New US liturgy head endorses revised Missal translation

New US liturgy head endorses revised Missal translation


Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, is chairman-elect of the US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), and will succeed Erie's Bishop Donald Trautman.

The appointment is significant, since Bishop Trautman has been an outspoken liberal on liturgical matters, whereas Bishop Serratelli favours more emphasis on the sacred and reverence in worship.

Writing in his diocesan newspaper on the revisions to the English translation of the Missal, Bishop Serratelli points out that the words of the liturgy 'are not expressions of one individual in one particular place at one time in history' since these words 'also pass on the faith of the Church from one generation to the next'.

This, he says, is why 'the bishops take seriously their responsibility to provide for the faithful the translations of liturgical texts that are accurate and inspiring'.

Previous approach

Noting the importance the Second Vatican Council ascribed to the liturgy, and that the use of vernacular languages was meant to facilitate people's understanding, Bishop Serratelli explains why the previously used approach of 'dynamic equivalency' proved to be inadequate:

'In the enthusiasm of the aggiornmento [updating], translators set to work to produce translations that expressed the Latin in modes of expression appropriate to the various vernacular languages.

'From 1969 until 2001, the document Comme le Prévoit granted translators wide latitude in translations for the liturgy.Rather quickly in the English-speaking world, translators adopted dynamic equivalency as their approach to the texts.

'Simply stated, dynamic equivalency translated the concepts and ideas of a text, but not necessarily the literal words or expressions.The principle of making the text accessible to the listener outweighed other considerations. As a result, the theological richness of the original texts could be lost and liturgical prayer impoverished.

'In light of the experience in the last 36 years, the Church has revisited the question of translation. Many people had noticed the deficiency of dynamic equivalency.In fact, the man who originally proposed this theory himself abandoned it.[Eugene Nida, head of the American Bible Society].

'In 2001, the Holy See issued Liturgiam Authenticam, a new document to guide all new translations, both of the Scriptures and of liturgical texts.

'This new document espouses the theory of formal equivalency. Not just concepts, but words and expressions are to be translated faithfully. This approach respects the wealth contained in the original text.In fact, the new instruction has as its stated purpose something wider than translation.

'It 'envisages 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' (Liturgiam Authenticam, 7).

'This change in method of translation as employed by the new ICEL translators will mean changes for us, in the words we say (and hear) at Mass.'

Some have claimed that these changes will unduly disturb average Catholics in the pews, but Bishop Serratelli is reassuring. 'The changes', he says, 'will not disturb our faith. They will build it up'.

The new translation will be 'a catechetical moment for all of us to understand more deeply the faith we express in our prayer' since 'the Law of prayer is the Law of belief' (Lex orandi, lex credendi).

The Bishop then gives several examples to 'help us to understand why we will be using new words at Mass and why this will be an improvement over our present texts'.

First, the new translation will correct the present texts that do not follow the style and syntax of the Latin original.Thus, the order of the Gloria at the beginning of Mass will change to be more accurate in word order and style.The beginning of the first Eucharistic prayer will also change. It will now begin with direct address first to God, focusing our hearts on Him and not, as the present text begins, focusing on ourselves.

Second, the new translation is more faithful to the Scriptural allusions found within the Latin. In the third Eucharistic prayer, the present words used, 'so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name,' will become 'so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.'

Poetic language

Those who use dynamic equivalency as the principle of translation say that 'from east to west' means the same as 'from the rising of the sun to its setting.' It does, says Bishop Serratelli, 'in the sterile language of giving directions. But there is more here than mere direction.' However, the new translation 'is more faithful to Scripture because it is more literal' with the words 'taken straight from Malachi 1:11.'

Also, the sacred text itself is much more poetic since it 'evokes the beauty of sunrise and sunset that speak of the majesty of God.' This in turn 'opens us up to the theological density of the Liturgy'.

Finally, since sometimes the language used at Mass 'can mimic our attitudes in dress and become less fitting for the house of God, the revised translation 'will help remind us that we are in the presence of the All- Holy God who stoops to love us in Christ.'

When we begin to use the new text, Bishop Serratelli predicts, 'we will notice and experience in so many ways the rich patrimony of faith that is celebrated in Liturgy.And we will do so in a language worthy of worshipping God.'

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