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Bishops unlikely to reopen Missal translation for now

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

09/20/2017

OTTAWA (CCN) — Despite a new papal document on liturgy, Canada’s bishops are unlikely to reopen the English translation of the 2011 Roman Missal, say bishops.

Some have reacted as if we’re immediately going to start re-translating the texts of that missal, said Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the Grouard-McLennan diocese in Northern Alberta, who has chaired the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops English-sector Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and the Sacraments for the past two years.

The archbishop said his initial reaction to re-translation was, “I hope not!”

“I wouldn’t want to see us revisit this whole process,” said Pettipas. “We just finished these translations. Let’s live with that for a while.”

“I doubt very much there’ll be a great desire,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, who serves on the international Vox Clara Committee that advises the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on new liturgical translations. “It’s very expensive to publish new materials.”

“We’ve got a certain amount of calm right now,” Prendergast said, adding it would be better to wait for a new generation of bishops to revisit the 2011 translation.

“I think we need to find stability in the liturgy,” he said. “That’s the way we pray. We can’t be changing it every 10 years.”

“No translation is perfect,” he said. “We can always improve it but we have to wait until the appropriate time.”

Though each bishop might experience pressures from different places, “there’s a relative peace right now,” Prendergast said. “In any type of translation, it takes years. You won’t do something like this overnight.”

There’s nothing to stop individual bishops from raising the issue during its upcoming plenary Sept. 25 - 29 in Cornwall, however, the archbishop said.

The CCCB secretariat in Ottawa would not comment on the implications of Pope Francis’ Sept. 3 motu proprio that changed Canon Law to reflect better the relationship between the Holy See and Episcopal Conferences envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the translation of the liturgy into vernacular languages. It devolves some control to the conferences over translations or adaptations, which the Holy See would then recognize.

“The question will be looked at during the upcoming various meetings of the CCCB Permanent Council, (and) during the annual visit to the Holy See by the president and vice-president,” said the CCCB’s communications director Rene Laprise in an email. “The question will be also be discussed at the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).”

However, the principles regarding the faithfulness of translations to the Latin text as found in Liturgiam Authenticam, the decree that prompted the 2011 revision, are still in force, Prendergast pointed out. That decree changed the previous translation principle based on “dynamic equivalence” to one more directly faithful to the Latin text.

“This is not a large departure,” said Pettipas. “As I read the motu proprio, it struck me the Holy Father is trying to re-establish a proper relationship intended at Vatican II between bishops and the Holy See.”

While it changes Canon 838, the text “starts by talking about relationships, the relationships of bishops and bishops’ conferences and the Holy See,” Pettipas said. “The Holy Father wants to ensure it’s the right relationship.”

“If that relationship is right and there’s respect on all sides and recognition by both parties, the end results in the language of the liturgy is going to be correct.”

“This is what we need to do going forward,” said Susan Roll, associate professor of liturgy and sacraments at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. “This is very much in line with the spirit of Vatican II.”

“The important principle here is what is called the principle of subsidiarity,” she said. “That means decisions that are taken should be taken closest to the level of those who are directly affected.”

“Our Canadian bishops are in a better position to know what’s necessary to teach and to govern the church in Canada than anyone else,” she said.

“On that large level, I think we have to trust our own people to discern faithfully and with good professional competence in theology, in philology, to make appropriate decisions,” Roll said. “I don’t think it’s going to vary that much because the theology remains consistent.”

“What’s changed now, instead of originating from the top down, liturgical texts can originate from the national conferences to be reviewed by Rome,” Roll said.

While there might be relative peace among the Canadian bishops on the five-and-a-half-year-old English Missal, there is still some grumbling by priests and lay people that the new translation is more awkward, and harder to understand. Pettipas said it’s especially hard for priests whose first language is not English. Prendergast admitted stumbling sometimes over a collect, but largely because he had not prepared enough in advance.

Pettipas said he agrees with the approach of having liturgy in a higher, sacral language in the liturgy. “It is our God speaking to us and we speaking to God. When we address the prime minister, the Queen of England or the Holy Father, we don’t necessarily talk the way we do on the street.”

Roll, however, disagrees. The 2011 Missals “writing style” is “very much out of touch with any contemporary writing style unless you’re scripting Downton Abbey.”

“It needs to be a language that people will readily understand, not simplistic, but rich and strong language, and language that invites people into that deeper relationship with God,” she said. “It needs to be a language that does not inordinately call attention to itself.”

She pointed to surveys that include the United States showing a “high level of discontent among clergy and among laity,” when the 2011 Missal was implemented.

“We still have a substantial body of opinion that says in the long run this will not work; it needs to be revised,” she said. “That’s normal, because liturgy grows and changes. It changes in response to how people experience the living expression of Christ in their own times.”

Prendergast said the principle of translation must be based on an accurate rendition of the Latin text. The text can then be interpreted in the homily.

Pettipas sees the greatest impact of the motu proprio in the translation of liturgy into various indigenous languages, such as Cree, and for countries like India or the Philippines where there are a number of different languages.

Prendergast said translating the texts into other languages requires knowledge of the original Latin text, as well as the indigenous language; it can’t simply be a translation from English.

As for the future of Vox Clara, Prendergast pointed out its role is to advice the Congregation, so it is likely to continue. Translations of the Breviary to include the new saints, and translations to the ordination rite are still in the works. 

Meanwhile, the French translation of the Roman Missal is still in progress.

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