While most attention at General Synod 2001 was focused on healing and reconciliation between native and non-native Anglicans, a set of documents important to another part of the church was quietly approved. These documents, the culmination of many years of work, are a set of liturgies for use in French language settings.
The Anglican Church of Canada has many language groups within it and the church has often struggled with how best to serve those groups. It has been many years since the national church has released approved texts in languages other than English. While the Book of Common Prayer has at times been available in Cree, French and Japanese among others, more recent liturgies have only been available in local translations.
The work to change this situation for francophones began officially in 1995 when a vote at General Synod instructed the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee “to prepare as soon as possible supplementary material to the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) containing French translations of the Holy Eucharist, Holy Baptism, the Celebration of Marriage and the Funeral Liturgy.”
It was not an entirely smooth and quick process. A translation, circulated by the committee to seven dioceses in 1997, was rejected on the grounds that it was too literal and did not take into account the needs of already existing francophone communities in the dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec.
The Comité liturgique épiscopal francophone (CLEF) was subsequently formed with the objective of producing a satisfactory translation before General Synod 2001. The 12-person committee was primarily francophone and included priests, parishioners, a theologian and a liturgical consultant.
Until now, francophone congregations have primarily used Le Livre de la Prière Commune, a French translation of the Episcopal Church USA’s Book of Common Prayer. This was acceptable in many cases, but required adaptation and was a particular problem in bilingual services because the texts do not match BAS texts. This often led to local solutions.
“We made our own translations because we needed them,” says Canon Pierre Voyer, rector of Tous Les Saints’ in Quebec City and a member of CLEF. He said that other members of CLEF had done the same over the years. “Most of us had some translations and we brought them together.” The committee decided to use these translations as the starting point rather than the one produced in 1997 because they better reflected the language and culture of the francophones of the three dioceses directly involved: Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec.
Even with this base to start from, the work was difficult and the committee met for more than 48 hours of real work over six seperate meetings in 2000. Among the challenges they faced was making the language inclusive. “We tried to make the language neutral, but sometimes it was impossible”, said Mr. Voyer.
Another difficulty was resisting the temptation to revise. “Even if we disagreed with the theology, we tried just to translate.”
Some changes were necessary. “Because of the differences in language such as plural and feminine — and differences in culture we had to change some words. ‘The Lord be with you; And also with you’ doesn’t sound the same in French. We decided to use the older form, ‘The Lord be with you; And with Thy Spirit.’
In presenting its work to synod, the committee said it had attempted to “make a translation which was faithful to the meaning of the English of the BAS, a translation which was as inclusive as possible, and which would be acceptable ecumenically.”
Now the liturgies are approved and Mr. Voyer is happy with what has been achieved. “It took many, many years for the BAS to be written in English and we had a year to do the translations.” He also indicated that the prefaces and propers have been translated but were not presented to Synod. “We have them ready when they’re wanted.”
Is everything perfect? No, but there is room for revision. Mr. Voyer said that the committee received some suggested changes from a priest in Montreal just before synod. “Some were really complaints against the BAS, but some were very helpful. This is now the official translation, but it can be revised if necessary by the next synod. We will meet again to deal with suggestions.”
On the question of what translations might be next, Faith, Worship and Ministry director Alison Barnett-Cowan says, “we’re working with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples to identify priorities for native language translations.”
The Anglican Church of Canada also has congregations that worship in Inuktitut, Cree, Ojibwe, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Tamil, Italian and Filipino among others.
- Le Synode Général approuve la traduction française d’une partie du BAS
- Comité liturgique épiscopal francophone — the texts are available here for download and use
- General Synod 2001 archives
- Diocese of Quebec inaugurates first francophone parish — Anglican Journal story, January 2000
- Diocese of Montreal web site
- Diocese of Ottawa web site
- Diocese of Quebec web site
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