Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Return of the "Gibbet"

Last time on Liturgy Wars, the US bishops shocked everybody -- themselves included -- by rejecting the second part of the long-controversial new translation of the Mass.

To recap, what was expected to be a ho-hum passage of the Proper of Seasons at mid-June's Spring Meeting in Orlando hit the wall after Bishop Victor Galeone of St Augustine took a rhetorical chainsaw to (among other things) the proposed text's use of the word "gibbet"... forcing the vote to a mail ballot of those prelates absent... at which point the Florida prelate, the bishops' worship shop, and the global translation body ICEL each took their case to the remaining voters. The result: two weeks before ballots were due, the USCCB announced that the texts had failed to garner the requisite assent of two-thirds of its Latin-rite membership, and would be revisited at the November meeting in Baltimore.

Amid the frenzy, the Holy See sent up a clear vote of confidence in the ongoing process, announcing its recognitio to the first part of the new translation of the third edition of the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum -- the Order of Mass -- which had been under review at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for the better part of two years. Intended for use across the English-speaking world, the final "White Book" of the liturgy's unchangeable parts was subsequently released by the US conference, the first step of a catechetical effort intended to familiarize churchfolk with the revisions, whose rollout will, at the earliest, come in Advent 2011 (a year after the Anglophone conferences vote on the final section of the 12-part Missale Romanum package).

With all that as background, Galeone -- now a hero to the project's critics for being viewed by its lead movers as a "worthy opponent" -- has loosed a new salvo in the pages of the current America.

While most of the article reprises the former Latin teacher's critique of the text's word-choice and syntax ("gibbet" encore included), and even offers some praise of the new renderings, the Baltimore-born bishop goes on to knock "the present membership of ICEL" for, he says, "fall[ing] squarely into the camp of those who prefer a translation that is frozen in static, never-changing formulas—even if comprehension is sacrificed in the process"... and that's before closing with a report on the mind of the bench, with his $.02 on why the Proper failed.

The piece is subs-only, but here's the wrap:
At the Orlando conference, it was pointed out that only eight bishops had submitted amendments to alter the proposed texts. The legal maxim “silence gives consent” should warrant the conclusion that the vast majority of bishops agree with the proposed translations. I submitted no amendments. I refrained from doing so out of frustration. At our meeting in Los Angeles two years ago, I submitted four amendments with well-reasoned explanations as to why the texts were flawed. Not one amendment was accepted, nor was any reason given for their rejection. I have spoken with other bishops who feel equally frustrated.

It was also pointed out that four national conferences of bishops have already approved the texts (11 national conferences are members of ICEL). Why then, should our conference refuse to go along with them? My observation is that if the bishops in those countries felt the same frustration that many of our bishops are experiencing, isn’t it possible that they might have approved the texts just to be done with it? The conferences that have accepted the ICEL texts represent only a small fraction of English-speaking Catholics worldwide, whereas U.S. Catholics represent 85 percent of the Catholic English-speaking world. That important point should not be lost.

In fact, following my intervention, three bishops informed me that although they agreed with me, they still voted for approval since they felt it was time to move on. At the conference, several bishops publicly voiced the same sentiment—as one of them expressed it, “With all its difficulties, the translation should go forward.” But Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati warned that it “depends on what you’re moving forward to,” arguing that the new texts would be “a linguistic swamp.”

Other bishops at the conference were in agreement with Pilarczyk. For example, Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee admitted, “If I have trouble understanding the text, I wonder how it’s going to be possible to pray with it in the context of worship.” He added that if the texts were approved, our priests and people would press the bishops to return to them time and again in order to remedy the perceived defects.

Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie has observed that the texts contain a number of archaic and obscure terms, such as “wrought,” “ineffable” and “gibbet.” He also lamented ICEL’s preference for replicating in English the structure of the Latin periodic sentence, thus making comprehension difficult. “John and Mary Catholic,” he concluded, “have a right to have prayer texts that are clear and understandable.” Clear and understandable—without sacrificing either accuracy or elegance—therein lies the challenge!

Since the motion failed to receive sufficient votes for either approval (166) or rejection (83), the Latin-rite bishops who were absent from the conference had to be polled by mail. With all the mail-in ballots counted, the motion still failed to pass. Consequently, we bishops will have to revisit the proposed draft of prayers at our November meeting.

In the past 1,500 years, languages spoken on the street have changed. And so the dilemma constantly recurs of how to represent the teaching of Scripture, tradition and the liturgy in a way that remains faithful to its original meaning but at the same time is easily understood by the people. It is no easy task, but proposing translations that leave our people scratching their heads is not the answer.

That is the reason the motion for the proposed texts failed to pass. We bishops who voted against the motion did not do so out of a spirit of obstinacy. We love the Lord. We love the church. We love the liturgy. And what we desire for our people is what the bishops at the Second Vatican Council approved in the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” No. 21, speaking of the restoration of the liturgy (emphasis added): “Both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify: the Christian people, so far as is possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.”