People feel that the current vernacular liturgy is too plain and flat and they long for the restoration of Latin and the older rubrics on the basis that these served as an effective vehicle of a sense of the sacred in the past, and may do so again. One may share this dissatisfaction with our current liturgical culture, while doubting if new investment in Latin, literalistic new translations from the Latin, or revival of the Tridentine Rite really have anything to do with solving the liturgical crisis. (Consultation of Anglican and Protestant churches that have succeeded in retaining a sense of the sacred in vernacular liturgies is perhaps the major key to a resolution, but one that no one seems to think of applying.)
The funeral of Luciano Pavarotti in Modena on September 8, 2007, which was a publicity coup for the Catholic liturgy, suggests that not Latin purism but an acceptance of a hybrid culture, mixing past and present, is the more promising path today. The singer’s career was epitomized by the mixture of formal and popular, sacred and profane music (the Ave Maria from Verdi’s Otello, sung in tones of desperation by a somewhat ravaged soprano at the beginning; Nessun dorma over the loudspeakers as the coffin left the church), classical and semi-pop (an Italian version of “On Eagle’s Wings,” detested by liturgical critics, was unexpectedly a musical highlight of the ceremony). This reflects the variety of tastes and tendencies that Catholic liturgy should seek to integrate.
There was quite enough Latin – parts of Cherubini’s Requiem, Mozart’s Ave Verum sung by Andrea Bocelli, a recording of Panis Angelicus sung by Pavarotti with his father. What would have been added to the ceremony if the prayers, sermon, and readings as well had been in Latin? Certainly something would have been subtracted: communication. Is Latin, as read aloud in the Novus Ordo (the present ordinary form of the liturgy) any more expressive or sacred than the vernacular?
Archbishop Cocchi’s moving “meta-sermon” (as La Repubblica called it), in which he welcomed Pavarotti as a son of the Church, and as a glory of Modena, in despite of some priests who had denounced the funeral as a profanation and the bishop as a victim of naïve buonismo, represents the kind of dialogue with the laity that has become the norm in the church today, and which the cult of Latin is likely to inhibit. (But as Dom Franco Barbero notes, this lavish welcome of a divorcee depended on his being rich and famous.) Other communications – including the papal telegram and Romano Prodi’s address – would fit poorly into a ceremony conducted in Latin. Not so much “lay participation” as “audience participation” was provided by the five minute round of applause after the tape of Pavarotti father and son. Clapping has a de facto place in our liturgies today, and should be used creatively rather than suppressed.
In death as in life, Pavarotti broke down the barriers between highbrow and popular, tradition and modernity. His funeral can stand as an encounter of church and world in the spirit of Vatican II – not an opportunistic colonization of the values of music but a recognition that these values are aligned with the Kingdom of God. But the marked absence of Pavarotti’s professional colleagues – including Domingo and Carreras – in contrast to the presence of pop icons such as Bono attests that Pavorotti’s career was displeasing to musical purists, as no doubt his funeral was displeasing to liturgical purists. Pavarotti in later years was a pop phenomenon; his great musical achievements date to the 1960s and 1970s and he did not develop or renew himself in strictly musical terms thereafter. Emotionality rather than musicality was the virtue stressed by the RAI commentator, with a lachrymose Mirella Freni at his side. The ceremony was a bath of sentimentality, recalling the funeral of Princess Di ten years ago, at which Pavarotti figured in postures of dramatic woe.
Such events must be appreciated on their own merits. Neither opera nor liturgy can be made impermeable to popular currents, since both aim to bring in all kinds of people. Vulgarity and sloppiness must be kept at bay, but purism is a counter-productive strategy for this purpose, and has all too often a deadening effect. The Church would do well to draw on its repertory of spoken and sung Latin and to educate priests and laity in its splendours. But that is a resource for variety and enrichment, not for excluding other cultural strands in liturgical performance.
The Quest for Sacred Language
The current Latin revivalism in the Roman Catholic Church is not a creative revivalism such as was practiced in the neo-Latin tradition kept alive for a long time in some Jesuit schools, and productive of such works as the eighteenth century Mexican epic recently edited by Andrew Laird, The Epic of America: An Introduction to Rafael Landívar and the Rusticatio Mexicana, Duckworth, 2006. (There is also an extensive Irish neo-Latin literature that is now being exhumed.) Indeed, some who clamour for the Tridentine Rite have no Latin themselves, and even prize the old rite for its mystic unintelligibility. Moreover, they are calling for frozen Latin texts that are immunized to creative alteration, notably reducing the Eucharistic Prayers to the single one used in the Roman Church for one and a half millennia before Vatican II.
