Friday, June 13, 2008

U.S. Bishops Surprise Catholics by Declining New English Translation of Mass Readings

National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. reports that at a meeting in Orlando, FL this morning enough U.S. bishops voiced opposition to a new English translation of readings for daily masses to derail the approval process indefinitely.

The vote was taken on the proposed revision of the English text of the Proper of the Seasons, the second of twelve sections of the Roman Missal being retranslated and the source of priest's prayer near the beginning of the mass, the prayer over the offerings, and the prayer after communion for the masses of the Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons as well as the Sundays of Ordinary Time and holy days of obligation.

The bishops approved the first section of the Missal, the Order of the Mass, in June of 2006, but only after lengthy and often acrimonious battles over some of the wording. I addressed that outcome in my first posting on this blog, July 17, 2006. The wording that won out generally removed a lot of inclusive language that the English mass had contained for several decades and made the English text much more slavishly dependent on the existing Latin version, even when the earlier wording often made much more sense to English-speaking Catholics.

Allen writes: "Heading into the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in Orlando, it didn’t seem likely that a proposed new translation of the Proper of Seasons, part of the prayers and other texts for the Catholic Mass, would stir up much dust. Following a decade and a half of impassioned argument over such texts known colloquially as the 'liturgy wars,' many bishops privately expressed fatigue and a desire to move on – suggesting to most observers that approval of this text ought to be more or less a given."

But that changed today when a lone bishop rose to voice objections to the new translation. Bishop Victor Galeone of Saint Augustine, a former Latin teacher who still reads Thomas Aquinas in Latin, said the proposed translation is too unclear and awkward to be effectively used in American parishes. He found it too slavish to the Latin and too little concerned with communicating accurately and effectively in English.

Galeone's views were seconded by Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, PA and Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, FL. Lynch reported that when he asked the 26 priests on his presbyteral council to review the translation, two were in favor of it and 24 were opposed.

Other bishops voiced the "let's move on" sentiment that was thought to be dominant going into the meeting, including recently installed Cardinal Daniel diNardo of Houston.

The remarkable upshot of the discussion was that the meeting was too poorly attended to vote the translation up or down. The rules of the bishops' conference require a two-thirds vote to adopt such changes--which currently means 166 to approve or 83 to reject. With only 178 bishops at the meeting, neither side could reach the count need to prevail.

The group agreed to mail ballots to any bishop who was not in attendance. They also decided that if the translation isn't approved after the ballot process, there will be another opportunity for all of the U.S. bishops to submit additional observations and proposals for revision.

I find today's developments encouraging: first, because at least a few of the bishops have declared themselves stakeholders in a decent English translation and have had the courage to voice their concerns about a deficient draft when it was thought to be a done deal; and second, because by taking their stand they at least kept open the possibility that a better English translation will be crafted, even if it is not the one the Vatican thinks is best; and most importantly, because their stand upholds the truth that they, not the bishop of Rome, are primarly responsible for the quality of the liturgy celebrated in U.S. Catholic churches, and it's about time they took that responsibility more seriously. All of that is much more edifying than what they have done in the past, which has mostly been to let Rome steamroll pretty awful translations of very generic Latin prayers.

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