Bishop Donald W. Trautman on the new translation of the Mass

Thank you, John Allen, for drawing the world’s attention to a lecture given recently by Bishop Donald W. Trautman at St John’s, Minnesota entitled: “The Relationship of the Active Participation of the Assembly to Liturgical Translations”. Trautman is secretary of the USCBC’s Liturgical committee, so he is no light-weight in these matters. He is squarely on the “anti-Liturgiam Authenticam” team.

His basic thesis is that the proposed translation (following the principles of the Liturgiam Authenticam) is in violation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, which states in Article 21:

“Texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify.  Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as it befits a community.”

Trautman holds that this refers to the translation of the liturgy, insisting that all liturgical texts, to be authentically in line with the Constitution, should be immediately and transparently comprehensible to the man (woman) in the pew.

In fact, the section to which he refers is not talking at all about the translation of the liturgy, but rather about the restoration of the liturgy. The text on the Vatican website says:

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.

[Am I quibbling to say that there is a difference between being “able” to do something and being “enabled” to do something? The latter suggests some assistance would be required?]

Since it is the restoration of the liturgy, and not its translation  which would enable such an understanding, one assumes that such “understanding with ease” could be done even if the liturgy were to be celebrated (for the most part) in Latin rather than in the vernacular. Vatican II in fact did not even require that the whole liturgy should be celebrated in the vernacular. In fact, the Constitution declared that “it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority…to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used”. Presumably, therefore, a local Bishops Conference could decide that the entire liturgy should be celebrated in Latin, without going against the dictates of the Council! Otherwise, Sacrosanctum Concilium says nothing about using translated versions of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In John Allen’s “Word from Rome”, Father Harbert, the director of ICEL, makes the point that

“‘active participation’ in the liturgy as desired by Vatican II [may not be] the best possible translation of the Council’s words. I can participate in an event without getting really involved, and I can get involved as a spectator at a game of football without participating. I think ‘active involvement’ expresses better what the Council wanted: not merely ‘joining in,’ but being drawn in, heart and mind. For that to happen, the liturgy must express feelings as well as facts.”

Oddly enough, this sort of ‘involvement’ can happen even where a language other than one’s own is used for prayer. Trautman quotes Fr Godfrey Diekmann (more on him later) to the effect that one should always pray in one’s own language. Rubbish. Anyone who has ever been to Taize or to a Taize-style prayer service will know how easy it is to lift your heart to God in prayer in a language that is not your own, be it Latin, German, or French. In fact, by using another language the words don’t get in the way of the prayer. [Charismatics recognise this in their valuing of the gift of tongues.] Even the new Compendium of the Catechism acknowledges the value of praying in other languages by the inclusion of the prayers in the back in both English and Latin.

Beyond this misuse of Sacrosanctum Concilium, what evidence does Trautman bring to his thesis? Only the evidence of “liturgical experts” (eg. Fr Anscar Chupungco, “a liturgical scholar and professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome”). Excuse me, but I get a bit tired of this. The use of the word “liturgist” to mean “liturgical expert” is a bit of a Roman fault, if I may say so. All Christians who participate in the mass Sunday after Sunday are “liturgists”. They are the real “liturgical experts”, and it seems that they have hardly been consulted on this matter. We are being told by “experts” like Bishop Trautman that the new translations will be “bad for us”. Excuse me, but I and my fellow laymen (and women) will be judge of that. Laity the world over have been clamouring for liturgical translations that are faithful and beautiful and that is what the Vatican and ICEL are now offering us. Bishop Trautman, with all due respect, please step aside.

I am somewhat wary of Bishop Trautman’s insistence throughout the document that the liturgy be in a language that is “contemporary mainstream English as spoken in the United States”. Excuse me? English is spoken elsewhere, you know. England, for eg. And here in Australia. And in the Phillipines, and in South Africa and in India, and in New Zealand. Trautman insists that

“when people [ie. Americans—do any “people” live outside America?] come to celebrate Eucharist they come with the everyday language of contemporary American culture in their ears and on their lips.  That language reflects the influence of television, videos, movies, newspapers, magazines, and best sellers.  The liturgical and biblical texts of the Eucharist can only be heard and prayed in the culture of the assembly.”

