Monday, November 07, 2011

Translations and Revolutions

Pope Paul VI brings the Council to a close

For an outsiders perspective on the new liturgical translations coming in a few weeks, check out this story by the Associated Press:
RIVER EDGE, N.J. (AP) — Each Sunday for decades, Roman Catholic priests have offered the blessing — "Lord be with you." And each Sunday, parishioners would respond, "And also with you."

Until this month.

Come Nov. 27, the response will be, "And with your spirit." And so will begin a small revolution in a tradition-rich faith.

Not so much a revolution as a recovery.

The number of factually inaccurate premises in stories like this (if you read on), coming from both secular and religious sources, never ceases to amaze me. Among the more noteworthy errors on the question of liturgy and Vatican II, you'll often read the old canard about those revolutionary Vatican II directives that allegedly dismantled Latin in favor of the vernacular. This simply never happened. It is true that Latin was all but erased in nearly every parish in the United States after Vatican II, but the Council certainly never called for this. Read the documents!

An inch was given, in terms of the Council fathers encouraging the limited use of the vernacular (while leaving the core Latin prayers intact) and a mile was taken by pastors and bishops, who jumped on a small opening and blew open a gaping hole. Of course, conventional wisdom proffers the line that Vatican II was revolutionary when it came to the liturgy.

Students of revolutions know that, for a revolution to be authentic, it must represent a complete rupture with the past. (That is why the American Revolution is more accurately called the American War for Independence, as Americans sought to lay claim on ancient rights that had already been a part of English Common Law for centuries.) Vatican II did not call for a clean break from the past. A case can be made that the changes that followed the Council were in fact revolutionary and represented, in the very least, a crack, if not a rupture. As Bishop James Slattery recently said, regarding the consequences of the radical changes that occurred in liturgy,

"What we lost in a short period of time was continuity. The new liturgy should be clearly identifiable as the liturgy of the pre-Vatican II Church. Changes, like turning the altar around, were too sudden and too radical. There is nothing in the Vatican II documents that justifies such changes."

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