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Address to US Bishops – Bishop Arthur Roche, Chairman of ICEL

Online Edition – July-August 2006
Vol. XII, No. 5

Address to US Bishops
Bishop Arthur Roche, Chairman of ICEL

Just before the US bishops began their debate and vote on the English translation of the Roman Missal produced by ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), Bishop Arthur Roche, of Leeds, England, president of ICEL, presented an address to the assembled bishops. His address, given Thursday morning, June 15, responded to several criticisms of the text. Bishop Roche’s address was made available to the press, and it appears here.

First of all I should like to thank you for this kind invitation to join you today. It is an honor to be here, and I sincerely hope that my small contribution to your debate will be of some assistance. It will not be possible to address every issue, but I will endeavor to address those issues that seem to be of concern. We have all heard the old chestnut, “What is the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist?”, but I had no idea at all when I was elected chairman of ICEL, four years ago, that what, at first, seemed to me to be a reasonably straight-forward task would be the forum for such controversy. What a shame it would be if the most important tool we have for formation and worship was reduced to politics, as if the highest or only form of discourse we can manage in the Church (or society) is political discourse.

I stand before you, as you know, as the representative of 11 bishops who themselves represent 11 countries, including your own. The Order of Mass now before you is the fruit of our work. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you, the bishops of the United States, for your involvement in this work. You have sent us a huge quantity of comments on the successive drafts that we have offered you. Indeed, the notable scholarship from among the members of your own conference has greatly contributed to and enhanced this whole project. ICEL has done its best to take all your comments and observations into account and produce a version that will respond to your wishes.

At the same time we have also been listening to comments from bishops of our other ten member countries as well as the directives of the Holy See, particularly those expressed in Liturgiam authenticam. But all of that you are aware of, because you yourselves approved our statutes when ICEL was being reconstituted four years ago. Needless to say, those statutes included working under the guidance of Liturgiam authenticam.

I have sometimes wondered, as we have progressed in this work, how is it possible to respond to so many voices? Indeed, how can we produce a single version of the Roman Order of Mass for use in so many countries? Does not the English spoken in the United States differ so much from that spoken in, say, New Zealand, that we need more than one version of the Missal?

I am also aware from some of the comments that we have received from you that within the United States itself there is already considerable, well-documented linguistic variation. Some of you will speak of soda, some will say pop, and others will say cola; with their drink some will eat a hoagy, some a grinder, some a hero and some, to the astonishment of British ears, a submarine! I would guess that there is not a person in this room who cannot tell his own story about a Southerner visiting the North who was unable to make himself understood. In my own country it is often the other way round — the people in the South tend to find those of us from the North unintelligible. You, too, may be more appreciative of that by the time I get to the end of this address!

These examples, of course, do not indicate that the United States is a modern Tower of Babel. Far from it. Alongside the regional variations there is an American Standard English by means of which people from all over the country communicate with each other. Its use is reinforced by television and radio.

I noticed that in the early stages of our consultation on the Order of Mass, voices were raised in the South objecting to the use of “you all” in the priest’s greeting because of the way in which those words are used in the South. Later, this objection was not heard, presumably because one linguistic area cannot determine the language of the whole country: “you all” is not used in American Standard English as it is used in the South and, as far as I am aware, nobody suggested that the South should have its own separate Missal.

The same principle can be applied internationally. There is an International Standard English, which we encounter when we buy a piece of equipment with instructions in many languages and only one English version.

Research on regional variation in English tends to show that the common ground among the regions is far greater than differences between them. English is still a single language. One of the leading linguistic scholars of our time, David Crystal, has written this:

It is difficult to predict the shape of international English in the twenty-first century. But it seems likely that more rather than less standardization will result…. We may, in due course, all need to be in control of two standard Englishes — the one which gives us our national and local identity, and the other which puts us in touch with the rest of the human race. In effect, we may all need to become bilingual in our own language.1

Does this sound familiar, I wonder? Fifteen hundred years ago, Latin continued to be used while the Romance languages were growing out of it. Moreover, Latin became a vehicle of culture and faith for those who spoke Germanic languages. It was by means of Latin that the faith was preserved and transmitted in Western Europe. It needs to be remembered now that in many parts of the world it is English that will be called upon to play a similar role.

