Holy See Mandates True Translation of Liturgical Texts
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Sun May 20 23:37:33 EDT 2001
Not Just Another Document . . .
Holy See, Finally, Mandates True Translation Of Liturgical Texts
By PAUL LIKOUDIS The Wanderer
In the most important liturgical document issued by the Holy See since
Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Pope John Paul II has
ordered episcopal conferences to produce new translations of Latin
liturgical texts that conform to the original Latin, and provides
principles of translation that will effectively end all so-called
inclusive language projects.
The 35-page instruction, "iturgiam Authenticam" (Authentic Liturgy),
made public May 7, reverses the 40-year project of modernist liturgists
in Western Europe and North America to de-Romanize the liturgy of the
In remarkably blunt language, the new document, produced by the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, states that the
liturgical disorders, innovations, and abuses, exemplified by
mistranslated liturgical texts, have impeded the renewal of the Church
as envisioned by the fathers at Vatican II.
The document can also be read as a broadside aimed at liturgical
pastorals such as Roger Cardinal Mahony's Gather Faithfully
Together, which are based on the premise that each parish community
creates its own inculturated liturgy.
Liturgiam Authenticam states the opposite: that the liturgy of the
Roman rite is to transform culture, and culture - especially the
decadent cultures of the post-Christian West - is not to transform the
liturgy. To carry out the transformation of culture effectively,
Liturgiam Authenticam restates the teaching of the Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy that Gregorian chant is to have "pride of place"
in the Mass and each vernacular rendition of the Mass should include
The document, approved by the Holy Father on April 25, who ordered that
it take effect immediately, forcefully declares: "Indeed, it may be
affirmed that the Roman rite is itself a precious example and an
instrument of true inculturation. For the Roman rite is marked by a
signal capacity for assimilating into itself spoken and sung texts,
gestures, and rites derived from the customs and the genius of diverse
nations and particular Churches - both Eastern and Western - into a
harmonious unity that transcends the boundaries of any single region.
"This characteristic is particularly evident in its orations, which
exhibit a capacity to transcend the limits of their original situation
so as to become the prayers of Christians in any time or place. 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. The work of inculturation, of which the translation into
vernacular languages is a part, is not therefore to be considered an
avenue for the creation of new varieties or families of rites; on the
contrary, it should be recognized that any adaptations introduced out
of cultural or pastoral necessity thereby become part of the Roman
rite, and are to be inserted into it in a harmonious way."
In an apparent nod to those countless Catholics in the English-speaking
world who have long objected to the botched translations provided by
ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy,
"Liturgiam Authenticam" acknowledges:
"The omissions or errors which affect certain existing vernacular
translations - especially in the case of certain languages - have
impeded the progress of the inculturation that actually should have
taken place. Consequently, the Church has been prevented from laying
the foundation for a fuller, healthier, and more authentic renewal.
"For these reasons, it now seems necessary to set forth anew, and in
light of the maturing of experience, the principles of translation to
be followed in future translations - whether they be entirely new
undertakings or emendations of texts already in use - and to specify
more clearly certain norms that have already been published, taking
into account a number of questions and circumstances that have arisen
in our own day."
Among the first changes that most Catholics will notice once they have
a translation of the Mass that the instruction mandates will be in the
Creed. Credo ("I believe") is to be translated accurately. For 30
years, English-speaking Catholics have said, "We believe."
The instruction explains: "The Creed is to be translated according to
the precise wording that the tradition of the Latin Church has bestowed
upon it, including the use of the first person singular, by which is
clearly made manifest that the confession of faith is handed down in
the Creed, as it were, as coming from the person of the whole Church,
united by means of the faith."
"And with your spirit" will also return (the current English
translation renders "And also with you"), and the phrase mea culpa,
mea culpa, mea maxima culpa ("through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault"), currently translated "through my own
fault," is to be restored:
"Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a
great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become
part of the general human patrimony, are to be respected by a
translation that is as literal as possible, as for example the words of
the people's response Et cum spiritu tuo, or the expression mea
culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa in the Act of Penance of the Order
of Mass," declares the instruction.
The instruction also states that texts "which the faithful will have
committed to memory" should not be changed notably "without real
necessity" - and when changes are necessary, they should be made "at
one time" and be explained to people.