These revivalists insist one-sidedly on the sacral aspect of liturgical language. Someone who has reflected a lot on this is Christine Mohrmann, in her four volumes of Études sur le Latin des chrétiens (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1961-77). “Religious sentiment, contact with the divine, distances language from current usage,” so that language serves religious expression rather than social communication (I, 134). The hieratic language of the Roman church drew not only on Scripture but on the ancient pagan Roman traditions of sacral language. This liturgical Latin, “one of the most original creations of Christian antiquity,” was “an autonomous phenomenon” that “obeys rules of its own” (I, 137). An exclusive return to it would be a wholesale sacrifice of the values of communication to those of expression. What Pavarotti’s funeral suggests is that today sacral expression can flourish only within a context of communication. Expression without communication does communicate in its own way – sending the message that liturgy has nothing to do with the concerns of the world – a message radically opposed to the vision of Vatican II.
Mohrmann addresses “the ever-recurring problem of language in the Church” and asks: “Are there certain rules according to which sacred stylization takes place?” (IV, 151). In the current English translations of the liturgy, we have only the most minimal sacred stylization, and that is their chief defect. Typical of sacral language, she notes, are “a certain conservatism, a tenacity of old linguistic forms and formulas… a tendency to introduce certain foreign elements which suggest an association with religious thought or with ancient religious tradition… the use of certain stylistic procedures belonging to oral style: parallelism and antithesis, rhythmic clausulae, rhyme, alliteration…” (pp. 151-2). “The distance between the common and the sacred language can become so great that the sacred language outlives the language from which it originated,” as in the case of Latin. “The first opposition to liturgical Latin coincided with the end of medieval Latin as a ‘living second language,’ which was replaced by a ‘dead’ language, the Latin of the humanists” (p. 152). “The problem of sacred languages in our day is part of a much bigger and almost universal problem: how far is the process of desacralization and secularization of our culture going to go?... Most Germanic languages have still a living tradition of biblical language, which is a sort of antidote to linguistic desacralization” (p. 154). Mohrmann knows how extremely difficult it will be to find a contemporary sacral language capable of replacing the Latin liturgy or the stylized English of The Book of Common Prayer (in contrast to ICEL chairman Bishop Arthur Roche, who thought that translating the liturgy would be a relatively straightforward task). But she affirms that “every language harbours in its depths the possibility of forming a sacral speech” (IV, p. 173). Such speech uses archaism as a means of slowing down the text, giving each word weight, and allowing us to pause in contemplation. Stuart Hall drew my attention to a beautiful example of this in the story of the widow's son at Nain from the Authorized Version: 'And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still' (Lk 7:14).
The Origins of Liturgical Latin
On the origins of church Latin, there are interesting remarks from Ignaz von Döllinger in Alfred Plummer, Conversations with Dr. Döllinger 1870-1890, ed. Robrecht Boudens (Leuven University Press, 1985), p. 13:
“The first Christians in Rome were chiefly people who came from the East and spoke Greek. The founding of Constantinople naturally drew such people thither rather than to Rome, and then Christianity at Rome began to spread among the Roman population, so that at last the bulk of the Christian population in Rome spoke Latin. Hence the change in the language of the liturgy.” “But such a change must have been made once for all; and is there any record of that?” “No,” said Dr. Döllinger, “it need not; I fancy the change was made gradually. The liturgy was said first in one church and then in more, until the Greek liturgy was driven out, and the clergy ceased to know Greek. About 415 or 420 we find a Pope saying that he is unable to answer a letter from some Eastern bishops, because he has no one who could write Greek.” He adds: “The time is coming when Latin will cease to be the language of Catholicism; and with the cessation of Latin much of the power of Rome will go” (p. 15). The current fuss about Latin and about literal translation of the Latin has no doubt something to do with shoring up Roman centralization.
Mohrmann confirms that the Latinization of the Roman Church was a gradual process. The earliest texts were biblical and pastoral translations, beginning in the second century. Christian Latin is marked by a large number of Greek loan-words, which unlike earlier borrowings from Greek are not given a Latinized form, as they were a sacral vocabulary. Mohrmann lists apostolus, ecclesia, evangelium, baptisma, catechumenus, diaconus, episcopus, presbyter (I, p. 42). Latin assimilated these words and developed derivatives from them, such as apostolatus, episcopalis, evangelicus. Mohrmann corrects the older view (voiced by Döllinger, too) that Christian Latin originated in North Africa, for the process of Latinisation of the church in Rome was already afoot in mid-second century, as it was in Africa (where it is attested in the Acts of the Martyrs and where it culminated decades later in the huge linguistic achievement of Tertullian) (pp. 53-4, 96, 109-10). Roman conservatism ensured that Greek remained the language of the liturgy: “The complete and definitive Latinization of the Roman liturgy seems to have happened toward the middle of the fourth century” (p. 54). Christian Latin did not keep up its revolutionary innovations after the first two centuries, which would have changed the Latin language beyond recognition (p. 66). The decades around 400 are a time of linguistic creativity, but of a more learned order, concerning the more rarefied vocabulary of theology. Their classical education kept the Christian writers faithful to older vocabulary, rhetoric and literary models. Mohrmann notes that “the Latin of Christians was more revolutionary than the Greek of the Eastern Christianities” (p. 131), since the ground for their innovations was not prepared by a prior literature such as the Septuagint and the work of Hellenistic Jewish writers; the first translators of Scripture into Latin had to be bold in their coining of neologisms.
