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Online Edition - Vol. VII, No. 4: June 2001

A "New Era" in the Renewal of the Liturgy

Holy See issues Fifth Instruction to implement Vatican II's liturgical reform

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy) On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy , is only the fifth Instruction on the implementation of the Second Vatican Council's liturgical reform in the nearly 40 years since the Council and one with far-reaching implications for Catholic worship.

The high-level document, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, was expressly approved by Pope John Paul II and became effective April 25, 2001. It appeared on the Vatican web site the same afternoon.

In process for about three years, Liturgiam Authenticam appeared in time to provide translation norms for the new third "typical edition" of the Roman Missal, the Latin version of which is expected to be released soon. It also arrives near the end of a massive project of re-translation and revision of the major liturgical books used by the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries that began more than 10 years ago.

In the light of this authoritative new document that "seeks to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal", further amendment of revised books already submitted to the Holy See and still awaiting approval will apparently be required. The Instruction calls for correcting existing vernacular translations:

The omissions or errors which affect certain existing vernacular translations ... have impeded the progress of the inculturation that actually should have taken place. In fact, it seems necessary to consider anew the true notion of liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular languages may stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God (§7).

The Instruction's five chapters cover 1) choice of vernacular languages for liturgical use; 2) principles of translation (including norms for Scripture translations for Lectionaries and sung texts); 3) procedures for preparing translations and establishment of commissions (e.g., "mixed" commissions, like the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL], which produced most English-language liturgical texts now in use); 4) detailed publication procedures; and 5) the translation of "proper" texts for feasts and observances special to some territories and religious orders.

The new Instruction provides concrete rules for "preparing all translations of the liturgical books". It explicitly replaces all other norms that have been used for this purpose except the Fourth Instruction, Varietates Legitimae (on inculturation), issued in 1994. However, Liturgiam Authenticam incorporates much of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's 1997 interim "Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy", and goes even further in one particular:

The term 'fathers', found in many biblical passages and liturgical texts of ecclesiastical composition, is to be rendered by the corresponding masculine word into vernacular languages insofar as it may be seen to refer to the Patriarchs or the kings of the chosen people in the Old Testament, or to the Fathers of the Church (§31).

No "Inclusivisms"

Liturgiam Authenticam emphasizes that liturgical translation must be "exact in wording and free from all ideological influence". Translation is not to be "creative innovation"; its fundamental purpose is to render "the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language ... without paraphrases or glosses". The words of Sacred Scripture and the liturgical texts, the Instruction says, "are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space".

That is, the translation must not be time-bound or limited by any political, ideological or theological theories of the translators. Although the document never directly mentions so-called "inclusive language" a feminist-driven attempt to neuter English that has plagued virtually every other Christian ecclesial body in the English-speaking world and has affected almost all Scripture and liturgical translations since the mid-1970s, there is no ambiguity about the matter in the new Instruction:

When the original text, for example, employs a single term in expressing the interplay between the individual and the universality and unity of the human family or community (such as the Hebrew word 'adam, the Greek anthropos, or the Latin homo), this property of the language of the original text should be maintained in the translation (§30).

In other words, standard English generics, "man", and "mankind", are to be retained in English liturgical translations.

This is a marked contrast to the US bishops' 1990 Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use, which had proposed "person", "people", or "human family" be used in translating these same words.

Sacral vocabulary restored

Liturgiam Authenticam, however, never mentions these inclusivist Criteria, nor a 1969 statement on translation by the Consilium (the commission that coordinated liturgical changes in the years immediately following the Council).

Known by its French title, Comme le prévoit ("as foreseen"), this set of translation principles promoted replacing words and concepts of the original text with vernacular terms deemed more "relevant", it rejected customary sacral language, it advocated "adaptations" and altering metaphors to appeal to the taste of the times. For example, it asserted,

Many of the phrases of approach to the Almighty were originally adapted from forms of address to the sovereign in the courts of Byzantium and Rome. It is necessary to study how far an attempt should be made to offer equivalents in modern English for such words as "quaesumus," "dignare," "clementissime," "maiestas," and the like (§13 (d). ["we beseech", "to be considered worthy", "most merciful", "majesty"]

According to Comme le prévoit,

It is not sufficient that a formula handed down from some other time or region be translated verbatim, even if accurately, for liturgical use. The formula translated must become the genuine prayer of the congregation and in it each of its members should be able to find and express himself or herself. (§20c).

