Feb 15, 2000

Translation Wars Loom in Japan New Japanese Missal sparks controversy by Francis Mutsuo Fukushima

Online Edition – Vol. V, No. 10: February 2000

Translation Wars Loom in Japan
New Japanese Missal sparks controversy

by Francis Mutsuo Fukushima

The missalette Seisho to Tenrei” (Scripture and Liturgy), the most widely read Catholic publication among Japanese Catholics, announced in its editorial note for the 3rd Ordinary Sunday of 1996 that the Liturgy Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) has started a new series of Japanese translations of the Roman Missal, including changes in the Orations.1

The innovations, it said, would involve the three Orations ­ the opening prayer (collect), the prayer over the gifts (offertory prayer), and the post-communion prayer.

Seisho to Tenrei was founded by Oriens, a private religious research institute run by the fathers of the Scheut Mission Society. It enjoys the official blessing of the CBCJ and has a weekly circulation of about 100,000 copies ­ about the total of weekly attendants at Sunday Mass in Japan.

“Unique savors”

The editorial note was signed by Father Kazuo Koda, a key member of the Liturgy Commission and a theology professor at the Tokyo Diocesan Seminary. It said that there were four reasons for planned changes:

1) “The content of the three orations do not correspond with the themes of scriptural readings of each Sunday”.

2) “The present orations, being universally applicable prayers, often sound abstract and irrelevant to the realities of our daily lives”.

3) “The content of many of the orations is so interiorized that it lacks both openness to the society and readiness to evangelize”.

4) “Being a translation from a foreign language (Latin), the orations are incapable of conveying the atmosphere peculiar to the four seasons of Japan, and fail to take advantage of the unique savors of the Japanese language”.

It is evident that the innovations involve the creation of a Japanese Missal, not the improvement of the Japanese translation of the Roman Missal.

There is in fact a “Japanese Missal Drafting Committee”, which Father Koda heads. He said in a separate interview that there is a subcommittee in charge of changing even the present Japanese text of the Eucharistic Prayers, formerly known as the canon (Eucharistic Prayer Subcommittee). He identified two of the subcommittee members as Father Tekehiro Kunii, a Passionist and a theology professor at the Jesuit-run Sophia University, and Father Franco Sottocornola of the Xaverian Society.

Sacrifice “offered only once”?

Seisho to Tenrei for the 4th Ordinary Sunday 1996 carried a theologically rather problematic note, signed by Father Koda. It said among other things:

“The original meaning of the rite of offering gifts is the preparation of the thanksgiving table. What matters most here is the fact that Christ offered the sacrifice only once, the sacrifice on the Cross, and not that many gifts are offered (by us)…. It follows that it is not appropriate to overemphasize the prayer over the gifts or to include the phrase ‘we offer’ in the prayer”.2

In fact, Seisho to Tenrei for the 4th Sunday suggested an alternative prayer over the gifts: “God the source of Life, may you convert the fruits of our daily labour which we bring here into the food of Life. Our sufferings and sorrows may also be turned into the joy of Life”. The innovation thus deleted the ideas of “offering”, “altar”, and the “sacrament of redemption” contained in the Roman Missal (Altaribus tuus, Domine, munera nostrae servitutis inferimus, quae placatus assumens, sacramentum nostrae redemptionis efficias).

The kind of theology contained in such innovations raises concern about the course of action to be taken by the Eucharistic Prayer Subcommittee. The Japanese Missal Drafting Committee has vowed to accomplish its work by the year 2001.

Experimentation led to loss of faith
Some knowledgeable missionaries and academics have warned that many Japanese faithful have lost the sense of reverence towards the Holy Eucharist as a result of the widespread liturgical experiments carried out so far (including the abolition of the orate fratres, of genuflection during the transubstantiation, of the domine non sum dignus). Their warnings have largely been ignored.

These experiments have resulted in the deterioration of the faithful’s spiritual sensibility towards the sacrificial character of the Mass. Violations of the Holy Father’s pastoral instruction, Inaestimabile Donum, are underway in all dioceses. The revision of the Japanese Missal can only exacerbate this worrisome trend.

A “style of faith formulated in a distant place”
The Most Reverend Paul K. Mori, the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Tokyo, made the following statements in his book Reflections on NICE (National Incentive Convention for Evangelization). NICE is a nationwide Church renewal movement, similar to the Call to Action Conference in the United States. The CBC-Japan twice organized its national convention, attended by laymen, priests, nuns and bishops ­ first in Kyoto (1987) and then in Nagasaki (1993).

