Card. George on liturgical translation

At Amerika there is an interview with Francis Card. George, the out-going Archbishop of Chicago.   Among the various questions put to him, this one, with the answer caught my special attention.

My emphases and comments:

You were prominent in the work of  theInternational Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and the development of the new liturgical translations. Now that they have been in use for nearly two years, are you satisfied with the translations pastorally and theologically?

It’s hard for me to give an unbiased judgment on the value of the new translations. First of all, the first full translation of the missal of Paul VI was ideologically charged. [It sure was!  It is nice to hear someone of Card. George’s eminence to state it clearly.  However, the translation was not the only issue: the prayers of the Novus Ordo also depart from the theology of the prayers of the previous, pre-Conciliar Missal.] Since the liturgy, along with Sacred Scripture, is the primary carrier of the tradition that unites us to Christ, [NB: more on this, below!] the loss of the theology of grace, the domestication of God, the paraphrasing that deliberately omitted nuances of understanding, the deliberate omission of biblical references in the liturgical text itself, etc. left the church for forty years without a way of worship that adequately expressed our faith. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] This was clear for those of us who used the Roman missal in Spanish during those years; their translation was far more adequate. The bishops had the obligation to see that the translation into English of the third edition of the Roman Missal was faithful and also able to be used communally. I believe it has been well done. Some of the expressions in the Prefaces are a bit “clunky,” [yes… then again, perhaps it is okay for a translation to sound like a translation.  Shall we forget that the Roman Missal is in LATIN?] but the collects are truly beautiful if a priest takes the time [yes!] to interiorize the structure of  dependent clauses and use his voice so that the prayer is comprehensible to the faithful. [Exactly.When I hear priests whine about how haaard the prayers I, I wonder if they took the time actually to read them through before getting up in front of people.] Normally, people paid little attention to the collect; they couldn’t tell you what the priest said as soon as they sat down. [On the other hand, I believe this is also the case with most sermons.] Hopefully, a more deliberate style of declamation with a more adequate text will help draw people into a climate of worship and prepare them to hear the Word of God in Scripture. The canons [“Eucharistic Prayers”… there’s one Canon.] are very well done, even the most difficult, Canon One, because it is a compilation from various sources. Criticism of the scientific inaccuracy of the word “dewfall” in Canon II is a bit absurd coming from those who easily accept and speak of “sunset.”  [HA! That was, I think, a little shot at now-retired Bp. Trautman.] Some of the criticisms have an extrinsic rationale. The bishops’ choice of experts meant that many who had been more involved in the work of ICEL previously were no longer engaged. The loss of a work to which one had given oneself is always hurtful. Some others just opposed any exercise of episcopal authority; in principle, the bishops were just supposed to rubber-stamp what the “experts” were doing. Some, surprisingly, objected to the re-introduction of the biblical metaphors and allusions, while others underestimated, I believe, the native intelligence of the average English-speaking worshiper. [ditto] There were a few more justified criticisms of the process, which was open in places to accusations of last-minute manipulation. I have to say that I enjoyed going back and working through Latin texts, something I hadn’t done since minor seminary.

Fr. Z kudos.

Card. George said:

Since the liturgy, along with Sacred Scripture, is the primary carrier of the tradition that unites us to Christ, the loss of the theology of grace, the domestication of God, the paraphrasing that deliberately omitted nuances of understanding, the deliberate omission of biblical references in the liturgical text itself, etc. left the church for forty years without a way of worship that adequately expressed our faith.

Exactly.

This is why I keep harping away that, unless we have a top to bottom renewal of our liturgical worship of God, no other initiative that we undertake will have true and lasting success.  We start from worship and we bring what we have done and who we are back to worship.

We order our relationships with other persons by the virtue of Justice, whereby we give to them what is their due.  But the Holy Trinity are persons.  We owe them what is their due, which is, first and foremost, worship.  Because the divine Persons are qualitatively different from human persons, we have a different virtue for giving them what is there due.  Related to Justice, is the virtue of Religion.  We fulfill the virtue of Religion by offering due and worthy worship to God.  We do this as individuals, smaller groups like the family, and larger groups like the whole Church and her local elements.  If our relationship with God is out of order because we are not fulfilling the virtue of Religion properly, through worthy worship as the Church asks authoritatively, then our other endeavors are going to be disordered.

This is why Summorum Pontificum was a major contribution for the renewal of the Church.

When I hear church leaders bang on and on about project X or initiative Y for group A or B or C, I am left rather disappointed.  While each of those could be good, if we are not simultaneously working hard to renew our liturgical worship of God, those other things won’t amount to much in the end.

I don’t get why they don’t get this.  It is not as if this means don’t do X or Y.  It means in order to do X or Y, we have to get our worship in order at the same time at least, if not before.

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10 Responses to Card. George on liturgical translation

  1. Athelstan says:

    Cardinal George’s comments on the MR3 translation process – and the woefully defective translation it was intended to replace – are very much on the mark. We should all be grateful that His Eminence was able to play such a key role in salvaging the translation.

