appar- ently told US Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Icel’s chairman, that the soon-to-be submitted Sacramentary would be judged by the prin- ciples then in force – dynamic equivalence as sanctioned by the 1969 Vatican instruction,

Comme le Prévoit. But all bets were off in June 1996. That’s when Jorge Medina Estévez, now an archbishop, reappeared on the scene as Cardinal Javierre’s successor. (Just nine years later, Medina, as cardinal proto-deacon, would step on to the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to announce the election of his friend Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI.) People in all parts of the liturgical world agree that Medina’s appointment as head of the CDW sounded the death knell for the new Sacramentary and other Icel-produced trans- lations. In 1997 he rejected a request from the US bishops’ conference for approval of the Icel translation of the Rite of Ordination by sending an excoriating letter to the con- ference president, Bishop Anthony Pilla. Archbishop Medina included a 13-page list of “observations” that caustically shredded the translation. His conclusion was ominous. “This congregation considers it may be helpful to recommend that there be a complete change of translators on this project and that a new, independent and definitive English version be made afresh from the Latin texts,” he said. In 1998 the Icel bishops submitted the Sacramentary, but the CDW sat on it. Then in 1999, in what can only be described as “changing the rules in the middle of the game”, the by now Cardinal Medina ruled that the dynamic equivalence method was no longer acceptable for translating liturgical texts. He also demanded that Icel thoroughly revise its statutes, stating that the Holy See retained ultimate authority over all transla- tions. Since its beginning in 1963, Icel had always been responsible to the bishops’ con- ferences. Now, nearly five decades later, Rome wanted to commandeer the entire process. The congregation took decisive steps to ensure this happened. But up until 2002 it remained silent on the fate of the proposed English Sacramentary. In the year 2000, with great fanfare, he presented the new Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John Paul II, even though it was not even ready for use until a full two years later. Cardinal Medina and his allies gave the impression that this was a greatly changed Latin Missal that would require Icel to go back to the drawing board

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