Feb 15, 2009

The Art of Pastoral Translation at the Service of Communion

Online Edition:

February 2009

Vol. XIV, No. 10

The Art of Pastoral Translation at the Service of Communion

by Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron is the new Archbishop of Detroit, appointed January 5, installed January 28. A member of the Bishops’ Committee for Divine Worship, he has served as Bishop of Oakland since 2003. Before his appointment to Oakland, he was auxiliary bishop in Detroit (1996-2003). In 1994, he became rector/president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and had served in the Administrative Section of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Following is the keynote address presented by then-Bishop Vigneron at the Gateway Liturgical Conference held November 7-8, 2008, in St. Louis, published here with his kind permission. —

Dear Brothers and Sisters — All Beloved as Members in the one Body of Christ Our High-Priest:

I want to express my gratitude for being invited to participate in this year’s Gateway Liturgical Conference.

As part of my prefatory remarks, I ask your indulgence in letting me recall a memory from my adolescence which I bring to this conference. It was in August 1964 that I together with several other high school seminarians traveled by car from Detroit to St. Louis in order to come to Kiel Auditorium for the National Liturgical Week. Among the memories that remain fresh after all those years are these: 1) Being present as Monsignor Martin Hellriegel led the holy Sacrifice of the Mass with a dignity that gave no place for pretense; 2) Hearing the great hymn “For All the Saints” for the first time, and immediately intuiting that it was an expression of music beyond time; and 3) Being caught up in the noble simplicity of that liturgical rite so that I was confident I was experiencing the visible disclosure of the invisible Mystery.

That first visit of mine to a liturgical conference here in St. Louis came some months before the Second Vatican Council was concluded. From those days until now — over forty years later — all of us in the Church have been caught up in the work the Council set for us of renewing the liturgical life of the People of God. With the sort of naïveté that is only proper to adolescence, I did not suspect that more than four full decades later we would still be at it; and least of all did I suspect that I would be here in St. Louis again, focused on this same noble aim — only now addressing you as a member of the College of Bishops.

2. About Liturgiam authenticam and This Conference

The particular focus for our session today is the implementation of Liturgiam authenticam (hereafter LA), a document from the Congregation for Divine Worship “on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman Liturgy”.1 Issued on March 28, 2001, LA identifies itself as The Fifth Instruction “For the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council”. And so, you see, it clearly comes to us from the Holy See as an important guidepost about a significant matter: about how to translate the texts of the Roman Liturgy in the vernacular, so that we can achieve the renewal of the liturgy called for by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.2

In an address Cardinal Avery Dulles made to the November 2001 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Cardinal offered what I consider to be a very insightful analysis of the basic end or finality of LA. He said that “the central purpose of the Instruction [was] to assure the integral transmission of Revelation through the translation of scriptural and liturgical texts”. He pointed out that LA seeks to achieve this aim “by its dual emphasis on literal accuracy and on language conducive to reverence”.3

By insisting on accuracy in translating liturgical texts, LA safeguards, as Cardinal Dulles notes, the content of faith, fides quae creditur; by stressing the sacral mode of expression in the language of liturgical translations — what we could call the “reverential diction” of the translations — LA seeks to safeguard the attitude of faith, fides qua creditur.4 By both of these moves, according to the Instruction, the vernacular texts of the liturgy will advance rather than hinder the basic end or telos of the liturgy: that is, the communication of the divine realities made present to us through God’s acts of revelation and appropriated by our acts of faith.

The text of the Instruction sets forth clearly for us the two objectives it strives for in order to achieve its goal of providing the faithful with accurate and reverent vernacular liturgical texts. These two objectives are:

First: “To set forth anew, and in the light of the maturing of experience, the principles of translation to be followed in future translation” (LA 7).

