How the US bishops should respond to the motu proprio Magnum Principium

How the US bishops should respond to the motu proprio Magnum Principium

[Nonetheless, with the current papal nuncio to the US and bench of American cardinals (a clown along with a group of sycophants and opportunists) and their influence on appointing and advancing bishops, I don’t have much confidence in AmChurch regarding the liturgy and education. For an example concerning the latter: The US cardinals and four bishops whom they appoint are “fellows … with certain reserved powers” in running the Catholic University of America, which took a long time with prodding from the Vatican to overcome its reputation as “Un-Catholic U.” and could easily return to that with the current group of fellows, starting, for example, with the pro-homosexual Jesuit Fr. Martin’s upcoming address to the seminary alumni of/at Catholic U.’s Theological College (previously known as “Theological Closet” because of the homosexual presence and influence there) with the blessing and presence of LaDonna Cardinal Wuerl.]

By Phil Lawler | Sep 13, 2017

Now that the nation’s episcopal conference has primary control over liturgical translations, thanks to the new motu proprio Magnum Principium, here’s what prudent American bishops should do:

Nothing [emphasis added].

The new papal document released this week could have enormous implications. It’s no mistake that secular outlets like the New York Times, which ordinarily take no interest whatsoever in the language of the liturgy, recognized the importance of the motu proprio. Magnum Principium could cause another round of heated debates, disrupting the life of Catholic communities that are only now recovering from the “language wars” of the 1990s. The secular media outlets might welcome feuds within the Catholic Church. The disputes make news; they provide good sport for spectators. But the costs—measured in terms of disturbing the peace within the parishes—would be prohibitive.

The mainstream media are not alone in their enthusiasm for the potential changes wrought by Magnum Principium, of course. “Progressive” Catholics lost the arguments of the 1990s, and have been spoiling for another chance. Pope Francis has made it possible to renew the battles, but he has not made it mandatory. The nation’s bishops will decide whether or not to re-open Pandora’s Box.

Over the past 50 years the Catholic laity have been battered repeatedly by precipitous changes in the Mass. Again and again liturgists have instituted their pet projects—sometimes authorized, sometimes not—without consulting the ordinary faithful. Most Catholics would probably prefer to change the liturgy in one way or another—nobody is happy with the current situation—but above all the ordinary parishioner wants stability. The faithful do not want tinkering and fine-tuning; they want the Eternal Sacrifice. Still less do they want another era of intramural fighting; they want to worship in peace.

American Catholics are only now growing accustomed to the latest English-language translations, which replaced the wretched “dynamic equivalence” approach with a more faithful rendition. Like any human effort, this translation is imperfect. Budding wordsmiths can pick out phrases that might be translated more fluently. In some cases perhaps they are right—although in many cases it seems clear that the most impatient liturgists are working to “dumb down” the translation, robbing the language of its dignity.

There will always be imperfections in any translation. There will always be translators looking for work, and publishers spotting an opportunity to promote a new set of liturgical texts. So there will always be an influential lobby, urging bishops to correct the translation—and then to correct that translation a few years later. Wise bishops should realize that whenever they satisfy that lobby, the lay faithful will pay the price: not just the price of printing new books, but the price of disruption—the price of finding the liturgy unfamiliar yet again.

Moreover, while he gave the national bishops’ conferences the authority to supervise new translations, Pope Francis did not give them any reason to plunge into the task. On the contrary, he stated in Magnum Principium that the existing Vatican instructions on translation “were and remain at the level of general guidelines and, as far as possible, must be followed by liturgical commissions…” So if translators honestly wish to follow the Pope’s instructions, they should prepare any new English-language text in line with the principles set forth in Liturgiam Authenticam. But that document, issued in 2001 to conclude the last episode of the “language wars,” was the inspiration for the current English-language liturgical translations.

So unless the US bishops prefer change for the sake of change—which would really mean disruption for the sake of disruption—the best thing to do after Magnum Principium is nothing at all.

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