Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 9: December 2001 – January 2002
Special Report – USCCB November 2001 Meeting
US Bishops discuss Instruction; affirm Holy See’s liturgy critiques; send ICEL text back for repairs
Three major liturgical tasks were undertaken by the US bishops at their meeting in Washington November 12-15.
First, they heard reflection papers on Liturgiam authenticam, the Holy See’s Fifth Instruction on the Right Implementation of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, issued last spring, and held a discussion session on the Instruction. The document outlines requirements for authentic liturgical translation, taking fully into account the experience of more than three decades of liturgy in the vernacular.
Second, the bishops voted to accept the Holy See’s critique of proposed "adaptations" for the Church in the United States to the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (or IGMR, heretofore called the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal"). The Institutio gives directions for celebration of Mass and is included in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, approved in 2000, but not yet released. The Holy See’s observations on the adaptations were contained in an October 25, 2001 letter from Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) to USCCB president, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza.
The US adaptations are now to be incorporated into the main body of the IGMR. The bishops’ action on the Holy See’s critical observations paves the way for the appearance of the long-delayed new version of the Missal. The new Roman Missal is now expected by the end of this year. This will mean that the provisions of the Institutio, released in July 2000, can now take effect.
Third, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to remand an English translation of the Institutio to ICEL for substantial repairs.
This action by the American bishops sends an unmistakable message to the "mixed commission" that has been providing English-language versions of liturgical texts for nearly four decades, as well as to the Holy See. It is this: the bishops’ conference of the United States accepts its responsibility for providing authentic liturgical translations, and, furthermore, strongly affirms the Holy See’s recent directives concerning the liturgy.
A fourth action by the bishops (although chronologically the first) underscores this apparent resolve: Chicago Cardinal Francis George was elected November 13 to succeed Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb as chairman of the Committee on the Liturgy (BCL). He will take office next year. Cardinal George, the US representative on the board of ICEL since July 1997, has been a strong voice for a thoroughgoing reform of this "mixed commission", which had emerged over the years as a self-perpetuating and substantially ungovernable group of liturgists, theologians and translators, with a distinct agenda incompatible in important ways with authentic liturgical reform. In recent years, the Holy See has been openly critical of ICEL’s work, and has called for a change in leadership and a thorough restructuring of the group, stressing the critical importance of translation of liturgical texts. (See Pope John Paul II’s address to the plenary assembly of the CDW.)
The other candidate for chairman-elect of the BCL was Archbishop Justin Rigali of Saint Louis, who is a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and was one of a team of American bishops who collaborated closely with the Holy See in correcting the revised translation of the new US Lectionary (scripture readings for Mass. As reported in the July-August AB, the second volume of the Lectionary has been approved, and is scheduled to be available for use by February 2002.) Archbishop Rigali has been rumored to be a likely candidate to succeed Cardinal Medina when the latter retires. (Click here for other election results.)
Sacramentary — a dead letter
There was no mention at the meeting of the ill-fated ICEL revision of the "Sacramentary" (now to be called, simply, the Roman Missal). After several years of discussions and amendments, the massive proposed revision was eventually submitted to Rome for the required recognitio (approval) in 1997. This was an effort to update the original English version of the texts for the Mass in use since 1974. The complex and often conflicted procedure for approving the revised text led many bishops to an increased awareness of critical doctrinal and theological issues involved in translation. The scrutiny they gave to the proposed ICEL revisions — and to revisions simultaneously but separately proposed for the Lectionary for Mass — revealed the seriousness of the matter of translated texts as well as the need to improve the manner by which new and translated texts are produced.
By now it seems clear that the ICEL "Sacramentary" project is a dead letter. The new edition of the Roman Missal will, of course, require a translation — and this translation will need to follow the norms in Liturgiam authenticam.
At present, it is not so much a question of whether the English-speaking Churches will receive accurate and noble translations worthy of use in worship as of when — and how. In theory, a "mixed commission" that serves all the world’s English-speaking Catholics makes eminent practical sense. But whether the present officials of ICEL have the will to respond positively and to accept change and reform of its approach to translation is not yet apparent.
Other texts in limbo
Other liturgical texts that are in various stages of revision and approval include the ICEL "Pastoral Introduction to the Order of Mass" [PIOM], and the Ordination Rite.
