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Room vs. ICEL

Rome Rejects ICEL's Latest Translations

In April, 1996, the NCCB submitted the ICEL "translation" of the "Pontificale Romanum" section of the Rite of Ordination for Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. September 20th Archbishop Jorge Medina Estevez, pro-prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, informed Bishop Anthony M. Pila, president of the NCCB, that the text is so seriously flawed doctrinally, so poorly translated, and so grammatically confusing that it is beyond revision and the bishops must make a fresh translation.

The three-page letter was accompanied by a 13-page list of 114 specific flaws in the ICEL translation that Medina wrote "cannot be considered in any way exhaustive."

In the letter, Medina wrote "Regular practice has also been to list the small points of detail which appeared to present some difficulty in the material presented ..... In this present case, Your Excellency, the shortcomings are so diffused that minor isolated corrections will not suffice."

The ICEL translated the Latin "presbyteri" as "presbyter" rather than "priest". Medina wrote:

"This cannot meet with the Holy See's consent since it risks being misunderstood by the people and represents an unacceptable theological tendency. In particular it retreats from a terms that carries a sense of sacrality, that carries with it the history of the development of the faith in favor of a term which does not."
"As to the rest of the translation, the competent organisms of the Holy See are of one accord in considering that it fails to transmit faithfully important doctrinal aspects of the Latin original. It appears, indeed, consciously or unconsciously to promote a view of sacramental and ecclesiological theology that contrasts with the intentions of the Holy See."

The ICEL decided to freely "introduce changes at will, to 'improve' the order of the text, the rubrics, and the number." The ICEL even changed the title of the text.

The ICEL added new compositions to the text. Medina pointed out:

"These have been found to be in disharmony with the conventions of the Roman Liturgy, confused, largely unsuited to the circumstances in which they would be used, and at best theologically impoverished. They are therefore unacceptable to the Holy See."

Medina also pointed out that new compositions to meet a cultural need are the province of the bishops' conference, not the translators.

He also wrote:

"I should like to recall here one last fact which appears significant. A number of retranslations concerning parts of the Eucharistic Prayer proposed in 1981 failed to secure the consent of the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship on account of a negative judgment by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
"Among the proposed translations then rejected was that of the wording of the intercession in the Second Eucharistic Prayer which in Latin runs 'una cum Papa nostro N. et Episcopo nostro N. et universo clero' by the English 'together with N. our Pope, N. our bishop, and all the ministers of your Gospel.' This was found unacceptable by the Bishops' Conference of the United States of America and by the Holy See."
"It could reasonably have been expected that the translators would thereafter take note that translations of that kind were not acceptable. This did not in fact happen, however. In n. 59 of this proposed translation we find 'universo clero' now rendered by 'all who are called to your service," an even wider expression ....."
"Your Excellency, the bishops retain all their rightful freedom of action to adopt the remedy they consider most appropriate regarding the English translation of this liturgical book. At the same time this Congregation considers it may be helpful to recommend that there be a complete change of translators on this project and that a new, independent, and definitive English version be made afresh from the Latin texts."

The 13-page list of "observations" opens with:

"The documents published by the Holy See must be translated as such, following faithfully the paragraph divisions and indentation of the Latin and in so far as it is compatible with the English-language usage the capitalization of words. In particular, care must be taken to convey a sense of respect for terms such as the names of the Sacraments. The technical juridical terms must be translated with exactness. The whole of the translation of each document should be without changes, without any additions or omissions, even in the footnotes. These are historical documents whose footnote references cannot be update. The layout should follow that of the Latin. The passages of the Apostolic Constitution which specify the sacramental form would perhaps must appropriately be given in Latin, as their sense requires. Other the impression is given that Pope Paul VI was imposing the present English translation ....."
Adjectives which appear in the Latin should also appear in the English translation. It is noted that ".... a large number of adjectives present in the Latin have been omitted in English translations. When the Latin speaks of the 'Holy Spirit' rather than the 'Spirit', St. Peter' or 'Blessed Peter' rather than 'Peter', 'sacred vestments' rather than 'vestments', 'holy celibacy' rather than 'celibacy', and so on, these expressions should be translated exactly into English .... The effect of such omissions is a secularization of the tone of the liturgical book and it constitutes a departure from tradition."
Dropping the words "implore" and "beseech" must cease. "It may be true that in everyday English discourse in an egalitarian society these terms are no longer in common use but they are traditional in orthodox Christian prayer, have been retained in Latin, and must be translated into English. The ICEL translation is, moreover, designed for use by peoples in very different social and cultural circumstances in different parts of the world and needs to take a broader view of cultural differences."
"In n. 42 one of the St. James has been omitted. 'Omnes Sancti et Sanctae Dei' is not properly translated by 'All holy men and women', nor 'libera nos, Domine' by ' Lord, save your people', nor 'Per mortem et resurrectionem tuam' by 'By your death and rising to new life', nor 'regere' by 'guide', nor 'hunc electum' by 'the one you have chosen', nor 'consecrare' by 'consecrate him for his sacred duties', 'pacem et veram concordiam' by 'in trust and in peace', while 'nosmetipsos' and 'sancto' (sancto servito) are omitted in the translation, and 'Christe exaudi nos' is not properly translated by 'Lord Jesus, hear our pray'. In general the whole litany has lost has lost in translation a good deal of the literary variety of the Latin original."
Some translations ".... are damaging the people's perception of the hierarchial nature of the Church" or are confusing, disjointed, or ideologically driven. As an example observation 72 notes "The Latin text does not speak of 'elders' but of 'virorum prudentium'. All mention of 'tabernaculi' is here omitted from the translation. The phrase 'the good things to come' is weak and banal in English and could refer to virtually anything ...."