And second: “To consider anew the true notion of liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular” meet these two criteria:

One, these vernacular texts will “stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God”; and two, they will be part of “a new era of liturgical renewal which is consonant with the qualities and traditions of particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God” (LA 7).5

The effort of the bishops of the English-speaking nations of the world to translate the Roman Missal according to the directives of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam is well underway. We are within sight of having the results of that work; in fact there is a reasonable hope that within the next few years we will have a complete translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal as it has been revised in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

It is incumbent on us to be ready to take wholehearted possession of this translation when it is completed and becomes the text we pray at the Holy Eucharist. My hope today is that I will be able to offer some insights which will make that wholehearted possession easier. We are, of course, ready to accept the new translation on the basis of the authority of the Church with which she gives it to us. However, a thoughtful and comprehending obedience, to the degree that such is possible, most often makes for a more effective obedience. The goal for my address is to strengthen your comprehension of the translation process directed by LA. That deepened understanding will, I believe, facilitate your use of the new translation, and thus spare your prayer from being encumbered by moments of puzzlement and perplexity.

This aim is fairly modest, but is very important, nonetheless. We know from our forty-some years of implementing the Council that mandating things to change, no matter how great is the improvement, without explaining why we change, dissipates a great deal of the good energy that could be more usefully expended in the work before us. I hope my remarks will make it easier for you to pray the newly translated text with fewer distractions, with greater ease, and make it easier for you to help others to do the same. That will go a long way to ensuring that in our praying these texts we achieve that full, conscious and active or actual participation which the Second Vatican Council called for (see Sacrosanctum concilium 14).

In what follows, my remarks will fall into two main parts.

First, I want to report to you about the actual work of translation that has been going forward on the basis of LA, specifically the translation of the Roman Missal — a task that is well on its way to completion. The earlier half of this report section will be an overview of the principles which LA says should govern the work of translating the Missal and other liturgical texts; the latter half of this report will examine a few salient examples of what results from applying LA’s principles.

Second, in the subsequent part of my remarks I want to offer some insights that underscore the soundness of the principles of LA and, as a consequence, the soundness of the fruit of their application. Here I will move from reporting what’s going on to offering my estimate of the worth of the effort, so that we can more readily accept the results.

Once all of that is done, I will conclude with some words of advice about how to cooperate with the Holy Father by integrating the new translation of the Missal into our celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

3. Principles from Liturgiam authenticam

The principles that LA offers in order to direct the translation of liturgical texts fall within several groupings.6 Some of these more directly govern the procedure for organizing the work of translation, and need not concern us for long. For example, LA makes it clear that every translation of a liturgical text must work directly from the Latin original and not be a translation of a translation. For example, our vernacular Missal should not be a translation into English of the French or German translation from the Latin. The Instruction also sets out the norms for establishing the respective roles and responsibilities for those involved in the work of translation.

In regard to the principles in LA that are of interest to us today, I would identify three sets: (1) What I will call “global” or “over-arching” principles: these set out what we could think of, to use analogies, as the “architecture” or the “genetic structure” of sound translations of liturgical texts. (2) Principles about vocabulary or individual words. And (3) principles about syntax; that is, principles which govern how those clusters of words which are grouped into sentences and paragraphs to express various states of affairs should operate in the vernacular liturgical texts.

A. “Global”/“Over-Arching” Principles
Let me begin my remarks on what I am calling the “global” or “over-arching” principles found in LA by offering what seems to me to be a fairly typical example:

(1) The texts “must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrase or glosses” (LA 20).

This norm clearly aims at the goal of accuracy identified by Cardinal Dulles.

Let me give you a sampling of a few more of the principles from the Instruction which fall into this “architectonic” or “genetic” set:

(2) “The translation must always be in accord with sound doctrine” (LA 26).

(3) The translations of liturgical texts should be “marked by sound doctrine, [exactness] in wording, free from all ideological influence…” and they should be an efficacious medium for the transmission of the mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church (LA 3).

(4) “In preparing all translations of the liturgical books, 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” (LA 5).

(5) The translation of liturgical texts is not a work of “creative inventiveness, [but] of fidelity and exactness in rendering the Latin texts into a vernacular language”. However, note that here there follows immediately this important qualifier: “with all due consideration for the particular way that each language has of expressing itself” (LA 20). Later I will say more about this qualifier and the others that parallel it in the Instruction.

(6) “The translation should not restrict the full sense of the original text within narrower limits” (LA 32).

As you will have noted, the over-riding concern in this set of principles is accuracy.

B. Principles about Vocabulary

In the class or set of principles which governs the translators’ choice of vocabulary, the aim of establishing a reverential or sacred tone in the vernacular text becomes much more prominent. However, this group of norms also aims to guide the translators toward the goal of accuracy.