Although it had been announced that the BCL would present the corrected version of the Ordination Rite (the ICEL revision had been rejected by the Holy See) to the bishops at this meeting, the committee’s examination of the Institutio translation took precedence. No announcement was made concerning these other texts.
Remanding the Institutio translation to ICEL
On Thursday morning, a few minutes before the close of the November meeting, BCL chairman Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb presented the committee’s proposal that a translation by ICEL of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani be returned for correction. He referred to examples of specific problems with the ICEL translation that were included in the conference documents for this meeting.
Archbishop Lipscomb noted that the BCL had produced a "study translation" in July 2000 to meet the pastoral necessity of an English translation of the new Institutio. Therefore, he explained, "ICEL, a mixed commission still charged by this conference, completed a translation in June of this year ". He that said the ICEL translation was completed before publication of Liturgiam authenticam (dated March 28, 2001, it was released May 5).
"Lacking the authority to correct the translation of ICEL, we request that it be remanded for correction according to Liturgiam authenticam", Archbishop Lipscomb said.
Bishop Blaise Cupich (Rapid City), a member of the Liturgy Committee, asked that it be made clear that "there are specific citations in the ICEL text we want to be expressly reviewed", and observed that the extensive work the BCL did on the text should not be "wasted". (At its meeting August, the BCL had carefully scrutinized the ICEL translation, comparing it with the study translation and the original Latin, and had found serious problems, details of which appeared in the conference documentation.)
Archbishop Lipscomb replied, "I don’t think that the full body [of bishops] will tell ICEL how to do its work".
The bishops’ vote to remand the IGMR to ICEL for correction was 135-8. This was an overwhelming majority, although many bishops had already left the meeting before the vote was taken.
During a press conference, in response to a reporter’s question about whether ICEL can make the appropriate changes, the archbishop responded, "of course they can do it. They have the competence. But whether they will do it" is not clear.
How well ICEL responds to the bishops’ remand will undoubtedly be a determining factor in the future of this "mixed commission". No timetable was set for ICEL’s completion of the revisions, though the Missal is supposed to be released before the end of the year.
Liturgiam authenticam sessionIn June the bishops had decided to have a "fuller discussion" on Liturgiam authenticam at their next meeting. The Committee for Review of Scripture translations and the BCL planned the session, and four presenters commented on implications of the Instruction from the point of view of theology, liturgy, scripture and ecumenism. The Tuesday afternoon session was devoted to the papers and discussion following.
Jesuit theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, of Fordham University, was asked to comment on the theological import of the Instruction. The text of his talk as given to the bishops and the press follows, with minor edits:
According to the memorandum dated October 26, 2001, my assignment is to provide "a theological introduction, reflecting on the central purpose of the Instruction to assure the integral transmission of Revelation through the translation of scriptural and liturgical texts".
The very title "authentic liturgy" indicates the essential purpose. LA has the intention of correcting liturgical translations that are judged unfaithful to the Roman Missal. More specifically, it seeks to rectify the principles set forth in a previous directive, Comme le prévoit, issued by the Consilium on the Liturgy in 1969. These earlier principles have been blamed for the rather free and pedestrian translations produced by ICEL and printed in the Missal of 1971.
In several speeches and writings Pope John Paul II encouraged a new effort. In 1995, for example, he said to a group of American bishops:
When so many people are thirsting for the living God (Ps 42:2) – whose majesty and mercy are at the heart of liturgical prayer — the Church must respond with a language of praise and worship which fosters respect and gratitude for God’s greatness, compassion, and power. When the faithful gather to celebrate the work of our redemption, the language of their prayer – free from doctrinal ambiguity and ideological influence – should foster the dignity and beauty of the celebration itself, while faithfully expressing the Church’s faith and unity.
In its concern for the effective transmission of revelation, LA attends both to the content of the faith (fides quae creditur) and to the attitude of faith (fides qua creditur.)
For the content it is important that the translations adhere closely to the texts being translated. LA disavows "creative innovation" (20) and calls for exact translations "as literal as possible" (56), "without omissions or additions of terms and without paraphrases and glosses" (20). Special care is to be taken in rendering sacramental formulas and articles of the creed (55, 63, 65).
