South African church in uproar over new English-language Mass translations

A furor has erupted in the South African Catholic Church over the first round of English-language changes in the Mass.

The Southern Cross, a southern African Catholic weekly newspaper, reports that clergy, liturgists and laity are up in arms about some of the new language being used during the constant parts of the Mass, saying the changes are confusing and fail to reflect the common usage of the English language and culture in the region.

Some commentators have said the changes fail to  recognize the different ways English is spoken. Many fear that similar confusion and anger will rise up in some of the 10 other English-speaking countries governed by the revisions should there be no recognition of language and cultural differences.

The Southern Cross has reported extensively on the changes and reaction to them in recent weeks. The newspaper also has devoted more space on its Web site to its bloggers, such as Jesuit Father Anthony Egan, and more space in its print version for opinion pieces, commentary and letters to the editor since the Dec. 1 changeover.

The changes, which the South African bishops put into effect the first Sunday of Advent, are among those being discussed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

The first round has been widely discussed by the committee and approved by the Vatican. But there are two more phases to go before the new English missal is finalized.

It seems that the bishops may have moved ahead a bit too quickly as the changes they put in place were to be withheld until the remaining translations are finalized. Those revisions are to be completed by November and submitted to the Vatican for approval then.

Final implementation of all the changes is set for Advent 2011 or 2012.

Bloggers and columnists suggest that the entire English-speaking world and the Vatican take note of what has transpired in southern Africa, lest similar upheavals result around the globe.

16 Responses

  1. Not every nation speaks English the same way; we Americans shold realise this if ever we have met an Englishman, Jamaican, Scot, Nigerian, Kenyan, or South African. If everyone speaking some dialect of English is going to be forced to say the same words at mass worldwide, whether they understand them or not, why not simply go back to Latin, the church language? If the intent is for people to speak the common language that they best understand, why not let each nation decide on the most appropriate translation (provided, of course, that it is approved by the Holy See)? Latin reinforces the feeling of Catholic unity, and the local vernacular is the most efficient way to teach the Gospel to local people. What similarly high purpose is served by these ICEL translations?

  2. In any translation, both source and target language need to be fully respected. The problem with the existing translations is that they emphasize the target language (English) so much that they sometimes distort the thought expressed in the source language (Latin). We may swing too far in the new translations in giving too much emphasis to the modes of expression used in the Latin to the detriment of prayerful understanding in the English, with the translation being clumsy and confusing, and perhaps in some cases even meaningless.

    Nevertheless, English is a very flexible language, having invented or borrowed so many words and phrases over the centuries, and I have no doubt it will continue. Even cumbersome phrases in the new translation could become somewhat more comfortable with use over time. Meaningless expressions will be given a meaning by those who recite them. The translators and our bishops who have directed them should be proactive in preparing the people and not rush things, lest the expressions be given meanings that the translators never intended.

  3. The new English translation introduced here in South Africa in November has met with fierce opposition by normally passive English-speaking Catholics. Objections have been loud enough to force the Southern African bishops to petition the Holy See to change the wording of the Nicene Creed and the Fourth Eucharist Prayer to incorporate gender-inclusive terms. All the same, the bishops decided at their meeting in January 2009 to press ahead with the introduction of the new Eucharistic prayers in June 2009.

    Laity and clergy seem to be united in their opposition to the translation. Several parishes in the major metropolitan dioceses of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban have decided not to use it at all. At their annual general meeting last week the assembled clergy of the Archdiocese of Cape Town (with the permission of their archbishop) in an unprecedented move decided to write a collective letter to the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference complaining about the translation: the inferior English used, the new theological ambiguities, the pastoral problems caused in their parishes, and questioning the wisdom of the process in general.

  4. I know exactly how the South Africans feel. I hope the Vatican will abandon the need for a rigid adherence to a single English translation for all English speaking countries. I knew the ICEL translations would start to create friction throughout the world. Watch for others to reject their work too.
    Frankly, I’d rather see the Anglican English used for the Anglo Catholic Tridentine Mass as the norm for the United States, but that is my preference and I’m sure it has few admirers.

