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Address of Bishop Arthur Serratelli to the 2008 National Meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions
On October 13, 2008, Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, addressed the 2008 National Meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. His speech is presented in full below, and is excerpted on pages 37-39 of the October 2008 Newsletter:
In May 2002, the publication of the Missale Romanum marked an historic moment in the life of the Church in our day. It gave an impetus to the great liturgical renewal set in motion when Vatican II issued Sacrosanctum Concilium as its first document. With Vatican II, there “began… the great work of renewal of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite. [This]… work… included their translation into vernacular languages, with the purpose of bringing about in the most diligent way that renewal of the sacred Liturgy…” (Liturgiam authenticam, nos. 1-2).
In the enthusiasm of the aggiornmento, translators set to work to produce translations that expressed the Latin missal in modes of expression appropriate to the vernacular languages. From 1969 until 2001, the instruction Comme le prévoit granted translators wide latitude in translations for the liturgy. Rather quickly in the English-speaking world, translators adopted dynamic equivalency as their approach to the texts. Simply stated, dynamic equivalency translates the concepts and ideas of a text, but not necessarily the literal words or expressions.
In light of the experience of almost forty years, the Church has revisited the question of how to best translate the texts of Sacred Scripture and the Liturgy. Many people had noticed the deficiency of dynamic equivalency. In 2001, the Holy See issued the instruction Liturgiam authenticam to guide translations both of the Scriptures and of liturgical texts.
The new instruction did not deny the necessity of making the text accessible to the listener. But, it does refocus the attention of translators on the principle of unearthing the theological richness of the original texts. This needed balance keeps us from suffering an impoverishment of language in terms of our biblical and liturgical tradition.
Liturgiam authenticam espouses the theory of formal equivalency. Not just concepts, but words and expression are to be translated faithfully. This approach respects the wealth contained in the original text. In fact, the new instruction has as its stated purpose something wider than translation. It “envisions and seeks to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal, which is consonant with the qualities and the traditions of the particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God” (Liturgiam authenticam, no. 7).
From the very beginning, the translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal has followed the principles given in Liturgiam authenticam. To appreciate the final text, it is extremely enlightening to understand the careful process that has been used in the work of translation. I would like to briefly share this process with you.
After the publication of the new Missal, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy worked with scholars to produce a base translation of the texts of the Missal. No less than nine review teams were then asked to look at these base translations and comment on their fidelity to the Latin as well as their suitability for public worship. Working from these comments, a new version of the base text was prepared. It was called the Proposed Text.
Early in 2002, the Roman Missal Editorial Committee was formed. Its members worked with the Proposed Text. They made adjustments in terms of style, syntax, vocabulary and proclaimablity. Their work produced a new version. Thus, when the commissioners of ICEL met, the members had before them the Latin text, the base text, the proposed text and the Roman Missal Editorial Committee’s text.
The bishops of ICEL examined each text according to the same principles of theological accuracy and proclaimablity. Throughout their work, the commissioners of ICEL kept in mind the goal of producing a text that would be accessible to the different language groups within the English-speaking world.
Many people speak English, but not all the same. Our accents differ across the English-speaking world. So do our expressions and vocabulary. British athletes play in a team; American athletes play on a team. We say gas; others say petrol. We take an elevator; other English-speakers take a lift. What we call a stroller, they call a pram. Even in one particular country, words are used differently. In New Jersey and New York, we call our dad pop; in Kansas, they call soda pop.
Furthermore, words, like people’s dress, change from one generation to the next and from one group to another in the same society. What one individual calls a “swamp,” another more ecologically conscious individual calls “wetlands.” Today, politically correct as well as linguistically conscious individuals carefully circumvent the word “man” not to offend women. Past generations pronounced the word with never the slightest intention of excluding women. But times have changed.
Translating a Latin text into English for all English-speaking countries, therefore, requires the expertise of many people. The eleven bishops on the International Committee on English in the Liturgy work with scholars from different English-speaking countries to produce a final text. All involved in the work of translation realize that, in addition to expertise in translating, there is also needed the art of comprise that comes from humility.
Once ICEL agreed on a text, it was sent to the individual national conferences as a “Green Book.” So, there was a Green Book for the Order of Mass, one for the Proper of Seasons, one for Ritual Masses. Each national conference of bishops used its own process of consultation. Bishops had the opportunity to consult with clergy, laypeople and religious.
Then, the bishops forwarded their individual consultation and personal work to the national conference’s Committee on Divine Worship. This committee collated the results, presented them to all the bishops who then made them their own and forwarded the results to ICEL. Once again ICEL attentively examined each of these comments and incorporated the insights into the production of the final text that is the “Gray Book.”
By October 2008, 13 Gray Books have been prepared and are in the process of final approval by each national conference. Once a national conference of bishops approves a Gray Book, it is forwarded to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Congregation has the responsibility of approving the text in the form in which it is to be used.
