Vatican II's liturgical, biblical renewal isn't being upheld

Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Columns


Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., who is chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, has been a stalwart and often courageous defender of the liturgical renewal promoted by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and approved by the late Pope Paul VI (1963-78).

He has never minced words whenever signs of retrenchment appeared on the ecclesiastical horizon. The release in May 2001 of Liturgiam authenticam, an instruction from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is a major case in point.

In an article entitled “The Quest for Authentic Liturgy,” published soon thereafter in the Jesuit weekly America (10/22/01), Bishop Trautman criticized the Vatican document for having “missed a great opportunity to profit from ... a collegial and collaborative effort” with the various episcopal conferences as well as liturgical and biblical scholars.

It is not that the Congregation failed to consult anyone. The problem is that it limited its outreach (as various Vatican agencies have done too often in the past) to “scholars of its own choosing.” In other words (mine, not Bishop Trautman’s), they selected people who would most likely give them the kind of advice and support that they desired in the first place.

Bishop Trautman challenged the Congregation’s process of selection. “Who knows better the experience and expertise of translators than the native-speaking bishops of a particular country?” he pointed out. “How can the congregation exercise an informed judgment on translators for hundreds of languages worldwide?”

He continued: “The non-collegial, centralizing and controlling nature of this document is evident throughout. Contrary to the clear decision of the Second Vatican Council, which gave the authority for the preparation and approval of vernacular liturgical texts to the conference of bishops, the Holy See can now preempt this authority and compose its own vernacular translations, prepared by its own anonymous experts.”

“What has happened to the Vatican II principle of subsidiarity?” Bishop Trautman asked. In place of that principle (which holds that nothing should be done at a higher level when it is the responsibility of a lower-level authority), the Congregation for Divine Worship, under the then-new leadership of Cardinal Francis Arinze, has substituted a “micro-management style,” as shown in paragraph 108 of the instruction.

Indeed, Liturgiam authenticam stipulates in paragraph 80 that the Congregation has the right to make “even substantial” changes in texts submitted to Rome after a two-thirds majority canonical vote of a particular conference of bishops, which is at odds, Bishop Trautman insisted, with Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (nn. 22 and 36).

This point is very much at issue in the amendments to the Vatican’s translation recently approved by the bishops in Los Angeles by well over the necessary two-thirds vote. As Msgr. James Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Liturgy, conceded in a recent interview with John Allen, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter (“The Word from Rome,” 6/23/06), the Congregation for Divine Worship could override any of the bishops’ amendments.

Liturgiam authenticam, Bishop Trautman pointed out in his America article over four-and-a-half years ago, “rightly stresses fidelity and exactness in rendering liturgical and biblical texts into a vernacular language.” For the Congregation, this means “as literal as possible.”

The bishop, who is himself a trained biblical scholar, argued in his America article that this was “not the mind of St. Jerome, the greatest doctor of the Sacred Scriptures.” Jerome, he said, “was a careful translator, but not a literalist. He translated idiom for idiom and not always word for word.”

Indeed, in paragraph 37 of the Congregation’s instruction, “biblical scholarship suffers a major setback,” Bishop Trautman insisted. The Latin New Vulgate edition, which is a non-inspired text based on deficient manuscripts of the fourth century, is elevated to the status of “the authoritative text of reference for all Bible passages.”

“How in conscience,” he asked plaintively, “can a Scripture scholar follow this norm?” He cited Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical, Divino afflante Spiritu, which declared that the original text always has “more authority and greater weight than any, even the very best, translation, whether ancient or modern” (n. 16).

The late Pope John Paul II in Novo millennio ineunte (January 2001) referred to Vatican II as “a sure compass by which we take our bearings in the century now beginning.”

According to Bishop Trautman, Liturgiam authenticam “uses a different compass” that points away from the liturgical and biblical renewal of the council.

However, his insistence that the compass “needs to be reset” has been rendered practically moot with the apparent acquiescence of the bishops in Los Angeles last month.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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