Translating From the English Missal

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Translating From the English Missal

ROME, 31 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In many English-speaking countries where the new translation of Roman Missal is used, many have embarked on translating the same missal into other vernacular languages. Is it liturgically allowed to celebrate the holy Mass with few translated parts of Order of Mass while the whole translation is not yet finished? — M.L., Kasama, Zambia

A: I suppose our reader is referring to using the new English translation as a basis for translation into local languages in a country that uses English as an official common language while at home most people use other languages.

Therefore, there are really two questions. First, may missals in another language be translated directly from the English translation? And second, may these translations be used in part before the whole missal has been completed?

The clear answer to the first question is that it is not really allowed, but you can probably do it anyway.

In other words, all liturgical translations are supposed to be translated directly from the Latin originals. Liturgiam Authenticam, the Vatican document which regulates translation, says so specifically:

"24. Furthermore, it is not permissible that the translations be produced from other translations already made into other languages; rather, the new translations must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture."

At the same time, the Holy See is well aware that for many smaller and poorer bishops' conferences, especially those with several local languages, the number of people competent for such a herculean task is limited.

This is one reason why the development of the English translation was followed with such care. The Congregation for Divine Worship is well aware that, in spite of the norms, a good number of future translations will probably follow closely the English version while keeping an eye on the Latin. The same would be true when the other major languages finish their definitive translation. This is one reason why the congregation asks that:

"86. In the case of the less widely diffused languages, everything shall be prepared as set forth above. The acts, however, are to be prepared with great care in one of the languages mentioned above as more widely known [English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish], rendering the meaning of each individual word of the vernacular language. The President and Secretary of the Conference of Bishops, after any necessary consultation with trustworthy experts, are to testify to the authenticity of the translation."

The congregation takes its mission of assuring an adequate translation very seriously, which is one reason why it asks for several levels of consultation.

This goes some way to answering our second question. First of all, responsibility for approving a translation lies with the entire national conference of bishops, who must achieve a two-thirds majority for approval.

The document also specifies:

"71. In nations where many languages are used, the translations into individual vernacular languages are to be prepared and submitted to the special examination of those Bishops involved. Nevertheless, it is the Conference of Bishops as such that retains the right and the power to posit all of those actions mentioned in this Instruction as pertaining to the Conference; thus, it pertains to the full Conference to approve a text and to submit it for the recognitio of the Apostolic See."

Therefore, no individual, not even a bishop, may introduce a translation by himself of any official liturgical text.

Can these translations be used in part? Liturgiam Authenticam specifies:

"78. In the case of the less diffused languages that are approved for liturgical use, the larger or more important liturgical books, in particular, may be translated, according to pastoral necessity and with the consent of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The individual books thus selected are to be translated integrally, in the manner described in n. 66 above. As for the decrees, the institutio generalis, the praenotanda and the instructions, it is permissible to print them in a language that is different from the one used in the celebration, but nevertheless intelligible to the priest or deacon celebrants in the same territory. It is permissible to print the Latin text of the decrees, either in addition to the translation or instead of it."

Therefore, although it is possible that not all the books be translated in general, those that are translated should be done integrally. For a just reason, the Holy See can permit that a part of the liturgy (for example, the people's parts) be introduced at an earlier stage than the missal in its entirety so that the people become familiar with the new texts.

Finally, in the case of dialects or languages which for practical reasons cannot be translated into a full missal, the document suggests:

"13. Moreover, the fact that a language is not introduced into full liturgical use does not mean that it is thereby altogether excluded from the Liturgy. It may be used, at least occasionally, in the Prayer of the Faithful, in the sung texts, in the invitations or instructions given to the people, or in parts of the homily, especially if the language is proper to some of Christ's faithful who are in attendance. Nevertheless, it is always possible to use either the Latin language or another language that is widely used in that country, even if perhaps it may not be the language of all — or even of a majority — of the Christian faithful taking part, provided that discord among the faithful be avoided."

* * *

Follow-up: Translating From the English Missal [8-28-2012]

There were several requests regarding our July 31 column on translating liturgical texts.

