Vol. XVI, No. 5
Our Prayer Language to God
Cardinal George and Father Ward Interviewed on the New Missal Translation
Early this year, Chicago Cardinal Francis George, OMI, and Father Anthony Ward, SM, were interviewed for an instructional DVD, A New Translation for a New Roman Missal, produced by the Midwest Theological Forum (MTF). Cardinal George is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW). Father Ward is undersecretary of the CDW. Both are also members of Vox Clara, the international group organized in 2001 to advise the CDW on English-language liturgical translations. Interviewing Father Ward is Monsignor James Moroney, executive secretary of Vox Clara. The DVD features Monsignor Moroney’s description of the new Missal translations, along with commentary by CDW prefect Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, whose interview appeared in the June 2010 edition of AB, and other members of Vox Clara, including president Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and Archbishops Alfred Hughes and Oscar Lipscomb. The DVD is available on the MTF web site: www.theologicalforum.org/.
The interviews appear here with MTF’s kind permission.
Interview with Cardinal George, January 21, 2010
Interview with Father Ward, February 2010
Jeffrey Cole: The first question: why was there a need for a new English translation of the Roman Missal?
Cardinal George: We needed a new English translation because it’s a new Missal — a new edition of the Missal that Pope Paul VI published after the Second Vatican Council, which is the Missal that we’re still using. It’s been revised twice [since the Council] so we’re using a thirty-year-old translation of a thirty-year-old Missal…. Now we have a third edition.… There are some new canons, new prefaces, and new prayers for newly canonized saints. We also have a new method of translation. So the moment is here when we need to have a new presentation of a Missal that is very ancient in itself, but that comes to us in a new edition.
Jeffrey Cole: I’d like to speak a minute about catechesis, and opportunity for catechesis. Many of the bishop’s conferences are seeing this as an opportune moment to give catechesis to the laity about the Mass, about the meaning of the Mass, and, in fact, the Archdiocese of Chicago had an article on May 23 of last year that was entitled: “The Third edition of the Roman Missal: An Opportunity to Offer General Liturgical Catechesis in all Parishes”. Could you speak a minute about what you see as the content of this catechesis? What are some points that you would like the laity to understand in a deeper way about the Mass?
Cardinal George: Catechesis is our reflection on the mysteries of faith. There is a catechesis necessary because the Mass is first of all a mystery of faith. It’s not just a Church rite that we make up. It is an action of the risen Christ, whose ways are mysterious. It’s Christ who acts in the Mass. He makes His self-sacrifice, His Passion, Death, and Resurrection sacramentally present under the forms of bread and wine, and it is He who is the actor.
We must start with that understanding. It’s a theological understanding, which isn’t sometimes immediately evident to people who just walk into the Church. This is Christ acting, because He acts through the priest, through the people. So the people have to understand that what they’re doing is participating in an action of the risen Christ, and be reminded of that. If we start with the rite itself, even with its history, its words, that’s not a catechetical moment, that’s an instruction; but it doesn’t bring us into the mystery of faith.
The catechesis will start, therefore, with the theology of the Mass, in the way that I mentioned. It will show that people, when they are participating in something that is Christ’s action, are participating in something that is much bigger than what they’re doing there. It brings us into the cosmos, because the risen Christ is cosmic. It takes us out of the little community, even if it’s several thousand people that are visibly present to us, into the communion of saints. We celebrate the Mass in union with the Blessed Virgin with all the saints who’ve gone before us, especially the martyrs, also with those who are with us on earth, but aren’t physically present, the pope, perhaps the bishop. It’s a much wider reality, because it is a mystery, than the action itself would immediately show people. You get behind the action. That’s catechesis.
We hope to take this moment of a new Missal, new words of an old rite, to help people to understand again the depth of what’s going on. When I listen to people talk about the Mass, that depth of meaning isn’t always present. They have a sense of participating, and that’s very good. That comes out of the Second Vatican Council; that emphasis. But participating in what? Not in a play, a tableau of the Last Supper. It’s not that. It’s not a play; it’s a prayer; and it’s a prayer that is Christ’s prayer as He offers His self-sacrifice. It invites us in if we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves with Him. So it’s a catechesis that’s doctrinal and it’s also moral. How do you sacrifice yourself as a disciple and get the strength to do that by participating in the sacrifice of the Mass? There are a lot of elements to the catechesis that will renew the Church, even as we have a new translation for the Eucharist itself.
