By Bishop Kevin Dowling
With reference to the letters concerning the new translation of the Order of the Mass, I feel as a pastor that I needed to express my deep concern at the distress of the people who wrote in.
The critical letters only confirm what I have heard from other priests, religious and lay faithful. It was especially sad to read the comment of one correspondent, quoted in the editorial of December 24: “I hate you, hierarchy”. I share the pain and frustration felt by people who wrote to The Southern Cross. Their concerns about the new translation are similar to my own.
When the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) received the new texts from the Vatican, my reaction to many of the proposed changes was that it was a purely arbitrary decision to demand that the English text had to faithfully represent the Latin in the first place, that many of the changes made no sense, and that some of the formulations were simply bad English. I therefore agree with the analysis provided by Fr John Converset MCCJ in his letter in the same issue.
In passing, at the moment we are discussing only the English translation. What is going to be done when it comes to our African indigenous languages, and openness to diverse cultural and linguistic expressions of faith?
I have the impression that some people, perhaps many, think that this idea about conforming to a Latin text and the new translations itself were the work of the SACBC, and therefore their opposition has to be directed at the bishops out here. Fair enough. But in view of fully conveying what actually happened, it must be understood that this new translation was imposed on us by the Vatican and the group with which it worked at that level.
True, as with every other English-speaking conference of bishops, we were requested to go through the text sent out to us, and the views expressed (opinions among bishops will differ) were sent back to the Vatican. But contrary viewpoints did not have to be incorporated at that level, so that what we now have is what was promulgated and sent out by the Vatican. Some people, including bishops, may have no problem with what we have to use now and we have to be open to the reality that people will think differently.
What this decision also means is that years and years of painstaking work on new liturgical texts by the original International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has been set aside in place of implementing what has now been decided by the Vatican and the group with which it consults or works.
My personal views in this article are expressed out of deep concern about the hurt and damage decisions like these can cause to the People of God. It cannot be presumed that thinking lay faithful, priests and religious are simply going to accept what is imposed on them from above when it makes no sense to them. Hence the opposition expressed in the letters.
There are important issues here which need to be discussed honestly. After all, what has been promulgated does not form part of “the deposit of the faith” and can therefore be changed or improved on.
To me there is no cogent reason why the language which the People of God in any place use to express their faith and spirituality, and to celebrate the Eucharist, the sacraments and so on has to conform to a Latin text. People ask why — and rightly so. I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II during the past years.
I believe the English-speaking conferences of bishops should have stood their ground and challenged the decisions taken at the Vatican as an expression of collegial discernment. We should have communicated to the Vatican that “it seems good to the Spirit and to us” that we proceed with our discernment together with the whole People of God about what is the best way we can express and celebrate our faith in English and every other language.
Our objective as Church should surely be that instead of making everyone conform to a dead-language text we need to allow diversity in cultural and linguistic expressions of faith communities around the world.
It seems to me that we need to take much more seriously our collegial role and mission as bishops in accordance with the vision and theology of Vatican II, and after discernment and consultation with all the People of God stand up for what we believe to be in the best interests of our people.
Bishop Kevin Dowling heads the diocese of Rustenburg. He is expressing his personal views in this article.