Pope Francis has promulgated a Motu Proprio, Magnum principium, giving Bishops’ Conferences somewhat more authority over the translations used in their areas. Conferences always had a lot to do with translations, and Rome still has the final say, so I have to defer to others who understand these things exactly what, if any, difference this is going to make.
I don't expect the English speaking bishops to start making big changes, as everyone sensible is thoroughly exhausted by the revision of 2011. The amount of time, money, and energy required for this things is gigantic. However, I suppose we can expect liturgical progressive to initiate a renewed debate about ‘inclusive language’, ‘pro multis’, and the word ‘ineffable’, because they will always do that given half a chance.
I see some people on the internet are focusing their concerns on liturgical unity between countries, and indeed this new document flags this up as an issue. Regular readers won’t be surprised that I don’t share that particular worry. It is especially strange in this case as we already have complete disunity between different languages. You don’t have to cross the channel to experience the Novus Ordo Missae in a different language, either: it’s happening in your friendly local Polish chaplaincy. In fact Masses are celebrated in the U.K. in a lot of languages, only one of which is Welsh. If linguistic differences are problematic for ‘unity’, this disunity within a country, and indeed within parishes, is far more problematic than differences between countries of episcopal conferences.
In past centuries there were considerable liturgical differences, not just between countries, but between regions and even dioceses. England had distinct Missals in dioceses under the influence of Salisbury (‘Sarum’), London, York, and Hereford. France and Germany had an analogous situation. Italy and Spain mainly used the Roman Rite, but each had a massive exception, an ancient and really very different Missal: the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite, respectively. All over Europe Franciscans celebrated the Roman Rite, and the Dominicans, Carthusians, Carmelites, and Norbertines, their own Rites.
Chaos? Confusion? Anarchy? Not at all. Medieval people were proud of their local usages, but appreciative also of other things which they encountered on Pilgrimage, crusade, or on business. Impressive ceremonies and new feast days were eagerly - if usually slowly - copied from one place to another. Pilgrims wrote of the wonderful liturgies they encountered in the Holy Land. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to travellers like Margery Kempe to complain about the liturgy of Rome, of the Teutonic Knights, of France, of Jerusalem, of London, or of Lynn. She participated with devotion in them all. If some places had ‘Fecit’ instead of ‘Amen’ in some contexts, for example, why would anyone mind?
But the argument today is only pretending to be about unity. It is about principles of translation, which themselves are functioning as proxies for issues of theology, just as the debate about principles of constitutional interpretation in the USA are proxies for political issues.
What I mean is this. Theological conservatives want a literal and hieratic translation of the liturgy, and liberals want ‘dynamic equivalence’ and words of one syllable. Except that they don’t, really: what they really care about is the theological colouring which is given to the liturgy by their favoured approaches. Literal and hieratic language favours a liturgical theology emphasising contemplative engagement and the sacrificial nature of the Mass, because that is what is in the Latin. ‘Dynamic equivalence’ and monosyllables favour a conversational style of participation, and makes room for whatever faddish theological content translators wish to shoehorn in.
It is true that Bugnini and his collaborators removed lots of texts, like the ancient Offertory Prayers, which spoke clearly of sacrifice, but they did not manage to remove every single reference to sacrifice, and in particular they failed in their plan to remove the Roman Canon. So to finish the job, his ideological heirs need a free hand in translating the Latin.
This, of course, overturns the balance between continuity and change which was actually promulgated in 1969. When liberals attack the 2011 translation, they are attacking Pope Paul VI and the reform, especially insofar as it held things over from the previous tradition.
For this reason I’ve added my voice over the years to the argument in favour of translating ‘pro multis’ in the words of consecration as ‘for many’ not ‘for all’, and ‘praeclarem calicem’ as ‘precious chalice’ instead of ‘cup’. It is a matter of theological substance, something delivered to us by a tradition handed on from Pope Gelasius (or some pope around his time) right up to Pope Paul VI. What the liberals are saying in these cases is really that the Latin is wrong.
I wrote the other day that Pope Francis’ criticism of the Reform of the Reform was about not opening up a new era of liturgical conflict. It seems I was wrong. At any rate, we can now look forward to a lot more liturgical conflict. Magnum principium insists that the existing guidelines of liturgical translation, notably Liturgiam authenticum, remains binding guides for translations: liberals hate Litugiam authenticum for calling for literal and hieratic language. Magnum principium underlines the point by saying that the vernaculars used must become truly ‘liturgical languages’, i.e. they should be hieratic. This may, or may not, make a difference to how the new powers of bishops’ conferences are used. Michael Davies’ own great principle remains true: look at a document from Rome and ask ‘what does it allow which was previously forbidden, and what does it forbid which was previously allowed?’ Everything else is just padding.
Out of the noise and smoke of the renewed liturgical battle, as out of the heart-breaking liturgical abuses of the past, readers are heartily welcomed to the Traditional Mass.