Here are a couple of principles which should control the translators’ choice of words in order to express the sacredness of the liturgical texts:

(1) The kind of language should be “easily understandable, yet … preserve the texts’ dignity, beauty and doctrinal precision” (LA 25).

(2) The translations need to use “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” (LA 25).

Now, I want to offer a sampling of principles about vocabulary which help to ensure that the translation is accurate:

(3) The translated texts “should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression” (LA 27).

(4) Texts, which seem to us to be inelegant or out of step with our current sensibilities, should not be “sanitized” or altered (LA 27 and 29).

(5) “The signs and images of the texts” should be allowed to speak for themselves, and the translations “should not attempt to render too explicit that which is implicit in the original” (LA 27).

(6) The system of words and patterns of speech which the Roman Liturgy has taken from the Sacred Scriptures and ecclesial tradition — especially the writings of the Fathers — should be preserved. Here the tradition of scriptural translations and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) are important guides for the translators (LA 50).

(7) Avoid “psychologizing, especially a tendency to replace words treating of the theological virtues [with] others expressing merely human emotions” (LA 54).

And in LA there is sub-set of vocabulary principles which, when observed, will assist translators in reaching both aims: accuracy and reverence. For example:

(8) Words and expressions which differ from “usual and everyday speech”, even those that are “somewhat obsolete”, rather than being disallowed, are important resources for good translations (LA 27).

(9) Translators should avoid expressions characteristic of “commercial publicity, political or ideological programs (and) passing fashions”, as well as regionalisms (LA 32).

(10) “As regards words or expressions conveying a properly divine notion of causality … one should avoid employing words or expressions denoting a merely extrinsic or profane sort of assistance instead” (LA 54).

C. Principles about Syntax or How Words Are Linked

The words in a text almost never appear as a list of mere names. They come in sentences and in those chains of sentences which form paragraphs. We use words to relate things to one another and parts to wholes, in order to express states of affairs, “facts”. And then we go on to relate these facts to one another. We use words to name discrete things, but we accomplish something even more significant with our words: we say how the things we name relate to each other. Since this sort of accomplishment — what we call “syntax” — is in the very nature of language, it is no surprise that the Instruction on translation offers principles not only about vocabulary but also about syntax — about how the states of affairs spoken of in the Latin original of the Roman Liturgy should be expressed in the vernacular translations.7

Here are two very detailed principles that give guidance to the work of translators:

(1) First, LA stipulates that the vernacular translation should preserve “the straightforward, concise and compact manner of expression” that characterizes the Roman Rite (LA 57). The Instruction specifies several strategies in order to achieve this objective:

a. “The connection between various expressions manifested by subordinate and relative clauses, the ordering of words and various forms of parallelism, is to be maintained as completely as possible…” (LA 57.a).

b. The translators should maintain in the translation the same person, number and gender as in the original (LA 57.b).

c. The translators should express in the vernacular the “theological significance of words expressing causality, purpose or consequence” in the original (LA 57.c).

d. Syntactical variety in the original should be expressed by syntactical variety in the translation (LA 57.d).

(2) Second, the Instruction says that the rhetorical devices found in the original, even if they are not common to everyday speech, should be maintained in the translation. Such devices are:

a. “recurring and recognizable patterns of syntax and style,
b. “a solemn or exalted tone,
c. “alliteration and assonance,
d. “concrete and vivid images,
e. “repetition
f. “parallelism and contrast”,
g. and a rhythm and lyricism often associated with poetry (LA 59).

It is apparent that the application of these principles in the work of translation will assist the translators in achieving a result that is both accurate and reverent, the two objectives which Cardinal Dulles said help to ensure that the vernacular liturgical text is a fit vehicle for the transmission of the revealed mysteries.

4. Some Results from Applying the Principles of Liturgiam authenticam

Because of the limits on our time, I cannot offer for each of the principles I reported above an example of what is achieved by applying it. So, I have selected four that help us understand how applying the principles of LA yields what we will say or hear at Mass in the relatively near future.

(1) Let us take our first example from the first lines of the First Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon. You and I are accustomed to hearing the first lines of the prayer in this translation:

We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through Him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church.

