Monday, October 26, 2009

Will The USCCB Give It's Stamp Of Approval To The ICEL (Vatican) English Translation of The Mass?

I sometimes despair of any of the silent majority of our bishops ever speaking out. Not today.
Bishop Trautman is one bishop who is speaking out, and he's speaking out on an extremely critical issue--that of the new translation for the Mass in English. It's critical because this is not just a new translation, it also encompasses changing our understanding of the very mission of Jesus. This is an attack on the core message of Vatican II about the nature of salvation. I hope more bishops rally to Bishop Trautman because this fight is worth their careers. That is if the long standing truth of the Church actually means anything to them.

'Slavishly literal' translation of missal criticized
By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service--10/26/09

WASHINGTON -- Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chairman of the U.S. bishops' liturgy committee, sharply criticized what he called the "slavishly literal" translation into English of the new Roman Missal from the original Latin.
He said the "sacred language" used by translators "tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable" and could lead to a "pastoral disaster."
"The vast majority of God's people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like 'ineffable,' 'consubstantial,' 'incarnate,' 'inviolate,' 'oblation,' 'ignominy,' 'precursor,' 'suffused' and 'unvanquished.' The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic," Trautman said.

"The [Second Vatican Council's] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated vernacular language, not sacred language," he added. "Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension? Did Jesus ever use terms or expressions beyond his hearer's understanding?"

Trautman made his remarks in an Oct. 22 lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, as part of the Msgr. Frederick R. McManus Lecture Series. Msgr. McManus, a liturgist, served as a peritus, or expert, during Vatican II.

The Roman Missal has not yet been given final approval for use in the United States. The U.S. bishops were scheduled to vote on four items pertaining to the missal at their November general meeting in Baltimore. It is expected that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments would give its "recognitio," or approval, at some point following the U.S. bishops' vote.

Trautman took note of sentences in the new missal that he said run 66, 70 and 83 words, declaring that they were "unproclaimable" by the speaker and "incomprehensible" to the hearer.
"American Catholics have every right to expect the translation of the new missal to follow the rules for English grammar. The prefaces of the new missal, however, violate English syntax in a most egregious way," Trautman said, citing some examples in his remarks.

"The translators have slavishly transposed a Lain 'qui' clause into English without respecting English sentence word order," he added. The bishop also pointed out subordinate clauses from the missal that are "represented as a sentence," and sentences lacking a subject and predicate.
Trautman also questioned the use of "I believe" in the retranslated version of the Nicene Creed, "even though the original and official Nicene Creed promulgated by the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 said 'we believe' in both the Greek and Latin versions.

"Since this is a creedal prayer recited by the entire assembly in unison, the use of 'we' emphasized the unity of the assembly in praying this together as one body. Changing the plural form of 'we' to 'I' in the Nicene Creed goes against all ecumenical agreements regarding common prayer texts," he said.

The bishop complained about the lack of "pastoral style" in the new translation. The current wording in Eucharistic Prayer 3 asks God to "welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters," which he considered "inspiring, hope-filled, consoling, memorable."
The new translation asks God to "give kind admittance to your kingdom," which Trautman called "a dull lackluster expression which reminds one of a ticket-taker at the door. ... The first text reflects a pleading, passionate heart and the latter text a formality -- cold and insipid." (In spite of the frequent use of polysyllabic hi fallutin' English words, the new translation really does come off more than a little 'insipid', even saccharine--or for the less verbally enlightened, syrupy and sugary.)

Trautman quoted the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which said rites and texts "should radiate a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, free from useless repetition. They should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation."

"Why are these conciliar directives not implemented in the new missal?" he asked. They are "especially" relevant, Trautman added, to "the people of the third millennium: children, teenagers, adults, those with varying degrees of education, and those with English as a second language."

He acknowledged that "there are those who disagree with the way the liturgical reform of Vatican II was interpreted and implemented" and who maintained that "a reform of the reform" was necessary to stem what they saw as "diminishing religiosity [and] declining Mass attendance" tied to the Mass texts.

But while "the Latin text is the official, authoritative text," Trautman said, "the Latin text is not inspired. It is a human text, reflecting a certain mindset, theology and world view."
(This is a most important point. The Latin text does not fall into the realm of revelation, no matter what Latin traditionalist might want us to believe.)