In observation 90 "A further point regarding the dialogue is that it would seem the moment is long overdue to provide the English-speaking liturgy with an accurate translation for 'Et cum spiritu tuo'."

"Prescinding from the question of whether ICEL should be dedicating resources to the making of new compositions, it may be noted that this is a new edition of the Rite, as yet completely untried in practice ...... It is not clear then, on what experiential basis it might be thought necessary to modify [the text] now ...."

In observation 114, it is pointed out that " .... The phrase 'nourish the poor in their every need' does not in fact make a great deal of sense. If the poor need a house, feeding will not bring one."

"Furthermore, the texts in themselves present a considerable number of problems, beginning with the fact that their authors seem to have made a deliberate choice not to respect the style of the Roman Liturgy. No sources are indicated, and no clear rationale for the texts nor their specific content is offered. The number and nature of the problems and the general quality of the texts suggests that they certainly cannot be approved by the Holy See and that it would be probably best simply to discard them en bloc."

This is the full text of the covering letter from Cardinal Medina Estevez:

Prot. 760/96/L
761/96/L

20 September 1997

His Excellency
The Most Reverend Anthony M. Pilla, Bishop of Cleveland
President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington DC 20017-1194
United States of America

Your Excellency,

I write in response to your letter of 2 April 1996 in which you requested the approval or confirmation of the Holy See ad interim for an English-language translation of the editio typica altera (1989-1990) of that part of the Pontificale Romanum now entitled De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum.

The material submitted has been examined in detail and at length by this Congregation and also, according to its specific competence, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which gave its reply in a letter dated 12 May 1997 (prot. 216/73-04256). The conclusion of this examination is that the text cannot be approved or confirmed by the Holy See for liturgical use, not only by reason of its failure to adhere faithfully to the Latin editio typica altera and to convey accurately in English its contents, but also because the translation is not without doctrinal problems.

Your Excellency in fact wrote two letters to the Congregation on the same date, 2 April 1996, presenting on the one hand the ICEL translation as such and on the other a project in which certain adaptations were proposed for the dioceses of the United States of America. It has seemed to this Congregation more practical for the moment to comment specifically upon the translation that lies at the base of both of the submissions made by the Conference of Bishops of the United States of America rather than on the project incorporating proposed local adaptations. Your Excellency will, I hope, appreciate that in trying to coordinate a response to the different Conferences of Bishops which use the English language in the liturgy, this is the most practical course of action for the Congregation at this time.

At numerous points both in the liturgical texts themselves, in the rubrics, in the praenotanda, and in the various pontifical documents authorizing the rites, the translation is seriously deficient. Particularly problematic are the texts that form part of the Eucharistic Prayer -- the embolisms and Preface -- and the Prayers of Ordination, at least those of the Bishop and of priests, but the difficulties are widespread.

Prominent among the problems is the decision of the translators to break with common Catholic usage and translate the Latin "presbyteri" into English not with "priests" but with "presbyters". This cannot meet with the Holy See's consent since it risks being misunderstood by the people and represents an unacceptable theological tendency. In particular it constitutes a retreat from a term that carries a sense of sacrality, that carries with it the history of the development of the faith, in favour of a term which does not.

