Nov 15, 1996


Online Edition – November 1996
Vol. II, No. 7


Sacramentary Segments VII and VIII-More of the Same

AT THE NOVEMBER MEETING of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, bishops will vote on the last two segments in the series of revised liturgical texts translated by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

The bishops are expected to approve Segments VII and VIII of the Roman Missal, or Sacramentary (prayers of the Mass), which contain the "American Propers", or feasts of saints in the American calendar, and other special Masses. This would complete the preliminary steps towards producing revised texts for use in the liturgy in all English-speaking countries.

The first six segments of the ICEL texts have now been approved by the US bishops, with some amendments which will require further review by ICEL and other English-speaking conferences before the text is finalized for submission to the Vatican. (A 2/3 majority vote is necessary for approval of liturgical texts.) Finally, the revised texts must be approved by the Vatican before priests are authorized to use any part of the revised translation.

In view of the controversy which has surrounded both scriptural and liturgical revisions, the recent attention given the ICEL revisions by Vatican officials, and the concern expressed by many bishops, final confirmation of the texts by the Vatican without significant modifications seems unlikely.

Segment VII of the ICEL revision contains the liturgical texts for the Common of Saints, Ritual Masses, Votive Masses, and Masses for the Dead.

Segment VIII includes the orations for Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions and antiphonal; also the pastoral introduction for weekdays.

Some scholars who have reviewed these latest ICEL texts find the translations of mixed quality, due in part to inconsistent translations of certain words. While some of ICEL’S translators of these segments seem to have been committed to faithful translation, others exhibit certain prejudices. ICEL’S "translator’s bias" is revealed in deleting or adding words, or inconsistently translating the same word or phrase.

Changing or Deleting Words
Failure to translate some words relating to God’s majesty or power or man’s attitude towards God of humble supplication seems to reveal an egalitarian bias, a prejudice in favor of so-called "inclusive language", and a lack of attentiveness to the English sacral vocabulary.

The following examples from Segment VII illustrate this "translators’ bias":

filius: This word (in reference to Christ) appears 48 times in the Latin text; it is correctly translated "Son" 44 times; it is translated "Christ" 4 times, apparently to avoid the masculine word ("vertical inclusive language").

unigenitus: This word appears 14 times in the original; it is translated as "only-begotten Son" 5 times; "only Son" 5 times; "Son" 3 times; and, "Christ" 1 time.

quaesumus: This word ("we beseech") appears 130 times in the Latin text; but ICEL translates it only 10 times.

maiestas: This word appears 10 times; it is correctly (or adequately) translated as "majesty", "sovereign", or "glory" 6 times; it is not translated 4 times.

eius: In 4 cases, ICEL distorts the text in order to avoid using "his" in reference to God or Christ ("vertical inclusive language").

beatus: This word appears 118 times in the original text. It is correctly translated as "blessed", "holy" or "saint" 102 times; it is translated "glorious" once and "happy" twice. It is not translated at all 12 times.

meritum: This word appears 9 times; it is correctly translated as "merit" 5 times. It is not translated 4 times.

Adding Words, Inconsistency
If ICEL translators sometimes eliminate words, they also add or change words.

Domine, for example, is sometimes translated "Lord God", "merciful God", or "merciful Lord". Sometimes it is correctly translated simply as "Lord".

The uneven quality of ICEL’s product is also evident in inconsistent renderings of certain words: the same Latin word or phrase may be translated in different ways in different prayers, even when the context is identical.

For example, tuae maiestati is variously translated "your divine majesty"; "your glory"; "of majesty"; "sovereign".

Varying the translation arbitrarily serves no good purpose. One effect of this is to undermine the positive effect of memory in worship. Memory is enhanced by repetition of the same phrases in the liturgical texts.

If a translation is accurate, it can be translated back into the original language without loss or change of meaning.

Excessive Egalitarianism
An egalitarian bias is evident in ICEL’s translation. The word famulus, "servant", for example, connotes subordination to God. But ICEL translates "servant" as "brothers and sisters". This has the effect of leveling any notion of hierarchy, even concerning the relationship of the Creator to creatures — of God to man.

In fact, ICEL translators force "brothers and sisters" into the text as often as possible. Sometimes famulis tuis is correctly translated "Your servants"; sometimes as "brothers and sisters"; sometimes as "our departed brothers and sisters"; and, sometimes as "the faithful departed". Curiously, defuncti, is also occasionally translated as "brothers and sisters" when it simply means "deceased".

