Article by Angela Hanley on the new Liturgical Texts
Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power
By Angela Hanley
Cardinal Seán Brady, in a homily for St Patrick’s Day 2010, declared that not only is ‘God is calling us to a new beginning, to a time of Patrician energy, reform and renewal,’ but that this renewal will require courage and foresight. Only one year on since he uttered these words, he now has the opportunity to lead such a time of energy and renewal, putting out in the deep in faith, hope and trust.
The challenge to Cardinal Brady, the Irish episcopate and the clergy generally is to refuse to implement the ‘new’ translation of the Roman missal in the Irish Church. Not because of semiotics, technical aspects of translation or inclusive language, though they are all valid reasons; rather, because it is yet another manifestation of the scourge of our Church – the untrammelled abuse of power. Through this abuse of power, the current translation being forced on the faithful is contrary to the spirit and fact of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium and to norms of justice, in how the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was subverted. It is also contrary to ecumenism, to Catholic social teaching on subsidiarity, to sound academic principles, and to canon law.
The spirit and fact of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium
The documents of Vatican II are compromised documents, perhaps understandably so, and have been shown to be vulnerable to an interpretation contrary to the spirit of the Council. So much so that even the ‘spirit of the Council’ has become disputed in recent times. Reading accounts of the debates in the Council one gets a truer sense of what was in the mind of the Council Fathers.
The debate on the liturgy underlined that diversity is not an enemy of unity. As the debates progressed on the use of the vernacular, it became obvious that large numbers of bishops throughout the world understood the necessity of an inculturated liturgy, of which the vernacular was a necessary part. They also understood that unity does not, by definition, mean uniformity. The almost unanimous vote of acceptance of the Constitution leaves no doubt about the Fathers’ conclusions on liturgy. The post-conciliar documents, Sacram Liturgiam (January, 1964), Inter Oecumenici (September, 1964) Ecclesia Pastorum (1975) all confirm the thrust of the Constitution. Furthermore, a special papal commission was set up by Paul VI to oversee its proper implementation. This commission drew up an excellent document on the translation of liturgical documents in January, 1969 called Comme le prevoit, the principles of which are as valid today as they were 42 years ago – a testament to the skill and knowledge of those who drew it up. It makes it very clear that the responsibility of translation is that of local episcopal conferences (n. 2)
The subversion of ICEL
‘One can only assume that this nonsense will be inflicted on us as long as the shepherds of the local Churches put up with it.’ Thus wrote the late Fr John Fitzsimmons in a letter to The Tablet on 26 May, 2001. He was responding to the publication of Liturgiam Authenticam a Vatican document, one of the bitter fruits of which is the current translation of the Roman missal. He perceived this document as ‘the last in long line of ill-informed, heavy-handed and negative measures adopted by the Congregation for Divine Worship’ which ‘is part of a much wider agenda which seeks to centralise everything in Rome, even things that Rome has proved … incompetent to handle’. Fr Fitzsimmons was a biblical scholar who, for 15 years, was in the chair of the advisory committee of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and for 10 of those years a consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW). He spoke with an authority that cannot be ignored.
ICEL was a legitimately constituted body set up in 1963 by the main episcopal conferences in the English-speaking world, including Ireland. A significant number of other conferences who decided the English translation would be beneficial for their pastoral purposes became associate members. It had teams of experts in various disciplines, and its mandate was:
To work out a plan for the translation of liturgical texts and the provision of original texts where required in language which would be correct, dignified, intelligible and suitable for recitation and singing.
ICEL did its job well, but never claimed the first translations of the early 1970s were perfect – just as Comme le prevoit had anticipated. Though they were translated conscientiously under the acceptable norms of translation, and in keeping with the Sacrosanctum Concilium, the pressure of time to serve an immediate need meant that some phrasing lacked a beauty desirable in liturgical texts. By 1982 the revision of the missal had begun. Fifteen years of dedicated work went into the revised translations, during which time relations with the CDW were mostly cordial and effective. That is, until 1998 when the Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez was brought to Rome and put in charge of the CDW. What happened to ICEL under his stewardship can only be described as an evisceration. This is not to use intemperate language, it simply describes the reality. A systematic takeover was set in train, such that if it were to happen in the political sphere, it would be considered akin to a coup d’état.
