Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New English Translation of the Mass

Zenit provides an interview with the chair of ICEL about the upcoming (slowly) new translation of the mass. One section that struck me as particularly interesting was this one about one of the phrases that I'm sure some will assail as "awkward" in the new translation:
Q: Can you comment on some of the principal differences between the translation of the 2002 Roman Missal, and that of the one translated more than 30 years ago?

Bishop Roche: When the present English missal was published back in the 1970s, it was readily accepted by the bishops of the day that the translation would need to be revisited, because the translation had been done speedily in order to supply an English text, as quickly as possible, for the revised liturgy.

The new English translation of the now third edition of the Latin "Missale Romanum" will be a fuller and therefore a more faithful translation. We have endeavored to ensure a nobility of language as well as faithfulness to the Latin words and to the origins of the prayers themselves. A great deal more time and expertise, from a very wide range of scholars as well as bishops, has been employed producing the new translation.

So, for example, the new English texts will show more clearly the relationship between the liturgical texts and their scriptural origins. Let me give you an example in order to demonstrate this as well as the painstaking scholarship that goes into the translation of a text.

Sometimes at Mass we hear the priest greet us with these words: "The grace and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all." ICEL is proposing this: "Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Some will wonder "why make such a trivial change, what difference does it make?" Well, that greeting, "Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," comes eight times in those exact words, in the letters of St. Paul. Outside the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the phrase, "Grace to you and peace," occurs in the First and Second letters of St. Peter and in the Book of Revelation. It is a slightly odd form, "Grace to you and peace from God," with the two nouns, "grace" and "peace," and the "to you" between them.

Wouldn't it be more natural to say, "Grace and peace to you?" I think it probably would be. But the fact that it occurs so often in the New Testament, no less than 11 times, suggests that that distinctive form of words has been a greeting among the Christian people from the very earliest times.

And you know the way it is sometimes, when you greet somebody or somebody greets you, the way they greet you tells you what sort of person they are, where they come from, from where they belong. Sometimes it's a secret sign, maybe a handshake or a wink. Or it might be a particular way of speaking, like "G'day sport." If you hear someone speak to you that way you would assume that the person came from Australia.

Well that slightly quirky form of words, "Grace to you and peace" seems to be an indication from the earliest times of the way Christians have greeted each other. The Greek, as well as the Latin, translation keeps that same word order: "Grace to you and peace."

Even Martin Luther, one of the first translators of the Bible into the vernacular in modern times, kept that order of words, "Grace to you and peace." And in the King James Version, produced for the Church of England, your find the same: "Grace to you and peace." It's the same in the Douay Bible, the Catholic version that was made in the 16th century: "Grace to you and peace." Then if you come up to more recent times, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, those two also have that form of the words, "Grace to you and peace."

So across 2,000 years, translators have thought it wise to preserve that distinctive pattern, the distinctive word order, that distinctively Christian greeting, "Grace to you and peace." ICEL is proposing that this word order continue to be used in the Christian assembly, 2,000 years on. It puts us in touch with a very early stratum of Christian tradition.

There are lots of other examples, too: e.g., "The Lord be with you. And with your spirit" (Galatians 6:18; 2 Timothy 4:22); "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29); and "Blessed are those called to the banquet of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9).
This is an interesting explanation of something that I probably would have reacted to by thinking, "Okay, getting a little over excited about word-by-word literalism here, guys."

Now, to me it seems like if you want to preserve a precise wording as a identity-phrase we might to better to use the universal language of the Church and say, "Gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo," but hey, that's just me.

While I think there are definite advantages to having much of the mass in the language of the people, I think it would be a great universalizing factor if certain phrases (maybe only a half dozen) were known in Latin by all Catholics world wide. For instance, while I appreciate the accuracy of the "Peace be with you" "And with your spirit" exchange which is in the new translation, it seems like "Pax vobiscum" "Et cum spiritu tuo" would be a great universal exchange for everyone to know. (So if you're at world youth day and meet this really hot girl who unfortunately is Hungarian and doesn't speak English, you can get a smile and reply out of her by saying, 'Pax vobiscum.' This may not be my sort of problem anymore, but I'm sure there are some nice Catholic boys out there who need some help.)

Or more seriously, it seems like it would be a beautiful all liturgies everywhere in the world contained the:

And the similar key lines for the chalice. While there's a beauty to the idea of these words being spoken in many languages, all over the world, while participating in the same sacrifice, there's also a certain appeal to the universality of knowing that every Catholic, everywhere in the world would hear the same words -- and that no one can ever feel a stranger to this most sacred moment in the mass. (As opposed to the tri-lingual, quad-lingual and penti-lingual masses one occasionally gets on major holy days that leave everyone feeling left out.)


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

"there's also a certain appeal to the universality of knowing that every Catholic, everywhere in the world would hear the same words -- and that no one can ever feel a stranger to this most sacred moment in the mass. (As opposed to the tri-lingual, quad-lingual and penti-lingual masses one occasionally gets on major holy days that leave everyone feeling left out."

Amen! That was one of the advantages of the old Latin Mass -- you felt at home no matter what country (or ethnic parish) you might visit. It was a very visible sign of unity and universality. It also, as you mention, gave you a lot of catch phrases in common such as "mea maxima culpa."

I can't help thinking that a more common use of Latin might have been a unifying factor in some of today's multicultural parishes. (My mom's parish has significant numbers of English, Spanish and Tagalog speakers. So the Pentecost Mass is trilingual and unless one is also trilingual part of the Mass -- usually a reading -- is going to be unintelligible. This seems symbolically more divisive than universal. (But now I guess I'm just repeating what you've already said.)

That said, I have no problem with Mass in the venacular as such. Though I do look forward to a better translation.

bearing said...

It makes a lot of sense to use bits of Latin at the important parts.

We all know what Kyrie Eleison means and practically nobody speaks Greek. It can't be that hard to add a few more Latin phrases to our collective language.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I have written a book on the new English translation of the Mass, Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People. I think you (and your readers) might find it very helpful.

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