Well, I’m sorry, but I have just about had it up to here with American English being imperially foisted upon us in “television, videos, movies, newspapers, magazines, and best sellers”, and I hardly want my prayers to be invaded by Americanese as well. We humble Ozzies might wonder at the audacity of an American bishop suggesting that their local version of our language should dominate the world-wide English liturgy. Here is Bishop Trautman’s own explanation of why such a domination is perfectly reasonable:

“Where in the world do we have the largest number of people participating in weekly Eucharist? Not France, not Germany, not Spain, not England, not Italy, not South American [certainly not Australia!!]. The Church in the United States, with Poland and Malta, ranks at the very top of the list. I think we Americans know something about liturgy and participation. Our voice should be heard.” (from a talk given by Bishop Donald Trautman to the Southwest Liturgical Conference on 17 January 2002)

In particular, what happens when we look at some of the Bishop’s examples of inappropriate or incomprehensible English? Consider the following:

  1. Objection to “consubstantial” and “incarnate” in the Creed. And this from the Church that gave the world the term “transubstantiation” and “assumption” and “immaculate” and “beatific vision”? Things are getting a bit sad in the Church if people don’t know what “incarnate” means. Besides, both of these words express quite specific doctrines of the Ch
    urch—and they are not equal to “one in being with” or “born of”.
  2. Objection to “place of refreshment” for the dead. Don’t we talk about being in God’s presence? And don’t we pray for a “place” in his presence? That heaven is “not a place” is in fact an elitist quibble; the laity are hardly to be bothered with this.
  3. Objection to “dew of your Spirit”. Okay, we’re not used to this, but how is this any different from the expression “breath of your Spirit” which is common place?
  4. Objection to the translation “chalice” for the cup. Trautman bases his objection on the Greek of the New Testament. Sorry, Bish. This is a translation of the Latin Mass, not the of the Greek gospels. Otherwise, why would we have “which will be given for you” rather than “which is given for you”?

The rest of his objections are all to do with the lectionary, and frankly I can’t see how that could get any worse from the version we currently have! A bit weak, my Lord!

Trautman seems also to overlook the fact that many of the best loved devotional prayers of the laity were translated into English long before the post-Vatican II liturgy and have endured for centuries. Take the Hail Holy Queen (whoever calls anyone “clement” any more?) or the Lord’s Prayer itself which stubbornly resists any attempt toward modernisation in the Liturgy (who ever uses the word “hallow” anymore? What child understands the word “temptation”?).

I won’t even bother to argue the toss about “inclusive language” other than to say that the situation we face today, where the masculine can no longer be used for the generic, is one for which the ideologues are entirely to blame and can hardly through back in our faces as if it were anyone’s fault other than their own.

But I will make a quick reference reference to two points:

  1. The Bishop asks: “Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension?” The simple answer to this typical, protestant, “What-Would-Jesus-Do” type of objection is: Yes, even when he used single syllable words. The Gospel of John for instance uses a vocabulary of little more than 600 words, but you are kidding yourself if you think it may be “understood with ease”. And what about Matthew 13:13, eh?
  2. Dynamic Equivalence is all very well, but as any bible translator will tell you, it causes as many problems as it “solves”. Literal translations may not be immediately transparent, but they leave open a wider field of possible meanings. The dynamic equivalent translator must first choose which of these many meanings he (she) thinks is most likely from among a wide field of contenders, and then translate accordingly, thus reducing the possible resonance of the multi-dimensional text to one dimension only. The language of poetry and prayer are generally the hardest to translate using dynamic equivalence techniques for this reason.

Finally, take good note of Bishop Trautman’s admiration for Fr Godfrey Diekmann, who was a teacher for almost 60 years at the very college where Trautman gave his lecture. Most Catholics of our generation never knew Diekmann, but he had a monumental effect on the modern Catholic liturgy. To find out what sort of fellow he was, it is worth reading this obituary in The Adoremus Bulletin from April 2002 (following Diekmann’s death). His antipathy toward John Paul II is well worth noting.

The spectre of the possibility that the US Catholic Bishops Conference could actually reject the new translation of the Missal should frighten the boots off us all. It could mean that the world ends up with not one but several different English versions of the Roman Rite (I have actually heard from authoritative sources that the English, the Americans and the “rest” of the English speaking world form three different “blocks” on the translating team which could result in at least three different versions). Or, more likely, it could mean that the new translations are held up for many more years yet to come.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.