Thursday, September 16, 2010

Uniformity vs. Unity

Starting in Advent of 2011 English-speaking Catholics will use a new translation for Mass, the Revised Roman Missal, Third Edition.

It is said that the new translation better reflects the Latin text. It is a "word-for-word translation" as opposed to the "dynamic equivalent translation" we have been using for nearly 40 years.

For example, the Latin expression "Et cum spiritu tuo," when rendered word-for-word, is "And with your spirit." We have been saying, "And also with you."

The translation we have been using since 1974 was thought to better reflect the way we speak English (hence, "dynamic equivalent"). The new translation will have "And with your spirit" (the "word-for-word" method of translating --though if we really translated word-for-word we would would be saying, "And with spirit your").

There have been rumblings among clergy and laity alike about having to make a change, about clumsy expressions and poor grammar in the new word-for-word rendering, about Vatican (Roman) control of a vernacular translation.

It is well-known that fear of Vatican control over local issues is a stumbling block in discussions about the reunion of Anglicans and others with Roman Catholics.

The former (now retired) Archbishop of San Francisco, John R. Quinn, addressed this issue in his book The Reform of the Papacy (Crossroad Publishing, 1999). He wrote:

One of the great ecumenical concerns today and an obstacle to Christian unity, is the fear that the Pope can arbitrarily intervene in the affairs of local or regional churches and that he does in fact do so. For instance, the repeated rejection by Rome of decisions made by the Episcopal Conference of the United States {that is, the US bishops conference} is interpreted by many Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants as an indication of "what it would be like" if they entered into full communion with Rome.

One of the major issues at the Second Vatican Council was the relationship between the authority of the pope and the authority of the bishops as succesors of the apostles. Many Catholics assume that the pope is the head of the corporation and the bishops simply take orders from the pope. That assumption is incorrect; the long-standing, biblically-based tradition of the Church indicates otherwise.

Bishops have authority by virtue of their ordination; they do not have to be given authority by the pope. This relationship between pope and bishops is complex. Chapter three of Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document about the Church, tries to explain the relationship; it is only partially successful.

In 1995 Pope John Paul II issued the letter Ut unum sint ("That they all may be one"), in which he acknowledged that "the Catholic Church's conviction that in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome she has preserved...the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians" (cf. UUS, #88).

The pope explained that the Church cannot renounce papal primacy because it is essential to the Church's mission, but the way of exercising that primacy "is nonetheless open to a new situation" (#95).

This acknowledgement by Pope John Paul II excited many within and outside the Catholic Church. When this admission that the way the pope exercises his primacy could be modified was added to Vatican II's recognition of the bishops' local authority, it seemed as if the Vatican was going to promote the freedom of bishops' conferences to lead their people on the local level. This freedom was theirs by divine right but had been severely curtailed by papal interventions over the past few centuries.

However, the ongoing and constant insistence of the Vatican that the pope and his Curia are the final judge of local matters undermines the teachings of both Ut unum sint and Lumen Gentium.

So it must be asked, "Is not the Vatican's modifying critique of the new English translation proposed by the United States bishops another blow to restoration of Church unity?" Is the Vatican's exercise of primacy in this non-essential matter of a word-for-word translation worth the price?

It sends the message to our separated brothers and sisters that if they unite with Rome they too will lose autonomy in non-essential matters. Would Anglicans have to give up their tradition of married clergy? Would Greek Orthodox churches have to submit their rituals to Rome for approval?

There seems to be a debilitating conflict between the Vatican's need for uniformity and Jesus' prayer for unity.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Fr. Norm... I pray your readers are few in number and even then that they are not nearly gullible enough to believe much of what you've offered here.

    Since when is the sacred liturgy a “local issue” as you call it?

    WRT to the bishop's authority: Anyone familiar with Vatican II is well aware that individual bishops and their conferences have very limited authority indeed, and only then as it is either granted by Rome or reflects teaching in union with the Holy Father. The Council specifically stressed this dependence as it concerns regulation of the sacred liturgy. (cf SC 22)

    Ut Unum Sint is a treatment of ecumenism. It is not a document that in any way suggests granting regulation of the sacred liturgy to local bishops beyond that which the Holy See has been inclined to give up to this point in time. Your claims of recourse to Ut Unum Sint in support of your personal views of liturgy is really little more than proof-texting.

    Perhaps you could support your suggestion that Vatican II itself in some way recognized the bishop’s local authority apart from unity with the Holy See as it relates to the sacred liturgy. I think we both know this is not possible.

    Your claim that the Holy See's regulation of the liturgy "undermines the teachings of both Ut unum sint and Lumen Gentium" is wholesale nonsense. If I am incorrect, kindly afford your readers documentation from either document in support of this wild claim.

    You call liturgical translation "non-essential." According to whom, you, Father? The Council specifically said that the translation of liturgical texts "are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See." (cf SC 36)

    The simple fact that you don’t recognize how absolutely essential the words and the language that we employ at Holy Mass are is very telling indeed.

    As a champion of Vatican II in the matter of liturgy, why may I ask are you not insisting that Latin be retained in the Latin rite as the Council Fathers clearly stated? Perhaps you are not so much the Council's champion as its detractor...

    In summary, there is no "debilitating" conflict in this matter for those humble enough to view the Church as Holy Mother. May you one day be numbered among them.

    Louie Verrecchio