Jeffrey Cole: Cardinal, what are some of the hoped-for benefits of this new English translation of the Roman Missal for the Church and, in particular, for the laity who go to Mass?
Cardinal George: The benefits are first of all spiritual, but if we’re spiritually renewed we have the courage to transform the world, which is what we are to do when we leave the celebration of the Mass, and make the world a little bit more like the kingdom of God. That kingdom is present in the Mass in its fullness, but sacramentally, not visibly so, and the benefits, therefore, for the laity are their own spiritual renewal and the strength of the sanctity given them by Christ, the ability to create good families, to transform the workplace and the marketplace and to prepare us now to do what we’ll do forever, namely be part of the heavenly liturgy where the risen Christ offers Himself to the Father every day, every night, every moment for all eternity. We’re part of that now in the sacrament and that prepares us to be part of it for all eternity. I sometimes tell the young people when I confirm them that if they’re bored at Mass, they’ll be bored for all eternity, because that’s all that they’ll be doing for all eternity is worshipping God. Of course, it’ll be a little different experience, I’m sure, but, nonetheless, worship is at the center of everything. When the Mass is celebrated, the universe changes, because Christ is constantly at work. It’s the most important thing we do, and it will bring us where we’re supposed to be, united to Christ.
Jeffrey Cole: Some priests may be asking with the various difficulties in the Church right now, and with the difficulties that they may be experiencing in their own parishes, why add one more difficulty, the introduction of this new English translation right now, why this now?
Cardinal George: The question as to why we’re doing this now is simply because the Church has revised the Missal, and we have to use it. It’s the prayer of the Church. It’s not a schedule that we’ve made up. It’s the universal Church, and it has its own agenda and doesn’t fit into our particular experiences perhaps, but that’s always the case, there are always difficulties, and if you let difficulties paralyze you, you do nothing.
So, we have to do this, and we should be grateful that we’ve got this opportunity for spiritual renewal in the midst of difficulties. The difficulties are, I think, secondary to the opportunities as I’ve tried to explain them. The moment is a grace, so I think that the resistance to change, any kind of change, is always part of our life.
We get used to habits, saying things, doing things, and we don’t want to change. That happened after the Council when the Lefebvrist movement said, “We’re not going to change” and they stayed with the Latin rather than allow the Mass to be put into the vernacular.
It would be ironic if now that it’s in the vernacular and we were so wedded to an old translation that we couldn’t accept a new one, which will be a better translation; much more faithful and much more clearly an echo of Scripture, much more able to carry the tradition that unites us to Christ, for the tradition is carried in liturgy as much as it is in Scripture itself. So this is, I think, a magic moment, when we’ve got the possibility of renewing ourselves spiritually to better face all of the difficulties that people know are part of our life.
But the Church has always been plagued by difficulties, external, internal. It’s never been free of suffering; it’s the way that we participate in Christ’s Passion, and sometimes the suffering is self-inflicted. In this case, however, we have the opportunity to reach behind that and above that and to have the vehicle for giving us courage in the midst of difficulties.
Jeffrey Cole: Could you explain the difference between the two methods of translation, the method that was used previously and the method that they are using presently to translate the rituals?
Cardinal George: Translation is a tricky business. The Italians have a saying that a translator is a traitor, because it is very difficult to seize entirely all the nuances of one language as you put the thought into another. It is not easy to separate thought and words, or structure, or syntax. That all contributes to the meaning. When they translated the Missal of Paul VI after the Council, they decided to use a method of translation called dynamic equivalence, and the idea was that you translate meanings, but you separate the meanings from the words.
The end result can be accurate in one way, but it reduces the number of meanings that are in a text. So for example, in the third canon of the Mass, there is at the end of the first paragraph of what the priest is praying a reference to the prophet Malachi, where he talks about this sacrifice, which is celebrated around the world, from the rising of the sun to its setting. The dynamic equivalent we’re using now is “from east to west”. That’s true, the rising of the sun to its setting is from east to west, but it’s prosaic. It not only doesn’t capture the poetry, it doesn’t capture the allusion to the prophet Malachi; so people will just say it and go on, and there are meanings that are lost.
You can say that it is an accurate translation, but it’s flat; and they flattened out a lot of things in that dynamic equivalence in order to make a translation that would be immediately understood. But Scripture isn’t immediately understood, and the Scriptural passages that are the basis of liturgy shouldn’t be immediately understood. If you think there is only one meaning there, then you’ve flattened it out in a way that leaves us without the richness of our faith being expressed liturgically.
