A Praiseworthy Translation
James Tolhurst FAITH Magazine November – December 2011
Even those who were inclined to condemn the new liturgical translations out of hand - often the same who muttered about the Pope's visit - have had to concede that there is a majesty in the Eucharistic Prayers which was missing from the former version.
But the means by which the translation was achieved could be described as somewhat tortuous - Bishop Maurice Taylor would use another expression. We like to think that there are no politics when it comes to liturgy but Cardinal Newman's image is not without point: "The rock of St. Peter on its summit enjoys a pure and serene atmosphere, but there is a great deal of Roman malaria at the foot of it." (Anglican Difficulties II p. 297). He was speaking of a time before the Pontine marches were drained by Mussolini. But nevertheless, ecclesiastical politics showed itself during the replacement of the ICEL translation by a more faithful rendering of the original Latin. This was always the aim of Pope Paul VI who said in 1969 "that the same prayer, expressed in so manydifferent languages [might] ascend to the heavenly Father..." (Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Missal 3 April 1969).
ICEL opted to apply this, using Ronald Knox as a guideline (in his translation of the Bible), not keeping ipsissimis verbis but providing the overall sense of the words. Those who have read Archbishop Bugnini's work, will appreciate that there were other ingredients in the mix. A contributory factor was the decision to reach an international English version for countries as diverse as India, the USA and U.K. Effectively this meant a dumbing down of the sacred and reverent aspects of the liturgy in favour of more familial and societal terms. Thus Dominus Deus Sabaoth became God of power and might; Verbum tuum per quod cuncta fecisti became The Word through whom you made the universe; Haec munera, que tibi sacranda detulimus, eodem Spiritusanctificare digneris became And so Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit. And the translation of Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt as Happy are those who are called to his supper. We need hardly mention ".. .ex hoc uno pane participabunt et calice as all who share this bread and wine." Compare these with their new translation, and appreciate the richness that has been restored.
However we might praise the new translation, we need to acknowledge that it bears the wounds of an extended and often bitter conflict. The aim undoubtedly was to provide an accurate translation of the Latin text, and by and large this has been achieved especially in the Order of Mass. One can note the return of through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; born of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with the Father in the Creed; blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb... and .. .graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. In Eucharistic Prayer 4, it is good to see that political correctness has not triumphed and the generic noun "Man" is retained, Also we have the fuller "that we nowmight live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us". We also have restored to us the whole Order of Bishops and the Blessed Virgin Mary conceiving by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit (in her Preface). The blood of the martyrs is now poured out like Christ's to glorify your name and in their struggle the victory is yours.
There are also some nice touches: .. .sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall in Eucharistic Prayer 2, for Spiritus tui rore sanctifica; and realm of the dead in Eucharistic Prayer 4 as translating "inferos".
Sometimes the very literalness grates. We ask God in the Preface of Holy Pastors to keep the Church safe (ICEL has protection). The introduction to the Our Father "Praeceptis salutaribus moniti..." becomes "At the Saviour's command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say". Why not "taught by our Saviour's command and following his divine instruction we dare to say"?
But should we see the final result as a compromise? Was an opportunity lost to look at the original Latin, to see if it could be improved, or was that a casualty of the conflicts?
There is the expression in the presentation of gifts of potus spiritalis which has been lifted from the Jewish Benediction. The only scriptural reference to spiritalis/πυευμaτίκος is however in 1 Corinthians 10:3 where Paul refers to 'spiritual food'. The Jewish reference to the blessing of wine refers to the fruit of the vine, and could the translators not have decided to say, Jesus, the gift of the true vine? This would seem to express the phrase in the Constitution on the Liturgy that "the Ordo Missae is to be revised in a way that will reveal more clearly the real function of each of the parts and the connections of the various parts with one another."(n. 50)
The Prefaces reveal the attempt to keep to the literal translation often at the expense of fluency and comprehension. In the Sunday Preface 2, Qui humanis miseratus erroribus is translated as out of compassion for the waywardness that is ours. Admittedly, it is poetic, and the root verb means wandering, but surely a translation should read "out of compassion for our human errors or failings"?
In Sunday Preface 8 we are given an inelegant although accurate construction,: For when your children were scattered afar by sin....be manifest as the Church. This would appear to have been compiled by the author of the current words of absolution in the sacrament of Penance (with all its subordinate clauses); and does not provide any means of drawing breath. It tries to say too much and it would be helped if it was divided up. "When your children were swept away by their sins, you wished to gather them again to yourself. You united them as a people formed into one by the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit so that they might be the Church, the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit to the praise of your manifold wisdom.
So, it would seem there are at least two parallel streams at work in the new translation, one literal and one poetic. Perhaps it would have been better if the literal had been more poetic and the poetic had been more literal. Yet all in all, we should be extremely grateful for what has been achieved.