Also in many countries where English is not much spoken, the English version of liturgical texts plays an important function, because it is used as a guide to translating the Latin. There are, of course, some languages with speakers or scholars fluent in Latin. For instance, in New Zealand earlier this year I met a scholar who is translating the Mass from Latin directly into Fijian. In Maynooth, Ireland, a team is at work translating Latin texts directly into Gaelic. But in Norway and many parts of Africa and Asia, for instance, the translators rely heavily on the English version. I imagine that may be the case here, too, when the Mass is translated into Native American languages. We clearly have a responsibility to these people. At a meeting of the Presidents of English-speaking Episcopal Conferences in Rome, in October 2003, many Episcopal Conferences requested ICEL to share with them our scholarship in order to help them with their own translations. This is readily made available.

I often hear it said that objections to ICEL’s recent work are really objections to Liturgiam authenticam. Allow me to offer you a few thoughts on that document which is welcomed by some and rejected by others rather like the annual government budgets. It is to be remembered, however, that Liturgiam authenticam is a child of Pope John Paul II’s document Vicesimus quintus annos, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which called for an opportune stock-taking, not least in the area of faithfulness in translation.

Its stipulations differ markedly from those of the earlier document known as Comme le prévoit. That was issued in 1969 by the Consilium with the responsibility for putting into effect the Council’s Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. We need to note, however, that these two documents do not have the same status: the earlier document was issued by the Consilium, the latter by the Congregation. At the heart of Comme le prévoit was the idea of “dynamic equivalence”, achieved when a translator detaches the “content” of an utterance from the “form” in which it is expressed.

We have examples of this in our current Mass texts. For example, in the Third Eucharistic prayer when we say “so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made”. The proponents of dynamic equivalence tell us that “from east to west” conveys the same information as “from the rising of the sun to its setting”, which we now propose. And so it does, in the dry language of the cartographer. But the meaning of this phrase is richer: it has a temporal dimension as well as a spatial one. We could have made both meanings explicit by saying “from east to west and from dawn to dusk”, but I would claim that by staying closer to the form of expression that we find in Malachi 1:11, and I quote: “See, from the rising of the sun to its setting all the nations revere my Name and everywhere incense is offered to my Name as well as a pure offering”, we have produced a richer and more evocative version, bringing to the mind of the worshipper the beauties of the sunrise and sunset and the closeness of these texts to Sacred Scripture.

Another example is found in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer in the phrase “the fruit of the vine” in the Institution Narrative. Currently we say “He took the cup filled with wine”, as you know, and some argue that “the fruit of the vine” means the same as the single word “wine”, and that the simpler expression should be preferred. But we hear the words “the fruit of the vine” on the lips of the Lord Himself in all three synoptic Gospels — which I would consider as being more than enough reason to respect their form. Moreover, though the two expressions refer to the same substance, they do so in an entirely different way. The difference between the single word and the richer phrase is the difference between reading the label on the bottle and actually enjoying a glass-full of the wine itself. Furthermore this phrase has a powerful salvific resonance because of the symbolic value accorded to the vine plant and the vineyard in scripture, as recalled by Jesus’ elaboration in John 15 of the image of Himself as the true vine, His Father as the vinedresser, and ourselves as the branches. This picks up on an even earlier usage in Isaiah 5 — the famous “Song of the Vineyard” — and the Lord’s lament at the degeneracy of His once choice vine in Jeremiah 2. Of course, the word “wine” connects with this scriptural patrimony, but it does so less evidently, less directly than does the phrase “fruit of the vine” which, upon each hearing, encourages us in our imaginations to see the particular Eucharistic event as part of the unfolding of God’s universal plan within history to rescue us from the destruction and chaos occasioned by our sinfulness and bring us into communion with Himself and with each other in Christ.

Dynamic equivalence has become an outmoded idea: even its originator, Eugene Nida, ceased to use it in his later writings. Over the last thirty years specialists in language have become more aware that the form we choose for an utterance is itself expressive of our purpose in speaking. This is particularly important when we make requests. It is one thing for me to say “turn on the light” and another for me to say “would you turn on the light?” Both utterances convey the information that I want the light to be turned on by you. But we speak not only to inform, but also to persuade.