So, the new Missal translation uses something called formal equivalence. It’s not dynamic, it’s not just “equivalent” that way — but formal means that you don’t just look for the meanings and put them into other words; you look for all the forms that are there, and try to be — not literal, because you can’t be — but faithful to all the levels of meaning that are there. So in the third Eucharistic Prayer we’ll be saying “from the rising of the sun to its setting” [instead of “from east to west”]. And in a number of other places where the Scripture allusions are immediate, you’ll see them. The translation, therefore, tries to capture not just the abstract meaning but its context within the rhetoric, its structural form within the sentence.
English rhetoric is much richer than the speech we use on the street, or the speech that you use in a marketplace, or in a business office. Go back to the Gettysburg Address and there are subordinate clauses there. We all memorized it as children, and it stays with us, because there’s a rhythm to it, there’s a great beauty. We don’t speak that way all the time, but when we hear it spoken, we know that there’s significance here — this is a significant piece that we’ll memorize, remember for ages to come —unlike the minutes of the last meeting.
The new translation, which uses the formal equivalence translation of the Latin, captures some of the Latin rhetoric, which is rather stark; and it has subordinate clauses in a way that isn’t the case with our present text. So you have to struggle with it a little bit, especially the priests who will have to prepare themselves, but that will assure the people who are praying that they’re capturing the richness of the Latin in the text in a way that is proper to classical English, but which challenges us, like good poetry does, to see something that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, that we can’t just dismiss immediately as completely understood.
That’s all part of bringing us into this other universe that’s always around us, invisibly so, but we don’t pay attention to it unless words bring us into that universe. That’s why we’re human beings. We use words — and words create a universe, which we can’t see but which is present because of the words. The new translation does this much more thoroughly.
Jeffrey Cole: I wanted to go back a little bit to the theology of the Mass. In an interview that you gave recently, you said, “It is the Missal along with Scripture that indeed tells us how God wants to intertwine, to interwork in the affairs of the human race”. Could you explain this idea a bit more fully? How does the Missal teach us the inner-workings of God in the affairs of the human race?
Cardinal George: This Missal celebrates always the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ in the Eucharist itself, but the Eucharist is surrounded by a liturgical cycle and a sanctoral cycle, a set of feasts of the saints, that tell us how in human history God has intervened and show us how in the saints He is still intervening in the lives of those who are close to Him. So we all know, I’m sure, that you start the liturgical year with Advent, to remind us how the Chosen People of God longed for a Messiah. We recognize the Messiah in the Birth of the Lord and more than the Messiah, the eternal Son of God — the Word made flesh.
Then we begin to follow Him through His infancy and then into the beginning of His public life where He tries to show people who He truly is. He truly is the Messiah promised, but more than that, with the problems of the signs not being recognized despite the authority of His words and the power of His miracles. We see, and we recast in the liturgy, the opposition to Him growing, His arrest, His Passion, His scourging, the Resurrection after the Crucifixion, His Ascension to the Father, His sending of the Holy Spirit. All of those events that are part of salvation history, that are part of the life of the planet, are made present in the Eucharist but incorporated into the Paschal Mystery each time the Mass is celebrated.
There’s the Ordinary Time where we just listen again to what the Lord has done, and all of that is accompanied by the history of the Blessed Virgin Mary, first of all, the archangels and angels, and John the Baptist, and saints of every age. That’s why we have a new Missal, because we have saints of our age too. This tells us that God is constantly intervening in human history, and we can depend on His providence if we trust Him, because He’s always faithful despite our own sinfulness.
The Mass touches all kinds of moments in history, going back to the prophets and back to the creation, all the way back to the promise that endures to the end of time. It brings us into a different kind of universe than what we experience just day by day, and it incorporates that in such a way that we see the depth of the meaning of what we’re doing.
We’re never alone; we’re not caught in our own difficulties, whether our own or our family’s or our society’s. There’s always something more, just as Christ is always more. He was never able to be captured by the people of His age. He escaped their categories, and He is not captured by our age either. That’s why there are so many stories about Him, because He’s always more — and the way in which we get into that “more” is through the liturgy and the Scripture readings within the liturgy and the life of the Church through the ages.
