Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Book of Gray

Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have begun trickling into Los Angeles' Millennium Biltmore Hotel for the spring meeting which begins on Thursday.

Though the plenary session is two days away, the meeting's marquee order of business begins this morning, as the Bishops' Committee for the Liturgy (BCL) sits to accept or decline proposed amendments to the new translation of the Order of Mass in advance of the final ballot on the text, scheduled for Thursday afternoon local time. While the action item will be presented on the floor by Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, chair of the BCL, in a notable addition, pre-debate remarks will also be made by the chairman of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the English Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds.

A copy of the final translation, explanatory notes, the 16 proposed amendments and seven recommended adaptations to the text obtained by Whispers reveals that, while causing some elements of significant change to the prayers currently in use, what some viewed as the new text's extreme excesses of verbiage have largely been reined in.

The core of the "Gray Book" -- ICEL's completed proposal -- is an almost 1,500-line translation of the everyday ritual of the Eucharistic celebration, to which 26 pages of footnotes and clarifications are appended. As a guide, the English renderings appear opposite the Latin texts of the editio typica tertia, the 1998 edition of the Roman Missal currently in force.

While the translation has already been approved by the episcopal conferences of Australia and England and Wales, the dynamics of the USCCB have provided a particularly formidable hurdle to the Congregation for Divine Worship in its intent to enforce its 2001 instruction on liturgical translation, Liturgiam authenticam. Two weeks ago, in a meeting with the members of the Vox Clara commission -- which consults CDW on English translations -- the congregation's Prefect, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, "reiterat[ed] the Congregation’s unwavering intention to assure the implementation of" LA in the translation process.

The words were widely interpreted as a veiled urging for the US bishops to back the new texts, which must receive the assent of two-thirds of the conference's 254 Latin-rite members. (Bishops-elect who have not yet been ordained may not vote.)

While supporters hold a cautious optimism that the action items will attain the required supermajority, to help secure the margin bishops on the fence are being assured that a "yes" vote would allow more the US conference more input on the implementation of the new texts than it would have if the motion failed.

A November sounding by the BCL reported that the wider conference was almost evenly divided on the new renderings: 53% of the bishops who responded rated the texts excellent or good, 47% saw them as fair or poor.

For those familiar with the cadences of the liturgy, the texts maintain notable differences from the formulae which have been in use in the United States for the last 35 years. These are best broken down into the "presidential" prayers used by the celebrant, and the "congregational" prayers of the faithful.

Among the latter, easily the most notable change is the reply "And with your spirit" to the priest's greeting of "The Lord be with you," which is employed at four points in the liturgy. At the beginning of the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, "It is right to give him thanks and praise" becomes "It is right and just."

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," begins the people's response before communion. However, one proposed US amendment would replace "that you should enter..." to the current "to receive you." Its second half -- "but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" -- stands untouched at present.

The revised rendering of the Sanctus would begin, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts," and the new translation of the Nicene Creed retains the word "consubstantial," which has aroused some displeasure from a number of bishops. (An amendment to return "consubstantial" to its current "one in being" is before the BCL. All amendments, however, are subject to the line-item recognitio of the Holy See.)

The more substantive alterations from the current texts belong to the prayers of the priest. Notable among these is the new dismissal, "Go forth, the Mass is ended." The Mysterium fidei, which in earlier drafts read "Great is the mystery of faith," now reads simply and literally, "The mystery of faith," and the doxology following the Lord's Prayer is rendered as:
Deliver us Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days
that, sustained by the help of your mercy,
we may be always free from sin
and saved from all distress,
as we await the blessed hope,
the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In preparing the various formulations, two words in the presidential prayers which have attracted considerable scrutiny were "dew" ("Make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your spirit," the proposed epiclesis of Eucharistic Prayer II) and "gaze" (as in the "serene and kindly gaze," which remains in the finished text of the Roman Canon).

In its responses to critiques, ICEL noted of "gaze" that "Some have expressed doubts about the use of this word." After its "frequent" presence in the English translation of Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten message earlier this year, however, the word "seems... to have enhanced its status within Christian vocabulary."

As for "dew" -- a term which, by ICEL's own admission, "many have expressed difficulties" about -- in a lengthy explanation, the committee linked the importance of the word in the context of Palestine, where "it is a vital source of water... during the almost rainless four months of summer.

"As a figure of speech, it represents abudant fruitfulness, refreshment and renewal, what is beyond human power, and a silent coming," ICEL said, citing multiple texts from Scripture. However, a compromise was proffered by the translation group: "Conferences that do not wish to adopt 'dew' may wish to consider 'dewfall' as an alternative."

Following the debate and vote on the core text, the bishops' agenda will turn to seven recommended adaptations for the Order of Mass for the United States.

These are: a continued increased prominence for the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Holy Water; the maintenance of two "alternative introductions" for the Penitential Rite (the current Sacramentary's allowance for "similar words" is slated to be discontinued); seven additional formulae for the Penitential Rite; keeping the familiar four additional introductions to the Lord's Prayer (the standard ICEL text has one); two alternate forms for the dismissal; the "insertion of a Prayer Over Already Blessed Water" for the sprinkling rite; and the addition of the popular Memorial Acclamation "Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again," which is not included in the ICEL text.

Finally, on the two words which vex an inordinate amount of people, the translation continues with the vernacular custom of English in using the words "for you and for all" in the consecration of the cup. The new text renders "so that sins may be forgiven" as "for the forgiveness of sins."