CNWE Calls on Canadian Bishops to Review Roman Missal English Language Translation in Light of Pope Francis Revision of Canon Law

On September 9, 2017 Pope Francis issued an Apostolic letter in the form of motu proprio (‘of his own initiative’) to revise Canon Law regarding the translation of the mass (liturgy) from Latin to the various languages of the world. This change gives national conferences of Catholic bishops the authority to revise translations used in their jurisdictions to ensure the “fully conscious and active participation” of the faithful.

English Catholics in Canada have been using a new translation of the mass that was imposed on them in 2011. This translation is seriously flawed, due to its awkward and obscure language, its narrow vision of humanity and God, and its omission of inclusive language. These changes have negatively impacted how Catholics experience the mass.

The small committee of Catholic clergy who developed this translation used a literal ‘word for word’ principle of translation from Latin rather than ‘dynamic’ translation where the goal is to use language that is easily understood. As a result, the current version is unfortunately full of long-winded sentences with multiple clauses that are often unintelligible. Obscure words have also been added that present unnecessary barriers in understanding for all, especially children and people who are new to the English language. Secondly, the current translation overemphasizes human sinfulness and unworthiness before God in its language, rather than God’s unconditional mercy and love. It also frequently uses language that reduces the many images of God found in the Bible and Christian tradition to descriptions of God as a punitive male monarch. Furthermore, although gender inclusive language is considered standard in Canada, it is virtually absent from the language that Catholics hear at mass. We respectfully remind the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops that they were leaders in the 1980’s in developing parish materials on the issue of gender inclusive language. Inclusive language should be a ‘given’ in a Church that professes belief in the equal inherent dignity of women and men.

Since 2012, members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) have brought these issues to the attention of their local priests and bishops through letters, petitions and a delegation that met with Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. Now that Pope Francis has given national conferences of Catholic bishops jurisdictional authority to revise translations of the mass, we respectfully call on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to begin a thorough review of the current English language Roman Missal. Given that it has been in use in Catholic parishes for almost six years, assessing its effectiveness at this point is warranted. We would hope that such a review would allow for broad-based input from parishioners, priests and liturgical and scripture scholars. We would also hope that the end result of such a process would be language at mass that is understandable, life giving and inclusive – language that encourages the lively participation of the faithful.

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (cnwe.ca), Canada.

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