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A Richer Liturgical Translation: Interview With Bishop Roche

LEEDS, England, NOV. 14, 2007 (Zenit) - The English translation of the 2002 Roman Missal in Latin will be an opportunity for the faithful to discover the great theological richness of the text, according to the bishop in charge of the translation process.

Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), announced Nov. 1 that the draft phase of the process to translate the 2002 Roman Missal from Latin to English has been completed.

He reported that the last installment -- the appendices -- of the draft version of the English translation was sent to the bishops of the commission's 11 member conferences.

In this interview with us, the bishop comments on the five-year process of translating the sacred liturgy, and how he thinks this translation will serve as an opportunity for catechesis.

Q: Can you describe the process of translation from the original text in Latin? How many editors and translators have worked on the text sent out now to the bishops?

Bishop Roche: It is quite a long process and very thorough as it involves a wide number of people. For example, each text is translated initially by a base translator, who has the "nihil obstat" of the Holy See. This version is seen by three or four revisors, who send their comments to the secretariat of ICEL, where a revised version is prepared that takes these comments into account.

This revised version then goes before an editorial committee composed of six people, the majority of whom are bishops. They further revise the text and propose a version for submission to the 11 bishops of the commission. When the commission meets it discusses the text, amends it if necessary, and then sends it out as a draft version in a Green Book to all the bishops of ICEL's member conferences.

These bishops consult whom they wish, and send their comments to the secretariat; local liturgical commissions often assist in this process by making a provisional collation of the comments.

By this time the text has been seen by a great number of people. The commission then reviews the text once again in the light of comments received, and either sends out another Green Book for further consultation, or issues a Gray Book, which contains its final version.

It is at this point that the bishops take a canonical vote on the text and forward it to Rome for the "recognitio" by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Q: In translations, a decision often has to be made between translating exact words and translating concepts (formal equivalence versus dynamic equivalence). In translating the liturgy, how is that decision made, and what are the implications for bad liturgical translations?

Bishop Roche: The terms "formal equivalence" and "dynamic equivalence" are outmoded these days. They have been abandoned by their originator, Eugene Nida, who considered that his theories had been misunderstood and abused. Translation theory has moved on since the 1960s.

Language conveys not only facts and concepts but also images and feelings. We use words not only to say things but also to do things. These considerations are clearly important for the translation of the liturgy.

Just a quick example. There are various ways in which one can ask a person to close a door: "Shut the door"; "Shut the door, please"; "Would you mind closing the door, please?" Which, if any, of the courteous forms is appropriate for the liturgy?

The prayers of the Roman rite do not order God around, they respectfully request and plead. Nor do they tell God who he is, they acknowledge his greatness and his power, his love and his compassion and generosity.

Q: Other than the problem of literal-versus-conceptual translation, what is the main difficulty in translating Latin texts into the vernacular?

Bishop Roche: Latin shows the function of a word by means of its ending, English by its place in the sentence. In Latin, word order often expresses emphasis. English has to try to convey this, but has fewer means for doing so.

In some cases, Latin has many words for a concept for which English has few -- for example, "love." Sometimes, the reverse is true.

Q: Can you comment on some of the principal differences between the translation of the 2002 Roman Missal, and that of the one translated more than 30 years ago?

Bishop Roche: When the present English missal was published back in the 1970s, it was readily accepted by the bishops of the day that the translation would need to be revisited, because the translation had been done speedily in order to supply an English text, as quickly as possible, for the revised liturgy.

The new English translation of the now third edition of the Latin "Missale Romanum" will be a fuller and therefore a more faithful translation. We have endeavored to ensure a nobility of language as well as faithfulness to the Latin words and to the origins of the prayers themselves. A great deal more time and expertise, from a very wide range of scholars as well as bishops, has been employed producing the new translation.

