Dec 15, 1995

No Critics Need Apply

Online Edition – December 1995
Vol. I, No. 2

No Critics Need Apply
Bishops Approve Segment Four at November Meeting

By Richard Hough

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, at its November meeting in Washington, D.C., approved ICEL revisions of Segment Four: Order of Mass. Segment 4 contains the prefaces, solemn blessings, prayers of the faithful, and the sample general intercessions currently in the Appendix of the Sacramentary. The proposed liturgical texts must be approved by Rome before they are implemented.

Two-thirds of the bishops, or 172 affirmative votes, were needed to approve the Segment 4 translations. The revisions were approved with 182 votes, a 10 vote margin. Thirty-nine bishops voted against the revisions.

Disaffection with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and its translations appeared to be on the rise after the June meeting of bishops. At that same meeting, liturgical texts were approved by very narrow margins (two-thirds of the Latin rite bishops are required for passage; subject to confirmation by the Holy See).

But some bishops said that they did not vigorously fight the proposed changes at the November meeting because they were tiring of the battle over liturgical texts. One bishop said that the Conference debate and vote is mostly a formality, since many bishops "figure the Liturgy Committee has done all of its homework" and will vote according to its recommendations "regardless of the debate."

The limited time for debate over the proposed texts also works against bishops who have reservations about the proposed revisions, since only a handful of the over 500 amendments offered can be addressed at the meeting.

Some bishops believe their concerns about the texts are shared by Rome. There have been consultations on translation in Rome with American bishops and Vatican officials; and later "secret" guidelines for the translation of biblical texts were issued by the Holy See.

Much of the debate over liturgical matters at the November meeting concerned translation principles and the process by which bishops try to amend the proposed revisions. Most amendments offered by the bishops sought to re-introduce words and concepts that were not translated from the Latin original. More than 500 of these amendments were rejected by the bishops’ Liturgy Committee on the grounds that the lCEL proposed texts are "adequate according to the principles prescribed in Comme le prevoit" the 1969 Vatican instruction on liturgical translations.

During debate, several bishops expressed concern about how the principles of Comme le prevoit are put into practice since, in their view, ICEL tends to simplify or ignore essential elements present in the Latin text. Bishops also told ADOREMUS that they were wary of proceeding with the approval of liturgical translations, when the principles of translation are subject to so much criticism.

That this document is outdated is generally acknowledged, even by those bishops who favor the ICEL texts-a fact attested to by Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the Liturgy Committee. In a conversation with ADOREMUS, Bishop Trautman also said the Conference was a "difficult forum to resolve uneasiness about Comme le prevoit."

Bishop Charles Chaput of Rapid City, South Dakota, concerned about "an impoverishment of the liturgical tradition passed through the ages," said that when words in the Latin are not translated, the burden of argument should be with translators who omitted them, rather than with bishops who want them restored.

Reflecting the view of ICEL and the Liturgy Committee, Bishop Trautman said that translation must "take into account the cultural milieu that we face; we must take into account the cultural idiom of the day." Bishop Trautman argued that "literal translations" do not guarantee accuracy and often do not convey the real meaning of the text in English. He supports, instead, the "dynamic equivalence" theory described in Comme le prevoit (more commonly known as "loose translation") which allows translators considerable leeway in rendering the text in what they regard as current idiom.

Yet if this is justified as contemporary "inculturation," done to make Sacred texts more intelligible, the ordinary language of most English-speaking people, it is puzzling that Bishop Trautman stressed at a press conference that "catechesis" would be required to make the new translations acceptable to the faithful. "We think catechesis is the key. We need to teach our people the rationale for the change," the bishop said. He did not explain why extensive catechesis would be required in order for people to accept translations supposedly already aimed at speaking to the current cultural milieu in the language of the day.

