Online Edition: September 2007
Vol. XIII, No. 6
Nova et Vetera
“There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too…” — Pope Benedict XVI – Explanatory letter
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
“Pope Restores Latin Mass”. That headline, and many variations of it, appeared in both secular and Catholic press following the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum (trans., “supreme pontiffs”) on July 7, providing for wider use of the pre-Conciliar liturgical form.
The headline is misleading, at best. It’s not only about Latin. The Holy Father’s letter allowed freer use of the pre-Conciliar form of the Liturgy, the 1962 Missal calling it the “extraordinary form” of the Mass, and removed most restrictions on use of the “extraordinary form”. At the same time, he affirmed that the current Missale Romanum is the “ordinary form” of Mass.
The mistaken headlines and news stories may be understandable, because the old form of Mass (vetus ordo) is always celebrated in Latin, and the new form (novus ordo) is usually celebrated in vernacular languages, although its official texts are also in Latin, and it may always be celebrated in Latin. It is also true that few Catholics under the age of 50 have ever experienced Mass celebrated in Latin in their parishes, though millions were inspired and deeply moved by the beauty and solemnity of the televised funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II, which was the “ordinary form” of Mass celebrated in Latin by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.
Other misleading (and worse) commentaries about the pope’s liberalization of the “old Mass” found their way into news reports and endless Internet ‘blogs — and they came from both ends of the “liturgical spectrum”. These comments revealed serious misapprehensions of the real significance of Summorum Pontificum and of Pope Benedict’s intentions, which he stated in his accompanying explanatory letter. Some contained downright false statements, such as the pope’s action “abolished Vatican II”.
The Holy Father had anticipated “divergent reactions” to the liberalization of use of the old Missal, as his explanatory letter stated. “News reports and judgments made without sufficient information have created no little confusion”, he wrote. “There have been very divergent reactions ranging from joyful acceptance to harsh opposition, about a plan whose contents were in reality unknown”.
Pope Benedict’s explanatory letter specifically addresses two main fears that had already emerged: first, “that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions — the liturgical reform — is being called into question”; and second, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to “disarray or even divisions within parish communities”.
(The US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy published a special edition of its Newsletter, containing English translations both of Summorum Pontificum and of Pope Benedict’s explanatory letter, making them readily available online.)
Pope Benedict’s letter directly addressed these two fears, explaining that both are unfounded. He pointed out that the 1962 Missal “was never juridically abrogated”, so “in principle it was always permitted”. He noted that the reasons for this break with Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers, for whom use of the old Missal had become an “identifying mark”, “were at a deeper level”. He also noted that other Catholics who did accept the “binding character of the Second Vatican Council and were faithful to the pope and the bishops” were also attracted to the old form, and that there was a reason for this:
This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.
Would Summorum Pontificum lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities? “This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded”, the pope’s letter says. “The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often. Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful”, he writes; and he calls for charity and “pastoral prudence”. Furthermore, “the most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal”.
“Positive Reason” for Summorum Pontificum
Pope Benedict also described the “positive reason” that led to his decision to “update” Pope John Paul II’s 1988 Ecclesia Dei adflicta, which had asked for a generous response from bishops to requests to celebrate Mass with the pre-Conciliar Missal — the “usus antiquior”, or “former use”.
The new document, Pope Benedict wrote, responds to the need for “a clearer juridical regulation which had not been foreseen at the time of the 1988 Motu Proprio. The present norms are also meant to free bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations”.
In addition, the pope explains, “It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church”.
Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return, widen your hearts also!” (II Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.
Continuity — Nova et Vetera
Pope Benedict strongly emphasizes the continuity between the two forms of the Missal:
There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.
Continuity — “organic development” in Catholic Liturgy — has emerged as a recurring theme with Pope Benedict. He emphasized this continuity not only in his past writings, but early this year his apostolic exhortation after the Synod on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, describes the “orderly development of ritual forms”, from the early Greek liturgies, through the spread of the Roman rite, to the Council of Trent and the “liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council”.
“Concretely, the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities”, he wrote (Sac. Caritatis 3).
Efforts must continue to make the “beauty of the heavenly liturgy” visible in all our Catholic churches, whether we celebrate according to the “extraordinary” or the “ordinary” form. It would be a very serious mistake, for example, to be distracted from working for excellence in the vernacular translations of Scripture and liturgical texts — for this is how the vast majority of all Catholics will continue to experience the Mass.
Considerable progress has been made in assuring that “artificial discontinuities” such as the mistakes of the translations into English more than thirty years ago are corrected, so that the Church can communicate her truth more fully, more transparently, more authentically, and, yes, more beautifully.
Again, in Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict spoke of the need to engage the reality of various cultures:
The presence of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are events capable of engaging every cultural reality and bringing to it the leaven of the Gospel. It follows that we must be committed to promoting the evangelization of cultures, conscious that Christ Himself is the truth for every man and woman, and for all human history (78).