By contrast, the new Instruction sees great importance in a specifically sacral vocabulary:

While the translation must transmit the perennial treasury of orations by means of language understandable in the cultural context for which it is intended, it should also be guided by the conviction that liturgical prayer not only is formed by the genius of a culture, but itself contributes to the development of that culture. Consequently it should cause no surprise that such language differs somewhat from ordinary speech. Liturgical translation ... will facilitate the development of a sacral vernacular, characterized by a vocabulary, syntax and grammar that are proper to divine worship... (§47)

Since the liturgical books of the Roman Rite contain many fundamental words of the theological and spiritual tradition of the Roman Church, every effort must be made to preserve this system of vocabulary rather than substituting other words... (§50) [A] deficiency in translating the varying forms of addressing God, such as Domine, Deus, Omnipotens aeterne Deus, Pater, and so forth, as well as the various words expressing supplication, may render the translation monotonous and obscure the rich and beautiful way in which the relationship between the faithful and God is expressed in the Latin text. (§51)

This focus on fidelity first and foremost in Liturgiam Authenticam, even in cases where unfamiliar terms and "ambiguities" may need explanation, is a very sharp departure from the prevailing theories of liturgical translators in recent decades and from earlier translation guidelines in use. However, it recognizes the principle enunciated in the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy and elsewhere that liturgical change should be "organic" should develop gradually while retaining the integrity of the Church's history and heritage, rather than be forced to conform to the "spirit of the age".

Role of Holy See in translation strengthened

Another significant departure in the Instruction from practices in recent decades is that all liturgical texts and all changes proposed must be approved by the Holy See (i.e., the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) before they may be published or used.

This assures "the authenticity of the translation and its correspondence with the original texts", the Instruction says, and explains further:

This practice both expresses and effects a bond of communion between the successor of blessed Peter and his brothers in the Episcopate. Furthermore, this recognitio is not a mere formality, but is rather an exercise of the power of governance, which is absolutely necessary (in the absence of which the act of the Conference of Bishops in no way attains legal force); and modifications even substantial ones may be introduced by means of it. For this reason it is not permissible to publish, for the use of celebrants or for the general public, any liturgical texts that have been translated or recently composed, as long as the recognitio is lacking. (§80)

Even the translators employed by the "mixed commissions" are to be approved by the CDW (§102). The rationale for this is given:

It is necessary to uphold the principle according to which each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only as regards the doctrine of the Faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards those practices universally received through Apostolic and continuous tradition. For these reasons, the required recognitio of the Apostolic See is intended to ensure that the translations themselves, as well as any variations introduced into them, will not harm the unity of God's people, but will serve it instead (§80).

There will be no more "original texts" composed by translators.

The 'mixed' commissions are to limit themselves to the translation of the editiones typicae, leaving aside all theoretical questions not directly related to this work, and not involving themselves either in relations with other "mixed" commissions or in the composition of original texts. (98)

"I believe ..."

Among the changes that most Catholics may notice first is the Instruction's explicit requirement that the Creed, Credo ("I believe") be translated accurately (§ 65, 74). For thirty years, English-speaking Catholics have said "we believe". The Instruction explains:

"The Creed is to be translated according to the precise wording that the tradition of the Latin Church has bestowed upon it, including the use of the first person singular, by which is clearly made manifest that `the confession of faith is handed down in the Creed, as it were, as coming from the person of the whole Church, united by means of the Faith.'"

"And with your spirit" also returns (the current English translation renders et cum spiritu tuo,"And also with you"), and the phrase mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa ("through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault"), currently translated "through my own fault", is to be restored (§56, 65):

"Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become part of the general human patrimony, are to be respected by a translation that is as literal as possible, as for example the words of the people's response Et cum spiritu tuo, or the expression mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in the Act of Penance of the Order of Mass."

But "Yahweh" will disappear:

"In accordance with immemorial tradition, which indeed is already evident in the above-mentioned "Septuagint" version, the name of almighty God expressed by the Hebrew tetragrammaton (YHWH) and rendered in Latin by the word Dominus, is to be rendered into any given vernacular by a word equivalent in meaning" (§41c).

The Instruction also states that texts "which the faithful will have committed to memory" should not be changed notably "without real necessity" and when changes are necessary, they should be made "at one time" and be explained to people (§64, 74).

Sung texts

The Instruction includes brief but important paragraphs on music. Liturgical texts that are sung are to be faithful first of all to the text: "paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place" (§60).

This implies that the practices of substituting refrains from songs for the prescribed Memorial Acclamations or supplanting sung texts like the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God") with new phrases will have to cease.

"A New Period Begins"

The document concludes with directions to national bishops' conferences:

[F]rom the day on which this Instruction is published, a new period begins for the making of emendations or for undertaking anew the consideration of the introduction of vernacular languages or idioms into liturgical use, as well as for revising translations heretofore made into vernacular languages (§131).

An "integral plan" for revising the vernacular translations of liturgical books translated are to be submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship "within five years from the date of publication of this Instruction" by the Presidents of the Conferences of Bishops and the heads of religious houses.

The norms of this Instruction "attain full force for the emendation of previous translations, and any further delay in making such emendations is to be avoided".

Editor's Note: This story was sent to news media on May 7, and appeared that day on the Adoremus web site.

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