Inside baseball, Liturgy of the Hours style — liturgy nerds talk translation, texts, and sacred time
Oct 18, 2021

Inside baseball, Liturgy of the Hours style — liturgy nerds talk translation, texts, and sacred time

During and after the Second Vatican Council, when the Church allowed for the celebration of liturgies and parts of liturgies in vernacular languages, a global need for translations of liturgical texts was born nearly overnight.

But the translating itself couldn’t be done overnight. Good translation takes time. And in many places, the work is ongoing.

For the past few years, many U.S. Catholics have been awaiting a new English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer book which punctuates daily life for priests, religious, and many lay people.

Central to that work is ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, headquartered in Washington, DC.

The Pillar talked with Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL and a priest of the Oratorian Community in Washington, D.C., about a decade’s work to translate the Liturgy of the Hours.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Monsignor, a new translation of the Roman Missal was promulgated in 2011, after years of preparation. How long has the project to retranslate the Liturgy of the Hours been underway?

Well, given that the Missal was the first major text to be considered under the provisions of Liturgiam authenticam [a 2001 document from the Congregation for Divine Worship on the use of vernacular in the Church’s liturgy], and was, as such, the beginning of a second tranche of translations of the liturgical books, it was envisaged even at the time the Missal was begun that everything else would follow.

It was quite natural that once the Missal was completed, the next big text to look at would be the Liturgy of the Hours. There’s obviously a big connection between the Liturgy of the Hours and the Missal, not least of all the fact that all the collects in the Liturgy of the Hours are sourced in the Missal.

So really, this project has been underway for 10 years, I would say. It was a specific decision of the USCCB that gave a beginning to the project.

That’s because ICEL is a collaborative project between 11 English-speaking bishops’ conferences, and we work to support the bishop in their responsibility of providing liturgical texts in English for their territories. The work we do is somewhat sequenced by the requests they make, so as the conferences ask for something to be done, that determines the priority of the work that we undertake.

The USCCB, soon after the Missal [was finished], made the decision that they were going to have a revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Now, not all the texts in the Liturgy of the Hours are ICEL texts. People are sometimes surprised when I say that. That’s because each conference has the possibility of deciding which Scriptural version they’ll use in their books, and that includes the psalter.

Obviously in the Liturgy of the Hours, a vast amount of the material is just straightforward Scripture: The psalms of the four-week psalter, all of the Scriptural texts in the readings. The translation used is the decision of the conference, not ICEL.

So, the USCCB first asked for a complete, unified translation of all of the hymns. They asked for new translations of the antiphons, and in particular the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons. They also asked for new translations of the intercessions.

Now, since that initial project was formulated, quite a lot has been added to it. The reason for that is quite logical if you think about it — it’s the interrelation of these various textual elements in the liturgy.

We have to be very careful that the same text is not translated differently in different places. So, a text that can appear as an antiphon might appear elsewhere in a different form; the same Latin has to be treated in the same way, or if there is a difference, the difference has to be accounted for.

Also added to the docket was a review of the second readings, which is not a retranslation but a thorough review to identify omissions, mistakes, and egregious issues of translation as they’ve been identified by various people.

We have a lot of commentary from various different people in relation to this, and that was a good basis for that work. That work has been undertaken by two subcommittees of three translators, and what they’ve produced is quite a light revision.

The new translation is much anticipated, especially for people whose breviaries are in disrepair. Is there an expected date for the release of the new translation?

ICEL doesn’t publish books, so it’s a matter of the decisions and the commitment of individual conferences. The first conference to publish a revised Liturgy of the Hours will be the USCCB. We already know that they are going to publish the hymns ahead of time.

That edition is at an advanced stage of preparation; it will be a musical edition of all of the hymns, with [both] their plainsong melodies and a metrical melody, a more well-known hymn tune. So, each text will have two tunes.

We are very near the completion of that work, we’re just looking at issues of layout now. I don’t know, because it won’t be our publication, but perhaps either later this year or in the early part of next year. Then the USCCB presumably will issue a decree that enables these hymns to be used immediately in the Liturgy of the Hours.

So, what work on the Liturgy of the Hours still needs to be completed?

The review of the second readings, and some of the rubrical and introductory material, decrees, things like that. But we’ve really already completed the greater part of our contribution, which is the liturgical texts. I would imagine that we will have completed all of our work within the next 12 months.

Did the pandemic slow things down at all?

Not at all, in fact, we’ve probably produced more during the time of the pandemic than we had in the previous year. And that’s because a lot of our working is based on distance- work anyway.

We have translators in different countries, and it’s quite possible to have a committee of three people, all of them in different countries, who are meeting on Zoom. So, we’ve been unimpaired in terms of the rhythm of our work during this time.

New translations means a new printing. Is there anything that might be done differently in terms of printing the new texts?

Well, I think it’s true to say that with the new edition of the Missal, there seems to have been a recovery of the culture of the liturgical book as something beautiful in itself, and well-suited to its purpose.

I think that’s very much evidenced in the different editions of the Roman Missal that have been published. There seems to be a desire on the part of people to have books which are not only practical in size and in layout, but also beautiful.

On the other hand, one of the biggest changes in this culture has been the move towards digital versions of the text. We absolutely understand that people are just as likely to be praying the Office from their phone or their tablet as they are having a book. But, for the public celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, the norm is that the book should be used.

Read the remainder of Joe Slama’s interview with Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth at The Pillar

The Pillar