Very strong words from a leading English Jesuit on the process that led to the new Mass translations, which were approved this week. Philip Endean, a former editor of "The Way" who now teaches at Oxford, critiques the complicated wrangling over the translations in a hard-hitting article in this week's Tablet, which is available online.
Bit by bit, the Catholic Church has been edging towards the moment when the new English translation of the Roman Missal will be in use in English-speaking countries around the globe. On 30 April 2010 the Holy See gave itsrecognitio to what was thought to be the final text, while on 20 August the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released an updated version of the Ordinary with confirmation that Americans will start using it in Advent 2011. Yet the text is apparently still being revised in Rome. Matters remain unclear.
There are problems here about what counts as good translation. There are also serious questions about how authority is being exercised. In some ways, there are overlaps with the clerical-abuse scandal. Of course, the objective damage done by bad liturgy is as nothing to the moral wrong of children being violated. But in both cases authority has dealt high-handedly and secretively with the sacred, the intimate, the vulnerable. High officialdom has been evasive; lesser authority has tacitly colluded. What the situation needed was salutary English plain speaking.
How the new translation came about is now well known: the rejection of a 1998 version by Rome (despite the overwhelming support of the anglophone bishops' conferences); the changing of the translation ground rules with the Congregation for Divine Worship's (CDW) 2001 instruction,Liturgiam Authenticam; and the sacking of the staff of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (Icel).
The published accounts of this process by Bishop Maurice Taylor, then the episcopal chairman of Icel, are all the more telling for their dignified and charitable understatement. But "abusive" would not be too strong a word to describe the exercise of authority here.