Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Catholic World News News Feature

ICEL transformed: a tradition-minded priest takes charge April 01, 2009

An English priest with an affinity for the extraordinary form of the Mass has been named the general secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). The appointment highlights the transformation of an agency that was once the bane of conservative Catholics in the English-speaking world.

Father Andrew Wadsworth, a priest of the Westminster archdiocese, will begin his work with ICEL in September. An accomplished linguist, he will guide the process of completing ICEL's new translation of the Roman Missal. His appointment, announced March 30, came with the approval of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship.

ICEL is the international body, supervised by the bishops' conferences of the English-speaking nations, which provides translations for official liturgical texts that are originally issued in Latin. When approved by the individual episcopal conferences and authorized by the Vatican, these translations then become the authorized English-language texts.

For years ICEL was the brunt of heavy criticism by tradition-minded Catholics, who charged that the commission was making unwarranted changes in the original texts. Using an approach known as "dynamic equivalence," ICEL translators frequently dropped words and even phrases from the Latin texts, or substituted their own terms that failed to match the original language. The translators' critics charged that ICEL's approach consistently downplayed the "vertical dimension," or sense of wonder, in the liturgy, and accentuated a more public, politically correct approach.

The complaints about ICEL's translations became acute in the 1990s with a heated debate about the use of "inclusive" language that stripped gender-specific pronouns from the liturgy. The Vatican warned against eliminating prophetic references to Jesus and to the fatherhood of God.

In 2001, the tide began to turn with the release of the Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticum, which stressed that the translations of liturgical texts should adhere closely to the sense and wording of the Latin originals. Recognizing the particularly vigorous debate on liturgical translations in the English-speaking countries, the Vatican also set up a new commission of prelates, the Vox Clara commission, to review the work of ICEL translators.

Those Vatican moves triggered a series of changes in the composition of the ICEL commission and the approach taken to liturgical translations. The new ICEL translation of the Mass, which is now nearing completion, has encountered stiff opposition from the liberal Catholics who were once the primary defenders of ICEL's work.

The appointment of Father Wadsworth-- who was once an official of the Latin Mass Society, and has been prominent in helping to train English priests to use the extraordinary form-- underlines the transformation that ICEL has undergone in the past decade.