Sunday, July 10, 2005

Quick! Before They Wake Up!

Do you find it difficult to "accept new prayers" at Mass? I find that the number of optional variants permitted under the new rubrics is so vast that it's difficult, if not impossible, to tell when a particular prayer is really "new" and when it is just something that I've never heard before. At any rate, a story at Catholic News Service yesterday notes that Vox Clara, an advisory committee to the Vatican on English translations of liturgical texts, says that
The sooner new English translations of Mass prayers are ready the easier they will be for Catholics to accept.
Forget the bad logic there (what possible connection can there be between getting the texts ready sooner and the texts themselves being easier "to accept"?). Do they imagine that we will be standing in the pews scratching our heads in wonderment if we hear something less pedestrian than what we're normally treated to by the ICEL (Internaltional Commision on English in the Liturgy)? The article also reminds us that the ICEL exists "to promote uniformity in the prayer texts used by English-speaking Catholics". Back in the good old days the Latin language itself managed to pull that off--without needing any tweaking from an international commission--just by virtue of being the Latin language, but let that pass. The ICEL seems to think that uniformity in prayer is best accomplished by simplification and banalification. In fact, I noticed at Mass today that the Collect did not sound very much like its Latin original:
God our Father, your light of truth guides us to the way of Christ. May all who follow him reject what is contrary to the Gospel.

Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire, veritatis tuae lumen ostendis, da cunctis qui christiana professione censentur, et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini, et ea quae sunt apta sectari.
A more literal translation would run something like this:
God, you show the light of your truth to those in error that they might return to the Way; grant to all those who profess the Christian life both to reject those things that are inimical to this name, and to follow those things that are fitting to it.
OK, I guess I'm not really all that much better than the ICEL when it comes to pedestrian translation, but at least I'm willing to make a decent attempt to convey the full sense of the Latin. If I were a better translator (or maybe just a better writer) I might be able to pull off something more elegant--but that Latin is certainly more sublime than either my translation or the ICEL's.

But what about that general principle being invoked by the ICEL? It's too bad that our liturgies are made to conform by being made plainer. It's rather like the communist principle that says everyone should be reduced to the least common denominator, rather than the free-market principle that says all should strive to achieve the most that they can. What's that, you say? A few people in tonight's audience aren't familiar with Shakespeare? OK then, instead of performing King Lear we'll do Nunsense. No need to introduce them to something really grand if they're not prepared for it!

I had hoped that with the promulgation of the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal we might be treated to all new, more literate translations, but based on what I've seen so far that hope seems to have been dashed. Too bad that Cranmer fellow was such a heretic--we could really use him right about now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a liturgical scholar and I happened to be working on the same prayer. I think your translation is good. Publish even more translations for us to compare with ours