Mohrmann also recognizes that the use of Latin for such a long time by theology “has furthered a certain laziness in thinking. There existed a continuity which neglected more or less the everlasting duty of the Christian to rethink the depositum fidei and to remould the way it is formulated. Words can so easily become dead elements if they don’t partake in the ever growing adventure of human life, reflected in the ever changing language of mankind” (IV, p. 157).
Mohrmann notes in the style of the collects, secrets, post-communions “a limitation of the vocabulary, the monotony of ever-recurring formulae, and the small number of euchological schemata. These stylistic traits are no doubt linked to the fact that these prayers were originally improvised. It is known that there was no free improvisation here, but a constant formulation anew of traditional thoughts with the help of fixed formulae” as in ancient Greek epical diction (IV, 169). Latin revivalists often speak as if the wording of these prayers were the quintessence of classical perfection. In reality they have the poverty of our own improvised prayers. Their syntactic structure is dignified but stereotyped. If there is a sense of hollowness when they are translated, this is not only because of the flat, paratactic style of the translations, or the difficulty of transferring a Latin frame of thought into English; it also reflects a hollowness in the original prayers.
Drawing on Enrico Mazza, L’anafora eucaristica: studi sulle origini (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 1992), I note that the Roman Canon is the only historical eucharistic prayer or anaphora of the Roman Church and that its origins are shrouded in much obscurity. The canon was put together from diverse sources, perhaps with a notable input from Pope Gelasius (492-496) – the Stowe Missal sees him as the author, but parts of the text are already attested in Ambrose a century earlier. It continued to grow up to the time of Gregory I (590-604), who attributes its composition to a certain scholasticus (Epistles, IX, 26). Its text is often close to the Alexandrian anaphora, e.g. deometha kai parakaloumen se is echoed in te petimus et rogamus, and thusia kai prophora in haec munera et sacrificia inlibata, and again merida kai kleron in partem aliquem et societatem.
From the final text of the Canon Mohrmann gives supplices rogamus et petimus and haec dona haec munera haec sancta sacrificia illibata as examples of the quest of stylistic amplitude in Rome (III, p. 234); this seems to be in some tension with their derivation from the Alexandrian anaphora, which entails that the pleonasms are not specifically Latin style. Nonetheless, “the peculiarities of style that mark the Roman canon are not borrowed – for the most part at least – from the Egyptian liturgy” but reflect “profound stylistic modifications that were realised on Roman soil,” notably “an accumulation of terms of more or less equal value and in general a tendency to give more amplitude and solemnity to the liturgical texts” (III, p. 231). Callewaert (quoted, ibid.) sees in this “somewhat hollow amplification” “a vulgar literary procedure that a writer like St Leo would have avoided, but that St Gelasius, for example, does not seem to disdain.” Comparing the text of the Canon in the Gelasian Sacramentary with what is found in Ambrose, Mohrmann finds two kinds of modifications: a movement from loose parataxis to tighter syntax – showing a preference for elegant and cultivated language; and the cultivation of an abundance of near synonyms, “a verbosity of juridical exactness” that we also find in Roman pagan prayer, and that accords with Roman gravitas and “a poignant scrupulosity on the part of this ancient agricultural people in regard to the heavenly forces” (p. 236). Characteristic samples of this Roman prayer style include “quaeso precorque, do dedicoque, obtestor atque precor, oro et obtestor, bonas preces precor, precor veneror veniam peto feroque…, custodite, servate, protegite hunc statum, hanc pacem” (p. 239). The national cult preserved these stylistic procedures, favoured by the Emperor Augustus and many of his successors; this Roman language of prayer was immune to the influence of Hellenistic liturgical style with its piling up of addresses to God and efforts to describe God’s essence (p. 240) – a difference that still divides Western liturgies from those of the Eastern Churches. The Church took over the stylistic procedures, but not the vocabulary or formulas of ancient prayer (p. 241). The apparent poverty of the pleonastic style recalls the ancient Roman cult. I would note that this may be a point in favour of the Latin of the Roman Canon, but that it is likely to be a liability in English translation, in which the evocation of the ancient background is no longer palpable, so that the pleonasms do sound merely hollow. De tuis donis ac datis is a nice Roman translation of ek tôn sôn dôrôn in the Egyptian liturgy (p. 242), but an English translation would do better to avoid the pleonasm.
