New Mass translation: Archbishop Hart interview

New Mass translation: Archbishop Hart interview

Archbishop Denis Hart

Michael Gilchrist, editor of AD2000, recently interviewed Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne on the reasons for revisions to the English Mass wordings, the processes of consultation and the steps being taken to implement these changes in parishes.

Archbishop Hart is the Vice-chairman of ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) and representative of the Australian Bishops on ICEL.

AD2000: Are Catholics in the pews sufficiently aware that a new Missal translation is not far away? Should more be done to prepare them at this stage?

Archbishop Hart: Those who read our Catholic papers will be aware that a new translation, which is not very different as far as the people are concerned, will come in 2011. A DVD and other preparation materials will be issued as soon as the final Roman approval for the Missal is given.

How would you respond to Mass-going Catholics who might question the need for a new translation?

During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the bishops of 11 English-speaking Conferences agreed to form a body for translation so that they could work together in rendering the liturgy in the English language. This was called the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

When the Roman Missal in Latin was being translated into English after 1970, there was tremendous pressure to do the translation quickly. It was rendered into a very basic English following principles in the 1967 Instruction Comme le Prevoit.

One principle which has been found to be faulty was the principle of 'dynamic equivalence'.In other words, rather than rendering exactly the words and phrases, the translators, who were priest scholars from different countries, chose to render the general meaning of a phrase rather than its precise meaning.

This resulted in a basic English which was rather a paraphrase than a translation, in particular, as Archbishop Coleridge has pointed out, there is a 'dumbing down' of God, for example, 'Almighty everlasting God' is often rendered simply as 'Lord'. This has a permanent corrosive effect on the reverence with which we think and speak of God.

Similarly you will be familiar with the prayer which asks that God's grace may go before us and continue with us in whatever we do. The almost denial of grace and reducing it to simply 'Lord help us ...' is seen as limiting the divine action.

Thirdly, any metaphorical or poetic expression which may not immediately be intelligible but which gives richness and meaning upon catechesis has been bleached out. So we have been celebrating the liturgy with texts that are a paraphrase in basic English, playing down a number of important theological concepts.

Following on from this, in what ways do you consider the new translation will be an improvement on the present one?

The Church has always had a principle that the law of our prayer is the law of our belief. The way in which we pray influences the way in which our faith is believed and lived. We have had, thus, a serious impoverishment of our faith since the use of the English Missal. Given the shortcomings of the existing translation we need a more accurate translation which will reflect our faith adequately and provide us with deeper meaning and understanding if we are praying.

The present translation, as indicated, uses paraphrasing, very basic English, which bleaches out metaphor, dumbs down God and obliterates the operation of grace. The new translation will, if prayed well, be an improvement and a help.

Priests are the key to acceptance of the new translation in parishes. What has been done to enlist their co-operation in its faithful implementation?

The Order of Mass (the unchanging parts) was approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship of the Holy See in June 2008. Since that time meetings of priests have taken place to unfold the principles behind the new translation. There are new words with a deeper meaning and a greater faithfulness to the Latin.

Already meetings of priests are taking place in dioceses around the country. Archbishop Mark Coleridge visited Melbourne last year for a morning with the priests on the new translations which was attended and well received by over 100 priests.

What is interesting in my experience is that when groups of priests are shown the new translations which are compared with the older version, shown to be divergent from the Latin and inaccurate, they see the value of the richness in the new translations. I believe they will be widely accepted and smoothly implemented.

All change takes time. We will be emphasising that the translations are to be used unchanged because of the way in which they are constructed. One thing that is important is the fact that the opening prayer is arranged according to the Roman 'Cursus' and, therefore, is in a longer sentence which will need to be read more slowly so that its nuancing will be clear.

This again is one of the unique factors of the Roman liturgy. In the Altar Missal, the prayers will be pointed for singing. Those who have heard the new translation are strongly uplifted by what it contains. I am confident that the greater use of metaphor and poetry, the use of a sacral language, will uplift mind and heart and have a great effect in focusing us on what we are doing.

Some have claimed that the new translation has somehow been 'imposed' on English-speaking Catholics and is a case of 'Vatican centralism'. It is alleged that the English-speaking bishops have not been sufficiently consulted or listened to. Is this an accurate assessment?

This is most certainly not the case. But one needs to understand the background to the present changes to grasp this.

By the late 1990s, requests were being made to ICEL to provide more accurate and expansive translations. Some work was done, however it was judged that more was needed if our faith was to be adequately sustained by the way in which we prayed.

