BALTIMORE — During the U.S. bishops’ meeting, the assembly approved several key liturgical documents in one day.
At previous bishops’ conference meetings, translations designed to closely adhere to the original text raised concerns that overly “literal” translations had produced awkward syntax and arcane vocabulary.
At the bishops’ June meeting, a newly modified translation of the Roman Missal’s Proper of Seasons — made up of the proper prayers for Sundays and feast days during the liturgical year — was rejected. The rejection came after it failed to draw approval from two-thirds of the Latin-rite bishops. Eight bishops bombarded the conference’s Committee on Divine Worship with more than a hundred amendments designed to make the translation more accessible to American Catholics.
The Committee on Divine Worship incorporated many of the suggested modifications, and six months later, the conference quickly approved the Proper of Seasons, as well as the Revised Grail Psalter by the Monks of Conception Abbey and a new Order for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb in English and Spanish. However, all three documents are subject to final approval by Rome and could face further modifications.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, expressed relief that the liturgical dispute was resolved. “The bishops recognized that we have a good translation, and it’s a step forward in liturgical renewal of the Church. The new translations provide a more elevated and noble style of liturgical prayer,” Bishop Serratelli told the Register.
The approval of the Revised Grail Psalter and the Proper of Seasons is the fruit of the Holy See’s determined efforts to improve the quality of translations supervised by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).
In decades past, ICEL translations were rife with “gender inclusive” and banal language that lacked reverence and transcendence, and failed to communicate the beauty, sacred character, theological depth and Scriptural resonances of the original text. After the 2001 Vatican instruction on liturgical translations Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), ICEL was reorganized, and now, following that document’s guidelines on translation that are more faithful to the Latin, ICEL plays an important role in the development of new translations of Mass texts.
Off to Rome
Two other Psalters are in use in the United States: the Grail Psalter (1963) is reserved for the Liturgy of the Hours, and the New American Bible Psalter (1971) is used by all other liturgical books. In 2000, both the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops refused to approve a revised New American Bible Psalter (1991) in the revision of the Lectionary for Mass.
Four English-speaking countries already use the Revised Grail Psalter, and Helen Hull Hitchcock, the editor of The Adoremus Bulletin, a newsletter that tracks developments in liturgical reform, believes that the “Holy See wants to get all English-speaking countries on the same page to encourage unity.”
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., observed that supervising the proper translation of liturgical documents is “one of the bishops’ most important tasks. We have to make sure that the translation is faithful and beautiful. We also want a translation that is most helpful for prayer.”
The bishops devoted almost two years to a review of the new Blessing of the Child in the Womb. But many were pleased at the timing of the document’s release. “Now, when the government is poised to move against children,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, “the Blessing of the Child in the Womb symbolizes where we are as a Church.”
Bishop Serratelli acknowledged the difficulty of achieving a consensus on new translations: “The process of approving new translations only began after the Second Vatican Council,” he observed. “But Benedict XVI’s long interest in liturgical reform provides a great incentive to go back and recapture the words that may have been lost. We need to sink our roots into a rich tradition.”
Hitchcock also applauds the Pope’s leadership, but she anticipates more controversy, as translations of 10 additional segments of the Roman Missal still await the bishops’ approval.
The translation of the Proper of Seasons now goes to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for recognitio (confirmation).
Joan Frawley Desmond is based
in Chevy Chase, Maryland.