What Does the Prayer Really Say? 5th Sunday of Lent (First Sunday in Passiontide) – Station: St. Peter in the Vatican
Every once in a while I receive feedback from critics (usually people on a parish “worship committee” somewhere and sundry brainwashed clerics) suggesting that my weekly examination of discrepancies between the ICEL translations and the original Latin liturgical texts is overly picky. Indeed, some opine that our translations “really don’t make that much difference”, in the final analysis. What really makes a difference is that people are “gathering together, sharing, going forth in unity” blah blah blah. Yes, those things are important. But the reflective reader of WDTPRS will instantly respond that the way we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe (lex orandi lex credendi). Change how we pray and what we believe will change. Similarly, what we believe shapes how we pray and even what we pray about, whether alone or “gathered”. Should anyone question if having better translations at Mass is really that important, consider this interesting item I ran across in my current deep background reading about a non-liturgical issue, the so-called “just war doctrine” (JWD).
At the time of this writing, the warriors of a US led coalition are engaged in lethal combat in Iraq for the sake of freeing and oppressed people and restoring the “tranquility of order”. I am deeply concerned for them. I have told you readers of a young Marine captain for whom I ask your prayers. (Side note: you recall I gave him a rosary of knotted cords before he deployed. I just heard a story on the news about how one of the American POW’s now held in Iraq, the African-American woman, begged her mother to get her rosary to her before she deployed). These military servants of peace prosecute war so that among nations the fundamental rights of peoples (which is the foundational aim of legitimate government) may be fostered and guaranteed. As I listen to the debates about the moral justification for this war, I turn to the Church (as distinguished from her present prelates) for guidance and insight to help me sort through the issues. The JWD is the cornerstone of our Catholic, and indeed all well-informed reflection on the present war. What the Church has really said through the ages, and not what some people think the Church says, is therefore extremely important to us right now.
What has this to do with translations? In George Wiegel’s exhaustive Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford: OUP, 1987) I found a fascinating footnote about how a nuance in an early English translation of a Vatican II document profoundly influenced present American Catholic thought on the morality of war and peace. Weigel describes the influence the Council’s final document on the Church and the modern world Gaudium et spes (GS) on the Church’s teaching concerning peace and war. At one point he focuses GS 80 and its English translations. One was prepared by Joseph Gallagher in The Documents of Vatican II, Walter Abbot and Joseph Gallagher, eds. (New York: America Press, 1966) and the other by Austin Flannery in Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, general ed. (Northport: Costello Publishing Co,. 1975).
The context is the presentation of the Council Fathers’ view in GS is that this age of ours constitutes “an hour of supreme crisis” (GS 77). The problems of interdependence between nations and the development of weapons of mass destruction have made the problem of war more urgent now than ever before. War and peace can thus no longer be a matter of consideration merely for statesmen and experts, but rather it is a matter for “each person”, now under a moral obligation to be devoted “with renewed dedication to the reality of peace.” Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is not simply the balance of power between enemies. It cannot be forced by dictatorship. It is, rather, “an enterprise of justice” (GS 78). This is discernable from the natural law. It is a Gospel imperative.
The original Latin of the sentence in GS 80 that interests us is: Quae omnia nos cogunt ut de bello examen mente omnino nova instituamus. Flannery renders this as: “All these factors force us to undertake a completely fresh appraisal of war” (p. 989 – emphasis added). The key phrase here is nova omnino mente. Gallagher says: “with an entirely new attitude.” Flannery’s version is, arguably, a bit more accurate in that mens is presented as an intellectual exercise and careful consideration, etc. There is a significant difference between “a completely fresh appraisal” and “entirely different attitude”. But it was Gallagher’s phrase “with an entirely new attitude”, and not Flannery’s, which captured the attention and shaped the thought of American Catholics prelates and scholars on the morality of peace and war. After Vatican II it might be possible to identity a partial break (at least partial) in American Catholic attitudes at the highest levels with the continuous development of the JWD during the decades following the Council. It may be that some of the confusion we now witness among highly placed Church figures on the actual content of the JWD, now that this useful body of thought is being widely reclaimed and reopened, might result in some part from the translation choices made in key passages of the influential Gaudium et spes, which ends with a section on “The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations”. My point? If anyone is wondering if the translations that Catholics are hearing each and every week at Holy Mass really have made any difference in our attitudes about the whole range of issues they touch in our Christian lives, our very identities, and the choices we make as a result, consider how the translations of the Council documents affected your lives. I might mention as well the widespread misunderstanding of what the Council really meant by “active participation”, but you have no doubt already thought of that.
