U.S. bishops have rejected a new translation of Mass prayers, a rare instance of U.S. preclates denying a Vatican-ordered liturgical change.
Sister Mary Walsh, a spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, could not recall another instance in which a majority of the USCCB rejected a full document of Vatican translations.
The measure did not pass at the bishops’ meeting in June, and mail-in ballots won’t add up to the 166 needed to pass the new translation. A two-thirds majority of the USCCB’s Latin rite bishops is required for approval.
The vote was a shock. Most observers expected approval to be a formality, in part because four other English-speaking bishops’ conferences have already accepted it.
Known as the “Proper of the Seasons,” the prayers are said on Sundays, Holy Days and during liturgical seasons such as Lent, and change from day to day. Examples include the opening prayer, prayers said over the bread and wine, and prayer after Communion.
The late Pope John Paul II ordered the new translations to increase fidelity to the original Latin. Some Vatican liturgists said the church moved too quickly–and sloppily—in translating the Mass into local languages after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
The vote over the Proper of the Seasons provided the most drama of the bishops’ three-day session, thanks to a speech by Bishop Victor Galeone of Saint Augustine, Florida. Bishop Galeone is a former Latin teacher.
In his speech, Bishop Galeone argued the new translation is “too slavish” with respect to the Latin original, with the result the prayers are too awkward, too remote from normal English speech, to be proclaimed effectively.
In effect, Galeone suggested the translation amounts to a departure from the post-Vatican II vision of worship in the vernacular languages of the community.
Among other things, Galeone cited the textâ€™s use of the phrase â€œthe gibbet of the Cross.â€ â€œThe last time I heard that word was back in 1949, during Stations of the Cross in Lent,â€ Galeone said.
His speech motivated a number of other bishops to come forward to express their own reservations about the translation. “It’s a linguistic swamp,” one bishop added.
The rejected translation will come up again, with amendments, at the USCCB’s next meeting in November.
If parishes return to phrases like “the gibbet of the Cross,” they are going to have to dedicate a portion of the Missal to explanatory footnotes. The priest will also need to articulate very clearly and not mumble, so people don’t think he’s talking about “giblet” gravy and get really confused.