MONSIGNOR BRUCE E. HARBERT, one of those directly responsible for the disastrous new liturgical translations, boasts of his achievement in a speech given at SAINT JOHN’S, COLLEGEVILLE, MINNESOTA, 20 SEPTEMBER 2009.
He is very keen to get angels back into the liturgy in places from which he feels they have been unjustly excluded:
“When we reached the Preface of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, alternatives were sought to the words ‘lead all men to the joyful vision of your light’ to avoid using the manifestly masculine noun ‘men’ to refer to the whole human race. I ventured to suggest that.. the Preface is concerned with the creation of the angels… The new English translation reads: ‘yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.’ The angels are not explicitly mentioned, but nor are they excluded, as they have been hitherto in English.
“Room is made for the angels on a much larger scale in the Sanctus, where ‘Lord God of Hosts’ replaces ‘Lord God of power and might’… ICET acknowledged that Sabaoth literally means ‘heavenly hosts of angels’, but added that ‘some people object to its military metaphor’. These ‘some people’ - whoever they may have been - were thus allowed to dislodge from the heart of the liturgy the iconography of the attendants who throng God’s throne which has been so abundant in East and West. So many examples come to mind… Welcome back, heavenly hosts.”
He complains that there has been “an emphasis on the horizontal aspect of liturgy at the expense of its vertical aspect.” Commenting on, “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing,” he says: “In the original there are not two altars: rather, our participation at the earthly altar is a participation at the heavenly one” (not at all clear, nor does the new translation make it clear; I took it rather to be marking the distinction of the two altars more clearly: “command that these gifts be borne.. to your altar on high… that all of us who through this participation at the altar receive…”).
“A linguistic symptom of the horizontalisation of liturgy after the Council is the translation of the Latin word Dominus as ‘Father’ rather than ‘Lord.’” He admits that this creates unease when “Dominus is used of both Father and Son in close proximity. But there is no way out of this, for the word used so constantly of Christ in the New Testament, kyrios, is used equally of God in the Septuagint. When we apply the Divine Name to Christ, we are acknowledging his divinity. The Latin liturgy follows this pattern, beginning many prayers with Domine, addressed to the Father, and ending with Per Dominum, referring to the Son.The new version consistently translates Deus as ‘God’ and Dominus as ‘Lord’. So the Third Eucharistic Prayer, instead of beginning ‘Father, you are holy indeed’, begins: ‘You are indeed Holy, O Lord,’ and continues.. ‘through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ… you give life to all things…’ The reinstatement of this honorific title will give a stronger sense of the majesty of God and of the divinity of Christ, not by means of artificial rhetoric, but simply by using the language of Scripture.” An objection to this could by that the phrase “the Lord” in the New Testament mainly refers to Christ, whereas the word “God” invariably refers to the Father (the Son is theos in Jn 1.1 and ho theos mou in Jn 20:28, but never ho Theos absolutely). The title kyrios refers to God the Father only rarely in the New Testament. In short the current translation is more biblical than the proposed new translation.
“Those who claim that liturgy should follow the patterns of ordinary speech overlook the existence of a silent consensus that liturgical language should have a degree of formality.” “A survey was conducted, and most respondents said they would prefer a more elevated and complex style than that of the current texts.” So would I, but this does not excuse the horrible English produced by the new ICEL’s poor understanding of formal English.
“The search for a translation of digneris continued. Often ‘be pleased to’ was chosen, as in ‘Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth’ in the Third Eucharistic Prayer, which replaces the bald imperative of the current text, ‘Strengthen in faith and love.’” Again, the current text is closer to the Bible; the Psalms, for example, do not abound in “deign” or “be pleased to” and to accuse their style of bad manners would itself show a very poor appreciation of biblical spirituality.
“Occasionally, ‘graciously’ has been used, as in the Epiclesis of the Third Eucharistic Prayer. The two short sentences of the current version: ‘And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit.’ will be replaced by a single sentence: ‘Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration.’ To some these expressions will seem artificial and unnecessary. Others attach great importance to the translation of every word in the Latin. Happily, over the course of time, liturgical texts become hallowed by use despite their deficiencies, as is clear from the love that many feel for our current texts. For that reason, I am not unduly anxious about the initial reception of the new texts: let us wait to see how they are being used after a year or two.”
It is true that shoddy religious art often attracts the devotion of the faithful. But to pawn off shoddy goods on the premise that they will automatically become hallowed over time is the height of elitist cynicism.
“I hope you will not think that ICEL’s search for new ways of addressing God have produced a liturgy of grovel. The Missal addresses God with an awareness not only of his might but of his love. Let us look again at the Latin word dignor. In the liturgy we not only ask God to deign to do things, but we recall that he has already deigned. Currently, we speak of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity…. But ‘humbled himself’ will not do on every occasion as a translation of dignatus est. For instance, ICEL’s new version of the Collect for Saturday in the Fifth Week of Easter begins:
‘Almighty eternal God, who have been pleased to confer on us heavenly life
through our rebirth in Baptism…’ It would not have made sense to speak here of God ‘humbling himself’ to give us heavenly life, since Baptism is more a manifestation of his power than of his humility.” These jejune comments show a rather summary grasp of theology. A sort of verbal fetishism seems in play.