Bishop Mori’s book, full of direct quotations from key NICE documents published by the CBC-Japan, is an assortment of his theological essays contributed to various Catholic magazines, as well as speeches given at various meetings organized by Catholic groups, such as the Catholic Doctors’ Association.

The following are some excerpts from the book3:

“The Bishops’ Conference pointed to the direction which should be followed by the Japanese church by boldly stating, ‘[The Japanese faithful] do not have to make efforts to live up to the style of faith which was formulated in a distant place’, although the Bishops’ Conference was aware that this statement can be interpreted in various ways” (14).

“This expression ‘the style of faith which was formulated in a distant place’ has deep implications. It is self-evident that the style of faith of the Catholic Church was formulated in a faraway world different from Japan. It is understandable that the Catholic Church has tried to defend the orthodoxy of the faith by sticking to what had been long taught and explained. It is true that the Catholic Church has a long history of obliging its faithful to obey Rome’s guidance to protect the orthodoxy of the faith. Catholic priests have been required to be obedient to the Holy See’s guidance and laymen have long been told to read and interpret the Scripture under the guidance of priests, so that they may not misinterpret the scriptural teachings” (14-15).

Trent fosters “passivity”
“Such passive attitudes have filtered down to every aspect of the lives of the faithful during the period of 400 years from the Council of Trent up until the Second Vatican Council. As a result, the faithful have come to a belief that they must live the lives of faith, even against their wills, in accordance with what the Church has taught them and with what the Church has handed on to them” (15).

“The Bishops’ Conference, which has pondered upon such realities of the faithful in a string of movements that started from a series of nationwide opinion surveys of the faithful (in the late 1980’s), have concluded that the fundamental task for the Japanese church should be the creation of its own style of faith by itself…” (l5).

“There is a booklet entitled Let’s Live Together With Joy. This booklet carries the messages prepared and issued by the plenary sessions of the Bishops’ Conference as well as various proposals put forward at the NICE conventions as reference material. This is the most important document to understand the essence of NICE” (29).

“The Bishops’ Conference has reached the conclusion that each of the people of God has to review the attitude of the Church and its style of faith and help implement drastic changes” (Page 4 of the NICE booklet).

“Living together with joy”
“The Bishops’ Conference wants to change the understanding of the faith on the part of the faithful from one of giving priority to the Commandments and Dogmas to the one of giving priority to [the] actual act of living, especially of living together with joy” (6).

“We cannot deny that the faithful have unwittingly adopted the passive attitude of behaving as if receiving sacraments, living up to the Commandments, and obeying the orthodox teachings were the ideals of the life of the faithful” (37).

“The reason why the Japanese Bishops’ Conference had to urge new changes is that the church is still under the strong influence of the Council of Trent that had historically affected the Catholic Church over the subsequent 400 years” (39).

“The efforts at evangelizing non-believers by teaching them Catholic Dogmas and baptizing them are based on the assumption that non-believers are entrapped in the darkness. But can we find a ground to support such ideals of evangelization under the current conditions? It is hoped that the Japanese church will develop its own unique ideal of evangelization that is different from the traditional ideal of evangelization” (41).

Bishop Nagae’s theology
Bishop Lawrence Satoshi Nagae, former ordinary of the diocese of Urawa, exerted a strong influence on Japanese theologians and priests during his years as a key member of the Bishops’ Conference’s Liturgy Commission.

The following quotations are from his book Shingaku Shohinshu (Theological Essays: A Selection; private publication, Urawa, 1996), a collection of essays which he contributed from 1975 to 1978 to the quarterly journal Informatio Catholica edited by Father Inukai, a priest of the Church in Asaka, Urawa diocese.4

“The Council of Trent found the ground of priesthood in the Eucharist…. The Second Vatican Council found it in the Mission…. Without transmitting the Word and gathering the people of God, you cannot celebrate the Eucharist” (21).

“The faith that is centered around the chapel and altar becomes individualistic and does not result in a community that grows in our life” (45).

“The pre-conciliar ecclesiology defined the church as a perfect society based on despotism, hierarchy, and authoritarianism” (63).

“The traditional Christology of Incarnation from above presupposing the doctrine of triune God becomes practically impossible and a Christology from below starting with the human Jesus and ascending thence towards Christ the son of God becomes necessary” (93).

“A church that does not meet the demands of society will become a ghetto of senior citizens” (99-l00).