He stressed the obligation of every Catholic — clergy, religious or lay — to assume responsibility for transmitting the “moral energy” for transformation of the world. “Worship pleasing to God”, he writes, “can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith” (83).
Language and Authentic Liturgy
The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” as affirmed in Lumen Gentium (11). It is absolutely central to our faith. And the way the Sacred Liturgy is communicated and understood is principally through language. Words make a difference. Our heritage as Roman Catholics impels us to hold fast to the treasure of the Latin language that has shaped most of our history; but we must also care deeply about the expression of our faith in our present culture. It is for this reason that the fathers of the Second Vatican Council advocated use of vernacular languages in the Sacred Liturgy.
It should be obvious that all translations of biblical and liturgical texts must always conform as closely as possible to the original languages, in order to convey the true meaning of the original as accurately and intelligibly as possible. However, as we know, for many years following the Council, the view prevailed among those responsible for translating these crucial texts that translation really means interpretation, contemporizing, paraphrasing — even if this “updating”, in fact, materially changed the meaning of the original. The result, as we have seen, often reflected the ideology of the translators more closely than the true meaning of sacred texts — “arbitrary deformations”, as Pope Benedict observed, that caused “deep pain” for many faithful Catholics.
This priority of communicating “authentic Liturgy” was the objective of the 2001 Instruction on liturgical translation, Liturgiam authenticam. And also the disciplinary norms of Redemptionis Sacramentum, to correct liturgical abuses, that followed in 2004.
In April 2002, the Holy See created Vox Clara, a committee of English-speaking bishops to help the Congregation for Divine Worship oversee the translation of the original Latin liturgical texts into English.
Pope John Paul II’s message in establishing Vox Clara described its purpose:
Since the lex orandi conforms to the lex credendi, fidelity to the rites and texts of the Liturgy is of paramount importance for the Church and the Christian life. In that light, I wish to offer every encouragement to the Vox Clara Committee in its task of assisting the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in ensuring that the texts of the Roman Rite are accurately translated in accordance with the norms of the Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam.
In a special way, I wish to commend to the Pastors of the Church the important task of making available to the faithful, as quickly as possible, the vernacular translations of the editio tertia of the Missale Romanum, the publication of which I authorized last year. (emphasis added.)
The Instruction Liturgiam authenticam (9) also called for an instrument to assist the process of translating liturgical texts of the Roman Rite into any given modern language — a Ratio translationis.
In March of this year, the Vox Clara committee produced a set of translation guidelines for the English language, after several years of consultation, assisted formally and informally by the work of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which had also been thoroughly re-organized under new Statutes in 2003.
Language as “organic development”
The Ratio translationis stresses that liturgical translation should be seen in continuity with the past:
For many centuries before Trent, the faithful heard the word of God preached and listened to homilies and catechesis in the local tongue, and probably also sang vernacular hymns at Mass, at least in some places. In effect, the Latin of the Roman Rite (itself stemming from a period in which it had become the predominant vernacular of the faithful in Rome) long provided a universal identity in which Latin [rite] Catholics in the different parts of the world shared, while vernaculars affirmed the union of the faithful in their own communities. Hence these dimensions of universality in the communion of all believers of the same Rite, and of diversity in the different regions are mirrored in the way in which liturgical languages have been used, though this has varied considerably over some sixteen hundred years. This suggests that what is new in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the use of the vernacular is not only the authoritative statement of the principle that local languages are permissible in the celebration of the Liturgy, but that also the recognition of the fact that the Roman Rite itself can be authentically celebrated when vernacular languages are used in tandem with Latin. (RT 15)
The Ratio quotes Liturgiam authenticam 5, underscoring this continuity:
“In preparing all translations of the liturgical books”, then, “the greatest care is to be taken to maintain the identity and unitary expression of the Roman Rite, not as a sort of historical monument, but rather as a manifestation of the theological realities of ecclesial communion and unity”. (emphasis added.)
It also emphasizes that any liturgical translation must deepen and strengthen, never truncate, connections with the past:
[T]he use of the vernacular in the Roman Rite assists the faithful not simply in grasping the meaning of the prayers and the scriptural texts (which were, after all, originally written in a vernacular of their day), but also in deepening their ability to pray in the particular ways that the Roman Rite recommends, as well as in strengthening their unity with the universal Church at prayer, past and present. (RT 17, emphasis added).
It specifically mentions “organic development”:
Any development of the Roman Rite through liturgical translation, including the adaptation of a liturgical text, must be brought about in such a way that any modifications are seen to develop organically out of the theology and constant practice of the Roman Rite over the centuries (RT 18, emphasis added).
The Ratio observes that the vernacular language is often influenced by the Latin — one form of inculturation: “This can be seen, for example, in the not-rare instances in which politicians and others use the term “mea culpa” as an expression of regret for mistakes or failings, implicitly borrowing this phrase and its meaning from the Confiteor in the Ordo Missae (RT 22).
