By Catherine Smibert
ROME, NOV. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal George Pell thinks his role as president of the Vatican’s Vox Clara Commission is the most “important and useful thing” he does in recent visits to Rome.
Indeed, the Australian cardinal’s two-week visit to the Eternal City, which ended last Sunday, not only involved the three-day commission meeting but other conferences as well, such as those of the synod council and of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
“This trip has been both good and busy,” he told me prior to departing for Sydney. “Yet, I find the Vox Clara work particularly stimulating … the more progress is made, the more fascinating it becomes.”
Vox Clara was formed in 2001 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to advise on the work being done for the official English translation of the Roman missal by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).
In the past, Cardinal Pell, among others, had noted his concern about the accuracy of the liturgical translations.
“There has been an attempt to improve the quality and accuracy of the English,” he explained. “We must consistently seek to translate the Latin accurately — not slavishly, but enough that it assists people in confronting the true, original message behind it.”
As an example, Cardinal Pell pointed out the part of the Roman missal where the words “Dominus Deus Sabaoth” are proclaimed. “What we say here now is ‘Lord, God of power and might,’ where the more correct translation for ‘Sabaoth’ is really ‘angels’ or ‘hosts’ … as in ‘Lord, God of hosts,” he said.
ICEL, which is doing the translation work, is to produce a text that will be used by the entire English-speaking world and beyond.
“That is why it is so vital to get it right,” the cardinal told me. “One of the great strengths of the Church is that it is worldwide and English is basically the new Latin, though Spanish is widespread. It is a fact, for instance, that the English missal is often used as the de facto base-text for the Church in Asia and Africa.”
Cardinal Pell added: “We have a chance to put together an English translation that generations will be able to use. “It’s exciting, because language when used accurately, can take us to God.”
Cardinal Pell seems confident that the new translation will also help to strengthen the transcendental dimension of our worship.
“Procedures have been set up and are working well,” he said. “Translations have been sent out to be reviewed by English-speaking bishops’ conferences, and there has been a high level of response which is great.”
He says the “biggest challenge was just to get the process moving, getting teams set up and working.” On this visit, the cardinal said he observed that the system is now working and producing good-quality translations. “The exemplars we have seen are both faithful to the Latin and beautiful, intelligible texts.”
Vox Clara plans to be back in Rome next March, and to review more ICEL material. “We have scheduled three meetings next year, due to the significant amount of material.”
The cardinal repeated that Vox Clara is only an advisory group to the Congregation for Divine Worship and that ICEL is doing the translations, and doing them well.
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Cloistered, Not Closed-in
Each Nov. 21 the Church calls the attention of the faithful to the relevance and power that prayer and silent work can have, through an international Day for Cloistered Life.
John Paul II, a great supporter of the contemplative life, has being hosting a convent of cloistered nuns on the grounds of the Vatican. The nuns stay there for five-year periods. Currently, Benedictine nuns are residing there.
The superior of this group, Mother Maria Sofia Cicchetti, says that the essence of cloistered life “has not changed since those many years ago, simply because it cannot change.”
Yet, “the way in which we contemplative live, with such total spiritual rigidity, has changed insofar as it becomes part of the different places and cultures in which the cloistered monasteries are founded and exist,” she said.
This got me wondering about how much adaptation could be made to this life that holds its value, according to the 1999 instruction “Verbi Sponsa,” in its appeal to the transcendent through its hidden nature.
The Poor Clare Sisters of Spokane, Washington, presented one answer.
Sister Patricia Proctor, the house’s Web master, told me that new technologies have allowed the cloistered to dispel some of the misconceptions about their lifestyle.
“I don’t think people really understand the contemplative life,” she said. “They believe that it’s a very isolated existence and, in some ways, a selfish life or hermit-type life.”
“Cloistered life is quite opposite to this perspective in that it’s based on the intense activity of drawing close to God,” Sister Patricia told me.
“We want to make a difference,” she added, “for the whole world though our prayer, and I think, in this technological age, it’s very exciting because we can reach out, we can keep our main focus of prayer and contemplation and yet share the fruits of this in a much broader spectrum than we could ever have done before.”
She laughs as she remembers that “before, religious sisters were pretty much limited to writing letters and maybe, once in a while, a book from the cloister. But today we can reach out on the Internet, via our new diocesan radio programs and more, while still never having to leave our monastery.”
The cards are based on everything from the saints, Mary and religious holidays because, as Sister Patricia says, “We are so in tune with such things on a daily basis that it is one way we can keep other in tune with them.”
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A NAC for Formation
There is a point in Rome where one has a spectacular view of both the entire city and the Vatican. It is found at the North American College on the Janiculum Hill.
Almost a city in itself, this pontifical college boasts a long tradition of forming men for the priesthood. Founded in 1859 by Pope Pius IX, the college has trained hundreds of men for service in U.S. dioceses.
I visited the campus last week for a special ceremony that was held, in part, to honor this tradition by the reception of new students.
These students are not the average NAC candidates, however. They are Australian.
Yet, this is the first time a country so unrelated to the United States has been able to enter, in the words of the rector, Monsignor Kevin McCoy, “a center where the men see Jesus in their rigorous theological study and priestly formation.”
It is this high level of formation that prompted the Australians to send their future priests there, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney told a gathering in the NAC dining hall.
“I was keen on the possibility of students coming here based on what good reports I have heard about how well the college was going and its high caliber of students and staff,” the archbishop said.
The NAC event attracted many dignitaries, including American and Australian priests based in Rome, two cardinals, and members of the Australian Embassy to the Holy See.
The Australian flag was brought forward by one of the new seminarians, and Ambassador John Herron presented it to the NAC rector with words of gratitude, solidarity and humor.
“Historically, Australia only exists because of America,” Herron told the crowd. “The English couldn’t send any more of their prisoners to America!”
The ambassador also struck a more-serious tone, when he spoke of Australia being “the only nation in the world that has supported America in every conflict that it’s ever been in.”
Though references were made about cultural influences and a shared history, Cardinal Pell was quick to point out that these had not been the prime reasons for sending his seminarians to the NAC.
“NAC has good seminary training,” he said. “We are about serious business and I’m very interested in encouraging vocations and in training well the seminarians and priests we have.”
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Catherine Smibert can be reached at [email protected].