What Does the Prayer Really Say? 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
BF writes via e-mail, “In one of your columns you quoted a Latin dictum which, as I recall, means, ‘things pick up speed at the end’. I have forgotten the Latin and cannot locate the column. If you have time, I would appreciate your letting me know the Latin original.” Sure, BF. That was in my column on the Post Communion of the 4th Sunday of Advent published in The Wanderer back at the end of 2002. I was talking about how at the end of the season of Advent things just seem to go faster and faster as we approach Christmas. The phrase you are interested in, which is of unknown provenance, is “in finem citius”.
Two more people wrote to say they would be happy to give their active participation to a WDTPRS pilgrimage to Rome and other places in Italy. I have no experience in organizing such trips, but perhaps it is time to take some concrete steps.
MH writes via e-mail (edited): “I am a new subscriber to The Wanderer, but I’ve been reading your blog online for a month or so. Thanks for enlightening us and enriching my understanding of the Catholic faith. I converted 9 years ago from Lutheranism and I’m continually in awe at the depth of the Catholic faith in every imaginable aspect. [Me too, MH!] I don’t know if you’ve already addressed this but I would be interested in knowing about how we’ve progressed from addressing God as Thee, Thy, Thou; to He and You; and now to you. I’m always somewhat uncomfortable with being so familiar with God – like maybe we’re trying to bring Him down to our level. Am I being too picky and not with the program?”
No, MH, I think you are quite reasonable in your desire that liturgical prayer give due recognition to God’s exalted nature, indeed, His transcendence. We have looked at the issue of “Thee” and “You” in the past but it bears repeating. Many think “Thee” and “Thou” are formal. Actually, these are familiar forms for the second person singular as once used by a superior to an underling or between equals or friends. The “You” form (derived from “Ye”) is historically the more formal. In traditional prayers (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”) we are addressing God with a familiar, intimate form. Our style of speaking has shifted and now people think those forms sound formal, probably because they are now found only in traditional prayers and older writing. That is, unless you are Amish or Quaker, who still use these forms properly. I like those old, now archaic forms for liturgical prayer. They sound formal to our ears while they remain familiar in origin. They are fitting for liturgical prayer, in my opinion, but I am afraid we won’t be seeing them in our future ICEL translation.
Apropos liturgical style and tone, in The Tablet (19 August) there was a piece by Dot Wordsworth called “Mind Your Language” which reprised comments of His Excellency Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds and chairman of ICEL to the last plenary session of the USCCB which I reported to you faithful readers in an earlier number of this series. Let’s see some of it. First, something about the choice not to use the word “deign” in the new translation in preparation. Reference is made to a “register” of language. Bishop Roche is talking about a sacral tone or style of liturgical prayer which is simultaneously accessible while remaining properly courteous and dignified.
Bishop Roche writes, in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, that ‘“Deign” was greeted with howls of derision from all sides: it was thought to belong to too formal a register.’ Then they tried, ‘Please grant’. This was too informal. So finally, the bishop relates, they ‘settled on “be pleased to grant” which seems to fall between the two’.
“Too formal a register”. Frankly, I like the word “deign”, which derives from Latin dignari, found often in our prayers. Still, Bishop Roche’s alternative is acceptable. I personally favor a formal “register”, but at the same time I realize we are addressing ourselves to our God who is not only Almighty and transcendent but always Father. The Son is not only the Eternal Word and King of Fearful Majesty, but also our brother in our humanity. The Holy Spirit is not only Lord and Giver of Life, but also He who dwells in the most intimate temple of our souls, closer to us than we are to ourselves. Moreover, while we must not avoid vocabulary that many people will have to stretch themselves to grasp, we shouldn’t make things too difficult, so that the texts seem artificial. When the prayers were first “translated” after the Council, with less care than was really called for, it was decided to use “dynamic equivalence”. Here is the The Tablet article again:
Translating prayers for such a solemn ceremony is not like translating a novel, or even the Bible. The translation of the 1970s was done in a hurry, after the Second Vatican Council. The method used was that of ‘dynamic equivalence’.
Dynamic equivalence was invented by Eugene Nida, born in Oklahoma City in 1914. The idea was to render a sentence in terms that would have the same effect on the hearers as the original, even if it didn’t follow it word by word. It leant to the approach of Ronald Knox. Dr Nida used it for language communities that had not encountered the Bible before, which is far from the position of habitual Mass-goers. Bishop Roche says Dr Nida ‘ceased to use’ dynamic equivalence in his later work.
