Monday, April 16, 2007

The 1973 Missal's Translation Defects

An interesting take from a couple of members of ICEL who are working on the Reform of the Reform:

Vatican II’s approach to the liturgy was colored by WWI and WWII, especially the horror of the Holocaust and Hiroshima. The question of the Church’s mission led to a realization that liturgical renewal was necessary to give a renewed energy to mission in this desolate historical context.

The 1973 English missal was hastily produced and a tactical failure in implementation. The result is that today we have a missal which has deep structural flaws and which is out of step with vernacular translations in other languages.

As we talk about a New Evangelization, it simply will not happen without a liturgical reform - “A New Missal for a New Mission.” Again the point is to energize the church for a new evangelization, by fixing the serious problems of the 1973 missal. So this is not just “Playing with words as Rome burns” or “shifting chairs on the Titanic as it goes down”, this is crucial if there is a hope for a restoration.So what were the problems?

  1. The language of the 1973 missal opted for abstract meaning over concrete biblical metaphors which resound and echo in Scripture. E.g. “the arm of God” vs. “the power of God.” The language in the 1973 missal lacks an incarnational dimension, which leads to a denial of The Incarnation. The proposed correction seeks to subvert this broad cultural tendency and return incarnational language to the missal. The Latin missal is dripping with scripture, with the church fathers and councils and itself one of the greatest cultural achievements of mankind. The English translation is seeking to regain this in the missal.

  2. The theology of grace in the 1973 missal leads to a semi-pelagianism (salvation by merit, rather than by grace). The voice of Augustine is found in the Latin missal, but is muffled in the current English missal. The idea that God’s grace sustains us at every moment, vs. the idea that God gives us grace and then off you go to become a saint is what is at issue. The former is what the new missal is trying to amplify.

  3. The theology of the Church in the 1973 missal emphasizes the action of the gathered congregation and eschews the church universal across space and time. E.g. “blessed are WE who are called to this supper . . .” vs. “blessed are THEY who are called to this banquet” – the new missal emphasizes much richer and deeper ecclesiology.

Overall there is a new understanding that FORM and CONTENT can not be severed in the missal. The form of a prayer in Latin is just as important as the meaning. E.g. some of the prayers follow ancient pagan prayer formulas which have been baptized by the church.

The 1973 missal would take one of these long single sentence prayer forms and break it up in to smaller sentences which change the meaning. An example of a direct translation into English of a prayer of this type is the familiar: “Let us pray, O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary, of the blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise, through Christ our Lord. AMEN.”

These prayer forms move from here to the future, and from heaven to earth to heaven. They in miniature model the journey of Faith.There are many of these kinds of prayers in the Latin missal which have lost their power and meaning by severing form from content. The new translation seeks to change that.

With the new translation, we are at the “Next Great Threshold of the Liturgical Renewal.”Some examples:

Latin ending to the collect:

Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omina saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Current translation: (Grant this / We ask this) through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Notice the “one” is not in the Latin at all. Also, the theology of prayer asked of the Father, through Jesus in the unity of the Holy spirit is obscured. Now check out the ICEL proposed and read it out loud and sense how Jesus’s presence becomes more powerfully present in the prayer:

ICEL translation: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who is God, living and reigning, with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

When the new missal is completed it will arrive with Catechetical material to accompany it to help in the process of understanding the changes and why they are so vital and necessary.

We shall see.


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