  5. It would seem to me that part of the problem has been a lack of good catechesis in the introduction of the new translations to the people of South Africa. I fear the same will happen here when that day comes. The need for this training has been spoken about on a number of occasions by various prelates including Cardinal Arinze when he was Prefect of the Vatican congregation entrusted with the liturgy. But then of course, we tend to ignore the directives of the Holy See when they don’t quite suite us. I wonder how much blame has to be laid at the feet of those priests and bishops who view themselves as the “real” liturgical experts and who have been opposed to the revisions in the liturgy since the very beginning. We could name a few of those Bishops here in the United States along with a myriad of priests, nuns, and lay people who have been a the forefront of liturgical abuses, gender inclusive language and other litugical absurdities thrown at us for the last 40+ years. I would posit that South Africa has its own folks like these who are not helping in educating people in the why and what of the new language but who have done everything to tell people why the new translations are all wrong. Having spent a great deal of time reviewing and studying all the new translations, I find it hard to find any liturgical ambiguities but I can tell you, I have seen and heard plenty of them in the liturgies I have been involved in over the last forty plus years where priests and others used their own “creativity” to create plenty of theological ambiguities. Fortunately, we have a Holy Father and a new Prefect at the head of the liturgical Congregation who will guide both the people of South Africa and us as we move forward.

  6. It appears that not all South African bishops agree with the new translation. Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg in South Africa is a man of compassion and just the sort of pastor the Church in South Africa needs in this time of liturgical crisis.

    See his open letter

    http://www.scross.co.za/2009/01/why-the-liturgical-anger-is-fair/

  7. I did a survey for the bishops, the furor, is exaggerated by the paper, and their choice of letters.

    Considering their international reputation, it is odd you should quote them:

    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/reviews/view.cfm?recnum=4135

    As for Dowling, have you read his view on condoms, and the Vatican?

    Truly, I am often disappointed in your articles, South Africa is already in Crisis, and supporting a paper with the view on abortion, and condoms, and the Vatican, that the Southern Cross, has, saddens me more!

  8. Actually, Marc I think your survey may be a little out of touch with the depth of feeling in South Africa.

    I don’t think the Southern Cross has exaggerated the problem at all. Very few of the letters that have actually appeared in the print edition of the newpaper have been reproduced on their web site, so the site doen’t really show the true number of complaints received.

    The bishops in SA have acknowledged that they have a pastoral crisis on their hands, but don’t seem sure how to remedy the situation. To make matters worse the CDW has instructed them to withdraw the translation, but they are resisting.

  9. The Tablet has it in its headlines today.

    http://thetablet.co.uk/latest-news.php

    Vatican tells South Africans to stop using new Missal
    26 February 2009

    Catholics in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, who have sharply criticised new English translations for the Mass, which they became the first in the world to adopt in December, will no longer hear them used for the time being. The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) has ordered the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) to stop using the Vatican-approved texts. The bishops had believed that it was permissible to begin using them. Sources in the region told The Tablet that the CDW had written to SACBC president, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, asking him to withdraw the new translations until the entire missal has been published. The SACBC has begun using new translations of the people’s responses during Mass, but there are still some less frequently used prayers that have not yet been finalised. But the source said: “The bishops have decided to appeal Rome’s decision and want to press ahead.”

  10. Marc, quite frankly, is certainly out of touch or very economical with the truth!! Living in Johannesburg and involved in the local church I can confirm that this new translation is a huge problem and has caused a shambles in SA. Many many more people (clergy and lay) have expressed their disapproval – far less have been in support. This is not a matter of doctrine or faithfulness but the dark agenda of undoing Vatican II – we are seeing Vatican II slowly being eroded in recent times – the ‘extraordinary rite’, inviting the Lefevbrists back, this ghastly new translation, increasing Vatican control so that local bishops become mere puppets of Rome. We have taken a siege mentality and the windows that the Council opened are desperately trying to be slammed closed by sinister forces in the heart of the Church. We are presented with a church which will not face up to the reality of the very difficult struggles that people have in relationships, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS, economic constraints etc. Its all very well to dictate to the laity but given the recent sex scandals one would think that a little more listening would be in order from those in power and less imposition. A very bleak picture indeed. Marc tries to muddy the reputation of Bishop Dowling. The scribes and pharisees did the same to Jesus. Bishop Dowling, like Jesus, has a deep care and concern for people – God’s people. He is a real pastor. In the context of HIV/AIDS Bishop Dowling has been prophetic because he lives and works in a desperate situation – people dying daily from this disease, often innocent women and children. Jesus always tried to help people and challenged them. Bishop Dowling does the same. He challenges us to think and act more like Jesus offering people support, love, concern and life. Have people like Marc ever been through a hospice and experienced the pain and suffering? Finally, it is simply a lie to say that the local newspaper, The Southern Cross, supports abortion and condoms. At least tell the truth!

