Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 14, 2001
Liturgy translation rules revised
Vatican takes moderate approach to inclusive language
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Wading into liturgical translation issues sharply contested in the English-speaking world, the Vatican issued a new instruction that underlines its insistence on precise translations and its own role in the process.
On the charged question of inclusive language, officials said the document codifies a moderate approach taken in the recent revision of the Lectionary for the United States.
While emphasizing the primary responsibility of bishops' conferences for preparing and approving translations, it says the Vatican "will be involved more directly" in preparing translations in major languages like English.
The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments posted the instruction in English, French and Latin on the congregation's page of the Vatican Web site late May 7.
The new document, Liturgiam Authenticam (The Authentic Liturgy), is subtitled in English, On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy.
It describes the new rules as setting the stage "for a new era of liturgical renewal" around the world.
What will be most noticeable to English-speaking Catholics in the pews are wording changes foreseen for the Creed and for one of the most common Mass acclamations.
The instruction said translations of the opening of the Nicene Creed, recited at Mass, should conform to the first person singular, "Credo," found in the definitive Latin-language missal. The current English rendering, "We believe," is based on the ancient Greek text.
In addition, it said the Mass participants' response to the priest's greeting, "The Lord be with you," should be a literal translation of the Latin, "Et cum spiritu tuo," or "And with your spirit." In current English usage, the congregation responds, "And also with you."
The changes would bring the English translations in line with other translations, which nearly all use literal language, said an official at the worship congregation who asked that his name not be used.
Another official, Father James Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Liturgy, said he thought the document's overall impact would be "significant," though many of the changes would affect only the behind-the-scenes mechanics of liturgical translations.
"Certainly the document provides in the name of the Holy See a significant milestone in defining the answers to questions that have been raised," he said in an interview in Rome.
On the issue of inclusive language, Moroney said the document shows "a high degree of correspondence between what the instruction says and the principles that were followed in the final revision of the Lectionary for the United States."
In a separate interview, the worship congregation source said the inclusive language section was, in fact, drafted largely from the Lectionary revision principles.
Moroney said the instruction still would permit inclusive translations, like "Happy the one . . ." instead of "Happy the man . . ." where the original text clearly intended to communicate men and women.
However, the instruction specifically rejects a number of common devices used by translators to avoid use of exclusive language in translations, including "a mechanical substitution of words, the transition from the singular to the plural, the splitting of a unitary collective term into masculine and feminine parts, or the introduction of impersonal or abstract words."
In language about God and the persons of the Trinity, it says, "The truth of tradition as well as the established gender usage of each respective language are to be maintained."
It orders no tampering with the Christological term "Son of Man" and says traditional usage of "fathers" is to be retained for the patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament or the Fathers of the Church.
Where some texts may be difficult to understand or interpret correctly, it says, "It is the task of catechists or the homilist to transmit that right interpretation of the texts that excludes any prejudice or unjust discrimination on the basis of persons, gender, social condition, race or other criteria, which has no foundation at all in the texts of the sacred liturgy."
"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," it said.
Also of particular interest for English-speaking countries, the instruction establishes new rules for the creation and structure of mixed commissions used by bishops' conferences to prepare liturgical translations.
Last year, the Vatican called for an overhaul of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL.
ICEL's 11 members - bishops' conferences in English-speaking countries - have begun revising the body's statutes and reassessing its translation principles.
"I'm sure this instruction will provide even greater clarity to both of these tasks," said Moroney. "It's clear that many people will see this in terms of power," he said, but "I see no monsters here."
The instruction says the Vatican is responsible for creating such commissions and approving the statutes. It says translators employed by the bishops' conferences must receive prior Vatican clearance, known as a nihil obstat, and can serve only for limited terms.
It also prohibits the commissions from composing original prayers and texts.
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