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Liturgy document invoked as example


Over the last several years, few debates have highlighted the problem of collegiality in the English-speaking world more than the liturgy, especially control of how liturgical texts are translated.

Two years ago, the curial office responsible for liturgy asserted new controls over a translation agency sponsored by English-speaking bishops, called the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. More recently the office issued norms insisting that translations stick to a uniform Roman model.

For more than two years, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina, the curial official responsible for liturgy, has declined repeated requests from English-speaking bishops for a meeting to discuss the issue. That reluctance has drawn criticism.

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier told NCR that English-speaking prelates were able to make some progress on this front at the consistory. “We had a meeting [with Medina] over coffee and arranged to have a meeting at a later stage,” he said. No date was set. “We were just trying to find where we stood, what the possibilities were of a real, proper meeting. That’s as far as it got,” he said.

Despite the seemingly definitive nature of the new norms, Napier said the Vatican will have to show flexibility.

For example, Napier said, the document’s insistence on using the Latin edition of liturgical texts as the base for translation is unrealistic in South Africa, where a number of tribal languages are widespread in addition to English.

“A lot of our work would be more or less arrested,” he said. “We can’t use Latin, we don’t have people with a knowledge of Latin. If we do, they won’t have a knowledge of the local language. Hence it would be virtually impossible to produce a vernacular translation.”

Napier also said issuance of the document was mishandled. “Many of us haven’t even gotten it in our hands, and normally we get documents directly from the Vatican as they hit the public. In this case I’ve got a summary, which I took off the Internet, but I haven’t got the document. In itself this says there’s something wrong.”

Napier said he does not think the document means the death of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. “Before we can start talking about what happens, we have to wait until the presidents of the conferences are called together to have a meeting,” said Napier, who is president of the South African bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said that liturgy and translation was the most frequently invoked example at the consistory of the need for collegiality.

“I understand Rome’s concern is that texts be authentically and accurately translated. But it seems to me that it’s best done by the church leaders in the countries where the texts will be used. We know better how language is used in our own areas.”

-- John L. Allen Jr.

National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2001