Liturgical Translations and Ecumenism

New missal deals blow to ecumenism, Catholic liturgist says (Toronto Catholic Register, via Curt Jester). Issue is that the Catholic group responsible for common English translations, ICEL, has in the past worked with an ecumenical group, the English Language Liturgical Consultation (formerly the International Consultation on English Texts) in order to come up with universally accepted translations of the Gloria, Sanctus, Creed, Our Father, etc. ELLC ‘s membershipincludes Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans (ELCA, LCMS, and WELS), Methodists, American Baptists, Presbyterians, Mennonites and Unitarians.

Here you can see the common texts they’ve produced, and the variations adopted by the member bodies. Yes, there are variations. We aren’t the only ones with our own issues of concern. For example, in translating the Nicene Creed, do you include the filioque or not? Did Jesus become incarnate “for us and for our salvation,” or “for us men and for our salvation”? Do you say he is “of one being” with the Father, or “of one substance”? Can you refer to him as “him”? In the Apostles’ Creed, did Jesus descend to “hell” or “the dead”? Do we pray “It is right to give our thanks and praise” or “It is right to give Him thanks and praise”? The ELLC notes:

In avoiding exclusive language, the text attracts theological criticism on the grounds that it deflects the worshippers’ attention from gazing upon God to a preoccupation with their own activity. This objection comes from several church traditions and several geographical settings. It therefore represents a widespread and serious unease.

While Catholics argue about whether to say, “And also with you” or “And with your spirit,” Methodists in New Zealand say, “The Lord is here. God’s Spirit is with us“.  Anglicans in some places still have Cranmer’s problem and choose to omit “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” in the Sanctus.

The ELLC report contains this observation:

While most of the comments appear to reflect theological concerns, there is an underlying question of linguistic norms. English, it is clear, is not simply one language, and what works well in one milieu grates in another.

So while some Catholics with a particular point of view are raising the alarm that the Vatican is stressing particular principles of translation, this is hardly the blow to ecumenism that some claim it to be. Every church in the consultation does the same thing. Every church has to balance what it can do in common with others with how it must be true to itself. Every church must ultimately stand for something. Without that concern for truth–however it may be understood–the ecumenical movement would be mere sentimentality. That denominations of all stripes still find it necessary to say, “Here we stand,” is cause for comfort.