As a consequence, "a major and radical change" and "a major pastoral, catechetical problem erupts" in the new missal during the words of consecration, which say that the blood of Christ "will be poured out for you and for many," instead of "for all," as is currently the practice.

"For whom did Jesus not die?" Trautman asked. "In 1974 the Holy See itself had approved our present words of institution [consecration] as an accurate, orthodox translation of the Latin phrase 'pro multis,'" he added. "It is a doctrine of our Catholic faith that Jesus died on the cross for all people." (This one simple little change completely redefines the saving mission of Jesus. It needs to be rejected, not just challenged.)

Trautman took issue with a 2006 letter to bishops by Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, then head of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which said that "salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one's own willing or participation."
"I respond that Jesus died even for those who reject his grace. He died for all," Trautman said.
"Why do we now have a reversal? The Aramaic and Latin texts have not changed. The scriptural arguments have not changed, but the insistence on literal translation has changed.

Trautman hearkened back to Msgr. McManus, whom he called "an apostle of the liturgical renewal."
"If Msgr. McManus were with us today, he would call us to fidelity to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and encourage us to produce a translation of the missal that is accurate, inspiring, referent, proclaimable, understandable, pastoral in every sense -- a text that raises our minds and hearts to God."


By the time the USCCB convenes in November (16-19) they may find they have a lot on their plates, but none more important than the approval or disapproval of the ICEL translation of the Mass. While the pastoral letter on marriage has already garnered a great deal of attention, and may hopefully have been rejected by voters in Maine, and Benedict's latest initiative will also generate interest, Bishop Trautman is focused on the key issue for American Catholicism going forward. Whose definition of Church matters in American Catholicism? If it's only the Vatican's definition, and the ICEL translation reflects only the Vatican, why bother with a Bishop's conference at all?

The ICEL translation, it's history, and how it was disseminated by the Vatican go right to the heart of the issue of collegiality. If this is rubber stamped, with these explicit changes in core understandings of the mission of Jesus, then the notion that conferences of bishops have any real authority is a freaking joke. They exist for one purpose only and that's to perpetrate the charade that the Vatican actually cares about what someone other than the Vatican--read only certain factions in the Vatican--actually think. Benedict has already proven time and again that he doesn't give a Ratzinger's ass about what anyone else actually thinks. He only cares to listen to those who agree with his vision of Catholicism.

If the USCCB cares about the reality of their own authority, if they really care about American Catholicism, if they really care about the truth of the mission of Jesus, they will reject this translation and join their voices to their brother bishops in South Africa. They won't put their stamp of approval on this Vatican hijacking of the English Mass and it's reinterpretation of Vatican II. If they do rubber stamp this thing through, they will have proven there is no need to waste any more money on USCCB meetings. Leadership via Vatican email will suffice and it's a lot cheaper.


  1. Colleen,
    Excellent article. I'm glad that at least one bishop has spoken out about this impending liturgical disaster.

    I have been involved in foreign languages and linguistics for most of my life. One principle used by those who translate is that an attempt to translate any language into English "literally" as in this case leads to a stilted text which will cause great incomprehension. Most translators want the audience of a text to easily and accurately comprehend the meaning of the text. In this "new" English translation, I believe that form (Latinesque jargon) has triumphed over substance (the basic meaning of the Mass).

    I really believe that this new translation could spell disaster for the Church. If the people of God find the Liturgy incomprehensible, they will abandon it. Is this what B16 really wants? I hope this translation can be stopped before much damage is done.

    God bless you,

  2. Lipstick on a pig just about captures the substance of the new translations. Apparently it didn't go over too well in South Africa. I don't think it will play well here either.

  3. Thank you for a wonderful article. If the bishops pass this incomprehensible text, then they will be promoting incomprehesnion. Maybe that is what those folks in the Vatican and the religous right want. They will get their smaller "orthodox" church. God is still on the side of those who believe, Jesus died for all.

  4. I doubt there is a single editor in the English speaking world of print journalism who would pass on this translation. The English useage is mindboggling, but that's not what gets me. This is not just a retranslation of the English lectionary, this is a trojan horse for the retranslation of Vatican II Christology and communal theology.

    It is another example of the deceitful strong arm tactics this current group in the Vatican will use to eradicate Vatican II theology. I give Trautman a lot of credit. I hope he makes some headway. It was close in the spring, maybe this time he can succeed.