Unsubstantiated allegations were made against the executive secretary of ICEL, Dr John Page, who had given 20 years of loyal service. In a letter to the then chairman of the Episcopal Board, Bishop Maurice Taylor, in October, 1999, Cardinal Medina accused Dr Page of taking ‘certain liberties’. These unsubstantiated allegations were never specified, and were seen as false by those who worked with Dr Page. Fearing his continued presence would damage ICEL, he felt he had no option but to resign.
The revised translations that were 15 years in the making, because of the care given to them, were rejected out of hand. The CDW implied that many bishops were unhappy with the translations. This was a strange claim. Because ICEL was an episcopal commission there was ample opportunity for bishops to voice any concerns they may have had. As people finished their terms of office and retired, ICEL more and more became an extension of CDW. Matters were complete in 2009 when a ‘well-known celebrant of the Tridentine Rite’ Fr Andrew Wadsworth, was appointed as the executive secretary, the post formerly held by Dr Page.
One of the benefits of liturgical renewal was the increased co-operation with other Christians, and ICEL played a critical role in this. National and international ecumenical groups took the lead from ICEL and formed English-language consultation groups on liturgy. A number of agreed common texts for prayers were appreciated by all concerned. Catholic renewal had a significant impact on Protestant worship. So much so, an ecumenical version of the Roman lectionary was produced. The ecumenical opportunities here were without parallel. The Calvinist, Horace T. Allen states that ‘the Lectionary and the use of the Christian calendar have transformed Protestant worship in the English-speaking world’. A singular benefit of this was the joy it brought to Christian couples who belonged to different ecclesial communities, who were able to share the same Word in both liturgies.
What an opportunity was lost. Cardinal Brady in his homily of St Patrick’s Day adverts to the violence in Northern Ireland: ‘Dealing with the failures of our past, as a country, as a Church, or as an individual is never easy. Our struggle to heal the wounds of decades of violence, injury and painful memory in Northern Ireland are more than ample evidence of this.’ The Cardinal is especially well-placed to understand the corrosive effects of religious hatred in Northern Ireland. Just imagine what healing could take place in true ecumenical encounter – not the superficial ecumenism over cups of tea, but the real ecumenism over the Word.
The norms of Catholic social teaching on subsidiarity
There are several headings under which the translation of the Roman missal might be considered in the social sense, not the least of which is the common good and subsidiarity. The gospel Jesus preached was not in a vacuum but in the bits and pieces of everyday life and Catholic social teaching reflects that. That is why it makes so much sense and is so well regarded.
Liturgical celebration is the celebration of the mystery of our faith. It is the public action articulated not only by the individual person, but the whole community. It is the celebration of the mystery of the presence of the Triune God in our lives. Whether lex orandi, lex credendi is interpreted as the liturgy being the norm of faith or as faith determining the liturgy, a concern for the public good is integral to any liturgical law. ‘The demands of the common good are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights.’
‘The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties. The principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something to offer the community.’ The Church is social before it is anything else if, of course, we base our thinking on gospel values. The principle of subsidiarity can be validly applied to the translation project and nothing of the dogmatic or catechetical value of the missal need be lost.
Sound academic principles
After the evisceration of ICEL, came the CDW’s document Liturgiam Authenticam in 2001. The norms for the subsequent translation of the missal were based on this. If one is to undertake a critical translation such as the missal, significant expertise in liturgy, history and patristics would be, one imagines, an a priori requirement. The authors of Liturgiam Authenticam (LA) seemed to be singularly lacking in this. The dangers of such ignorance was anticipated during the Council, when Bishop Ancel, auxiliary bishop of Lyons, suggested the actions of those who were to undertake the task of liturgical renewal ought to be guided by two principles: they should have deep knowledge of, and feeling for, the liturgy; and an understanding of the ‘local’ psychology. He stated that no adaptation would be worthwhile that did not take these into account. The chant historian Peter Jeffery, who says his personal tastes in liturgical rite ‘are as conservative as one can get without rejecting Vatican II’, gives an in-depth analysis of LA in his exceptional book: Translating Tradition.
