John Allen: The Pope’s Language Lesson

Benedict, a quintessential realist, will probably be among the few who understand right away that his ruling is not terribly earth-shattering. Sources close to the pope I have spoken to say his modest ambition is that over time, the old Mass will exert a “gravitational pull” on the new one, drawing it toward greater sobriety and reverence.

Perhaps ”” although it’s equally possible that traditionally minded Catholics will now have a broader “opt out” clause, making them less likely to pester priests and bishops about what they see as the defects of the new Mass.

In any event, the real impact of Benedict’s ruling is likely to be measured in small changes over a long arc of time, not in upheavals or revolutions. That reality, however, will do little to lower the rhetorical volume. If only we could convince the activists to slug it out in Latin, leaving the rest of us blissfully oblivious, then we might have something.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

14 comments on “John Allen: The Pope’s Language Lesson

  1. Henry Greville says:

    Since I cannot be persuaded that God cares about liturgical precision or favors any particular human language, the only criteria for worshipping God well seem to be whether the priests, pastors, or other worship leaders and the other congregants understand what they are doing and saying in worship AND TRULY MEAN IT FROM THEIR HEARTS.

  2. rugbyplayingpriest says:

    Sorry Henry but I think liturgy is FAR more important than you suggest. You are what you pray.

    Just contrast the hymns of yester year with today.
    Then the language and focus was about God – imoortal invisible God only wise. See him come with clouds ascending etc etc

    Now it has shiften to a foucs on self – Here I am Lord Is it me me me I feel this I feel that etc etc

    One could also point to the loss of the BCP as a moment when the Church fractured became excacerbated -as it was the one thing which unified.

    The effects of litugy may seem subtle- but the style and form of worship actually teaches us about God. At my church we strive to create a sense of holy mystery and offer the best of our abilities to God. We keep feasts as days of holy obligatrion and strive to meet for mass on a daily baisis. Anything less suggests to me that faith is somehow secondary to work, and all else besides.

  3. Henry Greville says:

    I love historic liturgies, too, on both sides of the East-West schism. But I think we can lead people astray from the responding to the whole will of God – the mistake of the Pharisees – by imagining liturgical form and practice to be the foundation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

  4. rugbyplayingpriest says:

    Sure thing- I understand the point you make. And no amount of incense, devotional music and beauty of content can compensate for a soul that is not truly given to God.

    But surely true liturgy is an outpouring of love, promted by the Holy Spirit that leads us to God.

    As Pope Benedict has realised to water down the liturgy (the unintended but sad consequence of Vatican II) is to water down faith as well.

    With good healthy liturgy it is not an either or but an also and

  5. Henry Greville says:

    Right on! — and Kyrie eleison.

  6. john scholasticus says:

    I love the Latin mass and think it’s far too good to be restricted to RCs, nor was it at the beginning of the Reformation period.

  7. libraryjim says:

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about the ‘new’ translation of the Roman Catholic mass. Proponents are heralding the faithfulness of the English translation to the Latin source. Such things have been restored such as:
    Given for many
    “The Lord be with you” responded with “And with your spirit”
    Yep, my Catholic friends are quite happy with it.

  8. driver8 says:

    For a stunningly knowledgable critique of Liturgiam Authenticam from one who is a self described conservative and historian of latin chant have a look at ‘Translating Tradition: A Chant Historian Reads Liturgiam Authenticam’ by Peter Jeffery, Obl.S.B

  9. PCampbell says:

    Henry Greville:

    the only criteria for worshipping God well seem to be whether the priests, pastors, or other worship leaders and the other congregants understand what they are doing and saying in worship AND TRULY MEAN IT FROM THEIR HEARTS.

    I would certainly agree, though this depends upon what it means to “truly mean it from one’s heart.” For many, this simply means “being filled with waves of sincere emotion.”

    The biblical stories of the widow’s mite and the woman with the nard of perfume both teach us that the Lord is pleased only with our costliest sacrifices. If I had given my wife a glass engagement ring, she would have been well within her rights to question whether I “truly meant it from my heart.” Why? Because the gift I offered her would have been at odds with my insistence that I love her with all that I am.

    By the same token, it is necessarily impossible to offer the Lord a liturgy of pedestrian text and banal music, and still “truly mean it from my heart.”

  10. Dale Rye says:

    Obviously, I can’t view Roman Catholic liturgy as an insider, but the new English Sacramentary presents three serious problems to me as an Anglican:

    (1) The idea of “the faithfulness of the English translation to the Latin source” is a fundamental issue. It is quite clear that the normative text of Holy Scripture for the new version is the Vulgate (a Latin translation of a problematic Greek tradition, including an OT translated into Greek and thence into Latin). Whether we believe in biblical inerrancy or not, Anglicans—like Protestants—are committed only to the inspiration of the original texts. Where the text of the underlying Revised Latin Sacramentary differs from the late-60s version, it is almost always in the direction of changing language from a Hebrew-based idiom to Latinate forms. The English translation is even more regularly in the direction of changing language rooted in the Tyndale/Coverdale/BCP/KJV/RSV/NRSV tradition—which is also the Erasmus/Stephanus/Westcott-Hort/Nestle-Aland/UBS textual tradition—in favor of a fairly literal word-for-word translation of the Vulgate. The same is true of the revision’s tendency to closely follow Latin liturgical forms that have been conformed to the Vulgate (even if the originals were in Hebrew, Greek, or some other language).

