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Online Edition - Vol. 5, No. 1: March 1999

Forum Finally Held - But Process Far from Finished

Archbishop Elden Curtiss wrote the essay "Translation Matters" following the "Forum on Translation" held immediately after the NCCB's November 1998 meeting. (The complete text was furnished to AB by the archbishop's office.)

The Omaha archbishop was one of eighteen bishops who attended the Forum to hear addresses by Father Gilbert Ostdiek, OFM, Father Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, Brother Stanislaus Campbell, FSC, and Mr. Dennis McManus. (See AB October 1998, p 1.)

The Forum on Translation was initially proposed by Dennis McManus in June 1994 at the bishops' "study day on translation", just after the Vatican's English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church appeared after a two-year delay. Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, current chairman of the BCL, headed the Forum planning committee. (In August 1998 Mr. McManus became associate director of the BCL secretariat.)

The original purpose of the Forum was to devise acceptable principles of translation of liturgical texts. Questions had been raised about the "inclusive language" principles of translation the bishops had approved in 1990 -- just before they began to concentrate on the massive re-translation of the entire Roman Missal: the Lectionary and the Sacramentary.

The Forum, first scheduled for June 1997, was postponed. Last August the bishops learned that the long-delayed Forum would take place after their November meeting. However, rather than creating new translation principles, the Forum's less ambitious "new design" would "attempt to create a process for clarifying and addressing the issues of translation".

Although Archbishop Curtiss does not give a detailed account of the Forum, his reflections indicate that the meeting achieved its amended purpose. Clearly, translation matters -- very much.

The process of re-translation of the Roman Missal (Lectionary and Sacramentary) began about ten years ago, and it has occupied the US bishops intensely since November 1992, when they first approved a revised Lectionary.

The revision of both parts of the Roman Missal involved separate ­ and very complex ­ procedures. Unlike the Lectionary, a project overseen by the American bishops, the Sacramentary is the work of the "mixed commission" known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) whose work has affected fifteen English-speaking countries for more than thirty years. All the English-speaking bishops' conferences must approve ICEL's proposed revisions before a final text is prepared and sent to the Holy See for recognitio (approval or confirmation).

The two-volume Lectionary is intended to replace the one-volume Lectionary in use since 1970. (Many more readings necessitated a second volume.)

In June 1997, the first volume of the Lectionary, as amended earlier that year by a "working group" of bishops and Vatican authorities, was approved by a majority of the US bishops -- on condition that it be reviewed in five years. The working group's work reflected the Vatican's 1994 "secret" norms for translation of scripture texts (made public in June 1997). The new Lectionary was available for optional use by parishes in the US on the first Sunday of Advent, 1998.

Volume II, the readings for weekday Masses and other holy days, was approved by the bishops (also as revised by the "working group") in June 1998, but the final text has not yet been submitted to Vatican authorities (the Congregations for Divine Worship and Doctrine of the Faith). Neither part of the Lectionary is mandatory for use until sometime after the second volume is published, perhaps later this year.

Like the 1970 version, the new Lectionary is based on the New American Bible. To add to the complexity, the NAB Old Testament is now being re-translated; and the Psalms revised in 1991 were rejected for liturgical use by the Holy See in 1994. Also, the New Testament revised in 1986 had to be amended for the Lectionary readings. The only New American Bibles now in print include the rejected Psalms and un-amended New Testament. Thus there is no Bible currently in print that corresponds with either version of the Lectionary. Some hope that eventually only one translation-the best-will be used for the Lectionary for all English-speaking Catholics.

The ICEL Sacramentary was finally approved by the US bishops (and other English-speaking conferences) in June of 1998, but the final text was not submitted to the Holy See until late December. The extent of the revisions that may be required is, at this point, a matter of conjecture.

--Staff

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