I’ve had a few emails asking me to comment on the “translation wars” raging in the English speaking Catholic world. I’m not sure I have anything new to add to the discussion, but here are some thoughts:
1. There is no inherent contradiction in having liturgical language that is: beautiful, functional, and orthodox. Only translation ideologues insist on privileging one of these to the detriment of the others. The current translation of the Missale strikes me overly functional, not very beautiful, and dodgy with regards to orthodoxy (can we all say, “Semi-Pelagian?”).
2. I’m not sure a slavish translation of the Latin text is going to get us an English text that is broadly useful in the American church. Don’t get me wrong: I want an accurate translation…but I also want a translation that is not going to be overly decorated and unintentionally funny. Theological accuracy and clarity are more important than beauty; but, again these are not mutually exclusive.
3. The debate over using “theological terms” (i.e., consubstantial) strikes me as absurd. American Catholics are well-educated and willing to learn. Put three lines in the bulletin explaining the theological terms and move on. To claim that we shouldn’t use theologically accurate language b/c folks might not understand it is insulting. Let’s challenge Catholics to rise a little above their current understanding of the faith. Why is that a problem?
4. The Vatican’s call for the development of a “sacral vernacular” (Liturgiam authenticam, n. 47) is a fantastic idea. This is an opportunity for a meeting of the minds—theological, practical, pastoral, creative, etc.—in the creation of a “dialect” for Catholics to use in their worship. Two extremes seem wrong: using marketplace language in the liturgy or using overly elevated or decorated language. What would a sacral vernacular look like, I wonder? Surely an accurate translation of the Latin Missale would be a good start…but we risk making the Mass sound like a bad parody if we don’t adjust some of the more florid repetitions and obscure concepts.
5. For those who complain about a distinct language for worship: given the reality of multiple daily languages (work, home, friends, colleagues, superiors, etc). why is a language for worship so odd? I mean, any given person in the country is required to function within several languages in order to succeed. We move easily between the language we use at home to the language we use at work to the language we use with our boss. Why not a language that marks out the liturgy as something distinct? Granted: these are not languages per se, but they do constitute different ways of construing and managing daily circumstances.
Well, for what it’s worth…comments?