Time was, when, out of reverence, it was forbidden to print, in books of devotion intended for lay Catholics, a translation into profane, vernacular, languages, of the Canon of the Mass. Those days had manifestly passed when on 10 September 1948, the Vicar General of Westminster, E Morrogh Bernard, issued an Imprimatur to Messrs Burns Oates and Washbourne Ltd, Publishers to the Holy See, for The Missal in Latin and English Being the text of the Missale Romanum with English rubrics and a new translation. (Further editions were to follow in 1957; 1958; 1960; and 1962.)
This was a lavish edition, for lay hands, of the Roman Missal. I write 'lavish'; for example it printed in full the orders for Low and for High Mass; it contained all the proper masses for the dioceses of England, Wales, and Scotland. And the Appendix pro aliquibus locis. But more: "The translation of the ... scriptural passages throughout the volume is by the Right Reverend Mgr R. A. Knox."
Of course, those vernacular passages were not intended for public use in public worship. This massive show-case for 'the Knox Bible' was to foster private devotion among those literate in their mother tongue, but not up to the Latin of the Missal. It was to assist in enabling an educated public to appropriate and appreciate the riches of the (traditional) Roman Rite. A very 'forties' and very laudable project! But, in an age when 'the Liturgical Movement' had put the 'Vernacular question' onto the agenda, this was surely also a strong pointer in a certain direction.
Incidentally, the prayers were translated by the Reverend J. O'Connell, M.A., and H. P. R. Finberg, M.A., F.R.Hist.S. (1900-1974). The involvement of Fr O'Connell, Editor (of edition after edition) of The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, suggested the semi-establishment appearance of the venture. But neither man was to be a fundamentalist traditionalist; Finberg, a lay Catholic greatsman with wide academic interests, was to work for ICEL. His influence there was conservative: he felt that "if the liturgy uses expressions that run or seem to run counter to the spirit of the age, we should let it teach us to modify our sometimes callow notions, rather than remodel it, under the pretext of translation, to suit the fashion of the day ... the truth is that, consciously or unconsciously, the translators have bowed to the influence of critics who find much of the Roman Canon repugnant to the contemporary mind."
Anglia non est totus orbis. In 1952, a volume entitled The Little Breviary was published in Dutch. It consisted of an abbreviated form of the Breviary Office, in the vernacular. It came with fruity Vatican encouragement: "I hasten to inform you that the Sovereign Pontiff considers the book entitled 'The Little Breviary' which you have brought out in dutch deserving of the highest praise. A long-cherished hope has now been realised in a most excellent fashion ... outstanding ... His Holiness is delighted and congratulates you on having contributed by a work of this kind to the wider spread of devotion to the liturgy ... His Holiness is heartily in favour of the use of 'The Little Breviary' both by religious communities whose established way of life allows of it and by the laity ..."
This encomium is signed Jo Bapt. Montini Subst. Who he? you all cry.
In 1957, this work appeared in English (Burns and Oates) with a Birmingham Imprimatur. Cardinal Griffin contributed a Foreward which frankly reveals the cultural back-ground: "The growing interest in the Sacred Liturgy ... warm approval of the Holy See .... high praise from the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII. This Breviary meets a great need ... knowledge of Latin will be scanty or lacking altogether ... "
A preface by a Redemptorist superior adds that the Office as abbreviated is "Yet no longer than the Little Office of our Lady." I gloss this as meaning that those lay communities which are not canonically bound to the full Breviary Office, and have hitherto used the Officium Parvum BMV, would do very well to adopt The Little Breviary instead.
The Foreword to the English Edition makes clear that this office-book follows the The Roman Missal in using Mgr Knox's translation of the Bible; and the translations of prayer-texts by O'Connell and Finberg.
Thus: the English Catholic Church was well equipped for a liturgical evolution in which Tradition would have been respected and treated gently; and home-grown scholarship from the pen and in the style of Mgr Knox would have been dominant.
I regard this as an opportunity most sadly missed. The policies which were, instead, folowed have left us in our current disastrous situation. The 1940s were a better decade than the 1960s! Was the eventual Vatican preference for doing business with world-wide language-groups really in accord with the principle of Subsidiarity?