The Roman Canon is a somewhat muddled text. Scholars hypothesize that there was originally a unitary prayer with a proper Epiclesis (invocation of the Spirit on the gifts), and that the text as we have it now is abridged and reshuffled. “At least in its final form it is not structured as a single unitary prayer. Since 1474 it was printed in paragraphs, marked with initial letters and divided by rubrics [so that some pre-Vatican II missal users took it to be a set of discrete prayers]. Several of the paragraphs had a conclusion – Per Christum Dominum Nostrum – with interpolated Amens. The Prayer thus appeared as a series of discrete prayers, and one can understand the force of the remark of Thomas Cranmer’s chaplain Thomas Become, when he described it as a ‘hotch-potch... a very beggar’s cloak, cobbled, clouted and patched with a multitude of popish rags’” (Bryan D. Spinks, “The Roman Canon Missae”, in Albert Gerhards et al., ed. Prex Eucharistica, Vol. 3/1, Fribourg: Academic Press, 2005, 129-43; p. 130). “The Roman Canon is not in its primitive form” but has many “awkward transitions” that show that it is “evidently an abbreviated and transposed version of a more ancient eucharistic prayer” (William T. Lallou, The “Quam Oblationem” of the Roman Canon, Catholic University of America Press, 1943, p. 48). Lallou seeks traces of the missing epiclesis. He also claims that a Great Imprecation of the original prayer is now dispersed in two “Memento”s, one before and one after the Consecration, and in the “Nobis quoque.”
The Supra quae and Supplices of the Roman Canon echo one section of the Alexandrian text. Ambrose has “et petimus et precamur uti hanc oblationem suscipias in sublime altare tuum per manus angelorum tuorum, sicut suscipere dignatus es munera pueri tui iusti Abel et sacrificium patriarchae nostri Abhae et que tibi obtulit summus sacerdos Melchisedech” (De Sacramentis 4, 27). The elements are in the same order as in the Alexandrian prayer (and in the Coptic anaphora of St. Cyril), whereas in the Roman Canon the part about Abel etc., the Supra quae, precedes the prayer that the angel take the offering to the heavenly altar (the Supplices).
Interestingly, the Sanctus was not used in the Roman liturgy until shortly before Leo I (440-461); it was perhaps introduced by Sixtus III (432-440), reflecting the influence of the Antiochene anaphora. The Sanctus and the institution narrative were added at the end of the Alexandrian anaphora but were inserted at more appropriate points in the Roman Canon (the institution narrative being inserted at a much earlier date than the Sanctus). The Communicantes and Hanc Igitur were for occasional use only, the former perhaps introduced by Leo I.
Prescinding from these additions, one can find a shared ternary structure in the Alexandrian and Roman anaphorae, consisting of two thanksgivings and a prayer of petition.
Cornelius (251-253) had a role in the origin of Latin as the language of the Roman church and he is the last pope named in the Communicantes, so it has been suggested (by A. Baumstark) that the Canon may originally go back to him; but the Communicantes is not the oldest part, so the original Canon must be earlier. But Mohrmann doubts that Cornelius would have introduced a Latin canon into the Roman liturgy at that time (III, p. 230).
The Roman Canon is a hallowed, but defective, text, which should not be idealized or fetishized. It focuses on sacrificial offering and imprecation, but – in addition to the absence of the Holy Spirit – there is scarcely any note of praise and thanksgiving. The current translation draws on the obscure igitur (therefore) at the start to strike the note of ‘praise and thanksgiving,’ taking the word to refer back to the Preface and Sanctus. The sacrificial language is applied to the gifts even before the consecration, when they are described as pure and undefiled. This might create a theological clash between the Mass as participation in the one sacrifice of Christ and the presence of a sacrificial activity independent of this (though no doubt assumed into Christ’s sacrifice at the consecration).
The proposed new ICEL translation of the liturgy will include a literalistic translation of the Roman Canon that magnifies its defects while burying its virtues, which are brought out and enhanced in the current translation made in the late 1960s. The ICEL published a booklet in 1967, The Roman Canon in English Translation (London: Geoffrey Chapman), which gives detailed explanations of why they chose to translate the Canon in the way they did. Their principles were the following:
“1. The English should express faithfully the essential meaning of the Latin text, including its scriptural references and overtones.
“2. The language should be suitable for being prayed aloud and easy for the congregation to understand when its members hear it read, even in a large church.
“3. The text should wear well with daily use.” (p. 27)
Having recited the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) in the current translation many times, I can vouch that these three principles are quite well achieved in the text we have, though of course the ancient beauty of the Latin prayer is not recaptured.