To inculcate the attitude of faith, it is important for the liturgical texts to represent "the voice of the Church at prayer" (27). LA calls for a sacred vocabulary and for a style somewhat removed from everyday speech (27, 47, 50c). The texts, it declares, should offer "words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s majesty, his power, his mercy, and his transcendent nature" (25).
The twin emphases on accuracy and sacredness will resonate with the aspirations of many priests and lay persons, who are dissatisfied with the vernacular texts in common use today. But the two principles just stated generate corresponding problems.
For one thing, some of the terms and images in the original texts are no longer intelligible except to a few scholars. Partly for this reason Comme le prévoit called for accessibility and "creative adaptation" (6, 21, 33, et passim). With the aim of assuring the effective transmission of the faith, it directed that the language be simple and modern. It cautioned against stilted and archaic expressions.
In its insistence on literal accuracy, LA prohibits the altering of texts for the sake of avoiding discrimination (29-32, 57b). Its demand that the grammatical gender and person of the original words be retained is restrictive in comparison with the criteria adopted by the United States Bishops in 1990, which discourage the use of terms such as "man" and "he" in a generic sense. The question of language potentially offensive to Jews will, I believe, be taken up by Bishop Brown in his presentation this afternoon.
It would be pointless to speak of fidelity to the original texts without specifying what versions are to be translated. For texts of ecclesiastical composition, the norm for the Latin rite is evidently the Roman Sacramentary (24). Regarding biblical translations, the question is very complex. At one point LA says that the texts for the Latin liturgy are to be taken from the neo-Vulgate (37), which was intended to provide a text well suited to liturgical use. This approach has clear advantages, since all churches of the Roman rite should have the same readings. These readings should be in continuity with the Roman tradition (4) and be capable of bearing the spiritual interpretations made by the Latin Fathers (41 and 41a).
The neo-Vulgate, however, is not the only norm. In an earlier passage LA, following a directive of Pius XII in Divino afflante Spiritu (DAS p 16), says that the translation is to be made directly from the languages in which the Bible was written, using the neo-Vulgate only as an auxiliary tool (24). This principle will meet with the approval of biblical scholars, may of whom are dissatisfied with the choice of manuscripts used for the neo-Vulgate.
The principles in different paragraphs are difficult to harmonize. Is it possible to follow critical texts in the original languages (24) and at the same time to adhere as closely to the neo-Vulgate as required by nos. 37-39? If the translators accept textual traditions that depart from the neo-Vulgate, the resultant readings may differ significantly from those in the Latin lectionary.
At certain points LA ventures beyond strictly liturgical matters. In number 36 it calls for a complete translation of the Bible that corresponds to the texts used in the liturgy. There may indeed be good reasons for desiring a common Bible for all English-speaking Catholics. But most Scripture scholars will be dissatisfied with translations that give preference to the neo-Vulgate, as used in the Latin-rite liturgy.
Later paragraphs make provision for coordination between this approved translation, based on the neo-Vulgate, and translations intended for use in non-Latin Catholic churches (LA 90). Mention is also made of cooperation with Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians in the production of ecumenical versions of the Bible (LA 91). These questions, as well as that question of cooperation with Jews in translating the Hebrew Bible, will, I believe, be discussed by Bishop Brown, in his presentation this afternoon.
As regards its central purpose, I would judge that LA contributes to the integral transmission of the faith by its dual emphasis on literal accuracy and on language conducive to reverence. It also helps to safeguard a sense of family unity and historic continuity among Latin-rite Catholics. As LA is received, it will have to be reconciled with other authoritative documents ["directives" in the oral presentation], which encourage a moderate use of inclusive language, reliance on manuscript traditions foreign to the Neo-Vulgate, and sensitivity for the concerns of Eastern Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, and Jews.
I have five points and a conclusion that I’d like to bring forward to begin our discussion this afternoon on the liturgical import, as I see it, of Liturgiam authenticam.
The first is a matter of fact: it’s the fifth post-conciliar Instruction on the liturgical renewal since the Second Vatican Council. The fourth post-conciliar Instruction on inculturation, Varietates legitimae, spoke about the various cultures, which are instruments for expressing the faith and our prayer of God and, therefore, the liturgy. Liturgiam authenticam, I think, is meant to be an elaboration of the fourth Instruction because it begins with a reference to inculturation.
