Latin or native language?The tightly controlled and highly centralised approach to the translation of liturgical texts that has reigned in the Roman Catholic Church over the past fifteen years is likely coming to an end.
Feb 18, 2017
By Rita Ferrone
The tightly controlled and highly centralised approach to the translation of liturgical texts that has reigned in the Roman Catholic Church over the past fifteen years is likely coming to an end. In a move that is widely expected to open the door to more pastoral guidelines and approaches, Pope Francis has inaugurated a review and re-evaluation of the 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam.
The move was at least a year in coming. To understand what happened, however, it is necessary to know some background. Championed by a handful of conservative bishops and advocates, the principles of translation articulated in Liturgiam Authenticam were intended to reassert the primacy and priority of the Latin text of the liturgy. It aimed at creating a “sacral vernacular” through a word-for-word translation of the Latin. It looked backward rather than forward.
Ecumenical cooperation in crafting common translations was discouraged, cultural adaptation was discouraged, and concessions to modern developments, such as gender-inclusive language, were absolutely ruled out. Because the episcopal conferences could not be trusted to maintain such tight adherence to the Latin, Roman authorities centralised the process and retained the option to impose a translation, if they wished.
The new translation of the Roman Missal into English, implemented in 2011, was guided by these principles. The resulting prayers did not, in fact, resemble the Latin, as those who know and love the Latin language attest, for Latin has its own genius.
An awkward prayer in English does Latin no honour. Yet this was the inevitable result of Liturgiam Authenticam. Many of the prayers translated, according to its principles, were rendered long, complex, and stilted in English; hard to proclaim and difficult to understand. Even some of those who had been in favour of a new translation found the final text disappointing.
A 2014 survey of US priests by the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University showed that only 27 per cent felt the translation had lived up to expectations.
The English translation of the Roman Missal, the first of the new translations produced under the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam, was supposed to be a brilliant success and a model for other language groups. Instead, it became a terrible warning.
Other language groups — such as German, Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish — prepared translations according to these principles, but they did not implement them. Faced with the prospect of giving up well-known and well-loved vernacular texts, and replacing them with unidiomatic and problematic ones, the bishops balked.
In response, Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) took a hard line. When the German-speaking bishops raised objections, he lectured them on obedience. When the francophone Canadians and Belgians insisted that prayers that their bishops voted unanimously to retain be retained, he said no. These examples are not exhaustive by any means. In short, Pope Francis did not decide to re-evaluate Liturgiam Authenticam on a whim. Never a popular instruction, Liturgiam Authenticam’s stock was plummeting. Something had to be done.
What all this will mean for the English liturgy over the long run remains to be seen. I certainly hope that those texts that have been translated according to Liturgiam Authenticam but never implemented (RCIA, Baptism, etc.) will be placed on hold until Church leaders discern a future direction under Francis’ guidance. As for the Missal we have now, the US bishops will, no doubt, be loath to revise it. But just as the experience of the English-speaking world helped other language groups to see what they had to do, so the insights and experience of other groups may help English-speaking bishops to find a way forward. The way to begin is by trusting our own people and our own wisdom concerning prayer in our native tongue.
--Rita is the author of several books on liturgy
Source: Commonweal Magazine
Third Sunday of Easter: Word and Sacrament
It is important that we have bibles, and pray with our bibles, but we have been given a gift that is greater than even our bibles. We have been given the gift of the Eucharist.