By Michelle Boorstein
After successfully influencing the health-care reform bill in the U.S. House, the nation’s Catholic bishops are conducting their annual meeting this week in Baltimore, where they’ll debate how to keep up their influence with the Obama Administration.
The formal agenda for the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops includes adopting a position paper (they call it a “pastoral”) on marriage, which some bishops and Catholic pundits have called too negative at a time when same-sex-marriage is a divisive political issue, including in D.C. where the City Council is about to pass a measure legalizing it.
Bishops will also publicly debate something that sounds arcane but is hugely influential – the English translation of the Roman Missal, which is the prayerbook for regular and special Masses. American Catholics have been using one translation since the 1970s, after the reformist Vatican II Council said Mass didn’t have to be said in Latin. This is the first time since then that the whole book will be re-translated in keeping with Pope Benedict’s belief that the first translation was too loose and not faithful enough to the initial Latin words.
The translation was done to match Rome’s 2002 instruction to translate (from the Latin) with as much fidelity as possible.
For example, the Latin word “iineffabilis” translates as “ineffable,” which generally means something that can’t be described in words. Some translations in the current prayerbook are “unspeakable,” which has a negative connotation, said Father Richard Hilgartner, associate director of the Divine Worship Committee of the USCCB. Since there isn’t really a good direct translation, traditionalists (like Benedict) argue that the translation should be totally direct, and Catholics can take the time to learn these ancient words they don’t know. Others argue that the translation needs to make sense and resonate with Catholics so that when they pray they mean what they’re saying.
The bishops will discuss both the marriage pastoral as well as the liturgy issue today before voting to accept them tomorrow.
But the REAL thing on the agenda at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront is what’s NOT on the agenda – side table schmoozing about the Obama Administration and how the church can best influence it. The bishops are floating on their recent victory in getting an amendment added the House health care bill that blocked abortions from being covered in health care plans paid for with government support. Many people noted the influence of the bishops. But as the measure moves to the Senate, the fight could get uglier