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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Viewpoint: new liturgy translation must be roadtested
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 A former head of the English and Welsh bishops' press office has urged the Church to test the draft new Mass translation in parishes before making final decisions. In an article in the Catholic Times, Tom Horwood warns that "successful reception" of the new English texts cannot be "imposed from above". The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has been redrafting the translation since 2001 after the Vatican issued new guidelines, ntitled Liturgiam Authenticam, which said that vernacular versions should be closer to the Latin original. When a draft was leaked last year, many English-speaking Catholics around the world were alarmed at the old-fashioned language that was being used. Horwood, who worked at the Catholic Media Office in London for six years, writes: "Whatever the merits of a particular translation, the words said and sung in the liturgy every Sunday are an important way of communicating what Catholics believe and how their beliefs are lived." "There is a danger that the new translation policy will be imposed without considering whether the current pattern of Church life can sustain it," he adds. "Making the Mass less accessible could be perilous, turning a participative spiritual oasis into a spectator event." "If, as Liturgiam Authenticam insists, good liturgy builds Church unity, it is vital that a translation is accepted by congregations. Testing the new version in parishes is the only way to discover potential barriers to reception before it is too late." Horwood argues that twelve parishes of various sizes, communities and socio-economic groups could be selected to "road test" the text for three months. He concludes: "Catholic priests, religious and lay people care passionately about the Mass. There is still time to involve them in the process of revising the text, and benefit from their experiences and insights. To do so would communicate a tremendously positive message about what the Church can be." The full text of the 11 September article follows: Much ink has been spilled and ire raised since the draft Order of Mass was leaked last year. This was when the English-speaking bishops were being asked for their comments behind closed doors. In general, the proposed text was received negatively by clergy and laity. Many complained that the approach was too literal and actually obscured meaning. Some criticised the lack of inclusive language. Still others felt that to work on a translation without involving other Churches was a backward step. The bishops also expressed some of these concerns, and the draft is being revised. Whatever the merits of a particular translation, the words said and sung in the liturgy every Sunday are an important way of communicating what Catholics believe and how their beliefs are lived. How the words of the liturgy are conveyed says something to the congregation about what the Church is. Inevitably there are barriers to effective communication that must be overcome. Messages, whether verbal, written or in any other form, encounter various types of "noise" or entropy external influences that diminish the clarity of the message. This may be literal noise, or competing messages, or reconceptions, all of which need to be taken into account if the message is to be understood in the way intended. Using archaic phrases also introduces entropy. This is why the Second Vatican Council stated that the liturgy should be intelligible to the people, and the post-Council translation guidelines urged language in "common usage, that is, suited to the greater number of the faithful who speak it every day". The new translation follows Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 guidelines which signalled an about-turn in the Church's official understanding of the liturgy Advocating "the gradual development, in each vernacular, of a sacred style that will come to be recognised as proper to liturgical language" the document introduced a new philosophy with significant implications for parish life. Gone was the preference for plain language; in its place was proposed "a certain manner of speech which has come to be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage". Liturgiam Authenticam indicated, on the part of the Roman curia at least, a belief that the Council's vision had failed. Vatican II described the liturgy as God speaking to his people and the people responding in a dynamic, interactive process. The new approach stresses "the handing on of tradition", in the words of Fr Bruce Harbert of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, which is overseeing the translation in other words, the passive reception by the people of something static and unresponsive. The Council advocated "rich simplicity" in texts for worship, but Liturgiam Authenticam prefers special "syntax and grammar proper to divine worship". And whereas the Council empowered local bishops to approve translations, the newer guidelines increase direct intervention by Rome in preparing texts. Either of the two different approaches - plain language versus sacred vernacular - is valid depending on the purposes of liturgy. If liturgy is intended to be a tool of evangelisation - proclaiming the gospel to the uninitiated - then a sacred language approach is not tenable. If, on the other hand, liturgy is about preaching to the converted and creating for them a holy space in the midst of a secular and mundane week, then rarefied language supports this by helping to set the moment apart. In fact, putting up barriers between secular and sacred echoes an ancient model, whereby unbaptised catechumens attended the scripture readings but not the eucharist which was reserved for those "in full communion". In today's Church, a balance between both approaches must be achievable. There is also a danger that the new translation policy will be imposed without considering whether the current pattern of Church life can sustain it. Sunday Mass is often the only occasion for Catholics to experience the Church as a community. Most Catholics have little time or opportunity to live out a communal Christian life outside their immediate family. Making the Mass less accessible to them could be perilous, turning a participative spiritual oasis into a spectator event. Additionally, radical change to a familiar liturgy for many the only version they have known could further alienate the audience. For visitors, the primary regular means of the Church communicating itself would be rendered incomprehensible. And yet the Vatican policy-makers have embarked on this approach without conducting research or consultation among priests and congregations. It is unlikely that the new policy of Liturgiam Authenticam will be reconsidered in the near future. It is vital therefore that Catholics in parishes have a hance to comment on the translation process. If carried out properly, this consultation will contribute to a text with the right balance. Such an exercise could meet the concerns of those wishing to strengthen the link between the translation and the original Latin, as well as help create a new Order of Mass that is elegant and intelligible. A real, transparent consultation would also improve understanding of the reasons for the changes and of the liturgy itself. Far from undermining the bishops' prerogative to lead the Church, involvement would enhance their role as foci for unity, and rebuild bridges damaged by secrecy. How could such a consultation be carried out? The final draft is thought to be over a year away, so there is a limited window of opportunity. Rather than labour over another version that may simply garner more adverse reaction or, even worse, approve a detrimental translation a draft could be published now. It could be freely available on the internet and through parishes, and a time period set for responses to be received three months, for instance. Making written drafts available is not sufficient. Fr Bruce Harbert has suggested that a recording be made for the bishops to listen to the text spoken aloud. He has described his work as "more like translating for the stage than for silent reading". The greater challenge, however, is to incorporate audience participation in the script; the emphasis should be not only on how the words are proclaimed, but also on how they are understood and responded to. Congregations should be allowed to try out the new translation for real. Twelve parishes of various sizes, communities and socio-economic groups could be selected to pilot the text for three months. Some of the services would be recorded at the beginning and end of the experiment, with priests and people interviewed during and afterwards, individually or in groups, to capture experiences and reactions. It is only by "road testing" the new version that its benefits and weaknesses will be revealed, and some of the wider implications for parish life discovered. If, as Liturgiam Authenticam insists, good liturgy builds Church unity, it is vital that a translation is accepted by congregations. But successful reception cannot be imposed from above. Testing the new version in parishes is the only way to discover potential barriers to reception before it is too late. When the draft Order of Mass was leaked, episcopal voices were raised in condemnation, protesting that the text was not mature enough for public circulation. They had a point, but the bishops' indignation would have met with more sympathy had they pledged to initiate a real consultation with the people of God who, with them, will have to live with the new version for generations. Catholic priests, religious and lay people care passionately about the Mass. There is still time to involve them in the process of revising the text, and benefit from their experiences and insights. To do so would communicate a tremendously positive message about what the Church can be.
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