When the Roman Missal was published in Latin in 2001, at the same time the Church authorities instructed that ICEL should be reformed with a constitution which made the bishops of English-speaking countries responsible for the liturgy, with the translation overseen by a committee of bishops who were to be actively involved in the work of translation. Translators preparing the work for the bishops were to be approved by the Holy See.

In 2001 also, an instruction Liturgiam Authenticam was issued, giving the principles for accurate translation so that the concepts contained in the prayers, eucharistic prayers, blessings, prefaces might be accurately expressed in a manner which was consistent with the theology of the Church.

Since I joined ICEL in 2002 (and have been its vice-president since 2008), the bishops of ICEL have worked hard on the translation. Each translation has the following procedure:

1. Preparation of a base translation.

2. Review of the base translation in the Secretariat.

3. Examination and production of a green book or provisional translation by the bishops of the Commission assembled in a meeting.

4. Transmission of the provisional translation to all the bishops of the English-speaking world for comment. These bishops are allowed to consult anyone whom they wish, and replies are fed back into the Secretariat.

5. Review and collation of the comments in the Secretariat and discussion by the bishops of ICEL at a meeting.

6. Production of a final translation by the bishops of ICEL which is then again circulated to the Conferences.

7. The Bishops' Conferences, if they approve of the final translation, ask the Holy See for confirmation.

Each of the Missal segments has been through this procedure and all of the major English-speaking Bishops' Conferences, after wide consultation, are now asking the Holy See to confirm the revised translation of the Roman Missal. The approval of the Holy See is expected very soon and the actual Missals will take 10-12 months to produce.

The Missal for Australia, England and Wales and Scotland will be produced by the Catholic Truth Society in London in three editions once the approval of the Holy See has been obtained.

As I explained earlier, the new translation has been through two stages of approval by the bishops of the English-speaking world before ever it got to Roman approval. Each bishop at every stage was free to consult anyone he liked and wide consultation has been done with people in many countries.

It is simply not true that the English-speaking bishops have not been sufficiently consulted. It is a significant point that the Australian vote on every segment of the Missal was overwhelmingly in favour. The same occurred in England and Wales and the same occurred also in America.

A number of vocal opponents of the translation have sought to use the media and other resources to put their dissenting point of view. One would believe that they want to reduce theology to kitchen expressions.

It is claimed that the new translation is a too slavish following of the Latin and includes words that are archaic and meaningless to the average worshipper, e.g., 'consubstantial', 'only begotten', 'Lord of hosts', etc.

The bishops of ICEL have been careful to make sure that what is in the prayers is theologically accurate and reflects Catholic faith. The bishops have judged that the use of some technical theological words like those cited do require explanation, but they give a deeper meaning if they are used and then understood correctly in a theological sense.

What steps are contemplated or in place to maximise the acceptance of the new translation and ensure its smooth implementation?

When the Holy See gives approval for the texts, after a short time there will be available an interactive DVD, 'Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ', which gives the explanation behind the texts, an introduction to the way in which Mass is celebrated, and a wide resource of talks, illustrations and practical examples. I am sending a copy of Father Paul Turner's booklet, Understanding the Revised Mass Texts, published by the Liturgy Training Programme, Chicago, to every priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Here in Melbourne we will make the DVD readily available (information about it has already been sent to the priests) and we will post information on our website.

The National Liturgical Council is preparing participation aids to help the people for the whole of Australia. At the moment, however, we are waiting for the final approval of the whole Missal so that the texts and information placed in people's hands will be accurate.

The production of the Missal will take some 10-12 months and therefore it is not anticipated that the actual implementation will take place until well after Easter next year.

It is true some people are seeking to use the liturgy as a battleground where erroneous notions about the Church, about relationships between the ordained and laity, are sought to be proposed.This does no-one any benefit.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge argues we should consider the wider picture beyond a new translation and be seeking 'a shift in liturgical culture' involving 'the unsettling of bad habits and long-held convictions'. Has thought been given to using opportunities opened by the introduction of the new translation to address this broader picture?

Pope Benedict has written much about beauty and transcendence in the liturgy. Accompanying the new translations will be new settings in simple chant form of parts of the Ordinary of the Mass.There is a desire to make the celebration of the Mass more reverent and less susceptible to popular culture.

Re-evaluation of what supports prayer, of the need for more beautiful churches with appropriate fittings, vestments and ceremonies in the way in which the Church has proposed them, is high on the Pope's agenda and must be emphasised if the Church is to draw people to God.

How confident are you that all the work and effort over many years in fine-tuning a new translation will prove to have been worthwhile?

It is my belief that if the Roman Missal in English can be accepted as it is, if there is a readiness to act in the way the Church acts, then we will see a significant shift in the reverence and prayerfulness of our liturgies and the way in which we use the church as the House of God and Gate of Heaven.

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