Much of our liturgical language consists of requests made to God. Sometimes, these are expressed very simply and directly, as in the Collect for the first Friday of Advent:

Stir up your power, O Lord,
and come to our aid with mighty strength… (A22co)

But some are more elaborately expressed, as in the Collect for Tuesday of the same week:

Be moved by our pleading, Lord God, we pray,
and in our trials
grant us the help of your compassion… (A12co)

This might be called the “courtesy” of the Missal. Liturgiam authenticam, insisting that translators respect the forms of expression found in the Liturgy, encourages us to speak humbly and courteously to God. But forms of courtesy vary from region to region: you know, for instance, how bishops are addressed differently in different countries. Courteous requests are often made in the form of questions like “would you turn on the light?” which do not seem appropriate for the Liturgy, since while Hebrew prayers often ask questions of God, Latin ones do not. In consequence, deprecatory language, which is necessary for a faithful translation of the Liturgy, does not come readily to hand. Translators have found that they need to stay close to the Latin in order to remain faithful to it, and users of these texts will be learning a new language of liturgical prayerful courtesy.

Often, the form of a liturgical utterance will convey a doctrinal message. An important instance of this is the link between the Epiclesis and the Institution Narrative in the Eucharistic Prayers. In the First and Second Eucharistic Prayers, these form a single syntactic unit. In the Third and Fourth they are joined by the conjunction enim, which we have translated with the English word “for”. For example, in the third Eucharistic Prayer:

Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you:
make holy by the same Spirit
these gifts we have brought to you for consecration,
that they may become the Body and Blood
of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ
at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.
For He Himself
on the night He was handed over
took bread….

It seemed imperative to respect the form of the Latin text in order to show a link between the action of the Holy Spirit and the action of Christ.

“Formal equivalence” is the name often given to the goal recommended in Liturgiam authenticam. Its methods need to be used carefully and flexibly, and we have tried not to use them slavishly. The Holy Father himself is reported as saying recently that the purpose of Liturgiam authenticam is not to produce a word-for-word translation, but a faithful translation. And that is what we have tried to do.

I often share with my brother English and Welsh bishops an insight that I have gained through being involved with this work. It is this, and I say it with the greatest respect, but the more I go through this process the clearer it is to me that very many of us need to revisit the theological reasoning behind the various parts and components of the Mass, as well as considering the theological sources from which the texts of the Mass have been culled. In the main, these are the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church.

In this regard I would like to make a general point, but one I believe to be highly important for our consideration. The prayers of the Mass, including the Anaphoras, are mainly inspired and formed from Sacred Scripture, and the Commission of ICEL has accepted one very important point found in Liturgiam authenticam and accepted it as being crucial, namely the significance of the language of Sacred Scripture in our translation of the Mass. One good example of this is the translation of the Domine non sum dignus as, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”, with its reminiscence of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant.2

The link between the Liturgy and Scripture, on which Liturgiam authenticam lays emphasis, seems so obvious, important and valuable. I find it quite interesting to note the issues that can arise in this regard. Let me take one example, the use of the word dew in the Epiclesis of the Second Eucharistic Prayer:

Therefore, make holy these gifts, we pray,
by the dew of your Spirit…

It has been objected that this translation “does not resonate or communicate with contemporary Christians”. But surely, dew still exists. I noticed an advert on the street yesterday for a drink called Mountain Dew! Dew has a unique set of natural and scriptural associations: it speaks of freshness, new beginning, water (and hence life), beauty, descent from above (and hence divine blessing), and manna (Exodus 16:13-14) (and hence Eucharist). It still appears on the ground in the morning as it did in the time of Moses on the journey through the desert. American people know what dew is — rather better, I suspect, than Europeans, since so many of you get out of bed earlier than we do! It is true that in some pronunciations, dew can be confused with the word for a Hebrew person, but I am unaware of any representations from the Anti-defamation League objecting to the frequent use of the expression “dew point” in the weather forecast! Contemporary Christians are not puzzled when they hear at Mass these words from the Book of Exodus:

In the morning a dew lay all about the camp (Ex 16:13)

Or when they hear Isaac say to Jacob in Genesis:

May God give to you of the dew of the heavens (Gn 27:28)

Or when they hear Elijah prophesy:

during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word (I Kgs 17:1)

We do not scratch our heads when in the Liturgy of the Hours we make our own the words of Moses:

(May) my discourse permeate like the dew (Deut 32:2)

Or when with the Psalmist we compare unity to the

dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion (Ps 133:3).

In the New American Bible, from which I have taken all these examples, the word “dew” occurs 41 times, all of them in the Old Testament.