The translation for these lines to appear in the next edition of the Missal is this:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you first of all for your holy catholic Church.8

The contrast between the older and new versions is striking, and exemplifies the application of a number of LA’s principles.

i. There are elements of the original not accounted for in the current translation, but these are made present in the new one, as we earlier noted that LA requires.9 One of these elements is in primis, that the offering is made in primis “first of all” for the Church.

ii. Similarly, the current translation leaves illibata, in the phrase sacrificia illibata, untranslated, while the new one, as you heard, speaks of “unblemished sacrifices”.10

iii. A third parallel to the contrast between the current and the new translation on this point is that the new translation, unlike the current one, does not forgo translating clementissime, “merciful” as an attribute of the Father. Further, this move gives attention, as LA requires, to those “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”.11

iv. In our earlier consideration of “Syntactical Principles”, we noted that LA specifies that the connection between various expressions which are made in the original are to be preserved in the translation.12 The new translation meets this objective by translating igitur, “therefore”, as the third word of the Canon, thereby disclosing that the sacrifice is made to the Father because of what the priest and the people have testified to in the Preface and the Sanctus. The current translation leaves this link in obscurity.

v. Also among LA’s “Syntactical Principles” is, as we said above, a call for the preservation in a translation of the repetitions found in the original.13 In this Latin text we are reviewing there is a form of repetition in the string of three synonyms for our offering: dona, munera, sacrificia. The new translation, as you heard, preserves this repetition in speaking of “gifts”, “offerings” and “sacrifices”. By contrast, the current translation turns this trio of nouns into a noun modified by a relative clause: “… gifts we offer … in sacrifice”.

(2) For our second example, let’s look at the Trinitarian formula that ends the first oration at Mass, the Collect.

In the more typical of its two current forms it goes: “We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” However, many other instances of this formula, instead of beginning with “We ask this through …” start with “Grant this through….” If the proposed new translation is accepted we would instead hear: “Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever.”14

i. The first comment I want to make about this text is that the current translation would not meet the standard of the sixth “Global Principle” mentioned above: “The translation should not restrict the full sense of the original text within narrower limits.”15 In the conclusion of the Collect, the original Latin makes no specification about whether our petition is made through Christ or would be granted through Christ. By avoiding this specification the Latin text has us look in both directions simultaneously, to see that Christ’s mediation works in two ways. The new translation, by following the original, gives us the same guidance.

ii. A second notable difference between the current translation of the Collect’s conclusion and that of the new translation is that the former handles the Latin’s mention of the Son living and reigning in unitate Spiritus Sancti by affirming the unity of the Holy Trinity: “One God, forever and ever”, it says.

According to LA’s principles, the current translation would seem to be deficient in this instance by virtue of its “inexactness” and its “inventiveness”.16 In failing to speak of the unitas Spiritus Sancti, the “unity of the Holy Spirit”, the current text gives no hint of the truth evoked by the original: viz, that the Holy Spirit is the bond of communion between the Father and the Son, and that this communion, which is presented and opened to us through our unity in ecclesial communion,17 is the locus for the living and reigning of Christ. Important aspects of the mysteries of the Trinity and the Church are left absent by the current translation, but are presented to us by the new.

(3) For a third example, I want to turn to a short text which has received a great deal of attention in remarks about the new translation: “Et cum spiritu tuo”. This is, of course, the people’s response to the greeting of the priest or deacon.

This change, perhaps because it so directly affects such a prominent element of the people’s parts at Mass, has been the object of a lot of discussion. At the risk of over-simplifying, I will summarize the two contrasting views in this way: One group of scholars holds that “with your spirit” is a particular Hebrew turn of phrase and simply means that the speaker returns the greeting offered. According to this view “And also with you” expresses exactly what “Et cum spiritu tuo” means. The other group argues that the phrase has a deep theological significance.