The theory of translation ICEL followed is that of “dynamic equivalence,” which the newly-formed ICEL who have authored the proposed new translations regard as obsolete and discredited. It seems to me that, paradoxically, the 1967 translators show greater sensitivity to the character of the Latin language than the authors of the ploddingly literalistic proposed new translations. They are aware of the archaic roots of the Roman prayer-style, an inculturation of the liturgy into Roman Imperial culture. To some extent their translation is an effort to reinculturate the prayer into the conditions of the present. The timeless, ahistorical attitude taken by the new literalist translators is alien to the contemporary sense of history and also to the Christian sense of history.
“Latin words such as ‘supplices’ and pairs of words such as ‘rogamus ac petimus’ are employed for reasons of rhythm and style or rhetoric; they do not represent thought content which need or should be explicitly translated” (p. 28). Other examples of words that have a rhetorical function in Latin which loses point in translation are placatus, digneris, cognita-nota, donis ac datis – literalistic translation produces an impression of superfluity and many pleonasms.
Clementissime Pater becomes simply “Father” in the translation, since English “rarely attaches an adjective to a vocative” and “the meaning of ‘clementissime’ is carried into the English by the one of the first two lines.” In any case the word comes from imperial honorific titles, as noted by Josef Schmitz, “Canon Romanus,” in Albert Gerhards et al., ed. Prex Eucharistica 3/1 (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2005), 281-310, p. 289. The proposed new translation has: “To you, most merciful Father, we therefore humbly pray through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. We ask you to accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and undefiled sacrifices, which we offer you first of all for your holy Catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world” – which is a less effective exordium than the current translation: “We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church, watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world.”
“Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris” is translated currently as “Look with favour on these offerings.” The proposed new translation is: “Be pleased to look upon them with a serene and kindly gaze.” But is “serene” a correct translation? English sometimes tends to give a subjective sense to words that had an objective sense in Latin; that is, “a serene sky” may correspond better to the sense of Latin “serenus” than does “a serene heart” or “a serene temperament.” God’s “serenity” in our modern sense is not what the Prayer is referring to. Rather, God is asked to look on the offerings “with a propitious and calm countenance.” “Propitious and calm” is something of a pleonasm; the best English reproduction of the actual sense is “with favour.” Odd that the literalists balked at using the word “propitious,” restrained perhaps by an undertow of the anti-Latin philistinism so characteristic of contemporary English usage. “A serene and kindly gaze” is theological language with no precedent, projecting a somewhat enfeebled image of God; and “look... with a gaze” is a horrid pleonasm. (The same subjective/objective slippage occurs when dignum et iustum est is translated “it is right and just.” Latin iustus is better translated as “fitting” here; the moral justice of the offering is not what is in question, nor is there a reference to rendering to God his just due. The French “cela est juste et bon” is probably closer to the Latin sense of iustus.)
The first Memento has a curious jumble that the literalist translators faithfully reproduce. It reads: “Memento, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum N. et N. et omnium circumstantium, quorum tibi fides cognita est, et nota devotio, pro quibus tibi offerimus, vel qui tibi offerunt hoc sacrificium laudìs pro se, suisque omnibus: pro redemptione animarum suarum, pro spe salutis, et incolumitis suae: tibique reddunt vota sua aeterno Deo, vivo et vero.” Some, including Benedict XIV in the 18th century, thought that the “vel” here was a rubrical direction [i.e. the celebrant may read “pro quibus tibi offerimus” or “qui tibi offerunt”], but this seems incorrect. The phrase “vel qui tibi offerunt” is a late addition, from the time of Alcuin. The proposed new translation reads: “For them we offer you this sacrifice of praise, and they offer it to you for themselves and all who are theirs, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and security, and fulfilling their vows to you, the eternal God, living and true.” The string of prepositions “them, we, you, they, you, themselves, theirs” is confusing and distracting. In contrast the translation currently in use seems quite felicitous: “We offer you this sacrifice of praise for ourselves and those who are dear to us. We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well-being and redemption.”
Pugnacious Defences of the Proposed New Translation
A somewhat belligerent defence of an earlier draft of the new translation can be found on the Catholic Insight website; I insert critical comments of my own:
A typical example of the new prose used is: “Most merciful Father, we therefore humbly pray and implore you through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, to accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and undefiled sacrifices.”
In the present Missal, this passage reads as: “We come to you Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.” Instead of the priest “asking” God, he will say that we “humbly pray and implore”— a more appropriate approach for mere mortals in the presence of the Almighty. [This is satire that could be applied to the Psalms as well, since they call on God with the same unvarnished directness. The “deign” and “be pleased” language is probably reflective of Roman Imperial rhetoric. “Through him we ask you” is far closer to the New Testament than the language of “mere mortals in the presence of the Almighty,” which actually has a pagan feel to it.]