That’s why the basis of our life as disciples of Christ is always conversion, so that whenever a change comes along, you have to ask yourself if this is a deviation or, rather, an approach to greater fullness. Are we being called to something more?
That is what the life of the Church is always about. If we’ve got it all figured out, we settle down and say, “Well, this is it”, then we know that we’ve made a huge mistake, and the Church won’t let us do that. Through the liturgy especially, she keeps calling us into something more.
The intertwining of God’s design and our actions that we never understand fully, but we will when Christ returns in glory, is present sacramentally, elliptically, symbolically, in a way that keeps us on our toes, if you like, spiritually, because it tells us God’s actions are always there; and we can’t capture these.
One doesn’t capture God, not in a rite, not in anything else; but if you don’t do the liturgy you forget God — and even though He’s still at work, you’re not working with Him. Liturgy means it’s the work of Christ and we, in Christ, as members of His body work with Him; that’s the intertwining.
Jeffrey Cole: The last question that I have for you: when would you expect that as far as a time table, what can parishes expect as far as the introduction and preparation of this Roman Missal?
Cardinal George: That’s the eternal question. What’s the timetable? The answer is “I don’t know”, except that the translation is done. It has to be approved by the Holy See and that approval, that recognitio as it’s called in Latin, makes it a text of the Latin Rite but in English. The Holy See is doing this with all the languages of the world. They’re very concerned about the English translation, because it’s something of a norm for others sometimes; but, nonetheless, the final norm is the Latin. The translation in English is now done.… This is January of 2010, and maybe the earliest date to use the Missal will be April or May of 2011.
Jeffrey Cole: Thank you very much. Are there any other items that you would like to say or that you would like people to know that we haven’t covered in this interview?
Cardinal George: No. I think what is important always is to see this revision of the Missal as a call to conversion and an opportunity to renew the Church and to renew oneself spiritually. If it’s approached in that way, then we’ll be faithful to what God wants of us and we’ll understand the beauty of the newly translated Missal.
Monsignor Moroney: For a decade, now going on close to two decades, if not more, you’ve been working on the translation of the Roman Missal, first as a capo ufficio [office head], now as the Undersecretary for the Congregation. As the project nears its end, how important is the new translation of the Roman Missal?
Father Ward: The new English translation of the Roman Missal is very important because of the importance of the English language in the world. It stands alongside other major world languages including Spanish, German, and French, so for the Congregation it’s part of a broad spectrum of action. In that sense, it determines, in an important cultural area, what the language of the official prayer of the Church is going to be. We have seen that the first generation of attempts after the Council, in the long term, didn’t satisfy. They didn’t satisfy bishops, and those involved in pastoral work on the ground. They didn’t satisfy quite a large section of the laity. Now we’re trying to adopt a language by a very wide process of consultation that will express clearly the truths of the faith, that will lead to a spirit, a taste for prayer, and that will be itself an instruction, a training, in our relationship with God and with one another, in the proper perspective.
Monsignor Moroney: How successful has the project been, in that regard?
Father Ward: I think the project has been very successful. It has galvanized energies across the English-speaking world. It has meant a great deal of contacts for the Congregation with the bishops, those involved more directly in the translation process, those involved in the checking of translations and their improvement. All this contact has inspired the approach of the Congregation and its determination to carry through the process as a support to the bishops in their everyday pastoral work.
Monsignor Moroney: There have been five post-conciliar instructions on the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium [the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy]; one of the five, Liturgiam authenticam, is devoted exclusively to the translation of Roman editiones typicae [“typical editions” in Latin]. Why is it so important that the Church have an authentic translation of the Roman liturgical books?
Father Ward: The Council, which inspired this whole process of liturgical renewal, has a number of voices. It speaks through the pope and the bishops, through their Magisterium [teaching authority], through important Church documents, through the Council documents themselves. What the fifth instruction wished to do was to insure that the voice of the Council is heard, echoed, in the prayers of the liturgy. And so we see that now in this translation.
As we know, there are many sections of the Missal that, in some way or another, echo the very language of the Council documents. These finely honed phrases that express our faith, the Council Fathers thought were the best answer to the needs of our time, the needs of the Church, and the needs of the world. Now, we will hear those [words of the Council], I’m confident, more clearly through the pages of the Missal — and we will feel drawn into them by the way that the texts of the liturgy are pronounced by the priest, replied to by the people, sung by all present in our hymns and other chants, and especially in the texts of the Eucharistic prayer and the celebration of Mass itself.