The last time I mentioned Dr. Nida in WDTPRS a kind reader JB wrote by e-mail to say (edited): “Eugene Nida, the inventor of ‘dynamic equivalence’ was primarily a bible translator, and worked with the Wyckliffe Bible Translators, whose goal was to translate the bible into all the languages of primitive peoples in South America, Africa, etc., for the use of Protestant missionaries. Clearly if you are dealing with a tribe whose only experience is of the Amazon jungle, you will have a lot of trouble trying to directly translate the Book of Jonah into terms that will mean anything to them, to whom the sea, a whale, or a large walled city would be incomprehensible. … Later he became involved with projects like the Good News Bible, which uses very loose and colloquial translations. … Nida and his cohorts were both strong Protestants and had the aura of ‘scientists’ – two things that seem to have had irresistible appeal to post Vatican II Catholic liturgists. As in so many other areas, they would have been better off sticking to their own incomparably beautiful and venerable tradition!” Thanks for that, JB. I am reminded of how the argument of Protestant scholar Joachim Jeremias, before whom so many bowed in awe, that Greek tò perì pollôn (Latin pro multis) was really supposed to mean “for all” was automatically accepted by so many.
Going back to that article in The Tablet we find an interesting observation:
In any case, the Mass was never expressed in current speech, even in the fourth century, when Latin replaced the Greek version in Rome. That great liturgical scholar Christine Morhmann calls early liturgical Latin ‘a strongly stylised, more or less artificial language’, much of it ‘not easily understood by the average Christian of the fifth century or later’.
The Canon was characterised by parallelism, alliteration, rhyme and juridical precision, like formal prayers in pagan Rome. Some people think that falls into the ‘polylogy’ condemned by Jesus (‘Use not vain repetitions’, Matthew vi, 7). But Bishop Roche says the new translators have tried to ‘forge a new register of courteous address to God’. And, he adds, that ‘will need to be learnt’.
Public liturgical prayer must not be characterized by a tone or, as Bishop Roche calls it, a “register” which is too informal, self-centered, or imprecise. When the new translation comes, it will require work on the part of pastors to help their flocks understand how it is to their benefit that changes were made.
With this in mind, we can move on to examine this Sunday’s “Prayer over the gifts” as it was called by the previous incarnation of ICEL and see if the lame-duck version now in use corresponds to what the prayer really says in Latin. This prayer was not present in the older, pre-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum but with a minor variation it is in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary in the month of September.
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Deus, auctor sincerae devotionis et pacis,
da, quaesumus, ut et maiestatem tuam
convenienter hoc munere veneremur,
et sacri participatione mysterii fideliter sensibus uniamur.
Keep in mind the concept of “register” as we look at our vocabulary. The grand Lewis & Short Dictionary reminds us that convenienter is an adverb from convenio meaning “fitly, suitably, conformably, consistently.” The verb veneror is “to reverence with religious awe, to worship, adore, revere, venerate.” It can also mean “to ask reverently for any thing, to beseech, implore, beg, entreat, supplicate; with ut.” Unio is post-Augustinian and very rare. The instance L&S provides is from De anima 17 by the third century writer Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) in a chapter which treats, serendipitously, “the fidelity of the senses”. The thing to which another thing is being joined is in the dative case. A truly amazing word is the noun auctor. This means, according to the L&S “he that brings about the existence of any object, or promotes the increase or prosperity of it, whether he first originates it, or by his efforts gives greater permanence or continuance to it; to be differently translated according to the object, creator, maker, author, inventor, producer, father, founder, teacher, composer, cause, voucher, supporter, leader, head, etc.”
The trickiest word in this prayer is the fifth declension noun sensus, sensÃ…Â«s (from the verb sentio). In the second entry for sensus in the L&S we see how complex the word is. Basically, sensus means “the faculty or power of perceiving, perception, feeling, sensation, sense, etc.” In a physical context it is “perception, feeling, sensation; a sense, capacity for feeling.” In the mental context it is “feeling, sentiment, emotion, affection; sense, understanding, capacity; humor, inclination, disposition, frame of mind, etc.” and then also “opinion, thought, sense, view.” It also means “the common feelings of humanity, the moral sense, taste, discretion, tact in intercourse with men, often called in full sensus communis (sometimes with hominum).” Going on, sensus signifies “the thinking faculty, sense, understanding, mind, reason (synonyms being mens, ratio)”. There is more, but that suffices. Given the use of unio and assuming that sensibus might be dative, we could argue that fideliter sensibus uniamur means something like “may we be faithfully united to our sensibus”. Interesting, that, and hard. However, it is often preferable to use an easier reading than a harder. Less interesting, but often preferable. I think prayers should be interesting, and not the mind-numbingly banal we have had for so long now.
O God, author of sincere devotion and peace,
grant, we beg, both that we may fittingly
revere Your majesty by means of this gift offering,
and that we may be united faithfully in all our heart and mind
by participation in the sacred mystery.
How does the lame-duck version now in use stack up? Again, think in terms of “register” or a “sacral tone”.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of peace and love,
may our offering bring you true worship
and make us one with you.