And that’s my second point. In the fifth chapter of Liturgiam authenticam there’s an extraordinary claim made about the Roman Rite. It states that the Roman Rite has a singular "capacity for assimilating into itself spoken and sung texts, gestures and rites derived from the customs and the genius of diverse nations and particular churches … into a harmonious unity that transcends the boundaries of any single region". There are many people, not only liturgists but anthropologists and others, who would say there’s no such thing as a universal cultural artifact. But that claim is made for the Roman Rite – only if, however, the presupposition is also valid: namely, that the development of such a rite as a cultural artifact is in constant conversation with every culture that is developed in, in our case, the two-thousand-year old history of the rite. There has to be, therefore, an organic development presupposed by this text which, to some extent, is in tension with what many would read as the dynamics of liturgical renewal since the Second Vatican Council. The presupposition in the renewal of the rites was that we must go back to the original — the Hypolitan Second Century text, for example, of the Canon — in order to find the original genius, and purge the rite of medieval accretions in dialogue with Byzantine culture, first of all, but also with Frankish and Celtic and Germanic developments. These were taken out as aberrations, to a certain extent; or, at least, as dialogue partners for us today that are not helpful. So that the dialogue is between our contemporary culture and the original Roman Rite, to the extent that we are able to reconstitute it. This was a dynamic of rupture, not a dynamic of organic development. And I think that that is the larger question – theological and anthropological – that is left unsettled, but that at some point has to be raised if we are going to treat Liturgiam authenticam, not as itself a rupture in the dynamics of post-conciliar development of the liturgy, but as a reminder of [how] this rite, with its extraordinary claim to universality — or any rite — develops in fact.
The third point, then, is that if you’re going to talk about inculturation of a rite as an organic development of it over two thousand years, not just a conversation between the original rite and our contemporary culture, then you also have to ask about the way in which the faith has been inculturated. For there’s no religious rite, there is no act of religion, there is no worship unless there is a religious faith, a sense of who God is and, therefore, evidence that the faith has influenced, has created a culture in some sense.
If it hasn’t done that, then there are no cultural elements that can be used in prayer to inculturate the liturgy. Only if, in fact, the Catholic faith has helped to shape the culture will that culture provide a language and customs that can be an apt vehicle for worship.
The fourth point is that this document recognizes what we all know: that the primary carrier of culture is language. Therefore, the document is subtitled, "On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of Books of the Roman Liturgy". So if the faith has to influence a culture in order to create an ambiance and elements that can be used to shape prayer and worship and liturgy, and if the primary vehicle of culture is language, then there are a couple of questions that immediately to mind. And they’re answered, to some extent, by Liturgiam authenticam.
The first question: Does this particular vernacular language have the capacity, in itself, have the linguistic resources to express the Catholic faith, and therefore to be used for Catholic worship? I think it is this unexpressed question which explains why the document distinguishes between languages that are apt vehicles for worship, and other languages, dialects, etc. that really shouldn’t be used – not because there aren’t enough people [who use them] but because some languages simply don’t have the resources necessary to express the Catholic faith and therefore to be used for Catholic worship.
This is not a new discovery. A hundred and fifty years ago, when missionaries first went to many of the parts of southern Africa they had a hard time trying to translate particularly words for God, when all the words of those languages carried certain nuances and meanings, cultural baggage, that made them not fit vehicles for the Christian understanding of God. So what many of the missionaries did, at that time, was simply use Latin. The word for God became Deus, and they explained who Deus is in the words of the local language, and introduced that language into their tongue, creating a new language which was able to be a carrier of faith, and able to be used for worship, because the native language didn’t have the resources necessary.
Tagalog is another example. All the words about faith and religion are all Spanish. They just supplemented the language, caused it to grow, by importing Spanish words in order to take the sacred meanings that they needed for worship and for the faith. [Some] years ago, I spent a week in the northern Cameroons talking to missionaries to the people, who are either animist or Muslim for the most part. They tried to figure out what titles of Jesus could be used in worship in the native tongue. They had come into the meeting figuring that we would have to find a word like "ancestor", which is so important in African cultures, in order to speak about Jesus. And at the end of the week, having listened to what ancestor meant – because many of the ancestral spirits are malevolent and are not what we want to make reference to in our worship – they ended up saying we will call Jesus "elder brother", rather than "ancestor". Because that carries a lot of meanings, particularly in a matriarchal culture, that we can use. But it’s that kind of discernment about language that is necessary and is presupposed, I think, in many of the prescriptions.