Monsignor Moroney: You’ve spent much of your academic life, and much of your publication record, resourcing liturgical texts, looking back at the roots, the rich roots of Roman liturgical prayer. Could you say something about the importance of maintaining that connection through the centuries from the time of the fathers to our current day, how the liturgy keeps us in contact with the tradition?
Father Ward: There are, as it were, two strands going back in time from the present-day celebration of the liturgy, as I see it. There is one strand, which has a line of contact with the text of the Bible itself, the first prayer book of the Church. The language in the liturgy, in the prayers of the liturgy, when we examine them closely, is really the language of the Bible. It’s the language of the psalms, which Jesus Himself prayed. It’s the language of the expression of the faith that came from ancient Israel. It’s the language, too, of the New Testament, the preaching of the apostles, their realization of the significance of the life and death of Jesus. And that permeates into the writings of the first Fathers, who, again, for their generation, in a privileged way, reformulated the faith, preached it with energy, and formulated the first liturgical texts.
A great part of the Missal — an overwhelming part of the Missal — as we now have it in the Roman rite, comes from the inspiration of the Fathers. The texts have been modified down the centuries, but basically the idiom, the language — that’s the basic language that we find there — comes from the Fathers of the Church. So, what we’re doing is going back to the texts of the Bible, in a particular, privileged way. We’re going back to the prayers fashioned for the first Christians, and we’re saying we want to be in the same dimension as them — standing before God.
So, in other words, we’re talking about the tradition of the Church — a tradition that applies to our day, that we can then talk about in language that goes beyond the liturgical prayers and the homily, in the catechesis outside Mass — but basically our relationship with the Church is expressed through our prayer language to God. And that’s what I see in the texts. There are many echoes of phrases from the Fathers — even in those prayers that were compiled after the Second Vatican Council.
Monsignor Moroney: To return to something that you spoke about near the beginning: English is not the only language in the world, albeit a very important one. In fact, the first Missal to be confirmed, I think, is a Columbian Missal. Can you say something briefly about what the other language groups have been doing at the same time as the English-speaking world has been working on a vernacular edition of the Missale Romanum?
Father Ward: A number of the major languages, the most diffused languages that came originally from Europe, like French, for example, have equivalent structures to those that have been working on the English language texts. In other cases — and there are many such languages, perhaps two-hundred and fifty, three-hundred languages actively used in the liturgy at some level, with some intensity — a lot of those languages don’t have the backing of the same resources, but that doesn’t mean that the bishops dealing with those languages for liturgical celebration have not been serious and whole-hearted in their attempt to take account of the dimension of accurate translation.
And this has happened in a very impressive way all over the world. In some African countries, for example, we’ve been very edified, personally — the officials of the Holy See — by seeing just how seriously the bishops have taken the need, with the limited resources they have, to go over the texts, even though they have been used for a long time, and to think again if this is the best way of expressing in our language the truth of the Catholic Faith — if this is the best language with which we can express our faith before God.
In some other cases, there are very tiny Catholic populations — in places like Iceland or in other countries of Scandinavia, in some tribal languages of Latin America, in the very scattered and fragmented languages of the Pacific islands. And with languages like Chinese and Japanese, you have a very highly structured and ancient civilization with it, and so a mode of address to higher beings that requires very careful attention. This effort that we are undertaking in English is being done in all the languages of the earth that the Church has chosen to use to pray to God.
Monsignor Moroney: If you were talking to a priest confrere from your own community back in England, and he said, “I’ve read all kinds of things about this new translation of the Roman Missal and about the Missal itself, and so forth. I don’t know what to think”. What advice would you give him?
Father Ward: I’d say, “Get hold of the texts, read them through prayerfully, and then start the business of retraining yourself to read these texts”. People like myself, who’ve been a priest for a long number of years now, I think need to do that solitary exercise, which is a good thing for any priest in any case: namely, to reexamine how we celebrate the liturgy. The tone-fall, the mannerisms that we’ve developed over the years, are perhaps not always the best.
And I think, to leave aside the elements of controversy that may sometimes arise about the prayers, just to look at the texts and to look at them in a prayerful way, to practice them, reading them aloud; I think the riches of the texts, their balanced quality, the fact that they’re in modern language, not an archaic way of expressing ourselves, will come through and be evident.