  11. Below is how people in SA are feeling about all this translation mess. I found this on the net. I hope that the rest of the English speaking world is watching this carefully and taking note!

    After reading the correspondence and looking online it is clear that the Bishops in SA have messed up. They should apologise and we should return to the old translation. To my utter surprise I see (and have heard) that they are appealing Rome’s instruction to withdraw this translation. I guess that they are trying to ’save face’? That is a further insult to us, the laity. Instead of appealing and trying to justify their mess why can they not just apologise and let us all revert back. Or is this the way the Catholic Church continues to operate? Cover-ups? Have we not learnt anything from the sex-abuse in the US? If the Bishops who are behind this translation and so-called appeal can not simply just apologise to us and let us revert back they haven’t got much integrity. Perhaps the best would be for them to resign. They are not the people we want in leadership.

  12. It is clear: that many South African Catholics are highly influenced by what they read in the Southern Cross. i stand by what I said. As it is, much of the dissent comes from the sort, who also believe we should abandon dogma. It is not fair to the church when they are stunted before even making it.

    I am not disconnected, just the opposite: and the Bishops were not stopped from introducing the new mass.!

  13. Lionel seems so greatly concerned that the Church is rolling back the reforms of Vatican II.

    Fine Lionel! Go back and read what the Fathers of Vatican II actually said about the Liturgy in the decree “Sacrosanctum Concilium”. then fight to have it put into effect. Be sure to pay particular agttention to the fact that Vatican II would have most of the Mass celebrated in Latin with perhaps some limited parts of the Liturgy in the Vernacular if Rome was asked for permission and if Rome approved of the translation.

    Note also that Vatican II did not call for Mass facing the people. In fact Vatican II didn’t call for a lot of things that subsequently followed in the reform of the Mass.

    So if you want a Vatican II Mass Lionel go right ahead but be prepared for some big surprises and for a large dose of “that Old Time Religion.”

  14. Wise David. Good words.

    Also note: if we are to create anger against the Pontiff, and quote a council of the church against him (i.e. “roll back Vatican II” as you put this stance): we are breaking Canon law: Vatican II: cannot be used to repuditate the papacy!

  15. It is very simple. When you pray and say the words of the Mass or any other Sacrament do you want to say what the Latin says in English or a distorted falsified translation. I read about gender inclusive language and other rot. It is just a deception. If you compare the Latin text with the older translation of the Mass we used you will see an almost criminal mistranslation. We were maniplated and decived when we used it.
    An accurate translation is just that. To use anything else is just BIG FRAUD. So I am happy about the new translation. If you are real Catholics then you should be happy as well!
    Any fool can see we were using a corrupted translation before. Thank GOD this has ended.

  16. One commenter said: “the windows that the Council opened are desperately trying to be slammed closed by sinister forces in the heart of the Church.”

    Oh God, please let them be slammed shut forever!

    The Church has been in ruins since Vatican II. Despite a few positive fruits, the liturgy and life of the Church have otherwise been in complete shambles for over 40 years. Whenever someone tries to salvage a few iotas of Catholic tradition, the graying army of “reformers” kick and scream!

    Faithful Catholics- and Our Lord- have endured heretical teachings, sacrileges, and liturgical atrocities for decades, and all cries and pleas for them to stop have been ignored. So when you now have to cringe hearing these (merely more accurate) new translations, TOUGH!!!! Get over it!!!! Your time has long passed, and a new day is dawning. Deo Gratias.

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