The Congregation works collaboratively both with ICEL and with the national conferences of bishops. It is aided in its work by Vox Clara. This commission includes bishops from eight English-speaking countries. When texts are presented to the Congregation for approval, Vox Clara advises the Congregation with input from English-speaking experts.
I mentioned in detail this long, careful, scholarly, and I must add, pastoral process for a reason. The production of the final liturgical text is a work of immense importance. It deserves and receives all the attention it is given. It is not left to the competence or preference of a few, because it is the expression of the Faith of the whole Church. Individuals will inevitably differ in their judgment on the quality of particular translations. Yet, there is no dissent on the vital importance that proper texts have in the Church’s life.
Furthermore, preparing an English version of the third edition of the Missal has not been simply a matter of translation. Rather, during these years of preparing the new texts, as scholars and pastors debate the value of particular words and styles, the awaiting of a new translation of the Roman Missal has become a moment to enter into a fresh appreciation of the Roman Rite. This is a good occasion to understand more deeply its particular style and language of prayer.
Liturgical language is important for the life of the Church. Lex orandi, lex credendi. In liturgy, the words addressed to God and the words spoken to the people voice the Faith of the Church. They are not simply the expressions of one individual in one particular place at one time in history. The words used in liturgy also pass on the faith of the Church from one generation to the next. For this reason, the bishops take seriously their responsibility to provide for the faithful the translations of liturgical texts that are accurate and inspiring. Hence, the sometimes passionate discussion of words, phrases and syntax.
The liturgy is the source of the divine life given through the Church as the sacrament of salvation. As Pope Paul VI once said, it is also “the first school of the spiritual life, the first gift which we can give to the Christian people who believe and pray with us” (Address at the Closing of the Second Session of the Council, December 4, 1963). Wisely, therefore, the Church does not leave the words used in liturgy to the theology or pastoral sensitivity of any individual celebrant. The words used in the prayers of the liturgy cannot be casual or improvised. They are freighted with too much meaning and tradition.
Let me now briefly comment on seven characteristics of the Latin prayers in the Roman Missal.
First of all, Latin orations, especially the Post-Communion orations, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. The new translations in English follow the sequence of these Latin prayers in order to end on a strong note. One example from Tuesday of the First Week of Lent:
Grant us through these mysteries, Lord,
that by tempering earthly desires
we may learn to love the things of heaven.
In colloquial speech we would probably say, “we may learn to love the things of heaven by tempering earthly desires.” Yet the order is reversed. The result: there is now a strong teleological emphasis on the things of heaven.
This use of inversion is a characteristic of the Latin Missal. In the Proper of Seasons, eighteen of the Prayers after Communion (14%) use inversions. The result is powerful. When prayed, the prayer does not simply dribble off into insignificance. It retains the distinctive theological emphases of the Latin text. In fact, the slightly non-colloquial word order leads the listener to a greater attentiveness to the point of the prayer.
The new translation keeps a second characteristic of the Roman Missal. In the new translation, there is a deliberate attempt to pass on the biblical references imbedded in the Roman Rite. For example, in the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, we pray:
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that your faithful may resolve
to run forth with righteous deeds,
to meet your Christ who is coming,
so that gathered at his right hand
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
In the Latin prayer, we find the word occurrentes, “running to meet.” Yet, our current text says nothing about running. It was lost in the translation.
However, in the newly translated prayer, we now pray for the resolve to run forth with righteous deeds, to meet your Christ who is coming. Running a race: the image is Pauline. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Paul says: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” Again in Galatians 2:2; 5:7 and Romans 9:16, Paul uses the same image. With the image of the race, Paul reminds us that the Christian life requires discipline and personal effort. Hence, the new translation retains the image is more biblical.
Some prayers do more than weave biblical images into our liturgical prayer. Some prayers place on our lips the very words of the biblical texts themselves. A few examples will suffice. In Eucharistic Prayer III, we will no longer say: “From east to west, a perfect offering is made to the glory of your name.” Instead we pray the words of Malachi 1:11: “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Nothing is lost in meaning. A sense of poetry is gained. In the Communion Rite, we now repeat the words of the humble and compassionate centurion of Matthew 8:8: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word…”
Formal equivalency as a method of translation works. Unearthing the biblical allusions, images and words helps us to make the words of Scripture our own. The Word that God speaks to us in Revelation, we speak to him in prayer.
Thirdly, the new translations are careful to keep the allusions from patristic writings. In the Post-Communion prayer for August 28, the memorial of St. Augustine, we pray:
May the partaking of the table of Christ
sanctify us, we pray, O Lord,
that, being made his members,
we may be what we have received.
Our words asking God that we may be what we receive play on St. Augustine’s dictum: “If you have received worthily, you are what you have received” (Sermo 227; cf. 272).
