Attacks on the magisterium and liturgical translation – Wherein Fr. Z rants

missale-romanum-altar-missalThe Magisterium is under attack.  There are strong, highly placed forces in the Church today who are undermining, firstly, the magisterium of John Paul II.  Of course it won’t stop there.  It can’t.  Each pontificate’s magisterial teachings ought to be in continuity with the pontificates of the past.  Sit down with Denzinger to see what I mean.

Today the perspicacious Fr. John Hunwicke wrote a post with the title: S John Paul’s legacy is under threat, but it is safe in the Ordinariates

Fr. H points at the deeply troubling discontinuity with our past, our Catholic identity, due to the sudden imposition of the artificial, cobbled-up prayers of the Novus Ordo and their subsequent ICEL mistranslation.  As troubling as the Latin versions of the Novus Ordo are, the trouble was compounded by the horrid translation we endured for decades until 2011 when we received a new translation according to new criteria laid down in the document Liturgiam authenticam. Hunwicke rightly underscores the growing attacks on the norms of LA and connects them to the larger liberal project of undermining the magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict.  He wrote:

That marvellous Roman document of 2001, Liturgiam authenticam, is currently reported to be under threat by the wolves who are becoming ever more unrestrained as they circle hungrily round the reinstatements of Tradition which blessed the end of the Pontificate of S John Paul II and that of Benedict XVI.

I rather think that it is arrant hypocrisy to canonise a Saint and, not more than a decade and a half later, to strive contemptuously to dismantle his legacy.

Although LA subverted the assumptions of Comme le prevoit, and thus of the style of vernacular Liturgy created in the 1970s, it was very soundly based on the very sound work done by an earlier generation of immensely erudite scholars; men and women the destruction of whose scholarship is one of the disgraces of the Rupture Years.

Prominent among these was the great student of liturgical Latin Christine Mohrmann. [Respectful bow of head.] She expressed the hope that modern European vernaculars might develop sacral, liturgical dialects. So LA talked about “the gradual creation in every vulgar tongue of a sacred style, to be recognised as the correct way of talking liturgically (sermo proprie liturgicus; para 27)” and the production of a “sacred vernacular language the vocabulary, syntax, and grammar of which are to be proper to divine worship” (para 47).  [Hunwicke goes on to write about the translation now used by the Ordinariate, of which he is a part.]

I suspect that Fr. Hunwicke is indirectly responding to the squeaks of Anthony Ruff, OSB, issued by The Bitter Pill (one of the UK’s worst catholic weeklies aka The Tablet).  Ruff petulantly attacked Card. Sarah who recently defended the current ICEL translation developed with the norms of Liturgiam authenticam and subsequently approved by many anglophone conferences of bishops.

In this matter, I have my own experience of looking at the Latin of the Novus Ordo prayers, and how their theology was edited by the creators of those prayers who either cut and pasted together the majority of them from bits and pieces of older orations, or who composed new prayers.  For years I placed the obsolete ICEL versions side by side with the Novus Ordo orations, and did the same with the current ICEL versions.   The differences are stark.

Could the current ICEL version be better?  Sure!  Could it sound less like a translation?  Sure!  However, I am not sure that’s such a good idea.  Why?  Two reasons occur to me right away.

First, the content of even the less than optimal Latin prayers must be accurately rendered.  Translation always “betrays” the original text, as the old chestnut says.  In a choice between having an accurate rendering of the content, which might be a little clunky, and having something smooth which doesn’t convey the original content as well, I’m going with accuracy.  Some priests whine about the new English versions.  I say the Novus Ordo in  English occasionally.  I find that, if I slow down a bit and think while I read aloud the prayers, they can be proclaimed well.   So, it is both possible to pray them well aloud and they are also pretty accurate when it comes to adhering to the Latin original.  Win and win.

Next, Fr. Hunwicke brought up Christine Mohrmann (respectful head bow).  Morhmann showed that the ancient Latin prayers were not, in fact, the “vernacular” of Latin speakers of the day.  The Latin prayers had a sacral style that was different from the way people spoke everyday Latin.  This is apparent to anyone who has done work in speaking Latin, living Latin, or who has read a wide range of texts across the centuries.  Week after week of examining the Latin prayers, even in the Novus Ordo, reveals specialized vocabulary and the influence of Stoicism and Neo-Platonism.  My point is that the English used in Mass doesn’t have to sound like the English of everyday speech.   It wouldn’t mind in the least if our English translation were as elegant as the English versions used by the Ordinariate, based on Cramner’s elegant renderings (once purified of their heresies).  Maybe some day that’s what we will get through a “mutual enrichment” between the Roman and Anglican/Roman uses.  However, as far as today is concerned, we have a pretty accurate translation that doesn’t sound like the lowest common denominator of “dynamic” versions which libs want (because they don’t like the theology even of the Novus Ordo Latin originals).  I say, “So, it sounds like it is a translation.  GOOD! It IS a translation!  Let us not forget that we belong to the LATIN Church and that our liturgy, and hence our identity, is tied to the Latin language!”

If the English translation reminds people that it is, in fact, a translation, that’s fine with me.

If you don’t like the clunky English, just use the Latin.

Of course libs won’t do that, will they.  If you use Latin, people start asking questions about the content of the prayers.   Also, libs are wedded to the notion that everything has to be immediately grasped by the congregants (which results in other disasters for our identity and for the life of the Church).

In any event, I thank Fr. Hunwicke for the inspiration to rant on a topic I haven’t written much about for a while.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Henry Edwards says:

    I wonder whether this alleged review of Liturgiam authenticam makes any likely difference for the U.S. Isn’t the 2011 English translation pretty much cast in stone for the foreseeable future? Generally well received, with the widespread complaints predicted (in some quarters) not having materialized? And hence with the U.S. bishops presumably having no interest in renewing the “translation wars” of the preceding decades? Or is this wishful thinking?

    [I fear that they would allow optional variations.]

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    A house divided against itself cannot stand.

  3. Grodegang says:

    Attended a Bible Study meeting with our pastor today. After he opened the meeting by leading us with a traditional “Hail Mary” a gentleman setting next to me spoke up and said “I call that the King James version. You know the prayer can be said using the words “you” and “your”. I had never heard anyone complain about the use of “Thee”, “Thou” or “Thy”. Why would anyone want to use our mundane, banal, worldly language when praying to the Divine and His Mother?

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