The text now used during the Consecration reads: “Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said….” The new translation follows the Latin closely: “…taking also this noble cup into his holy and venerable hands, once more giving him thanks, he blessed it and gave it to his disciples, saying….” [Again, “noble cup” is unbiblical and “holy and venerable” is a stylistic pleonasm that does not work in English.]
Later, “Look with favour upon these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel…”—which sounds as if the priest is telling God to do something—is correctly translated as: “Be pleased to look on them with a favourable and kindly face and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel...” [The literalism of this draft is even more bizarre than the “serene and kindly gaze” version, and “to look with a face” is nonsense.]
At this point, congregations will be made particularly aware of the extent of change as they recite the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” [This is incorrect English; it should be “thou shouldst”, though perhaps a subjunctive is intended.]
The present version, which is a gross mistranslation, empties the response of its scriptural echoes, reading: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The new text refers us to Luke 7:6-7, from which the words “come under my roof “ (sub tectum meum) derive. [The scriptural allusion is not very functional here, and in English it invites confusion with the roof of the mouth.]
But what these examples demonstrate most strikingly is that English-speaking Catholics for far too long have had to put up with a poorly translated Missal text which, arguably, has eroded for many their sense of the sacred and their doctrinal understandings. [The proposed new translations have themselves been produced at top speed.]
On the Adoremus website I found a critique of the current translation by Susan Benofy. An editorial note says:
“The original ICEL translation of the Roman Canon elicited very negative assessments, as this essay (originally published in 1996) describes. ICEL not only ignored the criticism, its leaders claimed widespread approval of its translation. Nevertheless, ICEL’s original English version was rejected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The revised version of the Canon, now Eucharistic Prayer I, was approved in 1970.” [As is clear from the 1967 booklet quoted above, the translation was already very close to what is currently used, so whatever problems may have arisen between 1967 and 1970 can only have been of minor import. The editor claims that the Roman Canon was translated in great haste; but ICEL had been in operation since 1963, and their reasoned line-by-line account of their translation is something that the new ICEL has not provided for its proposed new translation. Note that the editor seeks to undercut the Vatican approval of the original translation.]
A third edition of the Missal, originally issued in 2000. followed a “thoroughgoing restructure” of ICEL (1999-2001), an official Instruction on liturgical translation (Liturgiam authenticam, 2001), a revised “General Instruction” (GIRM - 2002), and Pope John Paul II’s formation of Vox Clara (2002), a committee of English-speaking bishops to assist the Holy See in assuring “that the texts of the Roman Rite are accurately translated in accordance with the norms of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam” and are published “as quickly as possible.” [Indeed, “as quickly as possible” might suggest that some kind of liturgical coup is being aimed at. The avoidance of any kind of consultation and the steamrolling of the Episcopal Conferences into hasty compliance give more substance to this suspicion.]
Resistance to change, however, persists in some quarters. Some bishops and influential liturgists openly resist the Holy See’s actions. And delays have plagued the translation project. [Here the responsible caution of the bishops is treated as contumacy.]
Susan Benofy recalls “a letter of Cardinal Lercaro... insisting that the translation must be complete and even literal, taking the Canon ‘without mutilation or simplification of any kind.’ Finberg [a member of ICEL] says this ‘presumably means that, if the liturgy uses expressions that run or seem to run counter to the spirit of the age, we should let it teach us to modify our sometimes callow notions, rather than remodel it, under pretext of translation, to suit the fashion of the day...’ He also objects that expressions which convey the concept of a hierarchical universe ‘are either softened or excised.’ Among the expressions so dealt with he lists: domine; servitutis nostrae; Supplices te rogamus; in conspectu divinae majestatis tuae. He comments: ‘the reason alleged for these omissions is that in the original they are mere rhetoric.’ But, Finberg objects, ‘The truth is that, consciously or unconsciously, the translators have bowed to the influence of critics who find much of the Roman Canon repugnant to the contemporary mind.’ He mentions also the removal of Mary’s title Mother of God (Dei genetrix) and the expression sanctum, sacrificium, immaculatum hostiam, among others.”
Clearly the proposed new translations are a victory for the minority opinion of such as Finberg, which was overruled by the church approbation of the ICEL translation in 1970. Is it a merit of a prayer that it be “repugnant to the contemporary mind”? In any case, many who love the Roman Canon in the original Latin still find the literalistic translation of it into English aesthetically and theologically repugnant, which suggests that the translation simply does not work.