The new ICEL translation of the 2002 Roman Missal (the Order of Mass is now approved by all ICEL-member conferences and awaits permission for use in all the English-speaking Churches) will restore this classic expression to the Confiteor: Soon, we Catholics will be able to say, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” — at Mass and in English:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned greatly
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
Therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Another example of restoring authenticity to the translated text is retaining the allusions to Scripture found in the original Latin text. For example,
Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed.
In the present English translation, the italicized phrase was “interpreted”, rather than translated, as “to receive you” — which lost the Latin text’s reference to the centurion, who thus proclaimed his unworthiness to Jesus, whom he had asked to heal his servant, in Luke 7:6, and Matthew 8:8.
This is only one of hundreds of examples of quotations from biblical and patristic sources that form part of the current Roman Missal, but have mostly been obliterated in translation — until the new translations now awaiting approval for use. Obviously, the elimination of these references seriously diminishes the integrity of the translated texts, and their power to communicate the faith more deeply.
For too long, people have been denied access to the fullness of meaning of the original Latin liturgical texts in the English translations. There will be much cause for rejoicing when the new English translation of the 2002 Missale Romanum appears in our parishes.
The Ratio also describes the way in which a “liturgical vernacular” is developed, that is, specialized expressions that convey more technical terms of Christian belief and worship. In some cases, the original Latin-based terms are employed (e.g., pyx, embolism, scrutiny), but vernacular terms can also be invested with special liturgical meaning (e.g., “great Amen”, “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”).
On the subject of “liturgical vernacular” as it relates to translation style, the Ratio comments:
While renderings of liturgical texts must be from Latin originals which have their own syntax and style, the style of the translation itself is not left simply to the discretion of each translator. Instead, Liturgiam authenticam calls for the development and consistency of a distinctive translation style with these principal characteristics: (1) precision and completeness; (2) easy intelligibility; (3) beauty and dignity; (4) sacrality, and (5) a well developed orality. The summary term given to this style is “liturgical vernacular.” On the other hand, it is natural that an appreciable degree of flexibility in rendering poetry is to be assumed by the translator in consideration of the particular qualities of this literary genre. Even when elements of a “liturgical vernacular” are in conflict, translators must propose texts which are doctrinally sound above all. Expressions which hinder comprehension because of their “excessively unusual or awkward nature” should be avoided. [Ed. Note: This section refers to LA 59, 26, 27]
On the vexed issue of “discriminatory language”, the Ratio again refers to Liturgiam authenticam (29), and explains:
All people are prayed for within the Liturgy, no matter their condition. Likewise, all are considered to possess the same dignity and human rights which accord with being made in the image of God. Since these principles are understood from the start and constitute an intrinsic part of the meaning of the text themselves, it is unnecessary and inappropriate to alter biblical or liturgical texts simply because some might take offense at their wording, as for example in some biblical passages that have sometimes incorrectly been criticized as depicting the Jewish people in an unfavorable light.
Such misunderstandings are rightly dispelled by proper catechesis rather than by unwarranted interventions in the text itself. Should a given liturgical text ever be seen to require change in order to avoid misunderstandings of this nature, such a change lies within the competence of the supreme authority of the Church, and not of the translator. (130, 131)
The responsibility for any “catechesis” or explanation of terms or concepts or ideas, clearly, lies with bishops and priests, not with the translators.
The development of the Ratio translationis as an instrument to aid in accurate and beautiful translation of the texts Sacred Liturgy will be welcome news to many Catholics. It provides sound guidelines for translation in order to preserve the integrity and authenticity of the Liturgy, as well as many helpful details of the actual production of liturgical books.
Because the Ratio is intended to be a guide for translators, not a formal “Instruction”, it will be possible for the Congregation (and Vox Clara) to amend it periodically, which will make it possible to address new challenges that appear on the cultural horizon.
Faithful to “uninterrupted tradition”
Pope John Paul II, in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), strongly proclaimed the historical continuity and universality of the Eucharist — an “uninterrupted tradition” that Catholics today must faithfully hand on to future generations:
The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schismata) and the emergence of factions (haireseis) (cf. I Cor 11:17-34). Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church.…
No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality. (EE 52) …
By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift. We are urged to do so by an uninterrupted tradition, which from the first centuries on has found the Christian community ever vigilant in guarding this “treasure”. Inspired by love, the Church is anxious to hand on to future generations of Christians, without loss, her faith and teaching with regard to the mystery of the Eucharist. There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery, for “in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation” (EE 61)
Indeed. “There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery” — whether in its ordinary or extraordinary form. For what lies ahead, we may well adopt the Benedictine motto: Ora et Labora. Pray and work.
Helen Hull Hitchcock is editor of the Adoremus Bulletin