Similar errors and omissions appeared in the earlier segments of the ICEL revision of the Roman Missal.

In short, Segments VII and VIII appear to be more of the same. Although some have observed that there are fewer errors in this latest batch of texts, the improvement is so slight that it will have little effect on the controversy which has surrounded all the ICEL revisions since they were first introduced.

Roots of the Controversy
The controversy is very deeply rooted. The influence of feminism on language, which affects all translation projects, came into sharp focus in the Catholic Church during the decade-long discussion of the "women’s pastoral".

By 1990, when the bishops produced the "Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use", the debate had intensified. New scripture translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version and the Revised New American Bible, were undertaken precisely for the purpose of "inclusivizing" the Bible.

Lectionaries based on these new "inclusive-language" translations have been the subject of further controversy, and the debate on this issue which originated in the English language now affects other languages, and has become a serious concern of the Holy See.

Not satisfied with merely producing new texts as alternatives, however, the advocates of "inclusivism" effectively suppressed all other contemporary translations in standard English. Bible publishers removed the un-feminized versions from their lists.

In 1993, the bishops rejected a feminist revision of the Grail Psalter. A Psalter produced by ICEL in 1995 is even more radical than the rejected Grail. Although it was granted an imprimatur by Cardinal William Keeler, then president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, it was never submitted to the whole conference for vote. Although it is not approved for liturgical use, it was expressly created for that purpose, and its ICEL promoters evidently hope it will be approved eventually.

Even more widely known than the problems with scripture translations, however, was the controversy surrounding the translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When the Americans originally responsible for translating the Catechism into English revealed a severe case of ”translator’s bias", the Vatican responded by providing an acceptably accurate translation, unaffected by any contemporary ideology.

In the context of intense controversy over language and translation issues, it is not surprising that lCEL’S proposed revision of the Roman Missal caused considerable concern when the first segments began to be introduced in 1992. When several Catholic publications revealed the details of the new texts, a flurry of objections ensued. ICEL’s emphasis on "contemporary" idiom and "inclusive language" to the virtual exclusion of the traditional "sacral vocabulary" and standard English caused widespread consternation among bishops as well as clergy and laity.

Among the early proposals were radical changes to the Nicene Creed and the Our Father. (ICEL had adopted the versions proposed by the ecumenical English Consultation on Common Texts.)

Among the many who objected to the lCEL revisions was CREDO, "a society of priests dedicated to the faithful translation of the Liturgy", organized by a group of Arlington priests in 1992. CREDO, with a membership of 2,000 priests and thousands of lay associates, encouraged members to write respectful letters to their bishops and the Vatican to express their concerns.

ICEL originally expected the revised Roman Missal to be ready for publication in 1994. The delay of at least two years surely indicates the extent of the bishops’ concern, caution, and perhaps confusion, as well as a general lack of enthusiasm for the proposed changes. The ground swell of popular opposition to the manipulation of language in these revisions unquestionably had an effect as well.

Although the Holy See is obviously deeply concerned about these problems and the effect they will have on Catholic faith and worship (Vatican interventions with the Catechism and scripture translations are two examples), until recently, Vatican officials had little to say publicly about the growing opposition to the ICEL revisions.

But this June, Archbishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, acknowledged that there were many protests against and criticisms of the liturgical translations. At a meeting with ICEL representatives, on June 13, Archbishop Agnelo said,

"Our dicastry, too, continues to receive protests and remarks that are not always benevolent about the work that ICEL is undertaking, sometimes following organized propaganda aimed at even the simplest of faithful.."

Archbishop Agnelo hastened to add,

"…..I am not saying the dicastry does not take into account the ultimate significance of so many reactions, which can have pastoral implications." But if there is any question as to when the Vatican acts on the pastoral implications, . is only at the moment when an episcopal conference requests a text’s approval that it is submitted to the process outlined by canon law and to the liturgical norms in force…"

When all eight segments of the revised Sacramentary are approved in November, as expected, the first stage of the approval process will be virtually complete (texts as amended must still be approved by lCEL and re-approved by the national conferences of bishops). It is expected that ICEL’S proposed revision of the Roman Missal may be submitted to Rome in 1997.



The Editors