Benofy quotes a Tablet editorial: “Nobody who studies it line by line with the original can fail to notice that it is a prime example of that ‘desacralization’ against which the Pope has warned the Church. The ancient and venerable text of the Roman Canon has been mutilated beyond recognition.” She quotes another 1967 article by Duncan Cloud: “It is not the function of a translator to remove what he dislikes or to add what he thinks is missing in the original... In fact, once you start ejecting from the Roman Canon elements which are alien to our cultural and social milieu, you will soon be left with nothing at all.” The Tablet again editorialized: “We are fully committed in deploring what seems to us a disastrous mistake. Not to have said so at once would have been taken as acquiescence, and anything less than vehemence in expression might have been conveniently overlooked.”
Nonetheless, the Roman Canon in its present translation is one of the better liturgical texts now in English, so there seems no need to revive the brouhaha of 1967. Meanwhile, the proposed new translations have all the appearances of a “disastrous mistake,” yet the language of vehement protest that Benofy admires in 1967 is treated as disloyalty, contumacy, modernism when found on the lips of American Bishops today.
ICEL quoted approval of its translation: “It was a very professional project, featuring the collaboration as consultants of a hundred or more experts in liturgy, Scripture, Christian Latin, English style, speech, and related fields. Perhaps only those with some personal experience of the problems involved in translating the Roman Canon can fully appreciate the achievement. As we noted in the last issue, we think this text compares very favourably not only with all existing English translations of the Canon but also with current translations into other modern European languages. We are fortunate to have it.” (Worship, November, 1967)
Benofy devotes a lot of words to showing that ICEL ignored criticism, but does nothing to show that this criticism was anything other than a minority, conservative phenomenon. The proposed new translations seem to be the work of just that conservative minority, who have succeeded in getting their views imposed. But this could be a pyrrhic victory, for the translation of the Roman Canon that they are foisting on the Church is a lifeless text that might have to be shelved after it has been found to be unprayable in practice.
Benofy is critical of another ICEL member, Msgr. Frederick R. McManus, accused of “suppression of all reference to official disapproval of past ICEL texts.” Again, Benofy fails to notify the reader that the alleged disapproval of the Roman Canon translation of 1967 concerned only minor alterations and that the ICEL translation was officially approved in 1970. Benofy quotes McManus: “The outcry was that of a minority. Generally these seemed to be good people but people who were really and radically dissatisfied with the Second Vatican Council more than with liturgical texts... The complaints were usually poorly informed, often overwrought in their generalized criticisms and their goals: first, word-for-word, mechanistic translations and, second, exclusive rather than inclusive language.” McManus was right; this is still the case; and the enthusiasm about the new translations, coming chiefly from people who have not seen them, is often associated with hostility to Vatican II.
Benofy tries to undercut the credibility of those who praised the ICEL’s work, such as Aelred Tegels, OSB, author of the Worship article quoted above. Tegels is quoted as saying that the three new Eucharistic Prayers offered ‘welcome relief from the major deficiencies of the Roman Canon’ and that ‘the Roman Canon will not compete very successfully with these new anaphoras and that in some regions at least it is destined to early oblivion.’ Benofy says that Tegels found some unofficial texts to be still better, because of their correspondence with contemporary experience. But is it such a terrible crime to call for the composition of new Eucharistic Prayers and to hope for a Eucharistic Prayer ‘really native to our culture.’ Benofy notes that Tegels was one of “the theologians who signed the infamous statement in opposition to Humanae Vitae organized by Fr. Charles Curran in July of 1968.” This might suggest that the new ICEL translations are a weapon in a culture war within the Church, or a liturgy for “Humanae Vitae Catholics” only.
Benofy targets another supporter of the original ICEL translations, Tad Guzie, SJ, who wrote in The Tablet: “The question is precisely how one is to remain faithful to a text that will be read aloud in a language possessing different structural and rhetorical principles from Latin. The ICEL translators have offered an answer that deserves serious attention if not downright, admiration.” “Like Tegels, Guzie seems fundamentally dissatisfied with the traditional Roman rite. In a 1974 book, Jesus and the Eucharist, he reviewed the liturgical changes after the Council, and states that, ‘The forms and formulas of the old Roman Missal were no longer sacred,’ as a result of the 1967 changes in the rubrics to eliminate some genuflections, etc. as well as the translation of the Canon. Guzie insists that the changes de-emphasize the consideration of the Eucharist as an object (in the old rite) in favor of what he considers the primary symbol, the Eucharist as action (in the new rite.) Such a shift in emphasis also changes the interpretation of such terms as ‘real presence’ and ‘consecration.’ In his view the real presence is no longer ‘an objectified physical presence’ but ‘a way of symbolizing the connection between our action and the Lord whose victory it celebrates.’“
I do not know if Benofy is doing justice to Guzie’s eucharistic theology, but surely there is much to be said for a renewal of eucharistic thinking that shifts the focus from objects to events. The fear of change in the wording of the liturgy includes a fear of change in our ways of thinking about the liturgy and excludes the perception that the time may be ripe for such a change.
