New Zealand’s Catholic bishops are pleased that a review is looming for the document that spells out the way liturgical translations from Latin to vernacular languages are done. 

Recently, it was reported that Pope Francis has formed a commission to review Liturgiam Authenticam, a document issued by the Vatican in 2001. The commission will reportedly be chaired by Archbishop Arthur Roche from England.

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president Bishop Patrick Dunn said the New Zealand bishops welcome the move.

“The New Zealand bishops are delighted with the news that Pope Francis is arranging for a review of the 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam, and we will be very happy to support Archbishop Arthur Roche in this work,” Bishop Dunn said.

“The New Zealand bishops agree that translations for liturgical texts should be 100 per cent accurate, but our concern has been that Liturgiam Authenticam has produced texts that impose Latin syntax on contemporary English,” he said.

“Latin favours long subordinated clauses, but contemporary English prefers to say the same things but with short and clear sentences.”

Bishop Dunn referred to a principle for translation set out by Pope Benedict XVI, pertaining to sacred Scripture.

“In 2010, Pope Benedict wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (#115) that ‘a translation, of course, is always more than a simple transcription of the original texts. The passage from one language to another necessarily involves a change of cultural context:
concepts are not identical and symbols have a different meaning,  for they come up against other traditions of thought and other ways of life’.”

Bishop Dunn continued: “We believe that this principle for translation, which Pope Benedict endorses for sacred Scripture, should apply also to translations for liturgical use.”

“We believe that some modification to the principles of liturgical translation as imposed by Liturgiam Authenticam could produce liturgical translations that could speak more easily to the hearts of English-speaking congregations and produce liturgical texts that are truly beautiful, as we believe the liturgy should be.”

Speaking to Auckland diocese priests last August, Australian theologian Fr Gerald O’Collins, SJ, called on New Zealand’s Catholic bishops to, among other things, appeal to Pope Francis to suspend Liturgiam Authenticam, which Fr O’Collins described as “a desperately bad
piece of guidance for translations”.

Writing on the Australian Jesuit website Eureka Street this year, Fr O’Collins reiterated his call, recommending not so much the revisiting of Liturgiam Authenticam, but rather its repeal.

“The road will then be open to revisit the clumsy, difficult 2010 Missal and replace it,” the theologian wrote.

He suggested that this be replaced by a 1998 ICEL translation that was rejected by the Vatican despite having been approved “by all the conferences of English speaking bishops”.

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