  5. "The vast majority of God's people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like 'ineffable,' 'consubstantial,' 'incarnate,' 'inviolate,' 'oblation,' 'ignominy,' 'precursor,' 'suffused' and 'unvanquished.' The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic," Trautman said.

    I think the Vatican is very confused. If English people cannot understand these words and their meaning, it seems that a lot of time will be spent wasted on figuring out what these words might mean. It seems practically designed to create ignorance. And since the new translations are literal and not inspired words that can only lead to a stifling or strangling of spirituality. It's like the tower of Babel is being rebuilt. People will speak and no one will understand one another. Perhaps another book by Benedict is planned to try to explain it all, and then he'll define everything from his ivory tower and narcissistic narrow minded princely right wing viewpoint. It is chaos and confusion in the Vatican and it seems that is all they have to give to the world. Jesus ain't there in the Vatican.

    It's tragic.

  6. If this is not disastrous enough an article in NCR reports that Bishop Burke will have a lot of say in the appointment of the world wide Episcopacy. The RCC seems to be on an ever increasing pace of self disintegration for thinking Catholics. The only real question is what will eventually emerge. My God, My God, why hath thou forsaken us?

  7. Great picture, Colleen--a good illustration for an incisive argument.

  8. Sacrosanctum Concilium required Latin and permitted vernacular. Regarding the words: religion is hard and requires effort and language that elevates meaning--think Trinity, consubstantial, incarnate, Eucharist. The new words should not be difficult for those "thinking Catholics" always referenced (I think the bishop should probably change his name to Trautperson to be consistent)

  9. Nice to hear from you again Elastico.

    You are technically correct about Sacrosanctum Concilium. I experienced the hybrid combination Mass in the late sixties and early seventies. It was not transcendant. Could be our priest was Polish and garbled both English and Latin.

    My issue is not so much the language, because eventually it too will get boring and repetitive, it's something you actually allude to in your comment. You say: Regarding the words: religion is hard and requires effort and language that elevates meaning"

    Religion may require words, but true Christian spirituality requires effort that leads to acts--Christ like acts of nitty gritty compassion, healing, and love.

    The Mass should reflect this reality, just like the Crucifixion, which was not exalted or transcendant. It was far from it, but it was an act of compassionate love.

    The theology behind this translation sucks in the lack of understanding of what Jesus was about. Save that hi fallutin' stuff for Eucharistic Adoration. The Mass was meant to be tangible and real, not transcendant and illusive.

  10. ""The vast majority of God's people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like 'ineffable,' 'consubstantial,' 'incarnate,' 'inviolate,' 'oblation,' 'ignominy,' 'precursor,' 'suffused' and 'unvanquished.' The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic," Trautman said."

    ## I have to say that this is puzzling - surely people know what "incarnate" means ? I can't see why any any of them should cause problems, with the possible exception of the first two: which are technical terms coined to express in a word what cannot be as briefly expressed in any other way. They were adopted for Christian use because they had the great virtue of being precise; the second, was adopted at Nicea in 325, because it said exactly what the Council Fathers intended, without being open to an Arian interpretation.

    Why should Christian worship do without words that say what needs to be said ? Other groups have their technical terms - there are plenty of terms in computing to be learnt if one wants to use a PC ! - so is it too much for Christians to worship God in fitting language; inadequate as that must always be ?

    Part of the difficulty seems to be cultural - the kind of English criticised belongs (some of it) to the "high style" of English once thought proper for certain uses. The language of worship is an example of such a use, poetic diction is another. The high style is set apart from colloquial usage as an expression of a sacral, rather than a secular, culture: Protestant Evangelical Fundamentalism is a "secular" form of Christianity, whereas Orthodoxy & Catholicism have historically been "sacral" Christianities.

  11. The standard of American education is conspicuously low and contributes significantly to the provincialism of mind which is a notable transatlantic characteristic. The only foreign word known to you, Colleen, Butterfly and the majority of your readers is probably Kumbaya. If the new translations improve American-English they will have achieved a great deal and might even lead to increased sales of English dictionaries.

    As for Fran (Butterfly) O'Connor Shultz's comment, there is nothing inspired in the present ICEL translations and no springboard for Catholic spirituality beyond the inherent sacredness of the Mass, in which I doubt you believe. Kumbaya, Colleen and Butterfly, Kumbaya.

  12. Lorna, perhaps you don't know the history of the song Kumbaya. From your comment it seems you don't. You should look it up. You might find it edifying.

