AMENDED MINUTES OF The Meeting between representatives of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) and a number of Irish Bishops on the new translation of the Missal. February 28th 2011
The meeting began at 3.30 pm with the Bishop Seamus Freeman chairman of the Commission for Worship, Pastoral Renewal and Faith Development welcoming the representatives of the ACP. Others present were Bishops Donal McKeown, John McAreavey, Philip Boyce, Martin Drennan and Frs Brendan Byrne, Paddy Rushe, Paddy Jones, Sisters Anne Codd and Marianne O’Connor. Bishop Freeman said that the members of the Bishops’ committee would listen carefully to what the ACP members had to say.
In response, Fr. Brendan Hoban said that the ACP members would speak for a few minutes on different aspects of the new translation of the Missal. He began with a brief summary of the current state of the Church in Ireland with the fall-out from the abuse scandals, the damaged reputations of the bishops, priests and the Catholic Church as a whole. He also spoke about the low morale among clergy at this time. Since the establishment of the APC in September 2010, a number of issues have come to the fore. These include the response to the abuse scandals and concerns that priests have about how cases are being handled by the bishops and also the need for some synod or national process to help revitalise the Irish Catholic Church. The focus of the present meeting would be exclusively on the issue of the new translation of the missal. Brendan made it very clear that the ACP is not opposed to a new translation of the missal. There are many areas where the present text is very deficient, especially in the use of exclusive language. But what is being offered or, in fact, imposed from Rome is not the solution. One of the main criticisms at ACP meetings is the fact that the new translation is being foisted on priests and people with very little consultation. From a pastoral perspective, Brendan believes that the imposition of new texts will do damage to the worshipping fabric of the Catholic Church in Ireland today. Ultimately, it is the priests who will pick up the hostility of many Catholics, especially women, towards the new translation. He also pointed out that it would not be fair to use the text in nursing homes where the vast majority of people are in their 80s and very familiar with the old translations.
Brendan was followed by Fr. Gerard Alwill. He criticised the secrecy which surrounded the whole translation process. Priests or laypeople where not consulted. There was major dissatisfaction with the archaic terms, long convoluted sentences and sexist language. He asked how could priests who were opposed to the translation for a variety of legitimate reasons, encourage their parishioners to accept this text? He felt that in many parishes, the priests and people will pick and mix between the old and the new translation. This will lead to confusion.
PJ Madden spoke about a meeting in Carlow attend by 60 priests from the dioceses of Ossory, Ferns and Kildare and Leighlan. When asked how they felt about the new texts, many said that the texts were not wanted and were unacceptable. There was also a lot of anger among priests about the whole process of translating, especially the lack of consultation. Even at that meeting there was no real effort to take on board the deeply felt concerns of the priests. The presenters were more interested in making a link between forth coming Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012 and the new texts.
Fr. Pádraig McCarthy who spoke next, raised a number of important questions. What does the new translation of the Missal aim to achieve? Can we assess whether, by its own terms, the translation seems likely to achieve those aims? If not, what are the likely effects of premature implementation before dealing with the snags? Finally, is there a way forward? He argued on a number of grounds – length of sentences and years of formal education which would be necessary to fully understand the texts – that the new translation will not achieve the stated goals. In this way the most vulnerable people in society will be most affected by the complexity of the new translation. As a way forward he suggested that the bishops suspend the publication process immediately. As a follow up the new Order of the Mass, in parallel with the current one ought to be sent to every parish immediately. (Padraig himself has produced such a pamphlet and made one available to everyone at the meeting). They should circulate a leaflet highlighting the pros and cons of the new translation. Finally, after discussing the new translation, with priests and parish liturgical groups should make their views known to the bishop and the National Liturgy Centre.
