This continues my series (see June 1 and June 5) about the background of the imminent new English translation of the Mass.
We have seen that the old 1970s translation of the Missal was regarded by all, at each end of the 'political' spectrum, as Unfit for Purpose. This is worth emphasising because there has recently been a tendency among those most radically opposed to Pope Benedict's liturgical aims to try to hang on to that old translation. An organisation, I believe, sprang up in America called "What if we just said wait?" - which I think means "What if we just said wait until Ratzinger is dead?". There have been similar moves, reported in the Irish Times, among the more radically politicised of the Irish clergy. Frankly, there never was much chance of their achieving what such people seek: for the following rather banal reason. All over the world, wherever there is a hierarchy with an interest in Anglophone liturgy, episcopal conferences have, for years - well, No, decades - been making their way through Green Books, Grey Books, Heaven-only-knows-what-sort-of-colour-books, containing successive drafts and revisions of translated texts. In addition to this, there has been the labour - not an inexpensive labour - of harmonising the preferences of the different hierarchies involved. We know a little about this entire process because, in America, the Episcopal Conference meets openly, and verbal transcripts of the debates, and details of the votes, are regularly published. And there is a distinct sense, as one reads through it all, that the number of bishops prepared to vote for the daunting prospect of going through the whole laborious process yet again, has been limited. In America, a Bishop Trautmann led the resistence to next September's translation, fighting a deft 'sound-bite' campaign which focussed on certain allegedly "incomprehensible" words ("consubstantial"; "ineffable"), and making a final desperate attempt to persuade his confreres actually to defy the Vatican. The support he received gradually diminished. He retires, I think, next year. If, that is, the Holy Father accepts his resignation. One rather suspects ... not that anything is certain, of course ...
This blog, moreover, has shown that the essential problem about both the 1970s translation, and the second (abortive) version which was finished in the early 1990s, was that each embodied a policy of rupture: it was designed to cut off the worshipping community of its own day from the memory and continuities of Tradition - that is to say, from the the old Testament and New Testament echoes in the Latin prayers; from the actual meaning of the Latin; from the great paradosis of worship which has been evolving, generation by generation, for nearly two millennia. It is no exaggeration to say that, since about 1970, English-speaking Catholics have been deprived of the authentic worship of the Roman Catholic Church by having 'translations' used in their churches which express only a minuscule amount of the content of the Latin originals. And I am not talking about the elimination of the 'Tridentine' liturgy. It is the post-conciliar Missal - the Latin Missal of Pope Paul VI - that people have been prevented (by bad translations) from being able to appropriate and to internalise in their Christian consciousness. It is worth emphasising this, because some interests, with a slipshod grasp upon history as well as upon rhetoric, have been suggesting that the new translation which we shall begin to use in September represents some sort of retreat from the agenda of Vatican II. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. September's new translation means Onward To Vatican II.
Quite apart from the different questions surrounding the elimination of the Tridentine Rite, it is the post-conciliar Missal, the Missal authorised by Pope Paul VI "by the mandate of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council", that was kept hidden, by faulty translation, from the ears of the faithful for four decades. It is, substantially, the Missal of Paul VI that the new translation will now begin to make accessible to the People of God. Enthusiasts for Vatican II, and its aftermath, and for Paul VI, should be applauding the new translation. It provides what they claim they want.
Remember: the Council never said that the Mass had to be in English; it simply authorised some degree of vernacular use. This guarded permission was subsequently extended, not by the Council but by a series of unilateral decrees emanating from the Curia. And the Council certainly did not decree that vernacular translations should be such as to obscure a large amount of the meaning of the authorised Latin texts. The Instruction which bears responsibility for the currently expiring translation, Comme le prevoit, had nothing to do with the Council. Again, its origin was in the Curia. People who claim to have a suspicion of the Curia and of its 'dominant role in the Church's life', should, if they have any consistency or logic, be prejudiced against the 1970s translation of the Mass.
The new translation, which our bishops, laudably, are bringing in earlier than most other hierarchies, means: back to Paul VI; back to the Missal which derived from the Conciliar impetus. Those fighting a rear-guard action against it should sort out their own confusions.
Next time, I shall write about the Roman Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, which is the methodological basis of the translation due to come on stream in September.