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Liturgy for lackeys?

16 January 2015

Liturgical Language and Translation: The issues arising from the revised English translation of the Roman Missal: Joint Liturgical Studies 77
Thomas O'Loughlin, editor
Hymns Ancient & Modern for Alcuin Club/GROW £7.95
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ADVENT 2011 brought the introduction in the English-speaking world of a new translation of the Roman Missal, after Vatican guidelines were issued in 2001 which demanded a much more literal version rather than one adapted to the nuances of the English language.

One example of the kind of change involved comes in the third Eucharistic Prayer. Where formerly the celebrant said: "Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters, and all who have left this world in your friendship," he is now required to say: "To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom" - which implies a rather grudging interpretation of God's mercy, and which, to my mind, if offered in an exam, would score no higher than gamma-double-minus-query-minus (admittedly somewhat better than the epsilon that I once got for a Greek prose at school).

With remarkably restrained scholarly politeness, the contributors to this small but valuable symposium dissect the many shortcomings of what has been imposed on English-speaking Roman Catholics. The motives behind the shift in policy are succinctly analysed in the introduction, and successive contributors lay bare the defects of the kind of translation demanded by Rome.

In essence, what is officially required is a form of English which reproduces as closely as possible the rather different syntax of the Latin, a language that delights in subordinate clauses rather than the much briefer sentences we are used to in English (and which makes liberal use of conjunctions like "for" which we find redundant). The result is neither good liturgy nor good English, and in some cases theologically questionable: Janet E. Rutherford provides a lucid explanation why, in the consecration of the wine, the replacement of "for all" by "for many" is mistaken.

What this slim volume does not examine is why the bishops of the English-speaking world meekly accepted what was foisted on them by Rome. When the First Vatican Council defined papal infallibility, Bismarck mistakenly thought that this meant reducing bishops to mere lackeys of the papacy. I hope that, nearly a century and a half later, he is not being proved right.

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