I think the question we have to ask, particularly in our own culture wars, is whether or not the inclusive idiom of English has all the resources necessary to carry the full meanings of the Catholic faith, and therefore, is an apt instrument for Catholic worship.
There [are points] where I would argue strenuously that it doesn’t work. Particularly in our tradition, which is so based on distinguishing a person from a nature, to have a linguistic idiom which is only able to distinguish between an individual and groups means that you’re stuck with an idiom which is, in fact, individualistic and nominalistic, and doesn’t have the linguistic resources necessary to express the Catholic faith. I think it can be used when what you’re talking about is a group. Those kinds of instances create no problem, whereas other instances, in the Creed and in other cases, you have problems that simply can’t be dismissed in the way that they often are. So I think the larger question is, each time you try to take a vernacular language and try to put it into the Roman Rite, you have to ask: Does the idiom, does the language, have the resources necessary to carry the fullness of meaning that we have developed in our reflection upon historical Divine Revelation?
The discernment, therefore, has to be not what is contemporary language, because contemporary language might express a culture that, in fact, isn’t adequate to the Faith – it hasn’t been developed in dialogue with the Faith; the Faith isn’t adequately inculturated there. It has to be rather, what principles of discernment do we need to bring from the Faith to judge whether or not a language can be used.
First of all, it must be a language capable of expressing the original (in this case Latin) faithfully, but also able to create itself a language worthy of worship, a vernacular understandable, and yet reverent.
The second point is that the translations must be the translations of an editio typica, that is, faithful not only to the meaning of the words, but to the rites as an order. Liturgical books are not to be workbooks with constituent elements for a particular group to assemble a worship service at any particular point. They are to be the rites of the entire Universal Church, and not, therefore, manipulable in any broad sense by the groups that are worshipping.
The third point is that a biblical translation, when Scripture is used in liturgy, references the Neo-Vulgate to discover what is, in fact, the liturgical text.
What it tells us is that the Neo-Vulgate is to be a fixed point of reference for establishing the liturgical text. It is not a directive, here, for critical study and translations. For example, it is not enough to prescribe that the first reading for a given day will include Jeremiah 32: 38. Because in the Masoretic text this corresponds to: "They shall be my people and I will be their God", but in the Septuagint this verse belongs, not to Chapter 32, but to Chapter 39. It’s simply a question of what’s the code that we make reference to, to establish what is the Scriptural text that the Church wants us to use at a certain moment. It’s not saying this is the best way to translate. It’s just saying, here are the words; here is the text that has to be the reference. It’s a very different question than the one that asks: What is the best critical edition? What is the one that is closest to the one that came from the hand of a given author? Etcetera.
There’s no suggestion of the massive authority that some have claimed Liturgiam authenticam attributes to the Neo-Vulgate. It doesn’t mean any more, I would argue, than that where the editio typica of the Lectionary specifies Jeremiah 32:38, the textum canonicum is: "Erant mihi in populum, et ego ero eis in Deum".
The point is not that the Neo-Vulgate has some mystical insight into the Biblical vorlage [prototype, presupposition] that short-circuits scholarship. It’s simply that there has to be some canonical point of reference as to the Holy Word proclaimed in the liturgy, and the Neo-Vulgate as our historical Bible, for many reasons, situates and fixes that point.
In conclusion: there are, I think, a lot of sensitivities [surrounding] bishops and experts, or the relationship between Church and Scripture. Who owns the Word of God? Who tells us it is the Word of God? It is not the latest article in a scholarly periodical that tells us that, for we’d have to keep changing constantly. In fact, most of the difficulties concern about two percent of the text, I’m told.
Saint Thomas Aquinas talked about theology as doing, writing, in reference to the Sacred Page. Did Saint Thomas Aquinas, since he obviously didn’t have the critical text that we have, not have access to the word of God? Of course he did.
