The “reform of the reform” has had a few setbacks of late. Less than a month ago, Pope Francis told the Italian bishops: “We can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.” On Sept. 9, with a new motu proprio, he delivered another decisive blow to those who would roll back the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. “Magnum Principium”restores and strengthens the council’s call for local bishops’ conferences to have authority with regard to the approval of translations into the vernacular.
For the marginalized members of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, who spent years producing a worthy translation of the Roman Missal only to have it unceremoniously shelved in 1998, this is a happy day.
And for those of us who worked hard to get Roman Missal III road-tested before it ever got implemented—but who were ignored by the bishops—this is a happy day.
And for every priest and every person in the pews who has struggled for the past six years through awkward, convoluted, overblown, “sacral” prayers, this is a happy day.
And for the minority of bishops who spoke out against “Liturgiam Authenticam” as a high-handed usurping of the role accorded bishops by Vatican II, this is a day of vindication.
And for those conferences of bishops in some countries of Europe and Asia, who dragged their feet and used every possible method to keep from toeing the mark set by “Liturgiam Authenticam”—this is a day to breathe a sigh of relief.
It is obvious that it was precisely the sorry saga of the failed English translation of Roman Missal III that has led to this bold and surprising move on the part of Pope Francis. This raises some questions: Can we now, at long last, begin to talk frankly and openly about the problems with the translation? Can we be big enough and honest enough to admit that mistakes were made? Dare we hope that the perfectly wonderful 1998 translation might again see the light of day?
When “Liturgiam Authenticam” appeared, our bishops got in line and dutifully implemented a document which robbed them of the role given them by the Second Vatican Council. But now the Holy Father is asking for something more than dutiful, lock-step obedience. He is asking the bishops to think about what makes for a good liturgical translation.
Will our bishops respond to this invitation and take a hard look at the woefully inadequate translation we are currently using? We can only hope and pray that their pastoral concern and commitment to liturgical celebrations that are both beautiful and intelligible will prompt them to walk through the door that Pope Francis has opened.
And that will indeed be a happy day!
The Rev. Michael G. Ryan is pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Wa., and has written frequently for America on the Mass translations and the liturgy.