To show that this second view is not held simply for the sake of picking a quarrel, I note that the renowned theologian, Yves Congar, can be brought to bear to support it. In his magisterial study on the Holy Spirit, he cites approvingly the work of another scholar who, he tells us, claims that the words of the liturgical formula et cum spiritu tuo

… do not simply mean: “And with you”, which would be no more than an exchange of religious wishes helping to create the space of celebration. They mean more than this. The formula “The Lord is (be) with …” is frequently used in the Old Testament and is often concerned with an action that has to be done according to God’s plan and is connected with the presence of the Spirit in the one who has to perform this action. In the New Testament and early Christianity, the Spirit is particularly active in prayer and the worshipping assembly. In the brief dialogue between the minister and the community recorded by Hippolytus (Apostolic Tradition, 4:7; 22; 26), the presence of the Spirit has to be ensured so that the liturgical action can take place; hence, the words: “The Lord be with you”, gifted as you are for that purpose with the charism of the Spirit. According to the Fathers, the necessary charism was conferred on the priest at ordination. Nothing, however, takes place automatically, and every spiritual activity requires an epiclesis.18

According to this understanding, et cum spiritu tuo is, then, a sort of epiclesis; by it the people are invoking the Holy Spirit upon their priest so that he may effectively accomplish his ministry as celebrant.

The new translation, unlike the one we now use, takes no side in this debate, but by a more exact translation it avoids restricting the meaning of the English text to limits that are narrower than those set up by the Latin.19 In this way the English does not stumble into jettisoning an important witness to the ecology of grace.

(4) As a fourth example,

i. I want to report to you that in the translation of the Missal prepared according to the norms of LA, we will see the return of such important words in the Catholic vocabulary as “grace”, “soul”, and “charity”.

ii. In connection with this point I would also add that the word consubstantialis — from that line in the Creed affirming the Son’s relationship with the Father — is being translated as “consubstantial” rather than either of the proposed alternatives, “one in substance” or “one in being”.

5. Natural Insights (Wisdom) That Vindicates These Principles and Their Results

It is my contention that many arguments about the worth of LA, and therefore about the worth of the results that come from applying its principles, are rooted — at least implicitly — in differing views about the nature of language — that is, about what words are and how they work.

What I am speaking about are the convictions that shape the whole approach of the Instruction. Such convictions live in LA’s principles and give rise to them. We might call them “meta-principles”. Insofar as they are true, it is naturally wise to recognize them and even wiser to act in accordance with them, for, after all, what could be more foolish than to act in defiance of how things are and must be. And, in so far as these “meta-principles” are sound, the results of implementing the particular principles which rest upon them will be the fruit of wisdom.

In the next two sections of my remarks I want to discuss four of these “meta-principles”, two that are derived from natural insight and two that come from faith. To use more traditional language, we might call the first pair, philosophical principles and the second pair, theological principles.

A. The first naturally knowable “meta-principle” I want to discuss is this: That translations and paraphrases, while having much in common, are two essentially different kinds of things. Each has a distinct nature, a distinct set of qualities. Their difference is not a human invention; the two do not exist because somebody or some group of people want them to exist. They are because of the very nature of language.

Specifically, translations and paraphrases must both be, and they must be like, but also different from each other, because of how identities and differences are at play in what we say.

Let me spell out what I have said so abstractly. Let us begin by observing that there are many ways you and I can “say the same thing”.

I can repeat word for word exactly what you told me. The clearest instance of this is when I recite after you exactly what you said. My speaking is not the same as yours, even though I quoted you exactly. However, we are far more clever than parrots. We can exploit so many more of the potentialities for language to express the same thing.

Let us begin with names. You and I can give a different name to the same thing. For example, you might call the third child of August and Dorothy Kott “Mrs. Vigneron”. I will usually call her “Mom”. We are naming the same thing, but with each of these two names very different features of this woman manifest themselves.

But most of our speaking is not just naming; our language, as we discussed earlier, has syntax. We express facts and their relation. Here, too, it is possible to say the same, but to say it differently.

You and I can make different statements about the same state of affairs. For my example in this instance I will use the old standby of a six-ounce glass holding three ounces of water. You can say that the glass is half full. I can say that the glass is half empty. Now, we might be motivated to make our different observations on the basis of our different temperaments, but that does not change the fact that we are talking about the same glass on the table, with water in it.

With these few examples in mind we can, I think, go on to understand better how LA wants the Roman Rite to be the same in Latin as it is in English. Such sameness between the original and the translation is necessary, as you will recall Cardinal Dulles said, for the vernacular text to be a reliable medium for the transmission of the revealed mysteries.

