Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Lexicon Debate, Catholic Style

Via Deputy Headmistress over at "The Common Room", I discovered a really thought-provoking post by Happy Catholic entitled "New Translations, a Bishop's Tantrum, and Efficiency." In it, she discusses a recent article in America: The Catholic Weekly by Bishop Donald Trautman of the diocese of Erie, PA. In the article, called "How Accessible are the New Mass Translations", Bishop Trautman criticizes the updated English Novus Ordo Mass translation approved last June by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Trautman served as chairman of the USCCB Committee on Liturgy. He told Catholic News Service last November that the U.S. hierarchy is divided over whether they favor "accommodation to the receiver language" or "fidelity to the original Latin". To put it bluntly: whether they like the "dumbed-down", "wishy-washy" language adopted in America after Vatican II or whether they consider that to be liturgical abuse. The good news is that a majority of U.S. Bishops rated the new more faithful translation as "Excellent/Good"; the bad news is that 47% of them rated it as "Fair/Poor".

So what precisely is it about the updated translation that bothers Bishop Trautman and so many of the other U.S. Bishops? In his own words:

"What will the person in the pew hear and comprehend? Will the words 'prefiguring sacrifices of the Fathers' and 'born ineffably of the inviolate Virgin' resonate with John and Mary Catholic? Is this prayer intelligible, proclaimable, reflective of a vocabulary and linguistic style from the contemporary mainstream of U.S. Catholics? Is this liturgical language accessible to the average Catholic and our youth? Does this translated text lead to full, conscious and active participation? I think not."

So in essence, Bishop Trautman agrees with Professor Clive Beck, the one quoted in the Globe and Mail article who believes that using big words "puts a distance between you and young people."

If there's a gap between what Catholics ought to know and what they actually do know, shouldn't the Church try to bridge it by elevating its members' level of understanding rather than by dumbing itself down? The origin of the word "educate" is "ducere" or "to lead". The purpose of the Church is to lead its members out of darkness into Christ's light. If Catholics no longer have the vocabulary to follow allong with a faithful translation, then it is the Church's responsibility to teach it to them.

The most serious problem with the current N.O. translation is that it goes beyond just simplifying the language to actually changing its meaning. The Latin "et cum spiritu tuo" is currently translated "and also with you" rather than "and with your spirit". The direct translation is easy to understand, and it correctly reminds Catholics to focus on spiritual rather than worldly matters.

Bishop Trautman appealed in his article to Catholics to "speak out" against the updated translations. This is an incredible thing for him to do, since the Vatican itself issued rules in 2001 calling for faithful translations of the Latin. In May 2006, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, told the head of the USCCB that if a current text does not conform to the new translation norms it must be changed.
"It is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past 30 or 40 years, and therefore that it is pastorally advisable to make no changes.... The revised text should make the needed changes."
Unfortunately, some Catholics laypeople are already heeding Bishop Trautman's rebellious call. Steve from "Catholicism, Holiness, and Spirituality" blogged a couple weeks ago that
"I'm irritated enough [about the new translation] to start writing my bishop about this, for all the good that will do."
Memo to Steve and Bishop Trautman: the Church is not a democracy. Christ told Simon Peter "upon this rock I will build my Church". That mean's the Pope's in charge! The Protestants may have turned their back on this, but as Catholics we must be careful not to.

1 comment:

jennifer said...

Great site, it's been fun visiting! I agree, the Church is not a democracy!


Jennifer in OR,