I've been fascinated with the liturgy wars over the English language version of the Mass since the late 90's. My interest was never so much in how the new English version was worded, but in the people and faces whose clout transformed ICEL from a representational group from various English Bishops conferences to nothing more than Vatican rubber stampers. The politics behind the scenes have been intriguing to say the least.
The following is an excerpt from John Allen's recent comment on the appointment of Dominican theologian Augustine Di Noia, an American, as Secretary for the Congregation For Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, commonly known as the CDW. The CDW is the Vatican agency which is over seeing ICEL and the implementation of the new translation.
"During the 1990s, the Congregation for Divine Worship played a key role in a string of high-profile battles over liturgical policy, generally pushing bishops’ conferences around the world to adopt a more traditional, Roman-centered approach to liturgical translation and celebration. That effort forms part of a broader concern for revitalizing a strong sense of Catholic identity, which Benedict XVI and his advisors have identified as the top priority of this pontificate. (By 2001 this wasn't a Vatican push, this was a Vatican demand and for all practical purposes the respective English conferences had lost any meaningful input.)
The “liturgy wars,” as they came to be known, were especially intense in English-language zones, in part because of the broad influence of the English language around the world, including swaths of Asia and Africa. (It also had an awful lot to do with the fact English speaking conferences represent democratic societies with all their notions of liberty and equality.)
Among other things, the push on liturgy has resulted in a new translation of the Roman Missal, the main collection of prayers for the Catholic Mass. Having already approved several components of the Missal, the bishops will vote on several others in San Antonio and a few remaining items later this fall. Final Vatican approval of the entire Missal is anticipated in 2010.
The new Missal has long been controversial for what some see as its preference for archaic and unfamiliar language. Virtually every expert agrees that when it eventually appears, there will be a need for considerable education among both priests and people in the pews about how the text ought to be understood and applied, including the theological logic for the choices made. (It's probably not going to come as a shock that in some cases theologians consider some translations pretty close to heresy. The over all emphasis is one of personal devotion and not communal celebration.)
John Allen posted the above before the just concluded San Antonio meeting. This later post records some of what happened when aspects of the new translation were to be voted on. As happened last year, the bishops could not come to a majority and the issue will be decided by mail-in votes from the bishops who could not attend in person. It's pretty obvious these English translations are still a divisive issue amongst American bishops, and they are hardly the only English speaking conference for which this is true.
Back in November the new Mass translation was inadvertently put in play in South African parishes and the response was very negative from both pastors and people. Like my own objections, it wasn't so much about clumsy archaic English, but the imposition of a liturgical view loved by older conservatives in Rome but not shared by the entire church:
In a recent editorial, The Southern Cross said that since the changes were introduced in late 2008 the newspaper had received "a flood of letters."
"The anger of the people in the pews and many priests (and some bishops) seems to be rooted not so much in what they feel are anachronistic and clumsy translations - vexing though they appear to be to many - but in what they see as an arbitrary imposition of liturgical values that are foreign to them by faceless bureaucrats in distant Rome," the editorial said.
In a January 18 letter to The Southern Cross, Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg said his first reaction to the new texts "was that it was a purely arbitrary decision to demand that the English text had to faithfully represent the Latin in the first place, that many of the changes made no sense, and that some of the formulations were simply bad English."
"In view of fully conveying what actually happened, it must be understood that this new translation was imposed on us by the Vatican and the group with which it worked at that level," Bishop Dowling said."
Bishop Dowling is giving first vent to what will probably be the reaction of many US bishops. "We didn't ask for this. It was jammed down our throats, and now we have to jam it down your throats."At least it will be an honest sentiment.
If you are interested in some of the history and an analysis (liberal) of some of the changes check out this link. What you will notice is that all the major community prayers have gone back to being I, me, my, statements. At the consecration of the wine you will also notice that Jesus no longer died for the sake of all people, just many people. Which I suppose will be taken by some to mean Jesus didn't die for divorced people, gay people, pro choice people, Jewish people, protestants, Muslims, Buddhist's, Hindus, or any other group who isn't a card carrying Catholic.
And that of course is the whole point of this exercise in language and thought control--shoring up Catholic identity at the expense of global communion and inter faith ecumenism. The ironic thing is if the intent was to be true to the original words of Jesus the translation should have been from Aramaic to English. Instead we are getting a translation faithful to the Latin used at the Council of Trent. Maybe that's because so many of our conservative leaders still like the vestments from that particular period. ( Talk about the excesses of me, myself, and I. wow.)