As to the rest of the translation, the competent organisms of the Holy See are of one accord in considering that it fails to transmit faithfully important doctrinal aspects of the Latin original. It appears, indeed, consciously or unconsciously to promote a view of sacramental and ecclesiological theology that contrasts with the intentions of the Holy See.

These matters are of grave concern to this Congregation at a time when by mandate of the Holy Father it is working for improved norms to govern liturgical translations.

It is also a cause for concern that the translators have felt free to introduce changes at will, to "improve" the order of the text, the rubrics, and the numbering. The Holy See, after a very considerable labor of study and wide consultation, has fixed these matters, and only recently. I would point in particular, Your Excellency, to the title. This was changed in the Latin after serious study and reflection by the Holy See and is in harmony with one of the significant features of the revision that leads from the first to the second typical edition, namely the reordering of the material to begin with the rites for the Ordination of the Bishop. This change was designed among other things to enhance and clarify the unique role of the Bishop in his diocese and hence has a precise and weighty ecclesiological significance. In this translation the translators, with no permission from the Holy See, have changed it in a way that is not acceptable.

After a suitable period of experience the Holy See would certainly be willing in principle to consider suggestions for genuine improvement of the different elements of this liturgical book, as put forward by the Conference of Bishops. However, in the meantime these things cannot be subject to arbitrary change by translators.

To the above-mentioned translation have been added new compositions. These have been found to be in disharmony with the conventions of the Roman Liturgy, confused, largely unsuited to the circumstances in which they would be used, and at best theologically impoverished. They are therefore unacceptable to the Holy See. Together with the changes and the element of paraphrase tacitly introduced by the translators in the course of their work, these texts arouse the concern of the Congregation for the substantial unity of the Roman Rite which the Council determined to preserve.

Any variant upon the text and the provisions of the editiones typicae issued in the Latin language that goes beyond what is specified in the final part of the different praenotanda generalia is to be considered more properly a matter of inculturation governed by the recent instruction Varietates legitimae of 1994. By their nature, such proposed variations should reflect specific, localized cultural conditions, whether they are undertaken on the basis of the praenotanda generalia or of the Instruction Varietates legitimae. They are the sphere of action of the Bishops of a local Conference, not of translators.

Your Excellency, the policy of this Congregation has always been to adopt an approach to relations with the local Bishops which is marked by profound respect and a spirit of willing dialogue. Regular practice has also been to list the small points of detail which appeared to present some difficulty in material submitted and to request the Conference of Bishops to propose solutions.

In this present case, Your Excellency, the shortcomings are so diffused that minor isolated corrections will not suffice. This situation will be evident from the enclosed set of detailed Observations. Their purpose is merely to illustrate a certain number of difficulties which have led the Holy See to its present decision and hence they cannot be considered in any way exhaustive. Indeed, they cover only part of the texts submitted.

In this regard, I should like to recall here one last fact which appears significant. A number of re-translations concerning parts of the Eucharistic Prayer proposed in 1981 failed to secure the consent of the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship on account of a negative judgement by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (prot. n. 216/73, 22 January 1983). Among the proposed translations then rejected was that of the wording of the intercession in the Second Eucharistic Prayer which in Latin runs "una cum Papa nostro N. et Episcopo nostro N. et universo clero" by the English "together with N. our Pope, N. our bishop, and all the ministers of your Gospel". This was found unacceptable by the Bishops' Conference of the United States of America and by the Holy See. It could reasonably have been expected that the translators would thereafter take note that translations of that kind were not acceptable. This did not in fact happen, however. In n. 59 of this proposed translation we find "universo clero" now rendered by "all who are called to your service", an even wider expression. In both these cases the translation had been prepared by the Mixed Commission known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

Your Excellency, the Bishops retain all their rightful freedom of action to adopt the remedy they consider most appropriate regarding the English translation of this liturgical book. At the same time this Congregation considers it may be helpful to recommend that there be a complete change of translators on this project and that a new, independent and definitive English version be made afresh from the Latin texts.

Should the Bishops consider it appropriate and useful, the Congregation is at their disposal within the limits of its competence and its resources to give whatever assistance it can, including an approach to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for similar assistance.

Your Excellency, the good relations and the active and efficacious cooperation between the Conference of Bishops of the United States of America and itself in recent times have been a source of great satisfaction and encouragement to this Congregation. I have every confidence that it will be possible to work quietly together for the good of the Church to arrive at a definitive English language translation of the rites of Sacred Ordination that is of high quality and suitable for use in the United States of America.

With all cordial good wishes in Christ the Lord.

Sincerely yours,

+ Jorge Medina Estevez
Archbishop Pro-Prefect





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