Chris McDonnell CT January 19 th 2018
I have always encouraged young people to ask questions, with one proviso, that there may not be an easy answer or in some cases, no answer at all... given those conditions, fire ahead!
But in whatever category their question felt, it was always recognised as an honest question that required acknowledgement.
Our bishops met in Leeds in November and one of the items on their agenda was a response to the Motu Proprio issued by Francis on liturgical translations. In this column on December 1st
I was critical of the statement made by Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark which, in essence, was a reiteration of Horace Walpole's famous phrase 'Let sleeping dogs lie'. I asked questions in that article, concluding with this one 'Where was the foot in the door?'
The response from the hierarchy has been the echo of silence; a pin dropped in the dome of St Paul's Cathedral would have caused a greater sound wave.
However, judging by the response in the letters columns of the Catholic press and on websites, both at home and abroad, others felt differently. The New Zealand bishops showed a far more considered response.
That correspondence has included three letters published in the Tablet under the signatures first of the Emeritus Bishop of Portsmouth, Crispian Hollis (December 9th ) followed by that of the Emeritus Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon
(December 23/30) and finally in the New Year that of John Crowley, Emeritus Bishop of Middlesbrough (January 6 th ).
Bishop Crowley's letter concludes with this pertinent question. 'But it is what happens next which has now become the key
question. The members of the Standing Committee of the Bishops’ Conference are pastoral men, so they will be acutely
aware that this issue will simply not go away and, left to fester, could damage relationships of trust and confidence within the
Catholic community of England and Wales'.
All three bishops regret their agreement to accept the 2011 text that has been the cause of much heartache. If so little time was given to its consideration when the bishops met, that in itself is a question that sometime needs a response.
However it is the question raised at the end of Bishop Crowley's letter that should be of immediate interest for since that November press conference we have heard no further comment from our bishops. During recent months, 'Lost in Translation' (2017) by Gerald O'Collins with John Wilkins has
been published, making a significant contribution to the discussion.
It was of course preceded by Bishop Maurice Taylor's book, 'It's the Eucharist, thank God' (2009). In that book Bishop Taylor not only offers teaching on the nature of Eucharist but also contributes a critical analysis of the Translation story at the turn of the century. His voice is important for he served for ten years representing Scottish bishops on the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and for five years, 1997-2002 was Chair of ICEL.
I recently approached him in the light of the November meeting. He was generous in his response and pointed me in the direction of two articles of his published in the journal 'Open House' in Scotland who have kindly given me permission to quote, with Bishop Taylor's full agreement.
The website for the journal can be found at
Both articles offer an instructive read. Space makes it impossible to make extensive quotations from either piece but the concluding remarks of the most recent 'Magnum Principium' (Published 20 November 17) might suggest a partial answer to the question posed at the end of Bishop Crowley's letter. Maurice Taylor writes:
'I end with the proposal (here slightly expanded) with which I finished the article of last May. Has the time for the 1998 translation, approved by all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences but banned by the Congregation for Divine Worship under the leadership of Cardinal Medina Estévez (a non-English speaker), now arrived? Although the 1998 version needs some updating, mainly to include Masses for those made saints in the last twenty years, it would be a great deal easier to resuscitate it than to embark on yet another translation. Is that not the road ahead that merits some serious consideration?'
We certainly don't want to start again from ground zero when 17 years of scholarship gave us the textual translation of 1998. It would take too long and cost too much in both time and effort. If our bishops, both in the UK and farther afield in those countries represented on ICEL, all of whom accepted the 98 text, were to consider this option then we might move forward.
What cannot happen, must not happen, is that the question having been asked by so many is left hanging in the air. That will not do. This is a question that deserves an honest answer.