What LA is calling for is not the identity of repeating exactly; for that would be to exclude the very legitimacy of translation. And while in some religions it may be the case that sacred texts can never be used in translation, the Church has never been of that mind.

However, the Instruction is calling for the maximum degree of sameness between the Latin and the English texts of the liturgy. Different names for the same thing won’t do; the English text must have the closest equivalence to the Latin name for the thing spoken of. Different facts about the same state of affairs won’t do. For example, in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, the affirmation that at the Last Supper the chalice was “ex genimine vitis repletum”, means that soon we will no longer hear that “cup [was] filled with wine”, but rather that it was filled “with the fruit of the vine”. What we have today is a paraphrase; what we will have is translation.

LA is calling for a vernacular expression of the Roman Rite which presents God and His acts and the objects of His actions just as the Latin does. That is, that which results from every act of naming things and relating what is named and then comes to expression in Latin must come to expression in English. This is what happens when you translate.

B. My comments on the real and irreducible difference between a translation and a paraphrase take me to my next observation about another wise insight on language which is embodied, at least implicitly, in the principles of LA: that words, names as well as sentences, are windows through which things disclose themselves. Monsignor Robert Sokolowski, a philosopher at the Catholic University of America, captures this truth with the pithy maxim: “Words present things.”20

Words in their primary way of working do not express what is going on “inside” of speakers and hearers, but words bring into presence parts or dimensions of the world in which speakers and hearers find themselves together.

Sometimes this confidence in the way language works is called “realism”. In that sense, LA is founded on a realist rather than a subjectivist view of language. The translations of the liturgical texts must be accurate and sacred because the subject matter of the texts is principally divine realities, the mysteries of grace and not our own interior dispositions (see LA 19).

We might put it this way: the words of the liturgy have as their primary referents God and His saving deeds. True, it is concerned, but it is only secondarily concerned, with the reactions which we have to Him and His actions. The liturgy speaks in an objective and not a subjective key. As I see it, the principles of LA are designed to ensure that vernacular translations will not modulate out of the objective key.

My remarks about words presenting things gives an opportunity to comment on the relationship between the two objectives that Cardinal Dulles identified as those which LA sets for itself: an accurate translation and a reverential translation. These two aims are intimately connected. When the liturgical texts accurately present to us God and His mysteries, these texts must necessarily be reverential. Texts which are accurate in presenting the divine would seem bizarre were they anything other than sacred in their tone.

6. Supernatural Insights (Wisdom) That Vindicate These Principles and Their Results

Having discussed how LA’s norms for translation are rooted in fundamental natural truths about language, I want to move now to considering two theological truths which undergird the Instruction’s principles and make them sound paths toward achieving the accurate and reverential vernacular texts which are apt media for transmitting divine realities.

It is my hope to show here that the translations called for by LA are the fruit not only of natural wisdom but of supernatural wisdom as well.

A. The first theological “meta-principle” I want to discuss is this: That the order of salvation brought to us by Christ transcends what is natural. It is a grace. The ecology of the New Covenant is supernatural. Therefore, the mysteries presented in the liturgical texts are always beyond our registration.21

While in this world we can have some experiential glimpse of the Revelation, here below it is fully grasped only by report — by what Christ has said and by what His Apostles and their successors have handed on. Vision of the mysteries waits for the world to come. Only there will we be able to register what we know now by report.

This veiled character of the New Covenant realities in this age makes it imperative for us to present accurately in English what has been authoritatively reported in Latin. What we know about God and His mysteries we know by hearing, not by sight, and so our vernacular texts must say all and only what the Church has heard and has recorded in her liturgy. Accuracy is always important in translation, in any translation; however, in the case of translating texts which present Revelation, the wisest translators will do everything possible to craft texts which express exactly what the original expresses.

This theological “meta-principle” helps us understand why LA is so insistent that our first response in translating liturgical texts should not be to make them sound like what we are used to. They present a dimension of reality that is not only beyond the ordinary, but even transcends the most hidden aspects of created reality. The Revelation expressed and made present in the liturgy’s texts is the norm for our culture, and not vice-versa. This basic meta-principle leads me to conclude that if a translation of the Roman Rite did not to some significant degree strike us as being out of step with our ordinary speech, we should be suspicious of that translation.

