The Perils of Criticism: Fr Alan Griffiths

What is the most important commandment? For Catholic priests, it often seems to be “Thou shalt not step out of line.”

Fr Alan Griffiths took the bold and unusual step some months ago of criticising the procedures that have been followed in producing the new translation of the Missal. In this he is not alone – there is much to criticise, and many others have done so too. For Fr Griffiths, the difference was that he was speaking with an insider’s knowledge, as one who had participated in the process. For his honesty, he has now been sidelined, and told that his services are no longer required.

From the Tablet:

ICEL sidelines priest who criticised Missal changes

A PRIEST who worked on the new English version of the liturgy but publicly criticised the way last-minute changes were made to the new Missal has been sacked by the body in charge of the new translation, writes Christopher Lamb.

Fr Alan Griffiths has been told by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (Icel), that he will not be asked to do any more work for them. A priest in the Diocese of Portsmouth and a respected translator, Fr Griffiths is a longstanding advocate for a new translation of the Mass to replace the one prepared by Icel in 1973, and has been extensively involved with preparing priests and laity for the new version. However, he became critical of the final text after comparing it with the version approved by the Bishops of England and Wales in 2008.

The final text was then re-edited by the Vatican and appeared earlier this year. In a letter to The Tablet (30 October), he wrote: “The differences are so extensive as to argue that the 2010 text is not that which was approved in the first place.” He added that the new changes “are simply not correct English”, that they contravene agreed Holy See guidelines on how to translate texts and that whoever made the latest changes did not communicate with Icel. Fr Griffiths said he was “neither upset nor surprised” by Icel’s move and “guessed” that it was because of his letter to The Tablet. A spokesman for Icel said he did not wish to comment on the matter.

Transparency in Liturgy, and Fears for the Missal.

I am not a liturgist, and have been wary of commenting directly on the controversy over the new English translation of the Mass. I am however, deeply concerned about matters of procedure and transparency. It is in this spirit that I share here a letter to the Tablet by Canon Alan Griffiths. My friend and colleague Martin Pendergast, who has drawn this to my attention, remarks that “He’s opened a can of worms here!

Fears for the Missal

As one involved in preparing the international resource for the reception of the new Missal“Become One Body, One Spirit, In Christ”, I have recently been comparing two texts. One is the text of the English translation of the Roman Missal approved by the Holy See in April, the other, the text of the order of Mass which our bishops, and other English-speakingbishops’ conferences, thought they had received as “approved” from the Vatican back in 2008. It is clear to me that the newly approved text differs markedly from that originally approved by the bishops and the Roman authorities. The differences are so extensive as to argue that the 2010 text is not that which was approved in the first place. In effect,it appears that the Vatican approved one text in 2008 and has now approved a different text.

It also now appears that the whole of the 2008 translation (as submitted and approved by bishops’ conferences) has undergone a complete revision with few texts left unchanged.This is worrying enough. But this latest revision drives a coach and horses through the guidelines contained in Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2000 document of the Holy See on how to translate liturgical prayers into the vernacular. Secondly, many of the changes are simply not correct English. Whoever did this work seems to lack a sufficient understanding of our grammar. Also, there seems to have been no communication between the reviser(s) and those in the International Commission on English in the Liturgy who have so carefully set the new texts to chant.

It seems reasonable to ask what is going on here, and to request a detailed comparison of the two sets of texts, to determine how great the difference is and gain a better perspective of the overall character of the changes. The introduction of the new texts will require hard work for many of us. It will not help if we have to champion a text which is very different from what we were expecting, of such questionable quality and which seems to have sidelined thebishops’ conference. My fear is that the whole process will be made to look ridiculous. Is this really how we want to undo the mischief of the 1973 Missal and replace it with something better?

(Fr) Alan Griffiths