A reader from Africa wrote regarding the Liturgy of the Hours: "May I inquire as to the stage reached in the preparation of the breviary with the new English translation? It is already available in Kenya and other English-speaking countries in Africa and is widely used. Why not in the rest of the English-speaking world? Africa seems to be forging ahead while other continents are still far behind with this 'Olympian' task."

Our reader is probably referring to the 2009 edition published by the Pauline Sisters. This is less a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours than an updated edition. In this sense the calendar of saints corresponds to the latest version of the universal calendar along with specifically African saints. It uses the Revised Grail Psalter which is widely recognized as the best current version of the psalms. The collects, however, are still those of the 1970 translation.

Although recognized by many as the best available edition, it is less useful for those outside Africa since it does not contain European or American particular celebrations.

Also, in English-speaking countries, only the locally approved editions may be used for liturgical use.

Therefore, although this edition will require further updates, it goes to show that the task can be done when there is a will.

Publishers might be reluctant to commit to the task for other markets because, in part, the Holy See wants to add another cycle of readings — but the completion date for this project is unknown.

It would also be a good thing to agree on a common translation for all English-speaking countries, except with respect to the liturgical calendar as has been achieved for the missal. This might be difficult due to copyright laws for scriptural texts.

We can only hope that what has been achieved in Africa will spur on some of the older Churches.

Another reader, from the Philippines, wrote about the collects: "Here in the Manila Archdiocese we are gradually using the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, to be fully implemented in December. In the edition we are using now (the U.S. published version) for the Sunday Masses at the Opening Prayer there are two versions (including an Alternate Version). Attached to the beginning of the Opening Prayer, a suggested prayer theme is given (in square brackets), and then there is a brief pause for silent prayer. The text of the Opening Prayer is then given. But in the Third Edition which we will be using in December no alternate prayer is offered, and the term 'Collect' is used rather than 'Opening Prayer.' I surmise that the term 'Collect' presumes that there have been silent prayers to be collected. But no suggested theme for prayer is offered, and there is no suggestion for a pause before the text of the prayer is given. Is this an oversight of those responsible for the text? Can the presiding celebrant use his prudence to supply what the text does not offer? Is he free to add what is obviously missing?"

The term "collect" is a correct translation of this prayer from the original Latin edition. It was already used in the 1970s Latin edition and used as such in most translations. In this case the 1970s English translation opted for "Opening Prayer" rather than "Collect."

In the extraordinary form this prayer is termed quite simply oratio. The Paul VI missal adopted the term collecta which was used in 10th-century Rome. It is not clear if this term originally meant the prayer which gathers the particular petitions of the faithful (from colligere, to gather) or the prayer said before the assembled community (collecta) before beginning a procession toward the church where Mass was to be celebrated.

The moment of silence is still present even though the rubric is not repeated each and every time. The General Introduction to the Roman Missal, No. 54, is quite clear:

"The Collect

"Next the priest invites the people to pray. All, together with the priest, observe a brief silence so that they may be conscious of the fact that they are in God's presence and may formulate their petitions mentally. Then the priest says the prayer which is customarily known as the Collect and through which the character of the celebration is expressed. In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, the collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and is concluded with a trinitarian, that is to say the longer ending, in the following manner:

"— If the prayer is directed to the Father: Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum;

"— If it is directed to the Father, but the Son is mentioned at the end: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum;

"— If it is directed to the Son: Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.

"The people, uniting themselves to this entreaty, make the prayer their own with the acclamation Amen.

"There is always only one collect used in a Mass."

In the "Ordinary of the Mass" the rubric also indicates this saying:

"When this hymn [the Gloria] is concluded, the Priest, with hand joined says: 'Let us pray.'

"And all pray in silence with the priest for a while.

"Then the Priest, with hands extended, say the collect prayer, at the end of which the people acclaim: 'Amen.'"

The prayer theme and the alternative Opening Prayer never formed part of the Latin Roman missal. They were original compositions made by the translators of the missal although subsequently approved by the U.S. bishops and the Holy See.

Since these were not used in other English-speaking countries, and some of them were less than perfect as liturgical prayers, they have been dropped from the missal and may no longer be used.

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