Regarding sung texts, the instruction includes brief but important
paragraphs on music.
Liturgical texts that are sung are to be faithful first of all to the
text: "Paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of
making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered
generically equivalent be employed in their place." This implies that
the practices of substituting refrains from songs for the prescribed
memorial acclamations or supplanting sung texts like the Agnus
Dei ("Lamb of God") with new phrases will have to cease.
Hearing The Cries Of The Faithful
The new instruction identifies specific problems and "tendencies" in
various translation projects, and "considers anew the true notion of
liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred
Liturgy into the vernacular languages may stand secure as the authentic
voice of the Church of God.
"This instruction therefore envisions and seeks to prepare for a new
era of liturgical renewal, which is consonant with the qualities and
the traditions of the particular Churches, but which safeguards also
the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God."
The translation of liturgical texts, the document states, "is not so
much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original
texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it
is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax, and the style in
such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the
rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must
be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without
omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without
paraphrases or glosses. . . .
"So that the content of the original texts may be evident and
comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual
formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of
language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time
preserves these texts' dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision.
"By means of 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, the translations will respond to the hunger and
thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own
time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the
liturgical celebration itself. . . .
"[T]he liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the
Church at prayer, rather than of only particular congregations or
individuals; thus, they should be free of an overly servile adherence
to prevailing modes of expression. If indeed, in the liturgical texts,
words, or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from
usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very
fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing
"Indeed, it will be seen that the observance of the principles set
forth in this instruction will contribute to the gradual development,
in each vernacular, of a sacred style that will come to be recognized
as proper to liturgical language.
"Thus it may happen that a certain manner of speech which has come to
be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage may continue to be
maintained in the liturgical context. In translating biblical passages
where seemingly inelegant words or expressions are used, a hasty
tendency to sanitize this characteristic is likewise to be avoided.
These principles, in fact, should free the liturgy from the necessity
of frequent revisions when modes of expression may have passed out of
"The Sacred Liturgy engages not only man's intellect, but the whole
person, who is the 'subject' of full and conscious participation in the
liturgical celebration. Translators should therefore allow the signs
and images of the texts, as well as the ritual actions, to speak for
themselves; they should not attempt to render too explicit that which
is implicit in the original texts.
"For the same reason, the addition of explanatory texts not contained
in the editio typica is to be prudently avoided. Consideration should
also be given to including in the vernacular editions at least some
texts in the Latin language, especially those from the priceless
treasury of Gregorian chant, which the Church recognizes as proper to
the Roman liturgy, and which, all other things being equal, is to be
given pride of place in liturgical celebrations."
Special Target: Inclusive Language
In a comprehensive analysis for the Adoremus Bulletin and Voices, the
publication of Women for Faith and Family, Helen Hull Hitchcock wrote
that the new document "is the clearest and most comprehensive rejection
to date of 'inclusive language' devices in translation. Prime stress is
placed on accurate rendering of the original texts, especially of the
sacral character of their language.
"Liturgiam Authenticam continues and 'crystallizes' the policies of
John Paul II's papacy, which has consistently rejected linguistically
flawed and politically tendentious translations of Holy Scripture and
of doctrinally key works. The Holy See's refusal of the 'inclusive
language' version of The Catechism of the Catholic Church in
1993, and its subsequent revision and correction of the English
translation, has been matched by its steadfast opposition to
'politically correct' translations of the Lectionary (the readings used
for Mass) and of the Mass itself."
The new instruction explicitly forbids such devices as changing an
original singular to plural (by which "blessed is he who comes in the
name of the Lord" becomes "blessed are they"), splitting words into
gender pairs (e.g., changing "whoever takes up his cross" to "whoever
takes up his or her cross"), or introducing abstract terms foreign to
the original text (e.g., changing "What is man that you are mindful of
him?" to "What are mortals. . . ?").
In preparation for about three years, Liturgiam Authenticam
appeared in time to provide translation norms for the new third
"typical edition" of the Roman Missal, the Latin version of which is
expected to be released soon. It also arrives near the end of a massive
project of retranslation and revision of the major liturgical books
used by the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries that began
more than ten years ago.
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