Thursday, June 15, 2006

From the Floor

The bishops have adjourned for lunch, and everyone is, predictably, abuzz.

At 2pm Pacific (2100GMT) the meeting will reconvene with an address by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the work of the USCCB Task Force on Catholics in Public Life. Following that, at 2.30 Los Angeles time, the Order of Mass will be presented by the chair of the BCL, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie. Approximately one hour has been scheduled for the debate. However, considering the tensions of the body leading up to this meeting, don't be surprised to see that time-frame go out the window.

There are 254 bishops present at the meeting. Considering that not all in attendance are the 254 active Latin-rite bishops -- i.e. those entitled to vote on the translation of the Missale Romanum -- the prevailing thought is that, barring the unforeseen, it's thisclose -- close enough that the question seems likely to go to a mail vote of the bishops, which would take about two weeks to complete.

Note well that the above scenario of a postal vote would only take place if the votes of absent bishops could influence the result. If this afternoon's tally is such that the votes of those not present would still fail to attain the required 2/3 supermajority, the motion dies on the floor.

When they return to their places, the bishops will find at their seats the address given this morning by Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, chairman of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) -- the body which has composed the Mass translation currently before the conference.

The fulltext of his remarks (which were said to be "well-received") have been posted, and here's a snip:
I have sometimes wondered, as we have progressed this work, how is it possible to respond to so many voices? Indeed, how can we produce a single version of the Roman Order of Mass for use in so many countries? Does not the English spoken in the United States differ so much from that spoken in, say, New Zealand, that we need more than one version of the Missal?

I am also aware from some of the comments that we have received from you that within the United States itself there is already considerable, well-documented linguistic variation. Some of you will speak of soda, some will say pop, and others will say cola; with their drink some will eat a hoagy, some a grinder some a hero and some, to the astonishment of British ears, a submarine! I would guess that there is not a person in this room who cannot tell his own story about a Southerner visiting the North who was unable to make himself understood. In my own country it is often the other way round – the people in the South tend to find those of us from the North unintelligible. You, too, may be more appreciative of that by the time I get to the end of this address!

These examples, of course, do not indicate that the United States is a modern Tower of Babel. Far from it. Alongside the regional variations there is an American Standard English by means of which people from all over the country communicate with each other. Its use is reinforced by Television and Radio.

I noticed that in the early stages of our consultation on the Order of Mass, voices were raised in the South objecting to the use of ‘you all’ in the priest’s greeting because of the way in which those words are used in the South. Later, this objection was not heard, presumably because one linguistic area cannot determine the language of the whole country: ‘you all’ is not used in American Standard English as it is used in the South and, as far as I am aware, nobody suggested that the South should have its own separate Missal.

The same principle can be applied internationally. There is an International Standard English, which we encounter when we buy a piece of equipment with instructions in many languages and only one English version....

I often hear it said that objections to ICEL’s recent work are really objections to Liturgiam authenticam. Allow me to offer you a few thoughts on that document which is welcomed by some and rejected by others rather like the annual government budgets. It is to be remembered, however, that Liturgiam authenticam is a child of Pope John Paul II’s document Vigesimus quintus annus, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sacrosanctum concilium, which called for an opportune stock-taking, not least in the area of faithfulness in translation.

Its stipulations differ markedly from those of the earlier document known as Comme le prévoit. That was issued in 1969 by the Consilium with the responsibility for putting into effect the Council’s Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. We need to note, however, that these two documents do not have the same status: the earlier document was issued by the Consilium, the latter by the Congregation. At the heart of Comme le prévoit was the idea of ‘dynamic equivalence’, achieved when a translator detaches the ‘content’ of an utterance from the ‘form’ in which it is expressed.

We have an examples of this in our current Mass-texts. For example, in the Third Eucharistic prayer when we say so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made. The proponents of dynamic equivalence tell us that from east to west conveys the same information as from the rising of the sun to its setting’, which we now propose. And so it does, in the dry language of the cartographer. But the meaning of this phrase is richer: it has a temporal dimension as well as a spatial one. We could have made both meanings explicit by saying from east to west and from dawn to dusk, but I would claim that by staying closer to the form of expression that we find in Malachi 1:11, and I quote:

See, from the rising of the sun to its setting all the nations revere my Name and everywhere incense is offered to my Name as well as a pure offering.

- we have produced a richer and more evocative version, bringing to the mind of the worshipper the beauties of the sunrise and sunset and the closeness of these texts to Sacred Scripture.

Another example is found in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer in the phrase the fruit of the vine in the Institution Narrative. Currently we say he took the cup filled with wine, as you know, and some argue that the fruit of the vine means the same as the single word wine, and that the simpler expression should be preferred. But we hear the words the fruit of the vine on the lips of the Lord himself in all three synoptic Gospels – which I would consider as being more than enough reason to respect their form. Moreover, though the two expressions refer to the same substance, they do so in an entirely different way. The difference between the single word and the richer phrase is the difference between reading the label on the bottle and actually enjoying a glass-full of the wine itself. Furthermore this phrase has a powerful salvific resonance because of the symbolic value accorded to the vine plant and the vineyard in scripture, as recalled by Jesus’ elaboration in John 15 of the image of Himself as the true vine, His Father as the vinedresser, and ourselves as the branches. This picks up on an even earlier usage in Isaiah 5 – the famous “Song of the Vineyard” - and the Lord’s lament at the degeneracy of his once choice vine in Jeremiah 2. Of course, the word wine connects with this scriptural patrimony, but it does so less evidently, less directly than does the phrase fruit of the vine which, upon each hearing, encourages us in our imaginations to see the particular Eucharistic event as part of the unfolding of God’s universal plan within history to rescue us from the destruction and chaos occasioned by our sinfulness and bring us into communion with Himself and with each other in Christ.

Dynamic equivalence has become an outmoded idea: even its originator, Eugene Nida, ceased to use it in his later writings. Over the last thirty years specialists in language have become more aware that the form we choose for an utterance is itself expressive of our purpose in speaking. This is particularly important when we make requests. It is one thing for me to say turn on the light and another for me to say would you turn on the light? Both utterances convey the information that I want the light to be turned on by you. But we speak not only to inform, but also to persuade.

PHOTO: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni