South Africa: confusion and kerfuffle over new translation

From CNS with my emphases and comments.

Southern African bishops seek Vatican OK to keep new Mass translations

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said it made a mistake in giving the go-ahead to parishes to use Vatican-approved Mass translations, but it has asked the Vatican to allow continued use of the texts.

In a March 4 statement the conference said it awaits a response from the Vatican. It told parishes in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland that already have begun using the translations to continue using them and said those that have not yet made the changes should wait until further notice.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, president of the bishops’ conference, received a letter Feb. 25 from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, asking that use "of the new English text of the Roman Missal be halted until the (translation) process had been finalized internationally and all English-speaking churches could implement the new translation at the same time," the bishops’ statement said.

The bishops’ statement added: "Normally a ‘recognitio’ (permission) given by the congregation approves a text for implementation at a time determined by the bishops’ conference. [The age old struggle… light and darkness, cat and mouse, curia and conference]  In this case, the ‘recognitio’ approved the text, but only for catechesis of the people and the preparation of music for the rite and not for immediate implementation."  [Interesting… so they went ahead and used the texts rather than teach about then, etc.  Why would they do that?  Surely they can read.]

The bishops’ conference "has explained the situation to the Vatican and has requested that their decision be allowed to stand," said the bishops’ statement, issued by Father Vincent Brennan, general secretary of the bishops’ conference and a member of the Society of African Missions.

"The bishops regret the confusion that may have arisen," the statement said. "They ask for patience and they pray that the misunderstanding that has arisen will not take away from the prayerful and joyful celebration of the Mass in English. They wish to point out that the only issue in dispute is the date of implementation, not the text itself."  [That is good.  The conference is not fighting the new translation.  Didn’t I once post here on the blog about the claims make by a priest in S. Africa that the new translation was a disaster.  I recall he pushed for continued use of the lame-duck ICEL translation.]

In parishes where the change in the translation of the Order of the Mass has been implemented, it has met with some resistance and stirred controversy.

In a Feb. 22 article in The Southern Cross, South Africa’s Catholic weekly, Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban said the English in the new texts "is quite clearly seeking to restore the reality of the spiritual to our thinking and practice."

"The trouble with the current debate on English in the liturgy is that it has been allowed to deviate from the rules, with many choosing to play the man rather than the ball," Cardinal Napier said, using a sports analogy. "Indeed, some have not even bothered to learn the rules before joining in the free-for-all that this has become." [Good point.  It is amazing how many people who claim the right to do what they desire don’t take the time to learn from the documents what was required in the first place.]

The cardinal said that while earlier Mass translations were done under the translation principle of dynamic equivalence, which does not need to stick closely to the original words, the more recent translations use the principle of literal equivalence, as specified in the 2001 Vatican guidelines on translations, "Liturgiam Authenticam" ("The Authentic Liturgy").

"This explains why the English of the new Order of the Mass is so much closer to the Latin," Cardinal Napier said.

In a recent editorial, The Southern Cross said that since the changes were introduced in late 2008 the newspaper had received "a flood of letters."

"Almost all of them are angry; none gave the revised version unqualified support. One correspondent, in a passage excised from the published version, went as far as writing: ‘I hate you, hierarchy.’ [I guess that is a "no" vote.]  Feelings are running deep indeed," the newspaper said.

[Is this where CNS starts to show its position by how it chooses to cover the story?]

"The anger of the people in the pews and many priests (and some bishops) seems to be rooted not so much in what they feel are anachronistic and clumsy translations [how do you "feel" that?]vexing though they appear to be to many — but in what they see as an arbitrary imposition of liturgical values that are foreign to them by faceless bureaucrats in distant Rome," the editorial said.  [They have a problem with authority.  Indeed, one of the objectives of the Consilium under Lercaro and Bugnini was to use the liturgical reform mandated by the Council to shift power from the Curia to local communities.  The Novus Ordo was a tool, especially in the project of translations, to impose a new ecclesiology.]

In a Jan. 18 letter to The Southern Cross, Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg said his first reaction to the new texts "was that it was a purely arbitrary decision to demand that the English text had to faithfully represent the Latin in the first place, that many of the changes made no sense, and that some of the formulations were simply bad English."

"I have the impression that some people, perhaps many, think that this idea about conforming to a Latin text and the new translations itself were the work of the (bishops’ conference), and therefore their opposition has to be directed at the bishops out here. Fair enough. But in view of fully conveying what actually happened, it must be understood that this new translation was imposed on us by the Vatican and the group with which it worked at that level," Bishop Dowling said.  [Every conference has a few of these.]

Translations of Mass parts are first prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, or ICEL, a joint commission of most of the world’s English-speaking bishops’ conferences. After being approved by individual bishops’ conferences, the translations are reviewed by the Vox Clara Committee, a Vatican-appointed group that advises the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, before a Vatican "recognitio" is granted.

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  1. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    …arbitrary imposition of liturgical values that are foreign to them by faceless bureaucrats in distant Rome…

    Hence the granting of a recognitio for catechetical purposes before use in the Mass. It’s like buying a new gadget…read the instructions before turning it on.

  2. Richard says:

    “…arbitrary imposition of liturgical values that are foreign to them by faceless bureaucrats in distant Rome,…”

    And what do they think happened to me and millions of others with the “Ordinary Form”?

  3. opey124 says:

    you would think, celebrating the Mass properly, would be as easy as something like, Say the Black, Do the Red. Oh yeah! IT IS.
    I just don’t want them to set the tone for us in the US.

  4. Dennis Martin says:

    Perhaps Bishop Dowling should be “encouraged” and “gently admonished” by a stern public letter from the Pope to use nothing but the official Latin texts for the rest of his life.

  5. Luigi says:

    More faithful translations are a necessity, but as this story illustrates, without proper catechesis on the part of those who introduce them – bishops and their priests – it’s like pouring water on a rock and expecting it to act like a sponge. Or something like that. : )

    An authentic reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium makes it clear that the Council Fathers, just like the Roman pontifs before them, saw catechesis as the key that unlocks the door to true active participation.

    A lack of solid catechesis has been plaguing the Church for 40+ years, just as Abp. Chaput said last week.

  6. supertradmom says:

    Do we need bishops’ conferences? Serious question. I get concerned when I read documents and news items referring to the “South African Catholic Church” or the “American Catholic Church” as if we are all separated from Rome. The Roman Catholic Church, please.

  7. Newminster says:

    What is the matter with these people? It was clear from day one that the first ICEL translation was temporary and that sooner or later there would be a new one.
    There are some things in the new one I don’t like (the dismissal for a start) but I’ll put up with it.
    Join the Club; Obey the Rules. The Boss is right because he’s the Boss. Am I missing something,here?

  8. sacerdosinaeternum says:

    Knuckle-head bishops! Que disastro! That was one of the major problems of the post-conciliar reforms! Without thorough preparation through Catechesis, it will be rejected for many reasons. What part of the “do NOT implement until the entire Missal is finished” from the Holy See do you NOT understand? I hope both the Holy Father and Cardinal Canizares-Llovera act clearly and decisively with them for the good of the Church!

  9. Member of the Church Militant says:

    Let’s be honest. Even with catechesis, most of these same people will reject the new translation. As an example, think of Fr. Finigan’s parish where he has be giving catechesis to his parishioners for a period of time now and there are still people who are angry. They’re angry because they are rupturists and like it that way. For them VII was the beginning of the “new church”.

  10. PMcGrath says:

    “The trouble with the current debate on English in the liturgy is that it has been allowed to deviate from the rules, with many choosing to play the man rather than the ball,” Cardinal Napier said, using a sports analogy.

    And in South Africa, the sport in question would be Rugby football, where playing the man without the ball can get you yellow-carded — “sin-binned,” as they say — or possibly red-carded, sent off the pitch and later brought up before the Disciplinary Committee.

  11. Luigi says:

    “Let’s be honest. Even with catechesis, most of these same people will reject the new translation.”

    Very true, but that doesn relieve the shepherds of their obligation to present and teach truth, to expound on it and explain it, and to enourage sincere acceptance of it. Many will reject it, as you say, but there are also those humble souls who are ready to receive the gift that is given. They deserve to be catechized. A failure here will effect not just them, but generations to come.

  12. gedsmk says:

    The sooner the catechesis starts the better. there’s a meltdown round the corner otherwise.

  13. Irenaeus says:

    “while earlier Mass translations were done under the translation principle of dynamic equivalence”

    That’s very, very generous. As one contemplating conversion to Catholicism, I’ve been working through the Latin of the NO, and my gosh, the English I hear when I go to Mass is often much unlike the Latin. Any first year Latin student would likely fail an exam in which he did what the ICEL did back in the day.

    I’m a Bible translator. I know *dynamic equivalence*. What the ICEL originally did is hard to dignify even with the term ‘paraphrase’.

  14. Member of the Church Militant says:

    They deserve to be catechized.”

    Obviously, that’s true.

    Some, though, will be naive to think that “if only they had been catechized there wouldn’t be such an uproar.” This is not realistic considering the climate today in the Roman Church. Wait until the new translation hits the parishes, there will most likely be an unbelievable rage from many Catholics, including many priests. Be prepared for it, that’s what I’m saying. But, it needs to happen.

  15. Paul M says:

    “was that it was a purely arbitrary decision to demand that the English text had to faithfully represent the Latin in the first place….

    I never cease to be amazed when I see a bishop utter such nonsense. How difficult is it to understand that if the prayers in English don’t faithfully represent the Latin, they’re not the same prayers?

  16. TJM says:

    If I were Pope (lucky for the Church I’m not) I’d write this bishop and say “fine, you must hereafter use the normative language of the Latin Rite,
    i.e. Latin, per omnia saecula saeculorum.” Tom

  17. paul says:

    aah, the trials of a manufactured liturgy…

  18. Silver lining says:

    As a South African I can attest to the fact that the so-called resistance to the litugy is largely being manufactured by liberal Catholics in SA.

    If one carefully picks through the letters in the Southern Cross they come from the same tired old group of liberals who have the editor’s ear. Based on the fact that most of them have had a letter in every week for the last three or four weeks I would estimate that this ground-swell of opposition numbers about thirty letter writers at most.

    Also the names of the writers are well-known. They will usually be writing attacking Humanae Vitae, the celibate male priesthood, exclusive language and in opposition to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

    The Southern Cross is a notorious fermenter of dissent. Those orthodox Catholics who buy it do so because it is the only Catholic weekly and even then most Catholics do not buy it.

    This weeks “balance” letter (included to show how unbiased they are) sums up the views of many South African Catholics.

    “I buy the Southern Cross out of necessity, not because I want to; it has become a pain to read all of the negative comment, sensational letters, and dissent. As a regular reader since 1975, I would not shed a tear if it had to close down. I believe you lost your way long ago”

    English is hardly the only vernacular langauge that the liturgy is offered in in SA. We have 11 offical languages (English, Afrikaans – derived from Dutch and 9 African languages. In addition to this we have significant numbers of Catholics that speak other languages. In Johannesburg, we have parishes serving, Italian, German, Portuguese and French speaking communities. The later two serving many from Luso-phone and Franco-phone Africa. Immigrants from the rest of Africa also have masses offered in their own African languages.

    So the changes and the reactions are passing many Catholics in South Africa by.

    A web-poll on liturgical changes on the SACBC website drew something like 100 votes in total. I think Fr. Z’s pickle poll got more attention.

    In many places the changes are being happily received. For example the very large community at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Johannesburg have accepted the changes happily. By the by the only Cathedral to offer the TLM at all.

    “Bishop Dowling said. [Every conference has a few of these.]”

    I am not to sure Father, Bishop Dowling is notorious for going on national and international television and advocating condom-use and he actually hands out condoms. We call him Kevin “condom” Dowling. See

    The only sad part about this is that for once I thought the SACBC was making a bold move by introducing these changes and it turns out to be a mistake. That tells you everything you need to know about the state of the Faith in SA.

  19. Neil says:

    The South African Church has collapsed into anarchy and despair because it has a superior translation of the Mass texts.
    Fr Tim Finigan is being picketed outside his church by furious parishioners demanding his head on a block because he is saying the Tridentine Mass.
    It’s the same old, same old …
    I live in a parish which shall remain nameless, in the UK, where the Tridentine Mass has been “imposed” on parishioners at 11 a.m. Mass every Sunday and precisely NO ONE has complained. However, reliable sources inform me that The Tablet were considering running a hatchet job on us ANYWAY. They decided against because they knew a couple of people in Blackfen.
    Virtually all media organisations, even quite good Catholic ones, are determined to find “conflict”, “controversy”, “anger” and “unhappiness” even where there is just predictable grumbling from the usual suspects.

  20. Immaculatae says:

    I know this is a dumb question, but
    how does a Personal Prelature work?
    I only know a little bit about the fact that Opus Dei has one.
    What if Personal Prelatures were established alongside the
    areas where Bishops and persons parishes and persons refuse to follow the
    true teaching of the Church? Then the separation that
    will take place as a result of the good changes will not leave
    people frantically trying to find a place to cling to the ROCK.

  21. Immaculatae says:

    Okay, so we need personal apostolic administration – not personal prelature

    “The difference is that with a prelature, the local ordinary has veto over (Opus Dei) operating in the diocese, and if they were admitted into the diocese, the ordinary could withdraw permission.

    With a personal apostolic administration, no such veto exists: it operates in a manner similar to another diocese ‘on top of’ the existing diocese. They would have their own buildings, priests, seminaries, publications, ‘parish’ registers, etc.”

  22. Average (but orthodox) catholic says:

    [They have a problem with authority. Indeed, one of the objectives of the Consilium under Lercaro and Bugnini was to use the liturgical reform mandated by the Council to shift power from the Curia to local communities. The Novus Ordo was a tool, especially in the project of translations, to impose a new ecclesiology.]

    Erm, weren’t local bishops conferenes ‘properly established’ specifically mandated in SC to oversee the creation of venacular translations. I think so! Given that the constitution specifically decrees this, it’s a bit much to ommit this point and then suggest that Bugini et al misrepresented the intention of the Council.

  23. LLP says:

    It is amazing to me just how delusional the right wing is – and how economical with the truth. The truth is that our bishops in South Africa are denying that the English-speaking Church in SA has been thrown into a mess with the implementation of this ghastly mass text. Why else would they appeal Rome? They, sadly, are deluding themselves as well. They have said that the problem is not the text but the implementation date. That is untrue. The texts have caused major division and have, on the whole, not been well received. MOST people are complaining and to say it is the sae old tired liberals is untrue. Read the letters fro yourself. [If you have them, send them. If you don’t have them, how do you know what they say?] It is amazing to see how many people who don’t normally write are writing about this. The bishops have made an appeal to Rome asking that we continue to use them after Rome has said stop (funny how blind obedience doesn’t work both ways!). We hope Rome has the courage to say no. It has been a disaster. Worst of all is the fact that the bishops just will not listen to us – two of them have written public statements negating any concerns people have expressed. They believe that issues like inclusive language are not important, that the laity (and most of the clergy!) are incompetent to comment on the bad English (only experts can do that according to the Cardinal but we are the ones who have to use this horrible text. Why was an English expert not part of the translation board I wonder? If there was he should be fired!) I hope that the rest of the English Church is following this, one would have thought that after the abuse scandals in the USA [Ah yes… they always get around to this, as if it supports their position in some way.] church authorities would have learnt a lesson about listening. Are these the poor shepherds that the prophet Ezekiel speaks out against? People will talk with their feet, I know some who have already. South Africans have been docile up to now, this is perhaps a turning point. We will no longer subscribe to blind obedience. [?] Our Cardinal and Bishops have lost credibility and I cannot respect these men anymore if they treat the laity with absolute contempt.There are sinister dark forces at work in the heart of the Church! Another ‘economical truth’ is the condom issue with Bishop Dowling. He spoke of condoms in the context of HIV/AIDS and the lessre of two evils. In a country where people are dying of AIDS, women are treated as sexual objects and do not have power over their own sexuality, where there is forced migratory labour on mines and where the rape rate is sky-high Bishop Dowling tries to be a real pastor. Perhaps those who try to backen his name should walk through a hospice or visit a mine hostel. Get in touch with reality before you make untrue statements. Condoms in that situation might just be the lesser of two evils. He never said condoms free and for all! [The writer wants you to accept the premise that there is an either/or situation here, a zero sum game: there are lots of pressing problems and therefore the new translation isn’t important.]

  24. peregrinus says:

    I think the experience of the Church in South Africa would provide very useful data to help the rest of the Church implement the new translation more successfully. I disagree with those who find the text anachronistic or grammatically offensive (the people who worked on the translation are English-speaking folks too), but it’ll be interesting to see what factors affect people’s reception of the text. Are there relationships related to geography, effort of the priests, obedience, education, age group etc. Perhaps we can target the best ways to cultivate reception and love for the new texts.

    What I’m concerned about are people who won’t even give the texts a chance, who will use this SA experience to bias people against the texts. Be charitable. The rest of us have borne with the insipid, uninspiring and inaccurate texts long enough. If we could bear with flat, boring texts for 40 years, surely LLP and friends can bear with the “bad” English too, at least for the next generation. Maybe people will grow fond of the new texts too by then, and be upset with any attempts to infantise them again.

  25. Sean says:

    It does not appear that anyone in South Africa thought for a moment to use this as a teaching moment–e.g., why replace ‘of one being with the father’ with ‘consubstantial…’ Apparently, the SA faithful also lack dictionaries, and any willingness to participate in the diversity offered by the ‘bad English’. Funny how ‘diversity’ doesn’t work both ways…

    First, what makes it ‘bad English’? Using–GASP–words you don’t use in your everyday, secular, mundane life? Words you don’t already know the meaning of? Words that…make you think a little? That are different? For this is all that sets them apart from our everyday English…some of the new responses are a little different.

    We have been subjected to a deluge of what can only be called whining–ironically, by those who call themselves sheep but think they are better than their shepherds. Some examples of what has most upset people:

    We now say ‘through my fault…through my most grievous fault’ in the creed, and strike our breast. ‘Which one?’ cried one horrified individual. Another seems to think this is a violent act. Yet another decries the emphasis on the ‘rotten’ness of the person.

    The ‘for us men…’ is a huge issue, or at least made into one. By all means, if this is a big stumbling block, say ‘for us…’; but there is a loss of emphasis here that Christ died for the entire human race, and not just we who are gathered here.

    Big words and odd bits of syntax–ungrammatical, it is claimed–are another so-called problem. Compare with your local hymnal–what, exactly, ARE you complaining about?

    This, from those who call themselves sheep, yet clearly think they are better than their shepherds. Time to find out what that hooky-pointy thing the bishops carry is for.
    I hope the hierarchy stands up for the changes. They are a first step in reaffirming that the Mass is about God.

  26. joy says:

    While I prefer not to ascribe bad motives to anyone, it seems that the texts were implemented without catechesis and just sprung on everyone in that way IN ORDER TO PROVOKE animosity amongst the people. They are throwing a monkeywrench into the works, a la Williamson, in order to derail the new translation before it is even on its way to the publishers. ‘Oh please let them keep using it even though they hate it’ is hardly an argument in favor of the translation.

  27. Member of the Church Militant says:

    LLP said:“In a country where people are dying of AIDS, women are treated as sexual objects and do not have power over their own sexuality, where there is forced migratory labour on mines and where the rape rate is sky-high…Condoms in that situation might just be the lesser of two evils.”

    My apologies for commenting off-topic here, but this thinking makes me so angry.

    How can anyone in their right mind think that it makes any sense to say, “we should give the women condoms so there rapists will wear condoms to prevent AIDS”?! Unbelievable. Ridiculous.

    Why is it acceptable to act like, “oh well, the women in Africa will get raped anyway so let’s just make sure they don’t get pregnant or diseases, rather than working at stopping the raping.”

    Here’s a better strategy: spend the money on teaching these women self-defence and give them some weapons – like a gun – and teach them to use them. I’ll bet this would drop rape rates and AIDS among the women quite quickly. Wonder why they’re not doing this in Africa? Why aren’t the missionaries over there doing this rather than just handing out condoms and STD vaccines to the women?

  28. Legisperitus says:


    I always just savor the irony when they talk about a new translation being unilaterally “imposed” on people who are familiar with something else, or better yet, when bishops gape in horror at the prospect that “people might think we’ve been wrong for 40 years!” Savor the irony.

  29. Fiona says:

    Oh dear. I see this issue has now also made it to WDTPRS. As a South African ‘scanner’ – there’s not much to read really – of the Southern Cross, I have been watching the ongoing saga in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section with growing and rather incredulous fascination. Like some of the other posters here I cannot, for the life of me, understand why so many people are up in arms about the changes. It’s really isn’t that difficult to get used to and, frankly, I prefer the new wording. I certainly haven’t heard any complaints from my fellow parishioners. Then again, I belong, thank God, to a very conservative Parish so it is not likely that anyone would complain.

    It don’t think it has been brought up yet, but there have also been quite a number of letters in the Southern Cross complaining about the fact that the term ‘man’ has been used in the new text instead of ‘person’. The people in question apparently find it sexist and feel that it is yet another move ‘backwards’ *sigh*. Strange that that should be the first thing on their minds in the middle of the Mass …

  30. Member of the Church Militant says:

    About catechesis. I’m wondering what kind and how much catechesis do people need before introducing the same Missal albeit with the proper English translation. Remember, this is only for the English speaking areas of the world.

    It would seem quite simple to mention in the bulletin, the homily, or wherever, that “years ago the Missal texts were not translated into English properly to match the original Latin, so now they have been properly translated to be accord with it. This was only needed for the English speaking parts of the world since the other languages were translated in accord with the Latin texts.” That’s it. Faithful Catholics who don’t have a dissident ideological agenda will accept that – maybe with a few questions – and they will move on.

    Sorry, but this idea of “oh, we need a lot of catechesis about introducing a proper English translation of the same Missal” seems ridiculously exaggerated. Kind of like making a mountain out of a mole hill. People need catechesis about the doctrines of the Catholic faith which will take years to catch up on after 40 years of bad or no Catholic teaching.

    Will people freak out about learning and saying traditional Catholic words? Yes, they will. No matter how lovingly its presented to them, many will be angry because at the root of it all they hate Catholic traditional language.

  31. TJM says:

    If you don’t have left-wing loons stirring the people up about this, they will be fine. Tom

  32. peregrinus says:

    Fiona, that was very interesting. You mean the letters are concerned largely over one word in the Order of Mass that’s used regularly?

    My recollections are that “men” is used once in the creed, and a few times in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer. Not different from the old texts anyway?

  33. David says:

    The introduction of the new translation in South Africa has been a real mess. The bishops have appealed the CWD’s instruction to stop using it immediately, while at the same time appealing the recognitio to change the Nicene Creed and 4th Eucharistic Prayer to gender-inclusive texts! LLP’s comment about “reading the letters for yourself” refers to the printed edition of the Southern Cross (the national Catholic weekly), where the volume of complaints about the new translation has certainly far out-weighs the praise. Only a tiny proportion of the letters have made it to the SC website. By far and away the majority of complaints are about the strange ungrammatical English, followed by sexist language.

    “Silver Lining’s” opinion that “the so-called resistance to the litugy is largely being manufactured by liberal Catholics in SA” is not accurate in my opinion. For example, the assembled clergy of the Archdiocese of Cape Town (74 parishes) at their AGM in February resolved, with the permission of their archbishop, to write a letter of complaint to the bishops about the new translation. About 85% of the priests active in the archdiocese were present (about 90 in all), and with the exception of one man were united in their “resistence”. This is hardly a liberal group – I know.

    What I think has happened is that the clergy and laity have recognised that the “formal correspondence” rules laid down by the CDW in Liturgiam Authenticam have produced a translation that is faithful but ugly. I have no doubt that authorities are watching the South African situation with keen interest.

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