Apr 15, 2009

Cardinal Pell Comments on Liturgy, Translation

Online Edition:

April 2009

Vol. XV, No. 2

Cardinal Pell Comments of Liturgy, Translation

Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, was interviewed March 20 by Luke Coppen of Britain’s The Catholic Herald during the cardinal’s visit to Oxford University’s Newman Society in March. Cardinal Pell is chairman of Vox Clara, the international committee that assists the Congregation for Divine Worship with English-language liturgical translations. The wide-ranging interview touched on Catholic liberalism, the Society of St. Pius X, President Obama’s decisions on moral issues, and, of course the new translation of the liturgy. The complete interview is accessible online: www.catholicherald.co.uk/editor/index.shtml#e20032009. Following are a few of Cardinal Pell’s comments related to the liturgy.

Catholic Herald: You celebrated a thanksgiving Mass for Summorum Pontificum.

Cardinal Pell: Yes. I was grateful for it. I’m a believer in development within a framework of established tradition and doctrine. But I fully endorse the Holy Father’s emphasis on the continuity of the tradition.

At the thanksgiving Mass you said we’re on “a journey of development and reform” and that that’s still going on. Do you believe that some traditionalists think that Tradition with a capital T is unchanging and not subject to development?

Well, I think that’s a fundamental misapprehension. Let me give you some very rudimentary examples: the recognition of the number of books in the New Testament. An angel didn’t come and tell us that. The good Lord didn’t say there’ll be X number of books. The books in the New Testament are divinely revealed. They are written by people in the Church and were recognized by the Church. Then there are the clarifications of the nature of God, the Trinity, the Councils. They are all examples of development of a deeper understanding of the truths at the heart of the tradition. So tradition is certainly changing and developing.

Where do you think the liturgical development is heading?

I don’t know. I’m not a professional liturgist. I am keen that we strengthen the vertical dimension of the liturgy, if we can, in the popular understanding, so that it’s very obviously not just community-centered, it’s God-centered, it’s an act of worship. I’m very sympathetic to that. I’m even sympathetic for the Canon of the Mass that the priest has his back to the people.

As something obligatory?

Yes. Now there’s nothing like a consensus in favor of that at the moment. I think I would be in favor of it because it makes it patently clear that the priest is not the center of the show, that this [is] an act of worship of the one true God, and the people are joining with the priest for that.

Another way of acknowledging that: I’m very much in favor of having a crucifix in front of the celebrant during the Mass when we’re facing the people.

Between the priest and the people, in front of the altar?

Yes, sometimes it might be flat, sometimes it might be vertical. But that distracts attention away to some little extent from the main celebrant. I think also I find the figure of Christ is a great aid to recollection and prayer while you’re saying the Eucharistic Prayer.

As president of the Vox Clara Committee you have been advising the Congregation for Divine Worship on the new English translation of the Mass. Do you hope that the new translation will help to emphasize that vertical dimension of the Mass?

Yes, very much so. I’ll be surprised if there’s more than a few hiccups when it comes in. I think it will go well. I think people will recognize that it’s beautiful and appropriate. We’ve tried to keep changes to the community responses, the people’s parts, to a minimum. The translations are accurate, forceful and some of them in particular are very beautiful.

It looks like it has the potential to be controversial. Some people may say: “This translation is being thrust upon us by Rome.”

Nothing’s being thrust upon anyone. This matter has gone out repeatedly to the national hierarchies. It’s approved by the national hierarchies. The level of change now will be very small in comparison with the enormous changes that were foisted upon the people just after the Second Vatican Council.

Undoubtedly there will be a small element which will try to resist them. I’m quite confident the overwhelming majority of Mass-going people will quickly learn to love them. The quality of the language there will emphasize that we’re not talking to the bloke next door. We’re worshipping the one true God. Not in old-fashioned, archaic language, but in beautiful, strong and appropriate language. I’m quite confident it will be successful.

Where are we up to in the whole process?

For about five years I’ve been saying we’ve got two years to go. And now that’s becoming more and more likely. So people will be aiming towards the end of next year for it to happen.

Will the whole English-speaking world be going together with the same translation?

Yes, I think so. There might be little quirks here and there. But that’s certainly the ambition.

How pleased will you be when that happens?

Our committee isn’t doing the work. That’s being done by ICEL [International Commission on English in the Liturgy]. The credit must go to ICEL for that work. But we’ve made a bit of a contribution and I’ll be delighted when it comes home — and come home it will.



The Editors