Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lex Orandi... Or,
Why Fatihful Liturgical Translations Matter

When Vox Clara met last month to review the changes proposed by the U.S. Bishops to their revised, more faithful translation of the Missale Romanum, Archbishop Hughes, who has been a great proponent of fidelity in translation, remarked about one of the changes that I had previously missed. Archbishop Hughes observed:
"We have a whole generation of priests who have known nothing other than the original English translation of the missal. Because it was done quickly, unfortunately, some important doctrinal points were left out," he said.

An example of where the poor translation of the current Sacramentary misleads is in the penitential rite, where the priest says "May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life." The new translation will say " "May Almighty God have mercy on you and, having forgiven your sins, lead you to everlasting life."

Note the difference: in the old version, as Archbishop Hughes said, "Because of the way it was translated," he said, "people have been led to believe that some kind of absolution was being offered." Of course, that is not the case. The formula in the penitential rite does not confer absolution from sins. But I have myself heard people say things like "We don't need to go to confession as much anymore, because the priest forgives our sins at the beginning of Mass." I have even heard priests (more's the pity) say from the pulpit that confession is only necessary anymore for very serious sins (like adultery or murder), because forgiveness from sins is "built in" to the penitential rite of Mass.

Many have observed that there has a been a decline in the use of the Sacrament of Penance in the last 30 years. I can't help but think that our current inaccurate, insipid, and agenda-ridden ICEL translation of the Mass has been a contributor to that decline. The old saying Lex orandi, lex credendi ("the rule of prayer is the rule of faith") is once again borne out: Change the wording of the Mass, and you will inexorably change what people believe.

I for one can't wait till we get the new Vox Clara translation. I'm praying that Rome, when it reviews the US bishops' amendments, overrides the USCCB and restores "consubstantial" to the Creed.