Jul 15, 2001

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb’s address to bishops on Liturgiam authenticam

Online Edition Vol. VII, No. 5-6 – July-August 2001

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb’s address to bishops on Liturgiam authenticam

On June 14, 2001, during their preliminary discussion of "action items" on the liturgy, NCCB president, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza announced that the amended text of the second volume of the Lectionary for Mass had very recently been approved by the Holy See.

The Working Group to amend the Lectionary (originally submitted to the Holy See in 1992) included Archbishops Justin Rigali, Jerome Hanus, and William Levada, along with Vatican scholars.

Bishop Fiorenza said that while the President of the NCCB could authorize publication of the Lectionary, the full body of bishops ought to have the opportunity to approve it. After introductory comments by Bishop Fiorenza and Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, Liturgy Committee chairman, the bishops voted unanimously to publish the second volume as soon as possible.

After the vote on the Lectionary, Archbishop Lipscomb addressed the bishops on the Holy See’s Instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam.

His presentation outlined seven provisions of the document that "most significantly impact work of this conference".

Archbishop Lipscomb’s comments, transcribed from tapes Adoremus recorded at the meeting, follow.



Bishop Fiorenza: Now, Archbishop Lipscomb has other matters for us to discuss. The Fifth Post-conciliar Instruction, referred to as Liturgiam Authenticam, was sent to all of you a few weeks ago.

Because this Instruction significantly impacts the work of the conference, I’ve asked Archbishop [Lipscomb] if he would briefly address this matter, after which I’ll invite any comments from this body which seem to be appropriate.

Archbishop Lipscomb: Thank you, Bishop Fiorenza. During the past decade, few topics have been of greater concern than translation of liturgical texts.

We have been most acutely aware of the pastoral implications of the structures and principles utilized in the publication of vernacular editions of the Roman editiones typicae and our considerations regarding translations of the Missale Romanum, the Ordo Lectionum Missae, and the Ordinationae.

This concern in has been in the forefront since the first days of the liturgical reform. In the words of Pope Paul VI shortly after the Council, "Like a caring mother, the Church, through the teaching of Vatican Council II, has called on her children to share actively in liturgical prayers and rites. For this reason the Church has permitted the translation of texts venerable for their antiquity, devotion, beauty and longstanding use".

So concerned were the members of this conference that in June 1994, we sponsored a study day on liturgical translation, which was followed by a forum on translation of liturgical texts in the fall of 1999. It was the hope of Archbishop Hanus and his subcommittee that this work would inform not only the bishops of our conference, but would be of service to the Catholic Church throughout the world. In fact the papers presented at that forum have recently been published under the title, The Voice of the Church, and are now available from the NCCB office of publishing and promotion services. A copy of this book was sent to each bishop in the weekly mailing of June 1, 2001.

As important as the publication of these proceedings are, an event of even greater significance in the translation of liturgical texts occurred on April 25, 2001, with the issuance of the Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, with the title Liturgiam Authenticam. The Instruction describes in some detail the use of vernacular translation of the books of the Roman Liturgy.

While I am sure you have had an opportunity to review the Instruction, please allow me to take just a few moments to reflect with you on some of the provisions which will most significantly impact work of this conference and your own Committee on the Liturgy.

First: Liturgiam authenticam fulfills the desires of Pope John Paul II, who 23[sic] years ago* called upon us to "remedy certain defects or inaccuracies, to complete partial translations, to compose or approve chants to be used in the liturgy, to ensure respect for the texts approved and, lastly, to publish liturgical books in a form that both testifies to the stability achieved and is worthy of the mysteries being celebrated".

[* Archbishop Lipscomb refers here to §20 of the Apostolic Letter, Vicesimus Quintus Annus, December 4, 1988.]

On February 1, 1997, Pope John Paul II mandated in a letter to Cardinal Sodano, Secretary of State, that a new instruction on translation be prepared. At the pope’s request and with his approval, the new Instruction insists on the production of vernacular editions of liturgical books which both reflect the unique style, structure and modes of public prayer in the Roman Rite, and one also suitable for the expression of that rite in the parish churches of each country.

Second: the translation endeavor, the Instruction indicates, is not so much an act of creativity or reformulation of rites, as it is an exact and faithful rendering of the editiones typicae. Thus the normative value of the editiones typicae and of the Neo-Vulgate in the case of scriptural texts is insisted upon.