One of the problems the bishops found with ICEL’s application of "dynamic equivalence" principles is that they often do not produce texts faithful to the Latin. For example, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha referred to a translated prayer that makes no reference to the connection between the Resurrection and the Second Coming, even though the Latin original does. He called a translation that leaves out such essential elements inadequate. "The ICEL translation," he said, "is a paraphrase of the original, which actually reads: ‘May God grant that, as Christ, manifest after His resurrection, was seen by the disciples, so when He comes in judgment may He appear to you merciful for all eternity. Amen.’ The ICEL translation reads: ‘May almighty God grant that, where Christ is, you also may be.’" ICEL, according to Archbishop Curtiss, has removed the relationship of how Christ was seen by the disciples and how he will appear merciful in the Last Judgment.

Bishop Trautman responded to such criticisms by saying that the Liturgy Committee found that the "nuance of the concept" was present in the lCEL revision. He said that the concepts may not be present in its translation but that the entire context of the liturgy does contain the concepts.

As a result of the large number of amendments offered by bishops opposed to the ICEL translation, some bishops questioned the efficacy of how the bishops approve liturgical texts. Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Honolulu said when amendments are put forward by "learned or quasi~learned societies" it "clogs the process" of the Conference. Bishops "who are inexperienced" must wade through the texts and respond. Bishop DiLorenzo argued that the "quasi-learned societies" were getting through the back door, exerting undue influence on some bishops in the conference.

Bishop Chaput observed that the concerns and frustrations of many Catholics are reflected in the bishops’ amendments. The "ICEL process resists emendation, which leads to frustration and interferes with rights of bishops," he said.

At a press conference later, Bishop Trautman expressed satisfaction that what one reporter called "the effort to derail (CEL texts" was effectively squelched. Bishop Trautman stated that "not one single amendment against the text passed." He neglected to mention significant concessions already made in prior segments of the revision, as well as the bishops’ amendments to this Segment of the revised Sacramentary which had been accepted by the Committee on Liturgy prior to the meeting.

ADOREMUS asked Bishop Trautman what "quasi-learned or learned societies" he believed influenced the bishops. Bishop Trautman said that it was a reference to CREDO, an association of priests whose scholars have provided information to bishops. Bishop Trautman told ADOREMUS that although the amendments were presented by bishops, he considered the bishops’ amendments to be from CREDO. He said that the bishops probably did not even read the amendments or realize what their own amendments actually said.

Many bishops would doubtless be surprised to learn that Bishop Trautman and others seem to believe that they are not able to evaluate information or capable of making intelligent judgments of the proposed revisions of texts on their own-that they require the "experts" of the Liturgy Committee or some "society" to do their thinking for them. The debate over the revision of the Roman Missal is not a war between "experts" and "societies." Raising this issue deflects attention from the substantial issues the bishops address in their amendments.

The debate and vote on the ICEL revisions revealed that interpretation of translation principles is a major problem. As recently as 1986, a team of translators revised the New Testament of the New American Bible, the translation used for the Lectionary at Mass, using the "formal equivalence" approach to translation. They criticized the "dynamic equivalence" theory for having the effect of "radically abandoning traditional biblical and liturgical terminology and phraseology, of expanding the text to include what more properly belongs in notes, commentaries, or preaching, and of tending toward paraphrase."

Ultimately, the key to the approval or rejection of the ICEL translations may be Rome’s eventual decision on translation matters-including the fate of the 1969 Instruction on translation known by its French title, Comme le prevoit, invoked so often to justify rejection of bishops’ amendments.

All the bishops are aware that some form of interim translation norms have been entrusted to the bishops by the Holy See. But most will not see them. Bishop Trautman said these "norms" are confidential, and so highly technical that only those bishops who were actually present at the meeting in Rome on translation matters could understand them.

In addition, an NCCB Forum to discuss translation principles is being planned. Bishop Jerome Hanus, — Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Forum, reported on plans at the June NCCB meeting, and funding for it was provided at the November meeting.

With so many uncertainties and with a thorough review of translation principles now in progress, many bishops may be relying on the eventual resolution of the controversy over interpreting those principles to resolve the conflict within the NCCB. An updated and authoritative document on translation from the Holy See would help provide an orderly basis for making all future revisions of the Roman Missal, and, of course, would affect the bishops’ consideration of the three remaining Segments of ICEL’s revision of the Roman Missal.



Richard Hough