B. A second theological “meta-principle” is this: That in the ecology of salvation God has revealed Himself in both words and deeds. As the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei verbum says: “Jesus perfected Revelation by fulfilling it through His whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds” (§ 4).

The sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, are the ways God makes present to us in our day those same saving deeds of His which are recounted in the Sacred Scriptures.

Since the deeds are the same, the words used to speak of them today in the liturgy should be clearly the same as those found in the Scriptures. Grasping this theological conviction goes a long way to helping us understand why LA is so insistent that vernacular translations should be faithful to the biblical vocabulary and diction which are found in the Latin originals.

The epiclesis of the Second Eucharistic Prayer offers us a good illustration of this point. In that prayer the Holy Spirit is called to come down upon the bread and wine to change them into the Body and Blood of Christ in these words: “Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spiritus tui rore sanctifica.”

Presently this is translated as “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy.…”

The Latin original specifies that is to happen through the ros, the “dew”, of the Spirit. In the translation we bishops had proposed, instead of speaking of the “dew of the Spirit”, we translated ros as “outpouring”, asking that the bread and wine be transformed by the “outpouring of the Spirit”.

We recently learned that the Holy See has judged our proposed translation to be off the mark. They have decided that our translation ought to speak of the “dew of the Spirit”. I believe that we can fairly infer that the Holy See understands that this expression may strike us as strange at first, even to the point of sounding a jarring note. And I am convinced that they are not insisting on this translation simply to assert their authority.

Rather, it seems that they have judged that this expression is so deeply embedded in the Scripture’s style of speaking about God’s action, that to forego it in our liturgical text would be to obscure the identity between what happens at our altars and what is recounted in the Bible. This gain is, the Holy See has said, worth whatever puzzlement will arise from hearing what seems strange to us, viz., “the dew of the Spirit”.

7. Implementation: Counsel from Our Examination

A. My last remarks above are about a judgment call, a disagreement between the majority of American bishops and the Holy See. Noting this fact is a good way to lead into one of the important things we all should keep in mind as we begin to become familiar with the new translation of the Roman Missal.

Translating, while it is not whimsical but rather governed by objective principles, is not a science. Translating is an art. This is the reason that at a number of places LA qualifies its norms with such phrases as “insofar as possible”. At a different time, with different people in charge, some things would be other than what we will, in fact, be hearing and saying. Many very talented people, with generous good will, have worked hard to produce the vernacular texts we will hear and say.

And finally, this whole long effort is going forward by the authority of the bishops of our country and then will be confirmed by the See of Peter. We can accept this new translation with serene confidence. It is, as I have hinted in the title of my presentation, the fruit of a “pastoral art”. It is done by the pastors who have their authority from God, and so we should accept it as the result of God’s grace and love for His Church.

B. Secondly, we should be patient with the new translation of the Roman Missal. For reasons we have considered above, reasons that seem eminently wise to me, this translation will take work to get used to. First of all, simply because it is new, and most of us generally resent the effort to change. Moreover, this new translation is by an explicit decision of the Church’s pastors harder to understand, less consonant with our day-to-day forms of expression. I hope that my presentation will have helped you see that the goods to be secured by this approach are of such significance that the trouble to be caused by the new translations will be worth it.

While Cardinal Dulles spoke of the good which LA looks to as a more apt vehicle for the transmission of Revelation, I would like to express the point a bit differently. As I see it, the good to be achieved through the implementation of LA is a deeper communion.

First, a deeper communion with the Church spread throughout the world in this time. In so far as our American English vernacular version of the Roman Rite is not an American Rite based on the Roman one, but the Roman Rite in English, we are confirmed in our communion with all those particular Churches that use this Rite.

Second, this new translation aims to strengthen our communion with the Church not only in our own time, but with the Church through all time. The Roman Rite has been built up over centuries. Its texts are a thick tapestry of what many great hearts and minds, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have been led to articulate about God and His saving mysteries, made present through the words and the signs of the liturgy. Through the presentation of the same Roman Rite in a faithful English translation, we will be able to be of one mind and one heart with Saint Leo, Saint Gregory, Saint Thomas Aquinas and so many others of our forbearers who have reported with profound insight the Revelation handed on to us in the liturgy.