Third: The vocabulary of the vernacular translations must be at once comprehensible to ordinary people, and still be expressive of the dignity and oratorical rhythm of Roman liturgical texts. Liturgical translation must permit us entry into the Church’s dynamic dialogue of faith and praise with the Blessed Trinity. At times modern modes of expression must give way to expressions which, drawn from patristic sources and harmonized with biblical texts, may strike some as "less contemporary", but which have traditionally invoked the mysteries of faith in deep and inexpressible ways.

Fourth: Syntactical concerns are addressed at some length, with an insistence that such practices as the use of parallelism and extended subordination be precisely translated. The primary meanings of Latin words are to be followed, as well as the connections between various expressions, together with a respect for the literary and rhetorical genre of each text. The goal is to develop a dignified liturgical vernacular which precisely renders the Roman liturgical books and is fit for worship in our particular cultural context.

Fifth: Much ink has been spilled over the instruction’s relatively brief comments on "gender inclusivity". I would simply note that there is nothing new here over and above what we already possess in the revised Lectionary for Mass. There is, indeed, a remarkable correspondence between the guidelines in the Instruction and the principles applied by the Working Group for the final revisions of our own Lectionary* both for Sunday and Solemnities and now for weekdays.

[* For the Lectionary, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith produced Norms for Translation of Scripture Texts for Liturgical Use, made public in 1997. Norm 3 said: "The translation of scripture should faithfully reflect the Word of God in the original human languages. It must be listened to in its time-conditioned, at times even inelegant, mode of human expression without `correction’ or `improvement’ in service of modern sensitivities". This norm, echoed in Liturgiam authenticam, eliminates so-called "inclusive language" in principle. — Ed.]

In this regard the configuration of the final volume of the Lectionary for Mass announced by Bishop Fiorenza just a few moments ago is to be recommended.

By that confirmation, the Congregation has sanctioned the use of the techniques devised by the Working Group to produce a liturgical translation with a moderate degree of horizontal gender inclusivity* appropriate to the English language as spoken in the United States today.

[* In the original version of the Lectionary volume I submitted for Vatican approval in 1992, in the Psalter alone there were 270 places where masculine language for God had been neutered. In the amended version (now in use) there are zero neutralizations. That score, 270-0, expresses the dogma gap between some translators and authentic Catholic teaching. — Ed.]

Sixth: The Instruction addresses not only liturgical texts but, as well, Scripture translations intended for liturgical use.

The Committee on the Liturgy spent considerable time this week studying the specific issues associated with the preparation of biblical texts for liturgical use, and is in dialogue with other committees of the conference on ways we can prepare translations more suitable for liturgical proclamation.

The Instruction challenges the translators of sacred Scripture to produce texts which are at once exegetically sound and set clearly within the liturgical context for which they are destined.

The Instruction clearly provides new insight on the role of the New Vulgate, the proper influence of typological and liturgical interrelations for the translation and the proper contextualization of problematic phrases. As a welcome innovation, the Instruction also directs that a version of the Scriptures be prepared which incorporates into it all of the liturgical readings as found in the Lectionary for Mass.

In short, Liturgiam authenticam calls for the creation of a "liturgical Bible" for popular use.

Seventh: The Instruction also treats of mixed commissions charged with the actual work of translation.

It notes that they must clearly be seen as instruments of the bishops who bear the sole responsibility for developing vernacular typical editions. Such commissions are erected by the Holy See at the request of individual episcopal conferences.

Without entering into the many complexities of this section, let it suffice to say the work of restructuring ICEL will continue under the direction and guidance of our liaison to the mixed commission, Cardinal Francis George, OMI .

The instruction provides challenging but clear guidance to this important work.

There are many other sections of the Instruction which will bear on work of this conference in the coming months and years, including the development of "ratio translationis", or an application of the principles of translation to a given language, the role of conferences of bishops in overseeing some texts and the proper editing and publication of liturgical books.

Allow me to conclude these brief reflections with words spoken by Pope John Paul II in the same address in which he first called for a renewal of liturgical translation with which we began:

"The times has come", the Holy Father proclaimed, "to renew that spirit which inspired the Church at the moment when the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium was prepared, discussed, voted upon and promulgated, and when the first steps were taken to apply it. The seed was sown, it has known the rigors of winter, but the seed has sprouted and become a tree. It is a matter of the organic growth of a tree becoming ever stronger the deeper it sinks its roots in the ‘soil’ of tradition". [VQA 23]

May God make us worthy stewards of so special a garden.



The Editors