Benofy finds Guzie, like Tegels, deficient on a wider front: “With such views on the Mass it is probably not surprising that a few years after writing this Guzie left the priesthood.”
Her next target is Fr. Gerald Sigler, executive secretary of ICEL, who saw the new Eucharistic Prayers as alternatives to the Roman Canon. “These would be especially welcome to ‘those who have recognized the defects of this prayer.’ He also mentions ‘the limitations of having only one eucharistic prayer.’ Father Sigler proposed a catechesis which would stress the unity of the Preface-Eucharistic Prayer, a unity he believed was obscured because, among other things, ‘the intrusion of the sanctus tends to distract from this primary theme.’ [I gather that the Sanctus was not used in all masses in the early middle ages.] ICEL’s executive secretary also worried that the ‘overemphasis on the institution narrative,... by genuflections, bowing..., etc. and... by the reduction of the consecration to the barest minimum, has fragmented the Canon to the extent that a major effort must be made... to recover the integrity of the eucharistic prayer.’ Sigler, like Tegels, publicly expressed opposition to the teaching of Humanae Vitae in a letter of protest that fifty-one Washington, DC priests sent to Cardinal O’Boyle, then Archbishop of Washington, DC. Several of these priests were suspended by Cardinal O’Boyle in October 1968. Although Sigler’s faculties to hear confessions and to teach were suspended, he continued to serve as executive secretary of ICEL until January 1970. Like Guzie, he later left the priesthood.” Here again the culture-war context is evident.
Benofy returns to her attack on Msgr McManus, who in a preface to Cipriana Vagaggini’s The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (1967), wrote: “One of these days the eucharistic prayer of the Roman Mass will change.” “According to McManus, the problem is not simply the Canon – the Roman liturgy itself is defective. These defects became evident as soon as the Mass was actually said in the vernacular, he argues. In McManus’ view, people ‘had not the remotest idea of the deficiencies of the Roman rite, especially the texts of the Roman Mass’ before the vernacular was permitted... McManus advocates the writing of new eucharistic prayers ‘which reflect the progress of theological and liturgical science and which are meaningful — or can be made meaningful through study and reflection — to the twentieth-century Christian.’ These views were duly adopted by the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy, whose secretariat was headed by McManus.”
McManus is right that people had very little sense of the structural merits or demerits of the liturgy when it was in Latin, just as the slow, contemplative language of the Authorized Version cloaked oddities of Scripture that are trust on our attention in contemporary translations. Scorning his enthusiasm for liturgical renewal undercuts the entire discipline of liturgical studies, and seems to suggest that critique and purification are out of place when we are dealing with ancient liturgies.
The next target is Ralph Kiefer, appointed general editor to supervise the translation and compiling of the first complete edition of the vernacular Roman Missal in 1971. “In his dissertation Keifer proposed to overcome ‘the difficulty of discerning a rationale for the unique form of the Roman Canon.’ He proposed a hypothesis which he believed made it ‘possible to understand the Roman Canon as a coherent whole...’ Keifer was one of the first two Catholics to receive ‘Baptism in the Spirit,’ and he prayed ‘in tongues.’ He also signed the Curran statement... Keifer had difficulties with the Roman rite as a whole, but especially with the entrance rites, which he believed are, like the Roman Canon itself, ‘not entirely coherent.’ His views on the Roman Canon remained negative. In his 1983 commentary on the Introduction to the Lectionary, Keifer instructed his readers that ‘Sunday use of Eucharist Prayer I is pastorally irresponsible.’”
Any innovation in theory or practice is clearly regarded by fans of the Tridentine Rite and of the new literalistic translations as “abuse.” Their solution to the crisis in the liturgy is to return as far as possible to the pre-Vatican II situation. They have nothing to offer in the way of imaginative response to the conciliar initiative. Watching Benedict XVI celebrate the mass for Italian youth at Loreto in September 2007 I saw a modern celebration, facing the people, in the vernacular, with music reflecting Vatican II’s idea of letting the arts of our time have free rein in the Church. There is no stepping back from this modernity, though aesthetic, contemplative, biblical and theological enhancement – as the slow fruit of time – will always be welcome. The promotion of the Tridentine Rite and the literalistic translations is regressive because it is looking for a quick fix to the perception of deficiencies in the current liturgy on all these fronts. There is even an air of panic to these proceedings, reflected in the remark of one bishop that he would welcome “whatever it takes” to get the pews filled again. The true solution will emerge as the whole church works creatively together in praising the Lord and welcoming the salvation He offers in Christ and in the gifts of Christ’s Spirit. Quick fixes imposed from above can only distract from this organic, creative growth. Instead we must release the charisms of the laity and draw on their talents, encouraging the development of a rich fabric of theological and biblical culture.