These two dimensions of ecclesial communion — communion in space and communion in time, made possible through the medium of the Roman Rite given to us in English translation — are themselves means for a more final and ultimate communion: a deeper sharing in the communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit which is ours by grace.

Yes, the Mass celebrated in a deficient vernacular translation, one which falls short in accuracy and reverence, is a vehicle of divine grace, so long as it is valid. However, such a medium is like a cloudy glass; it obscures the presentation of what is disclosed. It lets in only part of the light which shines out from its source. And in that deficiency the effectiveness of the sacramental signs is impeded. Ultimately, then, the aim of the art of pastoral translation is to make the words of the liturgy as transparent as possible for the fullest possible presentation of God’s saving self-disclosure.

All of us know that the Second Vatican Council called the People of God to a full, conscious and active or actual participation in the Sacred Liturgy. My argument today has been that without a Roman Missal that is the same in English as it is in Latin, this basic goal is unachievable.

Without an apt translation, how can our participation be full, since what is presented for us to participate in would be narrowed and made partial unnecessarily? Without an apt translation, how can our participation be really conscious, since in this case we would be only vaguely aware of what is manifested much more clearly in the original texts of the Roman Rite? Without an apt translation, how can our participation be active, since the saving activity of God, which is made present through the words of the texts, would be hampered when those texts are deficient in accuracy and reverence?


To conclude my presentation today, I want to make my own these words of Pope John Paul II written on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of Sacrosanctum concilium:

The time has come to renew that spirit which inspired the Church at the moment when the Constitution [on the Sacred Liturgy] 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 into the soil of tradition.22

The English vernacular text of the Roman Missal newly translated according to the norms of LA, along with our ready acceptance of this translation, is, I am convinced, part of that renewal of spirit to which the late Holy Father summoned us.


1 The text of Liturgiam authenticam (LA) is available on the Vatican web site and on the Adoremus web site.

2 It is worthy of note that LA was prepared at the express directive of Pope John Paul II, given in his letter to the Cardinal Secretary of State, dated February 1, 1997. LA was, the Instruction informs us, approved, confirmed and ordered to be published by the pope. This information, from the concluding paragraph of LA, makes it unambiguously clear that the Instruction is an act of the Holy Father’s leadership of the Church and not the intervention of his co-workers appropriating an authority that is proper to him as Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Saint Peter.

3Special Report – USCCB November 2001 Meeting”, Adoremus Bulletin, Vol. VII, No. 9: Dec. 2001-Jan. 2002.

4 Ibid.

5 I would leave in obscurity some of the circumstances that surround our efforts for the renewal of liturgical translations through the implementation of LA, were I not to acknowledge that not all voices agree that LA advances the agenda of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium. According to those voices the Instruction impedes rather than assists the Council’s aims.

Today is not the occasion for examining this claim or for offering the evidence which refutes it. For today I am going to have to be content with the argument from authority: that LA was, as noted above in footnote 2, prepared according to the mandate of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and that after his review of the document he ordered it to be published and to be implemented. Based on our confidence in the wise pastoral judgment of Pope John Paul II, we can go forward serenely to accept that the results of the implementation of LA represent the mind of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

6 The Congregation for Divine Worship offered a good summary of LA at the time the Instruction was published. See “Press Release: Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council – Liturgiam authenticam (May 7, 2001)”, accessible on the Vatican site: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/index.htm.

7 In setting out these basic distinctions about the nature of speech, I depend on the German phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. A good summary of his achievements in this field can be found in Robert Sokolowski, Husserlian Meditation: How Words Present Things (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974). Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.

8 The Latin original to be made present by means of these translations is: Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata, in primis, quae tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica.…

9 See LA 20; cited at 3.A.1, above.

10 See ibid.

11 LA 25; cited at 3.B.2, above.

12 See LA 57; cited at 3.C.1.a, above.

13 See LA 59; cited at 3.C.2, above.

14 The Latin original to be made present by means of these translations is: Per Dominum nostrum, Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus per omnia saecula saeculorum.


Archbishop Allen Vigneron