This volume is as fine a treatment as one might hope for on any Church document. It is balanced, meticulously argued, thoughtful and beautifully written. His assessment of LA is scathing.
Canons 825, nn. 1-2, 826, nn. 2-3, 838, nn. 1-4 of the revised Code of Canon Law make it very clear that the diocesan bishop and territorial conferences of bishops maintain significant authority with regard to liturgical translations and moderation of the liturgy. Though there is reference to the Apostolic See in terms of being the final arbiter (hardly surprising), canon 838 certainly suggests that this authority of the Apostolic See is very much as oversight and exception, and attuned more to consistency, than an active interference in the competence of the diocesan bishop and territorial conference of bishops. This can be inferred not only from the canon itself, but also from the significant change in the 1917 Code (canon 1257) which had reserved the regulation of the liturgy exclusively to the Apostolic See.
It is interesting to note that in the preparatory of the text of canon 838 for the revised code, Rome was to ‘approve’ (approbare) vernacular translations, and in the final version of the canon this role was modified to ‘recognise, examine, inspect’ (recognoscere) the translation, a more collegial than vertical role. The regulation of the liturgy (of which translation into the vernacular is a vital component) is, therefore, no longer uniquely or exclusively the responsibility of the Apostolic See. The bishops are generally understood to have primary competence in accepting the translations made by their delegated body of experts and scholars.
reclaiming legitimate authority
The bishops of Vatican II took some time to find their collective voice, but when they did, mountains moved. The bishops of the present day have a responsibility to carry on the reform that began in such good faith. Right now, the spotlight is on the bishops of the English-speaking world. The Irish bishops have an opportunity to serve not only the Irish faithful, but Catholics worldwide, if they can find the courage. Unfortunately, it seems to be yet another opportunity that will be squandered, especially when one reads that a spokesman for the Irish Episcopal Conference said the new missal ‘was set in stone.’ There was not a whisper of the ‘wounded healer’ who had learned from his mistakes; nor any mention of his place in the new beginning needed in the Church, in which he could ‘have a part in shaping the future.’
At the recent liturgy of lament and repentance in Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said ‘there is still a long path to journey in honesty’ before the clerical church can truly merit forgiveness over the sexual abuse scandals. Witnessing the naked abuse of power which has lead to this ill-planned, ill-informed translation, it is not unreasonable to claim that ‘there is still a long path to journey in honesty’ before the clerical church will accept the endemic nature of the abuse of power at the core of the Church’s administration. Colluding with the abuse of power is always wrong.
 This commission was later named The Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
 ‘Comme le prevoit: on the translation of liturgical texts for celebrations with a congregation’ <http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CONSLEPR.HTM> Accessed 28.02.2011
 Liturgiam Authenticam: on the use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy. Approved by Pope John Paul II on 20 March, 2001, and came into effect on 25 April, 2001.
 Maurice Taylor. It’s the Eucharist, Thank God (Brandon, Suffolk: Decani Books) p. 40. http://www.decanimusic.co.uk/acatalog/Decani_books.html Bishop Maurice Taylor was the last Chairman of the Episcopal Board, before ICEL’s effective dismantling by CDW. This slim volume gives a comprehensive exposition of the fate of ICEL
 Dr Page is described by Maurice Taylor in his book (see note 4) as ‘an American layman, a wise, learned, hard-working and totally conscientious servant of the Church.’ p. 51.
 The Tablet 31 January, 2010 p.18.
 Horace T. Allen, Jnr., ‘Common lectionary and Protestant hymnody: unity at the table of the Word – liturgical and ecumenical bookends’ in James F. Puglisi, ed. Liturgical Renewal as a Way to Christian Unity (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, a Pueblo book, 2005) p67.
 Cardinal George Pell, Chairman of Vox Clara, was reported as saying that it is more important to have new Catholic translation of the Mass than to have common texts for prayers that English-speaking Christians can use together. (The Tablet, 20 November 2004, p. 33).
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Dublin: Veritas, 2005) p. 80, n. 166
 Ibid. p. 89, n. 198
 The Irish Times, 04 February 2011, p. 3.