he Leeds me by right paths…

he refreshes my liturgy. Even though my soul has passed through the shadow of the valley of dynamic equivalence, I fear no further dumbing down of liturgical texts, because formal equivalence is at my side, with Liturgiam Authenticam to guide me…
— psalm of a twenty-first century parishioner in the United States

By Leeds, I am referring to the diocese in England served by the Right Reverend Arthur Roche, who delivered a bold and stunning speech to the USCCB yesterday in advance of their vote on the new English translation of the Mass. It seems that his words helped the bishops to move forward with approving the new translation (albeit with 62 amendments).

Anyway, I was very impressed by what the bishop of Leeds had to say. It’s worth reading his entire address, but I think his talk could be summarized by nine statements:

  1. politics is not the first vocation of the bishop; the Church’s spiritual heritage is
  2. the concerns and needs of Catholics in the US are one, but not the only, consideration
  3. if you’re going to play the diversity/sensitivity card, then be consistent and show some sensitivity for those who will need to translate into their own languages from the English… and also be sensitive to the richness of Eucharistic theology in the prayers
  4. respect should be shown for the biblical imagery and the words of Christ as recorded in the scriptures
  5. dynamic equivalence should be left in the dust bin of the 1960’s; what we should aim for is formal equivalence, understood as a faithful but not slavish translation
  6. the language of the liturgy can be a teacher…. teaching us, among other things, what courtesy in prayer means, as well as how to speak Scripturally
  7. in order to evaluate liturgical texts well, we need to be steeped in the sources of theology — the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church
  8. some translations generated angst that was not properly theological, but ideological, and straightforward matters have at times been treated as though they were complex
  9. the bishops have a duty to demonstrate some liturgical and catechetical leadership at this hour, and to demonstrate the catholicity of the faith

Some of my favorite passages:

What a shame it would be if the most important tool we have for formation and worship was reduced to politics, as if the highest or only form of discourse we can manage in the Church (or society) is political discourse….

It was by means of Latin that the faith was preserved and transmitted in Western Europe. It needs to be remembered now that in many parts of the world it is English that will be called upon to play a similar rôle….

I often hear it said that objections to ICEL’s recent work are really objections to Liturgiam authenticam. Allow me to offer you a few thoughts on that document which is welcomed by some and rejected by others rather like the annual government budgets….

Currently we say he took the cup filled with wine, as you know, and some argue that the fruit of the vine means the same as the single word wine, and that the simpler expression should be preferred. But we hear the words the fruit of the vine on the lips of the Lord himself in all three synoptic Gospels – which I would consider as being more than enough reason to respect their form. Moreover, though the two expressions refer to the same substance, they do so in an entirely different way. The difference between the single word and the richer phrase is the difference between reading the label on the bottle and actually enjoying a glass-full of the wine itself….

Liturgiam authenticam, insisting that translators respect the forms of expression found in the Liturgy, encourages us to speak humbly and courteously to God. But forms of courtesy vary from region to region: you know, for instance, how bishops are addressed differently in different countries. Courteous requests are often made in the form of questions like would you turn on the light? which do not seem appropriate for the Liturgy, since while Hebrew prayers often ask questions of God, Latin ones do not. In consequence, deprecatory language, which is necessary for a faithful translation of the Liturgy, does not come readily to hand. Translators have found that they need to stay close to the Latin in order to remain faithful to it, and users of these texts will be learning a new language of liturgical prayerful courtesy….

I often share with my brother English and Welsh bishops an insight that I have gained through being involved with this work. It is this, and I say it with the greatest respect, but the more I go through this process the clearer it is to me that very many of us need to revisit the theological reasoning behind the various parts and components of the Mass, as well as considering the theological sources from which the texts of the Mass have been culled. In the main, these are the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church….

scriptural catechesis is central to liturgical catechesis. It was said of St Bernard that he knew the Sacred Scriptures so well that his language was biblical – he began to, as our young people would say today, ‘speak bible.’ My point is that in using a translation that is more faithful to Sacred Scripture we are teaching ourselves and our people to speak bible! Lex orandi, lex credendi….

If the bishops of the English-speaking countries can agree on a single version of the Mass, what a sign of catholicity that will be. But more than that, it will be a guarantee of catholicity for the future, not only in our own time, and not only in our own countries. Clearly I, and all my brother bishops of ICEL, believe that you, the bishops of the United States, have a most important role of leadership to play in just that.

It is interesting to note that the bishops decided to reject the reference to dew — Therefore, make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your spirit — after the bishop of Leeds spent a good 20% of his address unpacking the theological merit of maintaining the word dew through reference to the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and its use in the Liturgy of the Hours. (Bishop Trautman had been making light of the word “dew” and others in the proposed translation when he spoke at the Religious Education Congress this spring.)

All in all, I was very impressed by Roche’s remarks, and with the outcome of the bishops’ vote. Of course, it may take up to two years before the translation of the rest of the Roman Missal is complete. But that could be a good thing. It will give bishops time to catechize themselves, and then to catechize us, so that we can understand and appreciate this new translation of the Mass.

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