    2. As an Anglican, I am committed to “language understanded of the people,” which I understand to be literate but ideomatic English, not a transliteration of Latin terms embedded in a syntax that no native American-English speaker has ever used. Only a minority of the committee that wrote the new liturgy (after the Vatican rejected attempts by the English-speaking conferences of bishops) was composed of people who grew up speaking our language… and it shows.

    Almost without exception, the changes in the 2007-era text from the 1970-era version are away from natural spoken English, never towards it. Only rarely do they even constitute a movement towards better literary English. To the extent the changes reflect a dialect of our language at all, it is the dialect used in pre-Vatican II “people’s missals,” where the English was really only intended as a “crib” for following the Latin service. However fondly old folks like me may remember those days, not many American (or other English-speaking) Catholics can recall the 1960s that clearly. For them, this is not a “restoration” but the imposition of a foreign language.

    3. The issue that really burns me, however, is the rejection of ecumenical cooperation. The 1970 text was the result of a deep commitment on the part of the Roman Catholic authorities to the notion that whatever else may drive Christians apart, the prayers we have in common should hold us together. Since praying shapes believing (lex orandi, lex credendi), getting Protestants and Anglicans to use Catholic forms of worship will in the long run bring them home to Catholic belief.

    Consequently, there was ecumenical consultation at every step of the way in developing the common texts and a common lectionary. Every English-language Christian liturgy adopted anywhere in the world since 1970 has overwhelmingly followed that pattern of the liturgy. This commonality has been a factor not only in Protestant relations with Rome, but even more in inter-Protestant relationships between denominations that now use almost indistinguishable worship books. Altar fellowship between Anglicans and Lutherans, for example, would be almost unthinkable without our prior liturgical convergence.

    Rome has now cut the legs out from under that convergence. The authorities who revised the Latin texts and English translations were not only ordered to avoid the sort of ecumenical consultation that their predecessors took for granted, but were specifically told to adopt forms that were not in use among “other ecclesial communities” (the term preferred since Rome stopped referring to Protestants and Anglicans as members of the Christian Church).

    So, Roman Catholics are to be confronted with a change in the liturgical language they have been using for forty years, not because the new language is better, but only because it is different from what Protestants use. The fact that the Protestants were imitating RC use when they adopted the language doesn’t matter. The difficulties that adopting new texts of the Creeds and other key liturgical forms will produce for ecumenical relations doesn’t matter, because ecumenism doesn’t matter anymore, either.

  11. libraryjim says:

    From what I understand about the ‘forced’ changes in the 1979 BCP, we have no leg to stand on when commenting upon the changes in anyone else’s liturgy. I mean, few would admit that the linguistic, and theological changes and the manner in which it was forced on the people in the pews was done for the better or in a positive manner!

  12. libraryjim says:

    Oh, by Latin source, I meant the liturgy of the Mass, not the Scriptures. In the U.S. Catholic Church, the Bible used in the New American Bible (NAB) although I have heard the Jerusalem Bible and the RSV, Catholic edition used occasionally. The introduction to the NAB says:

    Early in 1944, in conformity with the spirit of the encyclical, and with the encouragement of Archbishop Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, the Bishops’ Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine requested members of The Catholic Biblical Association of America to translate the sacred scriptures from the original languages or from the oldest extant form of the text, and to present the sense of the biblical text in as correct a form as possible.

    The New American Bible has accomplished this in response to the need of the church in America today. It is the achievement of some fifty biblical scholars, the greater number of whom, though not all, are Catholics. In particular, the editors-in-chief have devoted twenty-five years to this work. The collaboration of scholars who are not Catholic fulfills the directive of the Second Vatican Council, not only that “correct translations be made into different languages especially from the original texts of the sacred books,” but that, “with the approval of the church authority, these translations be produced in cooperation with separated brothers” so that “all Christians may be able to use them.”

    The text of the books contained in The New American Bible is a completely new translation throughout. From the original and the oldest available texts of the sacred books, it aims to convey as directly as possible the thought and individual style of the inspired writers. The better understanding of Hebrew and Greek, and the steady development of the science of textual criticism, the fruit of patient study since the time of St. Jerome, have allowed the translators and editors in their use of all available materials to approach more closely than ever before the sense of what the sacred authors actually wrote.

    So you see, it is not based on the Vulgate. By the way, the New Vulgate is not the vulgate of the past. It is a new translation based on the original languages.

    a history on the revison of the English mass can be found here:

    I’m still looking for informaiton on what version of the Bible is used at the Vatican for the readings at Mass.

