Yesterday’s article on the planned changes to the liturgy reviewed some of the history of the liturgical renewal fostered at Vatican II and the principles guiding the translations and implementation of the “new Mass”.
Moving right along….
At the dawning of the Third Millennium, during the Jubilee Year of 2000, Pope John Paul II issued the third edition of the Roman Missal.
And, as with previous editions of the Roman Missal, a document designed to guide translators in their work was published, this time called Liturgiam authenticam.
In addition, there was a new set of instructions – the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), also known as the GIRM, which covers everything from architecture to music and delves into the nitty-gritty of liturgical form and function.
It is the Liturgiam authenticam, however, that provides the road map for translations. As the name suggests, these instructions were written to promote the development of “authentic liturgy”, and unlike the “dynamic equivalence” principle followed in the Comme le Prévoit, translators were instructed this time to follow the principle of “formal equivalency.”
20. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.
This is where things start to heat up in the kitchen.
After acknowledging the value and validity of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Liturgiam authenticam cuts to the chase by the third paragraph:
3. The liturgical renewal thus far has seen positive results, achieved through the labor and the skill of many, but in particular of the Bishops, to whose care and zeal this great and difficult charge is entrusted. Even so, the greatest prudence and attention is required in the preparation of liturgical books marked by sound doctrine, which are exact in wording, free from all ideological influence, and otherwise endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High.
These words were music to the ears of some who believed the “dynamic equivalency” principle followed in the first translations after Vatican II resulted in a watered down theology. To others, it raised concerns over losing ground gained in areas such as the use of inclusive language.
What is important to keep in mind, however, is that Vatican II and all that came out of it happened at a time when the United States itself was experiencing a great deal of upheaval. Into the swirling, bubbling cultural stew of Vietnam War protests, women’s lib, civil rights, sexual revolution, drug experimentation, political assassinations, and Elvis (the Pelvis) Presley, the Catholic Church jumped in with both feet and introduced an unprecedented loosening of restrictions in the liturgy.
The day the priest faced his congregation and the laity were invited to come close to the altar and assist at Mass in ways never before thought possible was a day many felt for the first time that they truly belonged to the Church. When it came to “full, active, and conscious participation”, they didn’t need to be asked twice. And they were happy.
For others, what the Church had allowed to happen to the liturgy was nothing short of utter disaster. Gone were all the outward signs demonstrating that God was great and our need for God’s mercy and salvation. Gone was the ancient and beautiful language that captured the mystery of faith and set worship apart from ordinary conversation. In its place were signs that suggested that everyone was on a level playing field. God was no longer great beyond all understanding. Instead, everyone had a friend in Jesus and anyone could do anything all in the “spirit of Vatican II.” And they were sad.
On one end of the spectrum were the Tridentine Rite adherents, who rejected the Novus Ordo as being not only inappropriate for worship, but invalid. They blamed the bishops of Vatican II for bowing to the pressures of a changing society and following a radically progressive path to quiet the criticism that the Church needed to get with the times if it hoped to survive.
At the other end of the spectrum were the “renewal” liturgists who, filled with the promise of renewal and reform, introduced every novelty and revision they could imagine. They praised the bishops of Vatican II for being open to change and for recognizing the need to have a modern church in a modern world.
This polarization has continued over the last several decades until the point was reached where the liturgy became more a symbol of political orientation than an expression of religious belief and unity.
There is a phrase often used in Catholicism, which is “in the fullness of time”. This can refer to a point of completion, a moment in time when all the necessary elements came together and made it possible for certain events to take place. The birth of Jesus, for example, occurred when it did because all that needed to happen had taken place and in that fullness of time, at that moment of ripe completion, the Savior was made flesh.
The phrase also refers to the phenomena of not being able to fully understand certain events or ideas until they can be seen in the context of a longer timeline. It was not until after Jesus was born, after Jesus died, and after Jesus’ resurrection that the true nature of who he was and what he had come to do became completely clear to the disciples who followed him. It was only after enough time had passed that they could look back and connect all the dots.
The Liturgiam authenticam is a document written with the benefit of a hindsight the Church could not have had during Vatican II when the changes were new and untested. However, now that some time has elapsed, it’s possible to look back and analyze what elements of change have worked, and are working, and which elements have not and do not.
7. For these reasons, it now seems necessary to set forth anew, and in light of the maturing of experience, the principles of translation to be followed in future translations – whether they be entirely new undertakings or emendations of texts already in use – and to specify more clearly certain norms that have already been published, taking into account a number of questions and circumstances that have arisen in our own day. In order to take full advantage of the experience gained since the Council, it seems useful to express these norms from time to time in terms of tendencies that have been evident in past translations, but which are to be avoided in future ones. In fact, it seems necessary to consider anew the true notion of liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular languages may stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God. This Instruction therefore envisions and seeks to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal, which is consonant with the qualities and the traditions of the particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God.
For some, this represents a step backwards. For others, it represents a corrective course that is already too long in coming.
Tomorrow: What “formal equivalency” sounds like, what Catholics can expect, and some insights from Cardinal Rigali.