    Rat-biter, you make a good point about the differences between a secular and sacral language. I have to think about this one. Sometimes verbal shorthand can be counterproductive. Sometimes taking the time to actually explain something rather than give it a name is far better communication.

    A specialised shorthand is great amongst professionals, not so great when used with lay persons. I suspect that's why Jesus taught through stories and parables rather than Temple shorthand. He didn't want a specialized language to be a barrier to what He was trying to convey. I guess some people would call that provincialism.

  13. This is really a mixed bag, so I'd encourage readers to have an open mind about it. The Mass is, in many ways, a dialog between God and us. So communcation--the ablity of people to understand and reply within the Mass--is indeed important. The words of the Mass, as many of you have indicated, should flow. Cumbersome wording is, therefore, bad. And there is doubtless some cumbersome wording here.
    The flip side of this whole debate is that the words of the Mass should definitively state Catholic beliefs--especially since so many Catholics can't explain those beliefs to themselves these days, let alone to other people. I'm going to cut a paste a comment from Archbishop Lipscomb from an exchange at a USCCB meeting a few years back. He's discussing the words "one in being with the Father" from the Creed--this is the line that would be replaced with "consubstantial with the Father." The reason this change is being made is to make a definitive statment of a core Catholic belief (even though consubstantial is clearly a cumbersome $20 word). That Catholic belief is that Jesus and the Father are "of the same substance." Being is a much more nebulous word. It's not concrete. Substance is, well, substantive. This is important because belief in the incarnation goes to the very core of Catholicism--and we believe that God became a person, flesh and blood: substance, not just being. God became one of us and shared our "physical" infirmities.
    So, try to keep an open mind about the new translation. There are definitely both pros and cons to these changes. Anyway, here's Lipscomb speaking:
    Archbishop Lipscomb (Mobile, member Vox Clara): First my thanks to the committee. I don’t know of any liturgical committee of conferences that have worked so intensely for so happy a result. But I too rise to support Archbishop Hughes’s concerns about the word “consubstantial”. “Being” is subject to an easy understanding, but it seems to me it is also a possibility for there being some misunderstanding.

    We talked this morning — at least it was mentioned this morning — all these changes should require a certain amount of catechesis, of explanation, and of giving an opportunity for the people who are going to listen to them, to use them, to grow in faith, not simply to remain where they are.

    There is a terrible kind of bias against philosophy, against precision and against exactitude in speaking the truth in today’s world.

    “Substance” is itself a word that cannot find an acceptable definition in annals of philosophy and sometimes in our own conversation. It was a very precise word used by the Church for a long time to define what exactly happens in the Divine Essence with respect to three Persons. It is used in a way that many people object to with regard to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For us to miss the chance to challenge to a greater growth and a deeper sense of understanding simply because our people cannot take this, it seems to me, is to sell those individuals short who might have a distinct understanding of this given the chance. I too feel that “consubstantial” ought to remain in the document.

  14. Matt, in my own mind you have raised an important point about the word consubstantial.

    Explained in the way you have quoted, it does open up the meaning by extending substantial humanity to the Father through Jesus. I have to admit, my own reflexive surface understanding of the Trinity tends to go in one direction. Father to Son to Holy Spirit. This explanation allows for a two way street.

    Two points for you! :)

  15. For a truly scathing commentary on same, see Joseph O'Leary at his best -----

    November 2, 2009

    Oddities of the New Translations of the Missal

    Jim McCrea

  16. Jim, I read Joseph's take a couple days ago and laughed and laughed. He is scathingly good in that snarky Irish way of his--and it doesn't take away from any of his points.

  17. The Roman Missal in it's Latin form (as well as the other missals; say, in Greek, Syriac, Arabic, etc.) are considered infallible and inspired documents on the level of Sacred Scripture. The reason why they are considered rock as such is due to the nature of the composition of the Church as it moves as a whole throughout the course of Salvation History. The bishop as quoted here is egregiously wrong.

    Even a cursory glance at the Catechism informs us of the very nature of the missals and councils. The extant Roman Missal is over 1500 years old.

    There is also a secondary issue at play. The chief concern was that at the time of translation. There was not a single Latin scholar on the ICEL in 1973. The contemporary ICEL is addressing the issue of having erred in some regards; not that the 1973 translation was incorrect, but in that it was often ambiguious and lent itself to errant interpretation. Inasmuch as a missal is liturgical it is both fully legal and prayerful in its very nature.