So [use of the Neo-Vulgate] doesn’t deserve the kind of hype and hysteria that has been raised around it.
Much of Liturgiam authenticam echoes concerns that have been raised here for the last ten years — and it does it in a way that gives us some answers. One of the big frustrations in our discussions was that when we raised objections, what came back was: "Comme le prévoit says this is okay", and it did. Now we have something a bit more specific than Comme le prévoit. Some people will welcome it and others won’t. But many of the concerns that were raised [in our discussions] are given a response here.
I find it disconcerting [to hear] it said, and as I’ve seen it written in one place, "We have been doing it this way for thirty years. It is now a custom, and we will not change". Particularly, for example, in what would be a difficult change if we decide to adopt it, the et cum spiritu tuo translation, to bring it into line with all the other vernacular languages. But when I hear that form, I hear a linguistic form of an argument that says, "We have been doing it this way for four hundred years, or two thousand years, and you cannot force us to change". This is a Lefebvrism of the left. [Laughter and applause] I love to say things like that.
Our Catholic Faith is carried forward by a living tradition — a living tradition — both words. And we are the guardians of that tradition, dear brother bishops.
One witness and, I think, a help to us in bringing forward that living tradition, is Liturgiam authenticam.
Bishop Tod Brown (Orange), chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Religious Affairs, referred to a paper he had sent to the bishops that was not made available to the press. Following are excerpts from his brief remarks:
Among the contributions to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue are: by deepening our own understanding and sense of liturgy, as well as the Word of God, we will continue to contribute to collaborative efforts with other churches and ecclesial communities, especially in the areas of a common lectionary and liturgical texts. Much has already been accomplished through this kind of collaboration in the last thirty years.
The paper you received lists seven challenges that face us as bishops. We may wish to talk about how our catechesis and priestly formation can situate these developments in the Latin Church within wider Catholic and ecumenical commitments, how to help our ecumenical work on translation, a common lectionary and common liturgical texts be understood and appreciated by our people, how both translation and catechesis can enhance an accurate understanding of our relationship with the Jewish people*, and how, in the light of the priority of translation from the Latin, our common translation and liturgical ecumenical work can deepen.
We need to remember that in all of our liturgical and biblical renewal, the common faith we share with fellow Christians and the progress that has been made with churches and ecclesial communities in dialogue over sacraments, biblical and authority issues must remain before our people.
*The appendix of the bishops’ 1990 Criteria for the use of Inclusive Language in Scriptural an Liturgical Texts called for selecting Scripture texts for Mass that would not be offensive to Jews, people with physical disabilities, etc.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli, auxiliary bishop of Newark and member of the Ad Hoc Committee for Review of Scripture Translations, focussed on the scriptural aspect of the Instruction. His presentation was transcribed from Adoremus tapes.
In Liturgiam authenticam the Congregation for Divine Worship offers guidance in our work as bishops to prepare liturgical books in vernacular. It calls for precision and exactness in biblical and liturgical translation. It presents us with an opportunity of continuing the renewal of Vatican II. Paragraphs 1-33 give general principles of translation; paragraphs 34-45, specific principles and applications to the sacred text.
Roughly one third of the Instruction affects the translation of Scripture. The Instruction’s interest is to help us provide a version of Scripture in accordance with the principles of sound exegesis and of a high literary quality. The Ad Hoc Committee on Scripture consulted scholars who are approved censors. It collaborated with the Liturgy Committee in studying the Instruction. From this common work, I will simply place before you points for discussion. My purpose is to state what the instruction says. There are two pages succinctly listing these points in your possession. To begin:
1. Liturgiam authenticam stands squarely in line with the Church’s insistence that sacred Scripture be translated from the original texts — the Hebrew, the Aramaic or the Greek. The Instruction urges one approved translation for liturgical use. Since there are various translations and personal preferences, the use of one uniform translation in a linguistic territory is a sign of communion. The uniformity and the stability of this one translation has advantages: it allows the faithful to memorize more readily the Scripture text; and it allows the faithful to be formed by Scripture in private prayer. Translating the Scripture is different than translating the Aeneid or Odyssey. Liturgiam authenticam indicates the words of Sacred Scripture express truths that transcend time and space. Therefore, translating Scripture is not so much the work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the words faithfully and accurately. The instruction endorses a precise and consistent style of translation. It moves away from translations that espouse "dynamic equivalency". Dynamic equivalence can move the art of translating towards paraphrasing in the current idiom. A more literal translation does not. A literal translation avoids popular modes of speech that quickly fall from favor, or are too bound up with movements of modern culture. Not all biblical scholars are comfortable with the Instruction’s strong endorsement of a literal translation over a translation based on dynamic equivalency.