Fr. Dermot Lane made 5 points. He was critical of the fact that pro vobis et pro multis is translated in the new Missal as “for you and for many.” He argued that this does not represent the meaning of the original languages – Aramaic or Greek. The phrase is ambiguous in English. It could be taken to mean that some people are excluded from the salvation brought about by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. “A second example of a misleading translation concerns the Creed which is presently translated as Christ “one in being with the Father”. This is a translation of the Latin “consubstantialem Patri”. The new Missal now transliterates this as “consubstantial with the Father”. The word “consubstantial” is not used in mainstream English and will not be easily understood by people. It should be noted that the original term is in Greek, namely homoiousios which is more properly translated into English as “one in being with the Father”. It is generally agreed among Christologists that “consubstantialem Patri” is a poor translation of the Greek homoiousios. The new Missal ends up adopting a second-rate translation of the original Greek term. Thirdly, Dermot reminded the meeting of the ancient liturgical principle, lex orandi, lex credendi, namely that the way we pray influences/shapes what we believe. Adopting “for many” and “consubstantial with the Father” runs the risk of distorting what we believe theologically. He pointed towards the recently published Directory of Catechesis, Share the Good News, which was an excellent document and very well received. And why? Because there had been a national consultation undertaken in the preparation of the Directory. The question must be asked: why not do the same with the new Missal? This would have many advantages: it would initiate a process of consultation, ensuring a balanced reception of the new Missal; the process of consultation could be turned into a teaching moment of the whole people of God; and it would be doing exactly what the Directory of Catechesis recommends.”
He pointed to the tradition handed down from the Patristic era in the phrase that Lex Orandi reflects Lex Credendi that faith reflects the way we pray. He then suggested that the Bishops follow the consultative procedure which they used for draw up the new National Directory on Catechetics. This involved real consultation with priests, teachers, parish groups and specialists. There was a sense that people were listening and willing to take constructive suggestions on board. The consultative process itself could act a model for a new way of being ‘Church’ in 21st century Ireland where many people are walking away from the Church because they see it as authoritarian and out of touch. The consultative way of being Church is lacking in the process that has produced the new translation of the Missal. Finally, Dermot pointed out that as early as 2003 the Catholic Biblical Association of America was critical of the new translation of the Missal. He also pointed to the resignation letter of Anthony Ruff, the Chair of the music committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) in which he stated that, “I cannot promote the new missal translation with integrity.”
Fr. Sean McDonagh claimed that Liturgiam authenticam fails to incorporate the insights from modern linguistics or anthropology, by claiming that a more literal translation is better than a translation which attempts a “dynamic equivalence”. This means that the translator attempts to capture the full meaning of the text in the target language, rather than opting for a literal translation which often will distort rather than reflect the true meaning of the original text. The translation of pro vobis et pro multis in the new translation is a good example of this tendency. The semantic field of “many” in English is restrictive. It implies that what is being claimed about many does not happen for a few. As Dermot Lane pointed out in Aramaic and Greek its semantic field includes everyone.
Sean said that the document is very Eurocentric and appears to claim in No 51 that the “straightforward, concise and compact manner of expression” (the Latin used in the original text) are somehow found in every language. In fact the opposite is probably closer to the truth as most languages are much more descriptive than the form of Latin used in the original text. Since the future of the Catholic Church is not in Europe or North America but in countries of the Majority World – Asia, Africa and Latin America. As a result it is time that the leadership of the Catholic Church in Rome began to take the empirical reality of other cultures seriously.
Liturgiam authenticam also appears to believe in No 57 that one can somehow or another one strip away a language from the culture in which it is embedded and then force the syntax and semantic fields of another language down on the original culture in a way that people will be able to understand what is being said. Any familiarity with modern anthropological linguistics or works on semantics would once again dispel that illusion even for languages which belong to a particular language family, such as the Indo-European ones. If it is not true for languages which are closely related, it is certainly not true in other language families such as the Malay-Polynesians languages. Sean pointed out that in most Indo-European languages verbs are marked for time – past, present and future. This is so in Malay-Polynesian languages but in many of these languages the verbs are marked for mood and aspect. Once again in this situation a literal translation will distort the meaning of the original language.
Languages evolve, especially in the semantic area of a language. Man is no longer a common noun in contemporary English. The excuse for using sexist language given in No. 30 smacks of the Mad Hatter position in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, that “words mean what mean them to mean.” It states that, “it may be necessary by means of catechesis to ensure that such words (man or men) be understood in the ‘inclusive’ sense just described.”
Before the end of the meeting Brendan Hoban reiterated the position of the ACP and once again called for a suspension of the implementation so that priests and people could be properly consulted. Seamus Freeman assured the representatives of the ACP that he would accurately share their ACP concerns with all the members of the Episcopal Conference and that he would in touch with the ACP as soon as the bishops had come to a decision on the ACP’s request. He also promised to inform the ACP The meeting ended about 5.15 pm.