“[In Brazil] the society permits injustice to flourish, and is therefore in the state of sin. There it is natural that salvation means liberation from such a state of society. Theology there is engaged in a critical, historical and theoretical analysis of the liberation process of men, mobilizing social sciences including Marxism…. The theology of liberation is a practical theology that has grown on the peculiar South American soil, and therefore those who are of the different social basis should refrain from easily criticizing it” (115).

“In France I was given (in 1988) by Father Henri Denis of Lyons his booklet Chretiens sans Eglise with a dedication ‘To the many in Japan who call themselves Christian without belonging to the Church'” (117).

“Would the intelligence and courage to quickly get rid of the medieval institution (church) as a troublesome patrimony be found in the church of Japan, especially among her leaders?” (126).

Liturgical experimentation
Father Yoshimasa Tsuchiya, S.J. is a theology professor at the Theology Faculty of Sophia University. He has exerted strong influence over seminarians and priests, as this faculty had long educated — until a few years ago — both seminarians of the Jesuit Seminary and seminarians of the Tokyo Diocesan Seminary. Jesuit seminarians still attend his classes. He was one of the most vocal members of the Liturgy Commission of the Bishops’ Conference for a long time.

A series of liturgical experiments he proposed have been implemented in Japan. His translation and interpretation of the original Latin text of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy appear to have influenced the thinking of many bishops, priests, and seminarians.

The following quotations raise serious concern about the possibility that his “theology” may continue to encourage many priests and bishops to disregard the Holy See’s pastoral instructions on the liturgy. They are from his theological dissertation published by the monthly magazine Fukuin Senkyo (Evangelization) (Oriens, Tokyo, November, 1990), which has some 3,000 subscribers among priests and nuns in Japan, as well as some 2,000 lay subscribers.5

The 17-page dissertation is entitled, “What is a canon law?” Following are quotations from this text:

“When the Japanese Church receives the new canon law, it is necessary to clearly mention that this canon law has limits, in that it was written for the churches which came into being in a cultural sphere where various languages originating from Latin are being used” (41).

“Article 4 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy declared that the Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity. Because this expression ‘lawfully recognized’ was used after it was made clear that the article also covers rites to be lawfully recognized in the future, the article put an end to the use of the Latin rite as the standard (for other rites). As a result, it was authorized for churches in mission countries, including Japan, which had been evangelized by missionaries from the Latin Church since the 16th century, to create their own rites that are of more universal character for the modern age” (52).

“Although clause 1 of Article 22 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulates that the authority to control the liturgy belongs to the Holy See, clause 2 of the same article says that bishops also have the authority to do so due to the provisions of the canon law. Therefore, the constitution admits that a Bishops’ Conference with jurisdiction over a certain region has the authority to control the liturgy within a certain scope” (52).

In the above-mentioned translation, Father Tsuchiya translated the original Latin phrase “inter limites statutos” into the Japanese phrase that means “within a certain scope” instead of using the correct Japanese phrase “within the limits prescribed” by the Church.

Another widely used Japanese translation of the same clause claims that a Bishops’ Conference is authorized to control the liturgy “within certain territories”.

“Article 1 of the new canon law says that its provisions should be applied only to churches in the Latin (language-related) sphere, while stipulating nothing for churches in other areas…. [Writers of] the new canon law appear to be more keenly aware of its limits than those of the old canon law. To determine how the new canon law will be applied to the Japanese church which has secured freedom to make a new style of the liturgy thanks to the Second Vatican Council is up to wise judgment of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan. We are also being invited to provide cooperation for this important issue” (53).

Francis Mutsuo Fukushima is a financial journalist with Kyodo News, one of the largest news agencies in Japan.

Companion piece: Japanese Bishops Seek “Asian Way”

Works Cited

1) Father Kazuo Koda, Seisho to Tenrei (Scripture and Liturgy), a missalette for January 21, 1996. Published by Oriens, a research institute, by the fathers of the Scheut Mission Society with the official blessing of the Japanese Bishops’ Conference (CBCJ).

2) Father Kazuo Koda, Seisho to Tenrei, a missalette for Jan. 28, 1996. Published by Oriens.

3) Reverend Paul Kazuhiro Mori, [auxiliary bishop of Tokyo], Reflections on NICE (National Incentive Convention for Evangelization) (Tokyo, the Daughters of Saint Paul, 1992).

4) Bishop Lawrence Satoshi Nagae, Shingaku Shohinshu (Theological Essays, A Selection) (private publication, Urawa, 1996).

5) Father Yoshimasa Tsuchiya, S.J. Fukuin Senkyo (Evangelization) (Oriens, Tokyo, November, 1990) “What is a canon law?” Pages 37-53.


Francis Mutsuo Fukushima