Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Oh, No. Pope Francis Is Making Noises About Changing or Scrapping Liturgiam Authenticam

Note: I started this on Sunday, February 5th and am finishing the next evening and morning  All references are to Sunday's mass for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time according to the Missal of Paul VI.  Its Proper is used again on Tuesday, February 7th, the day I finished.

A Michael G Ryan, who "has been pastor of St. James Cathedral, Seattle, since 1988," writes in America that the Pope has set up a commission to study "Liturgiam Authenticam." Father Ryan obviously has an agenda,  He does not like the 2011 English translation of the mass.  Does he want to return to the 1973 ICEL translation that we endured during our forty years in the liturgical desert?  That is not clear.  I hope I do not misrepresent him by assuming so and I must give the caveat that America's subeditor may have slanted the tittle and the opening paragraphs in an attempt to engender controversy. If so, I apologize in advance and my bone is to pick with the subeditor not Father Ryan.

He writes that we have had to struggle since "2011 with a wooden, woefully inadequate, theologically limited Missal that is low on poetry, if high on precision." Furthermore, he judges the translation awkward and literal, "The church’s greatest prayer should not depend on awkward, literal compositions that would earn poor marks in any high school English (or theology) class."

Now I am a fan of poetic liturgical language.  Indeed it is essential to deal with our faith's mysteries and to move people's hearts as well as their minds. To be consistent, he should denounce the 1973 ICEL translation in even stronger terms.  The 1973 translation purged images as thoroughly as Stalin purged dissidents.  I remember hearing an experimental translation of what we now know as the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer.  I thought it exquisitely beautiful and, some years later, wanted to have it used at our wedding.  I could not find it in the 1973 translation, which had made it sound so bland, it was unrecognizable.

The author or subeditor denounces the 2011 translation as literal.  Accurate might be a better term.  I remember deciding to go to the monthly Latin mass at St. Leo's in Fairfax, Virginia. This was the "new" mass according to the 1970 Missal not the "old Latin mass" of the 1962 Missal.  I had thought there was no new scandal to tear at me me, it was after all the late 1990s.  They had a missalette with the Latin on one side and the English on the other, the English being what we normally said each Sunday. The old scabs were ripped raw once more.  I could not believe the discrepancy between the Latin of the new mass and what we had believed was a honest translation of that very same Latin.  We weren't saying the "new" Mass of Paul VI every Sunday at all!

The author or subeditor also criticizes the theology of the translated words.  He goes on to elaborate "Think, for instance, of the tone of the prayers, with their exaltation of merit over mercy, their emphasis on human weakness at the expense of human dignity, their 'sacral vernacular' (No. 47 [of Liturgiam Authenticam]) that keeps God at a majestic distance."  Is my logic faulty? If the translation is too literal a translation of the actual text of the mass and the theology is wrong, is the problem not with the actual words of the mass that have been translated into English rather than the translation? In other words, the new mass itself as promulgated in its original language is faulty in its theology. And if the theology of the 1973 translation is at odds with the "literal" 2011 translation, then Father Ryan is confirming what many conservative critics charged: that the 1973 translation itself changed the theology of the mass.

Note that Pope Francis has not called for a revision of the current translations (which are based on the principles of "Liturgiam Authenticam"), but that the commission look at principles of translations.  The 1973 translations into English and other other languages were based on the "hot" linguistic theories that were all the rage in scholarly circles in the 1960s.  These principles, based heavily on Noam Chomsky's theories, were embodied in a document called “Comme le Prévoit” (1969) which was written in French. Cardinal Roche, whom Pope Francis appointed as head of this new commission, has stated quite clearly that “Comme le Prévoit” (1969), Liturgiam Authenticam's predecessor "has become 'outmoded,' ... Over the last 40 years, specialists in language 'have become more aware that the form we choose for an utterance is itself expressive of our purpose in speaking.'” In other words, linguistic scholars now reject the very principles that lay under the 1973 translation.

Perhaps we can make this discussion more concrete by looking at today's mass, specifically the Proper.  The Proper is the part which is special for that day's mass unlike things like the Creed which we say every mass.

Today's Collect, the prayer said or chanted before the First Reading, is:

Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, continua pietate custodi: ut, quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur, tua semper protectione muniatur.

How should that be translated? The Latin has a number of military allusions and a distinctive rhythm and set of internal rimes that only emerge if read aloud.  The old 1973 translation conveys none of that:

Old ICEL (1973):
watch over your family
and keep us safe in your care,
for all our hope is in you.

Those of you who struggled to translate Latin in high school will be amazed at how the English is so short.  English translations are almost always longer than the Latin original, given the structures of the two languages.  For instance consider a literal rendering:

Guard Your family, we beseech You, O Lord,
with continual mercy,
so that that (family) which is propping itself up upon the sole hope of heavenly grace
may always be defended by Your protection.

And what of this suppossedly "wooden" 2011 translation? 

New Corrected ICEL Translation (2011):
Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care,
that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always by your protection.

If this exalts merit over mercy, I missed it. If it empathizes "human weakness at the expense of human dignity," his objection is to the theology of the mass itself, not its translation. It may share a very Augustinian view of merit, a view we share with that of our Lutheran brethren, but to me it evokes an image of a merciful God, a Father whom we ask to protect us as his children.

In the rest of today's Proper ask for the gifts to become the sacrament of eternity and that we bear fruit for the world's salvation:

The Offertory:
Oh Lord our God,
who once established these creative things,
to sustain us in our frailty,
grant, we pray,
that they may become that they make become for us now
the Sacrament of eternal life. 
Through Christ our Lord.

The Prayer After Communion:
O God, who be have willed that will be partakers
in the one Bread and the one Chalice,
grant us, we pray, so to live
that, made one in Christ,
we may joyfully bear fruit
for the salvation of the world. 
Through Christ our Lord.

An additional practical note about the author's (subeditor's?) dislike of the translation's alleged literalness. The mass must be translated into many languages.  It is an unfortunate truth, given the availability of translators and translating resources (dictionaries and grammars and the like), that the mass must be translated, not from Latin into some languages, but indirectly from the English translation.  The less accurate the English, the even more inaccurate these secondary translations.

One final thought by the author of the hilarious Don Camillo stories:

"Latin is a precise, essential language. It will be abandoned, not because it is unsuitable for the new requirements of progress, but because the new men will not be suitable for it. When the age of demagogues and charlatans begins, a language like Latin will no longer be useful, and any oaf will be able to give a speech in public and talk in such a way that he will not be kicked off the stage. The secret to this will consist in the fact that, by making use of words that are general, elusive, and sound good, he will be able to speak for an hour without saying anything. With Latin, this is impossible." –Giovanni Guareschi