Christian writers developed the idea of the “dew of the Spirit”. Saint Ambrose gives that name to the waters of baptism, while for later writers such as Saint Bernard, the dew of the Spirit is the grace of God which descends upon the soul to nourish and enliven it. Hildegard of Bingen says that the dew of the Spirit came down on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. And indeed on both sides of the Atlantic most of us will have heard sung or said the Sequence of Pentecost which rendered riga quod est aridum by translating the stanza thus:

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away.3

That same day, in the Office of Readings, we read in the text from Saint Irenaeus:

If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an Advocate as well.4

Forgive me if I have labored this point, but I do so simply to exemplify how a reasonably commonplace and simple word can sometimes be embroidered with a complexity it does not merit.

Finally, let me consider with you the translation of et cum spiritu tuo. As you know, the translation of this as “and with your spirit” is required by Liturgiam authenticam. However, this translation cannot be understood without reference to Saint Paul, who will often address a person, for example Timothy, by referring to “your spirit” rather than simply to “you”. What is the significance of this? Well, he is addressing someone close to God who has God’s spirit. So when we reply “and with your spirit” we are indicating that we are part of a spiritual community, it is God’s spirit that has gathered us together.

A further point that I would like to make with you, which resonates with many of the interventions at the recent Synod of Bishops, is that scriptural catechesis is central to liturgical catechesis. It was said of Saint Bernard that he knew the Sacred Scriptures so well that his language was biblical — he began to, as our young people would say today, “speak bible”. My point is that in using a translation that is more faithful to Sacred Scripture we are teaching ourselves and our people to speak bible! Lex orandi, lex credendi.

I was taken recently by an article in one of our Catholic weeklies at home. In fact, I was more taken aback by it. It presented to its readers the 100 most influential Catholics in Britain today. Needless to say there wasn’t a bishop amongst them! The following week, in the Letters’ column, a woman wrote in saying:

You left my mum off your list! For me, she is the top Catholic in the country. She has attended Mass faithfully at least once a week for over 83 years. She sacrificed a good career (as a midwife) to raise eight children and she’s now a devoted grandmother and great-grandmother. She has given very generously to every collection in our parish, sometimes going without herself. Both her and my late father served the Church faithfully for years, never questioning [and this, to me, was the pertinent phrase] and always listening to the words spoken from the altar. Her name is Anne and she is like thousands of Catholic mums in this country, the very backbone of the Church.

I cannot help but think that what is being asked of us bishops today is no less vital than what was being asked of Paul when, in the face of the cacophonous Church at Corinth, he wrote:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”.5

So many people with so many ideas, but in the end it is we bishops, in union with our Holy Father, who have the responsibility of faithfully handing on to them what we have received from the Lord. Paul returned to that theme once again, when writing to Timothy:

Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.6

The version of Mass that we currently use is clearly far from perfect. Those of you who celebrate Mass in both Spanish and English will know only too well the difference in richness between the two texts. The then- bishops of ICEL recognized that from the beginning, and they knew that a revision would be needed. There was an urgent feeling in the early 1970s that the liturgy should be made available to the people as soon as possible, and the work was rushed. The revisiting of this was delayed for practical reasons, but also for ideological ones that caused many bishops grave concern, and that is sometimes forgotten. The chief preoccupation in many minds was, of course, that the liturgy be brought closer to the people. This aim could, and sometimes did, obscure the other aim, which was to preserve and transmit our inherited liturgical tradition and bring our people closer to that. During the initial stages of consultation on the third edition of the Missale Romanum, two theologians wrote to me, quite independently, and shared with me their belief that the Mass texts we currently use had severely diminished our appreciation of the richness of Eucharistic theology. This is clearly something to which we, as bishops, should be sensitive. The Holy Father said something similar during the course of last year’s Synod of Bishops. Of course, if you try to carry a cup of coffee across a room too quickly, much of the contents may spill. This time, we have tried to keep the coffee in the cup.

We are at a very important moment in the whole of this process. If the bishops of the English-speaking countries can agree on a single version of the Mass, what a sign of catholicity that will be. But more than that, it will be a guarantee of catholicity for the future, not only in our own time, and not only in our own countries. Clearly I, and all my brother bishops of ICEL, believe that you, the bishops of the United States, have a most important role of leadership to play in just that. Thank you for giving me your attention.

1 Quoted in Tom McArthur, Oxford Guide to World English (Oxford, 2002), 445.
2 Mt 8:8; Lk 7:6
3 Lava quod est sordidum, Riga quod est aridum, Sana quod est saucium
4 Contra Haereses Lib.3,17,1-3:SC34,302-306
5 I Corinthians 11:23-24
6 II Timothy 2:14-15