ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
38. Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.
39. Within the limits set by the typical editions of the liturgical books, it shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the administration of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts, but according to the fundamental norms laid down in this Constitution.
These generic principles were penned and approved in 1963, when the focus of the Church’s attention was turned to the basic challenge of revising the rites and writing new texts for the sacraments, all seven. The task of preparing the texts and rites for the 1970 Mass of Pope Paul VI was placed in the hands of the Vatican Congregation of Divine Worship. Through the 1960’s the official Latin text was formulated. However, this was only half the job; the Council had granted permission for the Mass and other sacraments to be celebrated in the vernacular or the language of the place. The new rites, notably the Mass, would require translation into countless other languages, and certainly beyond the competence of the Roman Congregation. Moreover, the Council itself had directed that conferences of bishops play a role in liturgical adaptation.
In the United States, then, the standing NCCB [National Conference of Catholic Bishops, later named the USCCB] was entrusted with preparing an English translation, as were the bishops’ conferences of other English-speaking nations. It did not make sense for these countries to go it alone. During the Council itself, bishops of English speaking countries elected to form a translating company, ICEL or The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, in 1963. Wikipedia, describing the translators’ [ICEL’s] philosophy, describes the overarching philosophy of the translators as dynamic equivalence, or “capturing the meaning of the prayer but avoiding technical terms: ‘no special literary training should be required of the people; liturgical texts should normally be intelligible to all, even to the less educated’. The resulting English translation of the Roman Missal (called the Sacramentary in the United States) received wide acceptance, but was also criticized for straying too far from the Latin originals and for occasional banality in the language.”
Several examples of the ICEL philosophy are evident in examples that most of you are easily familiar with. In response to the Latin text’s et cum spiritu tuo, “and with your spirit,” ICEL translated the Latin into “And also with you,” which seemed more in tune with American parlance. A more doctrinally charged translation involved the consecration of the Precious Blood. In ICEL’s English translation, the formula I used for my entire span of priestly ministry, Jesus refers to his blood as being shed “for you and for all.” The Latin text reads pro multis, or “for many,” though in Latin the absence of an article can also legitimize a reading “for the many,” i.e., for all. ICEL was forced to decide on which expression to use; the “for many” suggests that Jesus’ blood was not shed for all; “for all” suggests a mechanical waving of the magic wand, without a nod toward the faith of the individual seeking redemption. During Pope Benedict’s reign, he ordered that the pro multis be translated as “for the many” as a better rendering of Jesus’ words in Mark and Luke. The new translation of 2011, used today, speaks of Jesus’ blood poured out “for the many.”
ICEL is chaired by bishops in the English-speaking world, and it continued to provide translations for such documents as the revised marriage manual in 1992. In the 1980’s, however, American bishops encountered more scrutiny from Rome regarding approvals of the English translations they were submitting from ICEL. The ICEL philosophy of translation was under serious scrutiny. When Rome reformed the missal in 2003, it ordered translators to return to the fundamental meanings of the Latin. ICEL, an arm of the episcopacy, was hardly able to protest. It is true, though, that the USCCB indicated it would not be ready for a new translation by Advent, 2011, the traditional opening of the liturgical year. Rome offered an extension to Ash Wednesday, 2012, which would have had significant impact upon American Church publishers and parishes—two different sets of books and resources in the same fiscal year! The USCCB met the Advent 2011 deadline.
I can’t say that today’s translation impacts me one way or the other, although if left to my own memory, I easily slip back to the 1970 English translation of the Creed, particularly where “consubstantial” is concerned; the older English translation “one in being” with the Father is closer to the Nicaean Greek term homoousios, “of one substance.” At least that’s what I think. The Council fathers may not have foreseen these kinds of problems arising from paras. 38 and 38; it is more than likely that they were considering the challenges of distant missionary ventures in the style of Matteo Ricci and Francis Xavier.
It is also true that administrative interventions from Rome carry political messages; the call of Pope John Paul II for a new translation of the Mass which led to the 2011 product concurs with the composition and release of the Catechism. It is no secret that John Paul and his trusted advisor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the eventual Benedict XVI) hoped to rein in what they saw as excesses in the expression of Catholic life in the United States and hoped to tighten unity in practice.
The first English translation of the Mass (Pope Paul VI) was criticized as too banal. The 2011 translation has been reviewed as too heavy and verbose. Will there be yet another translation in our lifetimes (or at least mine?) It is known that Pope Francis believes the conferences of bishops to be better judges of suitable translations for their cultures. Early in September 2017, Francis issued a motu proprio (executive order) changing the Church’s Canon Law procedure governing the Vatican’s role in approving liturgical texts. For a full explanation, see this America Magazine report here. I doubt that we would see any radical change in the translation of the Mass in the immediate future. If recent history is any indication, our USCCB has some considerable difficulty speaking the same language even when the debate is English.
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