If literal translations seem to endorse prejudice or unjust discrimination on the basis of gender, social condition, race or other criteria, the text is not to be altered; however these considerations may aid in choosing from various translations. While the translator does not alter the text, the catechist and the homilist must explain it. Here is a very sound principle that safeguards the integrity of the Sacred texts while facing the changing culture of each generation.
In paragraph 31 the Instruction is clear and straightforward about literal translations: "to be avoided is the systematic resort to imprudent solutions such as a mechanical substitution of words, the transition from the singular to the plural, the splitting of a unitary collective term into masculine and feminine parts, or the introduction of impersonal or abstract words, all of which may impede the communication of the true and integral sense of a word or an expression in the original text".
In specifying this principle, the Instruction gives leeway to the translator; e.g. the term "fathers" should be used,"brother" and "sister" are to be translated according to the proper gender when it is clear that it is a specific sex. The frequent anthropomorphisms of God are to be kept; also personal pronouns. However, in specifying this principle the Instruction gives leeway to the translator.
A simple example: "The term ‘fathers’, found in many biblical passages and liturgical texts of ecclesiastical composition, is to be rendered by the corresponding masculine word … insofar as it may be seen to refer to the Patriarchs or the kings". Therefore, when the term has a broader meaning the term "ancestors" is not ruled out. Similarly, the terms "brother" and "sister" are to be translated according to the proper gender when the person is "clearly masculine or feminine by virtue of the context". This keeps the translator faithful to translating, not paraphrasing, the text.
The frequent anthropomorphisms of biblical language, such as the "arm", the "hand", the "face" of God are to be kept. However, when strictly necessary, a personal pronoun or a more abstract term can be used.
The Instruction is balanced. It preserves both the intelligibility of the text, and the richness of biblical imagery.
Some biblical scholars have expressed two major concerns. The first is the authority given to the New Vulgate is now the point of reference for delineation of the canonical text, and it is the basis for choosing from among varying manuscript traditions — the tradition to prepare the liturgical text. Some scholars are not comfortable with this for three reasons. First, the New Vulgate was not created to help scholars with textual criticism; second, the NV is not always the best choice in terms of manuscript traditions; third, Dei Verbum urges translations based on the oldest and best manuscripts in the original.
However, the Instruction deals with this when it allows a variant reading other than that of the Vulgate to be used on the basis of critical editions and on the recommendation of experts. Therefore the difficulties with the New Vulgate are not insurmountable.
The second concern is the Instruction’s attitude toward "inclusive language". Some question the ability of a literal translation today to make sense of the original in the receptor language without using "inclusive language". On this point the Instruction does leave room to consult with classic texts in a given vernacular to find a suitable standard of vocabulary and usage.
In conclusion, one personal observation: Every translation made from the original text of Scripture — even the New Vulgate — is inevitably an interpretation. A translation, in the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, "is not simply Scripture but a piece of the Church’s interpretation of Scripture, and hence a part of tradition".
My dear brother bishops, it is our task as bishops to ensure that the translation we authorize for the liturgy faithfully hands down and accurately interprets for our people God’s living Word. Thank you.
In the ensuing discussion, the bishops’ interventions revealed that the conference has not yet achieved unanimity among its membership on the vexed matter of translation and revisions of English-language texts, but it was also apparent that most bishops want to accept and implement the Holy See’s directives and listen carefully to the Vatican authorities charged with oversight of doctrinal and liturgical issues.
It is also becoming ever more clear that most bishops, mindful of considerable confusion in the pews, hope to bring the work of liturgical revision and retranslation to a good conclusion soon. But despite significant progress, there is a nearly overwhelming amount of work to be done to produce the next generation of liturgical books — and many key issues are by no means settled.
Transcriptions of the bishops’ taped comments were done by Susan Benofy and edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock