Monday, February 19, 2024

From Consubstantial to Common Language

A number of years ago a Roman Catholic woman made a passing comment about not liking changes made in the liturgy at her church. Although I was raised Roman Catholic, I left that church at age 17 in the early 1990s and became Protestant. Not participating for many years, I didn't know what she meant, and I didn't pursue it further. In more recent times I've become familiar with the controversy, such as it was, that she was alluding to that day. It's a matter of the wording of the liturgy. 

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) dedicated years to crafting a new translation of the Roman Missal, guided by the 1969 Vatican instruction "Comme Le Prévoit." This directive emphasized the use of language in "common" usage for liturgical texts, aiming to make the translation more accessible and understandable for contemporary English-speaking audiences.

The 1998 translation received a positive reception from English-speaking episcopal conferences, which approved it and forwarded it to Rome for final approval. However, by the time the translation reached the Vatican, there was a shift in the approach to liturgical translations. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later became Pope Benedict XVI, expressed a preference for a more literal, word-for-word translation of the Latin text, as opposed to a translation that prioritized ease of understanding when proclaimed.

Despite initial resistance from English-speaking conferences, the Vatican was not open to discussion. A notable instance of this resistance was the American bishops' request to send a delegation to Rome to discuss the translation. The Vatican's response, which included conditions that effectively excluded key figures like Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, signaled a lack of willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue.

In 2001, the Vatican issued new instructions in the form of "Liturgiam Authenticam." This document mandated that liturgical translations be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions, additions, or paraphrases. This marked a significant departure from the principles that guided the 1998 translation, leading to its eventual rejection.

Under new leadership, ICEL followed the directives of "Liturgiam Authenticam" and produced the 2010 translation, which adhered to the more literal approach favored by Cardinal Ratzinger. This translation replaced the 1998 version and is currently in use, marking a significant shift in the approach to liturgical translations within the English-speaking Catholic Church.

A significant change that means the 1998 revision could now possibly be used without Rome's explicit approval is the revision of canon law by Pope Francis in 2017. According to the revised law, the main responsibility for liturgical translations lies with episcopal conferences, rather than the Dicastery for Divine Worship. This means that the Dicastery should no longer impose a given translation on episcopal conferences or be involved in a detailed word-by-word examination of translations. This shift in responsibility allows episcopal conferences more autonomy in choosing and approving liturgical translations, making it possible for the 1998 ICEL translation to be used without the need for explicit approval from Rome.

To give you a taste of how clunky the Latinized liturgy is, in the Nicene Creed that it recited during the mass, Jesus is said to be "consubstantial with the Father." That replaced the more intelligible, "one in being with the Father." Although "consubstantial" might be technically correct, it is practically a stumbling block to understanding and arguably a step down from "one in being." 

The American National Catholic Church (ANCC), about which I have written a few times, uses the same form of the liturgy that I grew up with, the one that predates the 2010 Latinized version. It is, as I understand it, the one that came out on the heels of Vatican II. The only difference I have noticed is that "God" replaces all the masculine pronouns when speaking of God. This is not the case with mentions of Jesus, who remains "he/him." This all aligns, in any case, with the progressive angle of the ANCC. 

Changes in how the mass sounds can cause serious conflict. I heard of people who stopped going to church after their churches' altars were dismantled and the priest began facing the people, all while using English. In north Africa there was actually a riot when a scripture reading from a new edition of the Latin Bible (still understandable at the time) varied from what was expected. So I wonder if, even if there's an improvement in how the mass is said, if people will still be annoyed.

I tend to think so, knowing human nature.