“The Latin benignus has given us the English ‘benign’ and ‘benignity’. Its most obvious translation is ‘kind’. In the liturgy it is most often used adverbially, so the Collect for Wednesday of the Third Week in Lent begins: ‘Pour your grace kindly into our hearts, we pray, O Lord…’ Note that we say ‘Pour your grace kindly’, not ‘Kindly pour your grace’. Adverbs like ‘kindly’, when placed at the beginning of their sentence, express the speaker’s assessment of the action concerned: so if we said ‘Kindly pour your grace’ we would mean that, if God pours his grace into our hearts, we shall regard him as kind. There can be a peremptory or ironical note in the request, as in ‘kindly close the door’. We do not want that note in prayer, so we are careful not to put ‘kindly’ at the beginning of sentences.”
The author is oblivious of how unidiomatic and inexpressive “pour your grace kindly” is in English. Moreover it is a mistranslation. “Speak to your child kindly” is a strong and idiomatic use of the adverb. But to pour kindly sounds rather absurd. In “Kindly pour” the meaning is not the same as in “pour kindly”, just as “Kindly speak” is not the same as “speak kindly”.
“The Missal also speaks of ‘propitiation’ in regard to God. This word forced the translators to think very hard. Do we ask God to be propitiated at Mass? Or to be propitiated by the celebration of Mass? This would seem to imply an image of an angry God that many regard as undesirable. But if that is what is found in the Missal, that is what must be translated.”
Notice that literal translation here explicitly trumps pastoral sensitivity and theological appropriateness.
“Fortunately, whereas in English ‘propitiation’ is something we might do, or try to do, to a God, in Latin it is a quality that belongs permanently to God himself. God has been propitiated, and we appeal to what one prayer calls his ‘perpetual propitiation’. Let me assure you that the translators did not choose that clumsy phrase, but rather ‘unceasing mercy’”. Very odd theology here. God’s mercy is not identical with the idea that God has reconciled us to himself in Christ. And this reconciliation does not exclude the fact that there may be obstacles to the appropriation of redemption on the part of the subject, which may make a language of propitiatory appeal, through Christ’s blood, appropriate.
“In the liturgy, we constantly ask God to do something, so that something else can happen. For instance… ‘Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.’ …the purpose clause, which remains unchanged from the current version, illustrates how the diction of the liturgy is different from that of everyday life. A more normal form of expression would be: ‘so that I can proclaim your holy Gospel worthily.’ But the use of plain ‘that’ for ‘so that’ and the unusual position of ‘worthily’ have been accepted for forty years.”
Yes, because it is quite inoffensive and elegant formal English. Unfortunately it does not guarantee that every use of this structure will automatically be inoffensive and elegant.
“There are far more purpose-clauses in the new translation than in the current one, which tended to avoid subordination. For instance,… ‘With unfailing help, O Lord, gently uphold those you refresh with your Sacraments, that we may obtain the effect of redemption both in the mysteries and in our manner of life.’” This is OK, though ‘so that we may obtain’ would be equally good or better; problems arise however when naked subjunctives, such as ‘that he obtain,’ begin to proliferate.
In “that we may be constantly drawn back from human excesses and be able, through your generosity, to cling to your heavenly commandments,” the “be able” is perilously far from the governing “that we may”. Even in the indicative there is something odd about the coupling of “be drawn back” and “be able”: “We are drawn back from excesses and are able to cling to your commandments.”
“For God, everything is possible. So it is surprising to find in the Missal a prayer that, literally translated, would contain these words: ‘O God… increase your grace within us, so that you may make those who run towards your promises sharers in the good things of heaven.’ We are faced here, I think, with a peculiarity of liturgical syntax. Latin text-books teach us to distinguish clauses of purpose from clauses of result. But in God there is no distinction between purpose and result: what he wills, he does. And this affects his syntax… In fact, the new translation will be: ‘O God . . . increase your grace within us, and so make those who run towards your promises sharers in the good things of heaven.’”
Is literal translation now being trumped by theological appropriateness? The precedent of Cranmer is invoked: “Geve unto us abundauntly thy grace, that we, running to thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; Cranmer makes us, rather than God, the subject of ‘may’. The key point I am making is that, because of God’s omnipotence, we do not use the word ‘may’ with God as its subject. Often, ‘will’ takes its place: ‘We offer you, Lord, the sacrifice of atonement, that in your mercy you will both absolve our offenses and guide our wavering hearts.” Here the principle of literal translation is ignored, and Cranmer is admired, by this ex-Anglican author, where the post-Vatican II translators are scolded for doing the same thing.
“Probably the most serious objection to the texts currently in use is that they overestimate human capabilities and underplay our need for God’s help, that is, that they have a Pelagian tendency.” Pelagianism is the easiest heresy to tax on anybody. Accusations of pelagianism are usually frivolous.
“It is not always wrong to translate the Latin word for word, despite what many critics of Liturgiam authenticam have said: sometimes this approach reveals aspects of the original that would otherwise remain hidden.” What the critics say in reality is that it is wrong always to translate the Latin word for word, nto that it is always wrong to translate the Latin word for word. Such straw-man argumentation is unworthy of such a serious matter.
“In the years during which this new translation has been in preparation, much public comment on it has, to my mind, been disappointingly superficial, creating controversy over small points without getting to the heart of the matter.”
True, but the author has not discovered the deeper problems with the translation he co-authored either.
“The work of ICEL has been less like painting a new picture, and more like cleaning an old one. Re-translating the Missal is like cleaning the Sistine Chapel: the work enables us to see riches that have previously been hidden.”
Yes, it may well be compared to a crudely done restoration. And of course the entire mentality it subserves is that of restorationism.
“My hope for the English translation of the Missal that will soon come into use is that it will enable its users to discover the treasury of the Roman tradition of prayer, and thus to be led into the mystery of God’s redeeming love.” Does this savor of taking the Lord’s name in vain?