Sunday, October 02, 2011

Guided Missal 2: Lost (and Found) in Translation

Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, on the 27th of November (or the evening before, for all you lazy people who like to "get it over with"), the average English-speaking Catholic may only need these two lines to indicate that assisting at Mass will be "a whole new ball game" for the foreseeable future.

Priest: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.

This is because “Et cum spiritu tuo” does not mean “And also with you.” And why would anyone translate this response so loosely? It is not intended as a mere "yo, back at ya" sort of statement, but is one which acknowledges the whole person, both physically and spiritually. Other translations around the world have already accounted for this:

French: Et avec votre esprit.

German: Und mit deinem Geiste.

Italian: E con il tuo spirito.

Spanish: Y con tu espĂ­ritu.

You get the idea, but in the years after the Second Vatican Council, certain people in high places -- those charged with implementing the official liturgical reform, and those who translated the texts into certain vernacular languages -- did not get it at all. A rough guide to how this happened is the subject of this installment of Guided Missal.

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As one is introduced to the forthcoming revised English translation of the Roman Missal, there are at least two misconceptions which are slightly off the mark, if only as a matter of expediency.

The first is that the book which the priest uses on the altar, while entitled "Roman Missal," is not really that book in its entirety. Strictly speaking, we are referring to the "Sacramentary." The entire missal of the Roman Rite would include the order of readings from the Old and New Testaments, including the Gospels themselves. The name was probably changed in order to distinguish the soon-to-be-obsolete edition from what will be the third "editio typica."

The second misconception is the canned explanation of the process itself, as explained on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced a new edition of the Missale Romanum (editio typica tertia, the "third typical edition" [since the Second Vatican Council]) for use in the Church. Soon after, the complex work of translating the text into English began.

Sorry, boys, but that is not the whole story, is it?

The Short Version

The process actually began nearly twenty years earlier, but you will not hear any spokesman for the bishops conference say that. That is because they would then have to admit that the process was prolonged by nearly twenty years of devious shenanigans on the part of progressive academicians, many of whom were bent on altering certain parts of the Order of Mass, in the form of "adaptations" for their particular country, to the extent that some parts of the Mass would not have resembled the Roman Rite as heretofore understood.

Why the American bishops let this go on so long is a matter of some conjecture. This writer was told by a reliable source, that most of the American bishops at the time were intimidated, by the liturgical status quo, whether among their brother bishops, or the liturgists and scholars who were commissioned to do the work, preferring to let Rome be the "heavy" in putting matters of dispute to rest.

As early as the mid-1980s, the rumor mill would be at work amidst liturgical workshops and conventions, of "options" for the Introductory Rites, two of which would use either the Kyrie or the Gloria, but not both, depending on the season of the year, or whatever mood the parish liturgy committee was in. By the mid-1990s, the process was accelerated to the point where one could read all about five such options altogether for the United States -- they called them "American adaptations" -- in such periodicals as Pastoral Music, published by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (also known as, get this, "NAPALM." Yeah, that really is their unofficial acronym. Duuude ...).

But the major bone of contention, the one which caused the most hand-wringing and mud-slinging of all, was over what constituted a "translation." It is here that there are two approaches to translation, one of which has been the standard until recently, the other of which has ultimately prevailed.

The former is what is known as "dynamic equivalency." It was part of the official criteria for translations in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, in the form of a document, originally rendered in French (don't ask me why), entitled Comme Le Prevoit (On The Translation Of Liturgical Texts For Celebrations With A Congregation). This method is where a passage is not translated word for word, but more or less phrase by phrase, taking into account the characteristics unique to the language in which the passage is translated, resulting in a text that is not a literal translation, but is ostensibly a faithful one. There are cases where this can succeed, but not often. By the late 1990s, it was not enough to satisfy a changing of the ideological guard at the Holy See, led by one Cardinal by the name of Joseph Ratzinger.At the time, upon examining the proposed English text for the Rite of Ordinations, His Eminence, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cited insufficient theological clarity in the translation. Eventually this problem was identified throughout the process, and corrective measures began in earnest.

A Case in Point

Let us use the current version of the Nicene Creed as a perfect example. The official Latin text begins thus:

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem caeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium ...

The current translation from the second editio typica, rendered in 1974, translates this as follows:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen ...

Here is where the average Catholic asks himself what could possibly go wrong here? First, consider the 2010 translation which will go into use this coming Advent:

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all
things visible and invisible ...

Seen and unseen. Visible and invisible. What possible difference does this make?

Suppose you are in a room with someone. They excuse themselves and go into the next room. At that point, someone who once was seen would now be unseen, right?

But ... would they be invisible?

God is all-seeing and all-knowing. This includes those things beyond the human senses. So to answer the question, yes they would be unseen, no they would not be invisible. This is what we mean when we say that a passage "loses something in the translation."