Fourth, the new translation respects the rich vocabulary of the Roman Rite. The Post-Communion prayers employ a variety of words such as nourished, fed, recreated, and made new. The Collects use words such as: we pray, we beseech, we ask. The many different words of the Latin text are not monotonously translated with the same words. Thus, by being faithful to the Latin text, the new translations enrich the use of our liturgical language in English.
Fifth, the Latin text is cast in concrete images. The Latin uses anthropomorphic expressions that add a certain poetry to the prayers. And so, while it is perfectly good English to say: in your pity hear our prayers, the translation respects the poetry of the text and, in the blessing of ashes, says: in your pity give ear to our prayers.
Sixth, within the new translation, there is a concern for an exactness of vocabulary. The catechetical, formative aspect of public prayer is thus safeguarded.
Seventh, the Latin prayers are concise and noble in tone. When we frame our formal prayers in liturgy, the language of the street is not appropriate. The vocabulary of the person in the supermarket, in the gym or around the kitchen table should not be the standard for liturgical language.
There is a difference between the language of public discourse used in a presidential address and the language we use in everyday conversation. It is the difference between our active vocabulary and our passive vocabulary. There are many words that we may not use every day, words such as ignominy, penitence, and oblation. Yet these words belong to our passive vocabulary. We can understand them. Rightly do the translations respect the difference and consistently maintain a noble style of speech befitting the Divine Liturgy.
In his June 23, 2008 letter granting the recognitio of Ordo Missae I, Cardinal Arinze made an extremely important point about the present moment in terms of the new texts and their use in the liturgy. He said, “The granting now of the recognitio to this crucial section of the Roman Missal will provide time for pastoral preparation for the priests, deacons, and for the appropriate catechesis of the lay faithful.” Since this new phase of liturgical renewal is not simply about changing words, but changing hearts, there is a need for proper catechesis before the new texts are put into use. The goal is “full, active, conscious participation in the liturgy.”
Therefore, on at least five fronts, work is already being done to make available material that will facilitate this proper catechesis. First, the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship has posted some initial material on its website to help in catechesis. Second, the Conference itself is forming a joint committee to make available needed materials. Third, an international group called the “Leeds Group” is working to provide material that then can be adapted and used by each national conference. Fourth, the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions is working together with its members to provide materials especially helpful to diocesan liturgy directors and heads of offices. (I cannot emphasize enough how important this work is and how needed and appreciated.) Fifth, musicians and translators have also been working together since the Ordo Missae I received the recognitio. ICEL has had two consultations, one in Washington and one in Chicago with a very talented, international group.
Much work has been done. Much work still will be done with the texts that we will soon be using in liturgy. All this work is necessary to help priests, deacons, religious and laity to appreciate and cherish the new Missal. The process that has guided this work continues to involve scholars, laity and clergy, on an international and national level. This is just what one would want so that our new translations open to us the richness of the Roman Missal and serve as an authentic expression of the faith of the Church at prayer.
With its September meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, ICEL completed its work of offering a translation of the Missal for the English-speaking world. In the United States, bishops have yet to approve eleven Gray Books and forward them to the Holy See. As we await the final modifications and amendments that will come, at this point, we should recall a number of facts.
First, the new texts will be used in many different English-speaking countries. Therefore, the language will not bear the cultural stamp or preference of one particular country. This calls for certain openness on the part of all of us.
Second, since we use the language of the liturgy to address God, it should be intelligible. This does not, however, mean every word has to be part of the active vocabulary of everyone.
Third, in liturgy, we should use a noble language that lifts us up as well as honors God. From the earliest Latin texts from the 4th Century, the style of the language used in prayer differed from street language. In the new translations, the noble, heightened style of prayer at Liturgy is certainly a gain for all.
Fourth, when we receive the new Roman Missal for the English-speaking world, we will have a work that has aimed at an exact, though not slavishly literal translation.
Fifth, the new Missal will provide prayers that are theologically accurate in expression and “free from all ideological influence” in choice of words so that “the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language” (Liturgiam authenticam, no. 3).
Sixth, the new Missal will come as the result of years of growth and understanding. It will improve our liturgical prayer, but it will not be perfect. Perfection will come when the Liturgy on earth gives way to that of Heaven where all the saints praise God with one voice.
Seventh, when put in use, the common English text for all English-speaking countries will reaffirm in a tangible manner the breadth of our Catholic identity.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that this is a moment of organic growth within the liturgical renewal of the Church. As Pope John Paul II said on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: “The time has come to renew that spirit which inspired the Church at the moment when the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium was… promulgated,… The seed was sown;… the seed has sprouted…” In a word, the acceptance of the new Missal is “a moment to sink our roots deeper into the soil of tradition handed on in the Roman Rite” (Vicesimus Quintus Annus, no. 23).