This Sunday is also called the First Passion Sunday in the older, traditional Roman calendar. The Church begins to die to itself, liturgically speaking. At the beginning of Lent we were to give up decorations, instrumental music, the Gloria, the acclamation Alleluia, and dress in penitential purple. Our senses of sight and hearing were being deprived. From this Sunday onward, statues and images would traditionally be draped in purple, the Iudica me was not recited in the prayers before the altar, the Gloria Patri was not said any longer after the Introit. The Church was imposing a deeper liturgical “fast” in preparation for Easter. This would deepen even more after Palm Sunday. On Holy Thursday we would no long ring bells and would use “clackers” instead. On Good Friday we would merely have the chance to receive Communion with no Mass. The priest would even lose his shoes when he venerated the Crucifix! We are deprived even of light before the Vigil Mass as well as the church building itself, since the Vigil properly begins at midnight and outside.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut inter eius membra semper numeremur,
cuius Corpori communicamus et Sanguini.
This prayer seems to have precedents in the Veronese and Gelesian Sacramentaries but it was not in the 1962MR, the so-called “Tridentine” pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum.
We all know what “communicate” means… or do we? Let us consult the detailed Lewis & Short Dictionary to find out what it means in the Church’s language, Latin. Communico is a verb meaning “to divide something with one, whether in giving or receiving.” So, this verb indicates a two-way street and thus a relationship of some kind including status. In some contexts it means “to have intercourse with an inferior.” It conveys the meaning “to divide a thing with one, to communicate, impart, to share; especially and frequently of imparting in discourse.” This also applies to receiving, not just giving. However, it is also, “to join to an equal part, to unite.” In early Latin Christian contexts, this word was assumed and giving new shades of meaning. St. Augustine uses it, for example, in an anti-Donatist letter (ep. 162 sometimes numbered as 43) with altari Christi and other ways to speak of the unity of Christians in a Church partaking of the Eucharist at a common altar.
We implore, Almighty God,
that we always be counted among the members of Him,
of whose Body and Blood we communicate.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
by this sacrifice
may we always remain one with your Son, Jesus Christ,
whose body and blood we share.
With the advent of the newest edition of the Roman Missal the Church restores the use of the Lenten blessing “prayer over the people” which before the Council was always given at the end of Mass on weekdays only. Now it is to be used on Sundays as well.
ORATIO SUPER POPULUM (2002MR):
Benedic, Domine, plebem tuam,
et concede, ut, quod, te inspirante, desiderat,
te largiente perciperat.
MY LITERAL RENDERING:
Bless, O Lord, your people,
and concede that what they desire while you are inspiring,
they will experience as you grant it to them.
It is hard to put this into English and keep the singular plebs, which refers to God’s holy “people” (think of the word “plebiscite”). Plebs is singular and it takes singular verbs: desiderat…perciperat. This underscores the unity we have. It ought to say “concede that what it desires… it will experience…”, but that rings odd in our English ears. We must also contend with two ablative absolute constructions.
Many of the comments you kind readers send reflect the reason why we are involved in this WDTPRS project. They touch on the real meaning of the Mass. For example, GS writes via e-mail about the columns I wrote two years ago on the collects (they are archived in the internet): “Thank you for the translations of the Opening Prayers for Mass. We’ve come to expect the worst from ICEL, and they never disappoint us! Good prayers pray us, they transform us. Your translation of these rich and time honored prayers is much appreciated. Unfortunately, some offerings today are more about conforming to the world rather than being a Gospel catalyst to transform the world for the glory of God.” Yes, GS. The problem today in many places is that people have not been adequately catechized regarding the liturgy. In the sacred action of the Mass, the real actor is Christ. Mass is not so much about what we do for God but what He does for us. When the baptized enter Christ’s action in the liturgy, He takes our voices and makes them His own. When the priest speaks to the Father, Christ the Head speaks. When the people speak, the Body raises its voice to the Father. Together they are one Christ, Christus totus. Worldly food is changed into what we are, but the Eucharist is food, unlike earthly food, that changes us into what It is. So too the prayers of Mass transform us by their content. How important is it for us to have what the Church really says? To what extent can we change them? When we enter the holy precincts of a church and, by our baptism, become Christ’s own hands and voices in His saving action of Mass, what will be the content of the prayers which simultaneously express our innermost aspirations and also shape us into who we are meant to be?
Do not forget, in your daily offerings and sacrifices, to remember the intentions of our chief servants, the bishops, who collectively are responsible for providing us with the nourishment of accurate and beautiful liturgical translations. They face now a great deal of difficult and usually thankless work and the clock is ticking. They will be exposed to tremendous pressure from all sides to conform the prayers to special interests (usually worldly interests). They need courage and strength, patience and insight, inspiration and perseverance in this mandate.