Over the past year, I’ve spoken with countless individuals – from regular lay folk to educators, deacons to bishops - about the great blessing that is coming our way in the new English translation of the Roman Missal, and it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of Catholics tend to share my enthusiasm for the forthcoming corrections to the liturgical text. (And we need to be honest; this is exactly what we’re awaiting in large measure; a long overdue attempt to correct the poorly done and unnecessarily rushed translations that have been in use over the last four decades.)
I’ve also been keeping an eye on news items and blog posts on the topic as well, and wouldn’t you know it, the naysayers are getting more than their fair share of attention in some circles; so much so, that if one didn’t know any better it would seem that a major crisis is at hand rather than a great blessing.
This is what I call the “Global Missal Dissent System” in action. Here’s how it works:
Some small group of Catholic dissenters loosely organized under an official sounding name, or perhaps even a single left-leaning individual with an impressive pedigree (ideally clerical in both cases), raises a red flag or two about the new translation. In neither instance can the case be made that the opinions expressed are representative of the broader Catholic population much less the hierarchy, but undaunted, sympathetic media types seize the opportunity to create the illusion that some sort of popular uprising is in the offing.
Well, it’s “crunch time.” It’s time to begin preparing the way for the Roman Missal – Third Edition in earnest. It’s time to discern between the reasonable concerns of faithful Catholics and the petty delay tactics of foot-dragging progressives, and that means it’s time to address some of the more well-traveled opinions being expressed by those who are at pains to paint the new translation as a disaster in the making.
Let me begin, however, by saying that some of the concerns being voiced about the forthcoming Missal may be entirely valid, even if the hyperbolic doomsday predictions that sometimes accompany them are not. It serves no one to pretend otherwise.
For example, a number of well qualified theologians, Latinists and clergy covering a broad spectrum of ideological and theological orientations have expressed dismay over the process of the translation. Apparently, the text that we now await reflects changes that were made in 2010 by the Congregation for Divine Worship to some of the previously approved text that was submitted by the bishops’ conferences and the International Commission on English in the Liturgy in 2008. These changes (to the priest’s parts alone) are not necessarily “upgrades,” shall we say, in each and every case.
To this I would simply point out that the work of translation can often be as much an art as a science, and in the present case, we’re talking about a monumental task that was undertaken by a diverse group of individuals with wide-ranging ideas and ambitions. It is entirely unreasonable, therefore, for us to expect that everyone will agree upon what makes for the “perfect” or even the preferred translation in all circumstances.
Truth be told; it is entirely probable that some of the text we eventually receive will reflect, at times, what only a powerful minority of decision makers considered to be the best translation available. (Sound familiar?) To which I say, welcome to human affairs!
There is no doubt that the new translation will have room for even greater improvement in some places, and guess what? That doesn’t mean the sky is falling. Neither does any evidence of flaws in the process or the human beings involved mean that the Church itself is flawed in Her authoritative structures as some commentators (and their friends in the media) would have you believe.
Among other noteworthy concerns receiving gratuitous media attention is a recent news item, disseminated the world over by a large Catholic news organization, reporting that the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland (ACP) “has made an urgent plea to the country's bishops to postpone the introduction of the new English translation of the missal for at least another five years.”
The reasons behind ACP’s “urgent plea” were given considerable ink in the story; among them, allegations leveled by a priest who claims that the text is “archaic, elitist and obscure.” Another priest was quoted in the story as saying that the Missal “is not acceptable,” warning that “if these new texts are imposed, they could create chaos in our church.”
The writer made it a point to let readers know that similar concerns “have been raised in English-speaking countries around the world, including the United States and Canada,” but for some reason she failed to offer even one solitary quote in defense of the new translation. This in spite of the fact that she has ready access to the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship and any number of its members who would have happily provided a much needed counterpoint. (Msgr. Anthony Sherman and Fr. Rick Hilgartner come to mind.)
The ACP statement from which this story was presumably taken includes, though the writer chose not to report it, the time-honored whine that the new translation “will insult and offend women who will be rightly enraged by the continued deliberate use of non-inclusive language,” even though the sacred Magisterium has articulated its position on this matter rather clearly. (E.g., see Liturgiam Authenticam – 30, 31.)
The unreported reality is that ACP is little more than a small left-wing splinter group of dissenters whose founding objectives include “establishing a Church where all believers will be treated as equal” (because clearly that’s not the case today?), a “re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching” (you can only imagine which ones), and placing “special emphasis” on such “teachings of the Second Vatican Council” as “the primacy of the individual conscience;” a canard that all but the truly delusional recognize as wholesale rubbish. (See here.)
Long story short, had this story been reported responsibly, most well informed readers would have immediately recognized ACP’s “spirit of Vatican II” credentials and their utter lack of credibility in the matter. As it is, however, this lopsided “news” item was promptly reprinted by those anxious to create the illusion of a groundswell of opposition to the new translation. If one were not careful to consider sources, it might seem that all is doom and gloom when in fact it is not.
Now that is not to say that the new English translation of the Roman Missal doesn’t represent a real challenge for us; on many levels, it certainly does.
For one, it is a challenge to liturgical pride. After four decades of allowing our creative impulses and personal tastes to exercise undue influence on how we “do liturgy,” it’s going to take great humility and the assistance of God’s grace for us to willingly “subordinate ourselves to the Divine” at Holy Mass, but according to the Council Fathers this is exactly what the liturgy requires of us (cf SC 2).
It will be a challenge for many of us to embrace the fact that “the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church,” including, of course, the language that we use and the words that we speak (SC 33).
It’s not going to be easy, as Pope Benedict said, for many “to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly 40 years of continuous use of the previous translations.”
Yes, it will be a challenge on many levels, but challenges such as these are nothing more than the gateway to God’s blessings. In fact, if you think about it; challenge and gift simply go together, don’t they?
So the next time you encounter a news item or a blog post about the pending liturgical disaster and the altruistic, self-appointed saviors who are rising up to protect God’s people, regardless of the apparent credibility of either the protagonists or the news source, take a step back and remind yourself of what Pope Benedict said of the forthcoming Missal:
“Through these sacred texts and the actions that accompany them, Christ will be made present and active in the midst of His people.”
And for that we can all say, thanks be to God!
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com