So, for example, the new English texts will show more clearly the relationship between the liturgical texts and their scriptural origins. Let me give you an example in order to demonstrate this as well as the painstaking scholarship that goes into the translation of a text.

Sometimes at Mass we hear the priest greet us with these words: "The grace and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all." ICEL is proposing this: "Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Some will wonder "why make such a trivial change, what difference does it make?" Well, that greeting, "Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," comes eight times in those exact words, in the letters of St. Paul. Outside the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the phrase, "Grace to you and peace," occurs in the First and Second letters of St. Peter and in the Book of Revelation. It is a slightly odd form, "Grace to you and peace from God," with the two nouns, "grace" and "peace," and the "to you" between them.

Wouldn't it be more natural to say, "Grace and peace to you?" I think it probably would be. But the fact that it occurs so often in the New Testament, no less than 11 times, suggests that that distinctive form of words has been a greeting among the Christian people from the very earliest times.

And you know the way it is sometimes, when you greet somebody or somebody greets you, the way they greet you tells you what sort of person they are, where they come from, from where they belong. Sometimes it's a secret sign, maybe a handshake or a wink. Or it might be a particular way of speaking, like "G'day sport." If you hear someone speak to you that way you would assume that the person came from Australia.

Well that slightly quirky form of words, "Grace to you and peace" seems to be an indication from the earliest times of the way Christians have greeted each other. The Greek, as well as the Latin, translation keeps that same word order: "Grace to you and peace."

Even Martin Luther, one of the first translators of the Bible into the vernacular in modern times, kept that order of words, "Grace to you and peace." And in the King James Version, produced for the Church of England, your find the same: "Grace to you and peace." It's the same in the Douay Bible, the Catholic version that was made in the 16th century: "Grace to you and peace." Then if you come up to more recent times, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, those two also have that form of the words, "Grace to you and peace."

So across 2,000 years, translators have thought it wise to preserve that distinctive pattern, the distinctive word order, that distinctively Christian greeting, "Grace to you and peace." ICEL is proposing that this word order continue to be used in the Christian assembly, 2,000 years on. It puts us in touch with a very early stratum of Christian tradition.

There are lots of other examples, too: e.g., "The Lord be with you. And with your spirit" (Galatians 6:18; 2 Timothy 4:22); "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29); and "Blessed are those called to the banquet of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9).

Q: How will the eventual changes be introduced? What consequences will this have for the Catholic in the pews? Will the new translation be problematic or helpful for the faithful?

Bishop Roche: The introduction of new texts is a matter for local bishops' conferences. With good catechesis, on which work is already in progress, the new translation will help deepen the understanding and spirituality of everyone in the Church.

I believe that Catholics will welcome these next texts -- they are fuller and very beautiful. Of course, anything new always takes a little getting used to, but Catholics are generous and I believe that the Catholic instinct for truth, depth, accuracy and nobility of language will dispose them to the beauty of these new texts.

It has not been uncommon for me to hear from those with whom I have shared the new texts, comments like: "But I had no idea that this is what the text was trying to say!" There is a great theological richness being uncovered in these translations which itself will be highly catechetical.

We have a saying: "lex orandi lex credendi." In other words, the way we pray is formative of our faith. The Roman Missal conveys the faith of the Church, carefully handed down to us century by century since earliest times. This is a treasure from which we shall be fed and nurtured each day and one that needs to be carefully handed on.

Q: It has been stated that the post-conciliar Roman breviary also has many translation problems. How did these problems arise? Will a new version of the breviary be issued?

Bishop Roche: Like the missal, the breviary was translated in a hurry for the same understandable reasons. From what I can gather, there seems to have been little overall editorial control on the translations we have and therefore, there is an unevenness in the translation of the texts. A new version is most certainly needed, but until the Roman Missal is completed, it would be impossible to embark on such a project. It will be for the member conferences of ICEL and for the Holy See to consider what should then follow.

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Keywords

Roche, Liturgy, England, Latin, Mass, Missal

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