    One thing he did not mention about the problems with what ICEL had put forward in its 1998 translation was that its flaws went beyond excessive reliance on dynamic translation. ICEL *also* made use of inclusive language throughout the missal and, worse, inserted numerous new prayers and intercessions of its own devising. For these reasons, too, Cdl George and many other bishops objected, and The Holy See was forced to reject it, overhauling the MR3 process. Yet you’ll still find luminaries at places like Pray Tell and Liturgical Press (and, yes, America) lamenting the rejection of the 1998 ICEL translation.

    What we have now in MR3 is not perfect, and how it came into being was not, as His Eminence notes, always pretty. But it’s a major improvement on what went before. We have Cardinal George to thank in part for that.

  2. “When I hear church leaders bang on and on about project X or initiative Y for group A or B or C, I am left rather disappointed.”

    Indeed, how can our bishops’ talk of a “new evangelization” be taken seriously if they fail to realize (and insist) that it must be based on a revitalization and re-sanctification of the liturgy, which Vatican II proclaimed to be the “source and summit” of our faith?

  3. ConstantlyConverting says:

    “left the church for forty years without a way of worship that adequately expressed our faith.”

    I’m trying to think if other situations when people wandered around for forty years in the wilderness because of spiritual blindness…

  4. Katherine says:

    I was taken with the Catholic teaching that when you are in mortal sin, nothing you do, even the good things, gets the attention of God. That, in fact, the only prayer God deigns to hear from you is one of contrition and begging for mercy. I spent much of my life in mortal sin, though those sins were probably mitigated by a certain level of ignorance. This idea, that none of the good things I did then mattered at all to God, has me thinking.

    Your point about how our relationships are ordered to Justice reminds me in some way of this mortal sin/dead to God idea. When we constantly make the most impoverished choices, the easiest, the most simple and bare choices (no matter how legitimate they may be) about the details of praying the Holy Mass, are we not also, in some way, making ourselves dead to God? If we owe Him the Holy Mass, wouldn’t our purposefully paltry choices be an affront to Justice?

    Dead flowers in front of the altar are worse than no flowers at all.

    –Just thinking out loud.

  5. frjim4321 says:

    At a clergy gathering today the discussion was around the annual head counts (i.e., mass attendance) which in every other parish had declined in the past two years. I couldn’t help but wonder about the extent to which the imposition of the 2010 Vox Clara product is among the main causes for the decline.

    With regard to the faulty opinion that “…the collects are truly beautiful if a priest takes the time to interiorize the structure of dependent clauses and use his voice so that the prayer is comprehensible to the faithful…” he is entirely wrong. When the presidential prayers are proclaimed slowly, because of the ridiculous length of sentences, by the time we get to the end we forget how the prayer began.

    Frankly, if a person was to use the orations as written it would be better to proclaim them at a smart pace, while using inflection to try to suggest how the various disjoint phrases interrelate.

    What kind of god would want to be addressed in riddles?

    [Perhaps a God who taught us in riddles, foreshadowing, prophecies, figures, types, parables… Furthermore, perhaps a God who made us in His image, made us to be capable of more than than “goo goo ga ga”, after we grow up at least. Anyway, the question is wrong. The Church has Christ’s authority to regulate worship and to determine our public prayer. The translations we had before did not reflect what the Church wants us to pray. That situation has been, for the most part corrected. A solution to your grumbling about accurate translations… does it stem from the fact that you don’t like the content of the prayers? If that’s not it, I suggest that you use Latin exclusively for all the orations for every Mass.]

  6. katholos says:

    Frjim, I have attended the weekday Divine Liturgy at a local Byzantine Catholic Church. Now I am aware that Byzantine liturgical ceremony is informed by its own ethos but really, are Roman Catholics so simple in understanding that the relatively few changes made by the Vox Clara committee are too much for Catholics to handle? My goodness even when I was growing up Lutheran we prayed the Nicene Creed in the singular and the Gloria was almost the same as the version put forth in the Third Roman Missal. My pastors offered prayer ad orientem and we responded to the dominus vobiscum “and with THY Spirit.”

    I can understand Catholics born after Vatican II referring to the “new” translation but for those born prior to the council I am tempted to ask, “Really?”

  7. Urs says:

    ‘What kind of god….?'(little g noted), frjim4321 asked.
    What kind of question is that?… especially from someone who, I assume, is a priest…
    The only kind of ‘gods’ (little g) that I know of are those who are not actually God, in Greek and Roman mythology, and idols–those things throughout human history until the present day are given worship as if they are God.
    Sorry, I just found that question to be a little disconcerting…
    Thanks Fr. Z, for this article. I like learning these things and I love and pray for Cardinal George.

  8. JonPatrick says:

    It is my impression that “headcounts” in the Catholic Church have been declining for about the last 40 years. Coincidentally that is about when the Ordinary Form Mass was introduced and the old Mass taken away from us, along with church wreckovation, removal of altar rails, etc. Just saying.

  9. aviva meriam says:

    Constantly Converting, I agree with you,…. especially because of the line in the text about dewfall and Cannon 2….. which I’ve thought of as a reference to the Mana from heaven that fell with the dewfall when the Israelites wandered the Sinai….

    BTW, that line from Cannon 2 is very similar to a line from Jewish prayer

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