How big of a deal is this, you ask? Big enough to convene an entire ecumenical council -- the First Council of Nicea in 325, as a matter of fact, when the details of this profession of faith were hammered out among those bishops assembled (and where tradition says that Bishop Nicholas of Myra punched the heretical Bishop Arius right in the kisser for the latter's errant utterings). Yes, it is that big of a deal. Because it is an affirmation of each person, rather than the mere collective, we will say "I believe" instead of "We believe." And for the same reason, it must be precise in its meaning. Such is the nature of an unchanging language such as Latin, not to mention the gravity of our convictions of faith.

The Short Version (Reprised)

It is here that the average Catholic will hear the emergence of what is known as "literal equivalency." This is based on the document which ended up replacing Comme Le Prevoit in 2001, one that was actually written in Latin, entitled Liturgiam Authenticam. It is here that the characteristics of the original language, including its essential meaning, are directed to be preserved, even as the text is rendered into another language. Whatever the language in which people pray, the Roman Rite is distinctly ... well, Roman in its shades of meaning. The feel, the "pathos," of the Latin is preserved, thus the shades of meaning associated with the original language, and the tradition passed on by way of it, are preserved even in another language, to the extent that another language could indeed do so.

How will this be most obvious?

A(nother) Case In Point

In the Order of Mass, there are three presidential prayers, or "orations" which are prayed; the "Opening Prayer" (Collect), the "Prayer Over the Gifts" (Secret), and the "Prayer After Communion" (Postcommunion). Let us take the Opening Prayer for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (to be used this coming Sunday) as an example. Here is the Latin text itself:

Deus, qui, per adoptionem gratiae,
lucis nos esse filios voluisti,
praesta, quaesumus,
ut errorum non involvamur tenebris,
sed in splendore veritatis
semper maneamus conspicui ...

This is how the current Sacramentary (1974) has translated this prayer:

you call your children
to walk in the light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the radiance of your truth ...

This is how the forthcoming Roman Missal (2010) will render this prayer:

O God, who through
the grace of adoption
chose us to be children of light,
grant, we pray,
that we may not be wrapped
in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand
in the bright light of truth ...

Let us leave aside the notion that the current version is an obviously "dumbed-down" translation. In his commentary on the orations, Father Zuhlsdorf notes how the very concept of grace (per adoptionem gratiae) has been omitted. But more than that, in virtually all of the current orations, the word "quaesumus" is never translated at all! The term means, literally, "we beg (you)" or "we beseech (you)" which connotes a form of supplication, of humility. (Its omission up to now should tell you something, and it ain't good!) As the American bishops were in the process of examining these prayers for review in the 1990s, the omission of "quaesumus" was brought up hundreds of times in their published comments. They were consistently refuted by the committee assigned to review the comments. Its return throughout the official prayer of the Church evokes the necessarily humility by which we approach the Almighty, both as individuals and as a communion of souls.

That's the micro view. Then there's the macro.

In the current issue of the monthly prayer book Magnificat, Christopher Carstens of the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Illinois, elaborates on the distinctly Roman structure of the presidential prayers, a single-sentence structure known as "extended subordination." This is where a series of clauses are strung together to form a whole that is circular, as opposed to linear. He deliniates four parts to this structure, which we will apply here to the Opening Prayer we have just examined:

1) The address,

O God,

2) a short relative clause describing God,

who through
the grace of adoption
chose us to be children of light,

3) the petition itself,

grant, we pray,
that we may not be wrapped
in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand
in the bright light of truth ...

4) and, finally, the conclusion addressed to the Trinity.

... Through our Lord
Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

... and all in one sentence.


Believe it or not, the above account is the short version of what has transpired up to now, and why we arrive at the present moment. For the long version, back issues of Catholic World Report in the early and mid-1990s are recommended. The most comprehensive online source can be found at a blog known as Pray Tell: Worship, Wit & Wisdom, entitled "Missal translation directory" from last November (but continually updated, so check back for more curial drama and intrigue).

Or you can wait until next Sunday, when we do an introduction to (what else?) the Introductory Rites of the Order of Mass.


Mercury said...

Hey, I still have to read the whole post (it looks good), but wanted to be pedantic really quick:

"Och med din ande" is not German, it's Swedish. The Germans say "Und mit deinem Geiste", which of course is a direct translation of "Et cum spiritu tuo".

They also tend to sing all the parts of the Mass on Sundays a lot more than we do (and on big feast days I've even heard then sing the Gospel).

David L Alexander said...


You are quite correct. In our haste to publish, we mistook a line from the various languages. It has been corrected. That the German people tend to integrate singing into the Mass more than most would be no surprise to someone from Cincinnati, historically a center of Midwestern German Catholicism.

Thank you for your attention.