  13. libraryjim says:

    Hey, I found it:

    Nova Vulgata
    The Nova Vulgata (Bibliorum Sacrorum nova vulgata editio, ISBN 88-209-2163-4) is currently the typical Latin edition published by the Roman Catholic Church and approved for use in the liturgy. In 1965, towards the close of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI appointed a commission to revise the existing Vulgate in accord with modern textual and linguistic studies, while preserving or refining its Christian Latin style. The Commission published its work in eight annotated sections, inviting criticism from Catholic scholars as the sections were published. The Latin Psalter was published in 1969 and the entire Nova Vulgata in 1979.[10]

    The foundational text of most of the Nova Vulgata is the critical edition done by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Jerome under Pius X. The foundational text of the books of Tobit and Judith are from manuscripts of the Vetus Latina rather than the Vulgate. All of these base texts were revised to accord with the modern critical editions in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. There are also a number of changes where the modern scholars felt that Jerome had failed to grasp the meaning of the original languages.

    The Nova Vulgata does not contain the apocrypha found in the Clementine and other editions, namely the Prayer of Manasses and 3rd and 4th Book of Esdras.

    In 1979, after decades of preparation, the Nova Vulgata was published and declared the Catholic Church’s current official Latin version in the Apostolic Constitution Scripturarum Thesaurus[11] promulgated by the Pope John Paul II.

    The Nova Vulgata has not been widely embraced by conservative Catholics, many of whom see it as being in some verses of the Old Testament a new translation rather than a revision of Jerome’s work. Also, some of its readings sound unfamiliar to those who are accustomed to the Clementine.

    In 2001, the Vatican released the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam,[12] establishing the Nova Vulgata as a point of reference for all translations of the liturgy into the vernacular from the original languages, “in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy”.

    10. The Authority of the Nova Vulgata, Richard J. Clifford, 2001
    11.Scripturarum Thesaurus, English translation, 1979
    12. Liturgiam Authenticam, English translation, 2001

    (emphasis mine)

  14. libraryjim says:

    The last paragraph:
    In 2001, the Vatican released the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, establishing the Nova Vulgata as a point of reference for all translations of the liturgy into the vernacular from the original languages, “in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy”.

    has met with some rsistance:
    Translations and the Consultation of the Nova Vulgata
    of the Latin Church

    Congregation for Divine Worship
    – November 5, 2001
    a portion reads:

    Translations should be made from the original texts
    Given the nature of certain statements that have entered the public domain through articles, internet postings and the like, the scope for misunderstanding of the Instruction on the basis of a superficial reading has unfortunately increased. Indeed, some even seem to have reached the erroneous conclusion that the Instruction insists on a translation of the Bible from the Latin Nova Vulgata rather than from the original biblical languages. Such an interpretation is contrary to the Instruction’s explicit wording in n. 24, according to which all texts for use in the Liturgy “must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture”. The Instruction in fact provides a clearer statement on the use of the original biblical texts as the basis for liturgical translation than the norms previously published in the Instruction Inter Oecumenici, n. 40a, published on September 26, 1964 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 [1964] 885).

    The Nova Vulgata is an auxiliary tool to maintain the tradition of translation proper to the Latin Liturgy
    Further reflection also leads the Congregation to express its own perplexity at the fact that any disquiet among scholars should be occasioned by the principle, expressed in the above-mentioned paragraph of Liturgiam authenticam, that the Nova Vulgata “is normally to be consulted as an auxiliary tool, in a manner described elsewhere in this Instruction, in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy”. It would be rational to think that translators of the Sacred Scriptures would naturally welcome any and all “auxiliary tools” that would shed light either on the texts themselves or on the context for which the translations are intended, in this case, celebrations of the Roman Liturgy.

    Beneficial window for a translator to view an original text
    The particular genius of the Latin language has contributed to a tradition of biblical interpretation which must continue to be a part of the common heritage of the Latin Church as it has found expression in different ways in her Liturgy. Certainly, it is reasonable that a translator of the Scriptures should work with the original languages before consulting other versions, including the Latin. Afterwards, however, it can only be beneficial for a translator to consider the Latin text as a window through which to view the same Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic text from the standpoint of a healthy sympathy with the best insights of the Latin Church over the centuries. This is substantially what the recent Instruction calls for as regards the preparation of translations intended for use in the Roman Liturgy. Since the most recent revision of the Vulgate text found now in the Nova Vulgata was undertaken with the intent to preserve as much as possible the traditional “Latinitas biblica christiana” (to use Pope Paul VI’s phrase, cf. John Paul II, the Apostolic Constitution Scripturarum thesaurus), while also updating the text in the light of modern biblical scholarship, the Nova Vulgata remains an apt instrument for such a purpose.

    Harmony between liturgical prayer and biblical text
    Emphasizing this instrument makes it possible to cultivate the necessary appreciation for the rootedness of many distinctive elements of the euchology of the Roman Liturgy in the Vulgate or Neo-Vulgate text, so as to foster a greater harmony in translation between liturgical prayer and the biblical text itself. In light of such considerations it is difficult to see how simultaneously keeping an eye on the Latin version could impoverish the vernacular biblical translation being produced for liturgical use. Indeed, it is more reasonable by any standard to assume that the translation might thereby be greatly enriched.

    Dale, what a fascinating road you have pointed me down! Thank you! I always love doing research on new topics!!! 🙂