“It should be borne in mind that there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.”
—Congregation for Divine Worship (10 April 2000)
ODAY in the Catholic Herald, an article appeared by Madeleine Teahan about the Archbishop of Westminster. Specifically, the article says Vincent Cardinal Nichols has cited a mistranslated rubric—instead of the official Latin—to discourage his priests from celebrating Mass “ad orientem.” This is being done even though the current 2000 (2002) GIRM and Missal both presume the celebrant and people will face the same direction at certain times, while still allowing for the possibility of “versus populum” celebration.
An examination of the rubrics is necessary, during which it must be borne in mind that English relies heavily on word order, whereas Latin almost never does. On 26 September 1964, INTER ŒCUMENICI said the following in Paragraph 91:
91. Praestat ut altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebration versus populum peragi possit.
91. “Preferably, the main altar should be constructed freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people.”
The 1969, Paragraph 262 of the GIRM eliminated the words “praestat ut ” but otherwise copied verbatim:
262. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit.
The 2000 (2002) GIRM added several words, in an attempt stop people from damaging altars that had already been constructed:
299. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.
299. Where it is possible to do so, the main altar should be built separated from the wall. This allows for the possibility of Mass “facing the people” and also walking around the altar.
That translation is correct according to Latin scholars, who point out that the “QUOD” phrase cannot modify “celebratio versus populum” since “quod” is neuter while “celebratio” is feminine. Specifically, Dr. J. W. Hunwicke of Lansing College (Sussex, England) wrote in 2001:
QUOD clearly refers to the preceding sentence as a whole, where the crucial term is POSSIT. Throughout the GIRM, this verb is commonly used for things which are genuinely optional—as in the preceding two and following two paragraphs.
THE VATICAN HAS ALREADY RESPONDED to this controversy. Specifically, Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez on 10 April 2000 (Protocol No. 564/00/L) settled the question of “ad orientem” in the 2000 (2002) Missal:
Cardinal Medina wrote as Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, the final authority on rubrics in the current Missal, and the document was signed by CDW Secretary, Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino. Moreover, the current Prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah, made public statements on this subject.
Some, however, cite an erroneous English translation:
Incorrect Translation: The main altar should be built separated from the wall, making it possible to walk around as well as celebration “facing the people.” Celebration facing the people is desirable wherever possible.
This faulty translation contradicts a 25 September 2000 letter (Protocol No. 2036/00/L) sent by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship:
The word “expedit” does not constitute an obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (“detached from the wall”) …
Other examples demonstrate Latin rubrics being translated incorrectly for official liturgical books. For example, the rubric “quando celebratur Baptisma” was translated correctly in the 1970 Lectionary but incorrectly in the 1998 edition. A more famous example was an American GIRM adaptation which so mangled the rubric it became incomprehensible.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor La Civiltà Cattolica, recently attempted to discredit Cardinal Sarah’s statement by means of a tweet comment. He was immediately castigated on his twitter account for making reference only to where the Missal says “facing the people,” while ignoring where it says to “turn back and face the Altar.”