What Does the Prayer Really Say? 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
As I already noted on the increasingly popular internet blog, I owe a tip of my cappello romano to frequent correspondent HE for the news that WDTPRS is quoted on the website of the Diocese of Knoxville. An article by Ginger Hutton entitled “Lost in translation” provides contrasting examples of the lame-duck 1973 ICEL version of a prayer and one of our very literal WDTPRS versions. The writer states about the ICEL versions now in use:
Obviously this example is an abysmal translation, but it’s not an isolated one. I studied dozens of prayers while preparing this column and found the phenomenon is all too common. Repeatedly our current translations choose words that de-emphasize God’s power, our dependence on him, and his role as active giver of grace. At the same time they overemphasize our own role and power. Reading these prayers back to back, one forms a picture of a God who is more like our personal assistant than “God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
This is not just bad translation. It’s a failure to faithfully transmit through the liturgy what we actually believe. This is why the coming change in translations, disruptive as it may seem in the short term, is absolutely critical to the defense of the faith.
She got it right. Translations of Mass texts are critical. Without good translations we do not hear what the Church desires to pray and as a result we are all impoverished. We must support with prayers and encouraging notes all those involved in this daunting task.
Speaking of those in charge of the translations, the Executive Secretary of the new and improved ICEL, Msgr. Bruce Harbert, on 15 September gave a talk at the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C. The talk available is as a podcast on the internet. Msgr. Harbert explained the proper meaning of the title of the document from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) Liturgiam authenticam. He made the excellent observations that the title doesn’t refer to “authentic liturgy” in the contemporary sense of what is deep or real about a person or thing. Instead, the Latin adjective authenticus, a, um indicates that something accurately reflects the original. In the case of a document, for example, an “authentic” copy, adheres in all important respects to the original. So, “authentic liturgy” points to one that is in accord with the original, that is, the Missale Romanum.
Msgr. Harbert shared his secret dream that Pope Benedict himself will celebrate Holy Mass using the new translation during the 2008 World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney, Australia. He stated, however,
Two years from now, I think, we will have finished the work of translation and got it into a reasonable shape but then its subsequent fate is not in my hands and not in the hands of the bishops of the Commission (ICEL) either. It’s in the hands of local episcopal conferences. It is for your Bishops Committee for Liturgy here to decide what adaptations they want made to the translations that we provided for them; to decide how they are going to print and publish them; how they are going to bring the whole thing into effect. That’s right outside my competence, so don’t ask me when it’s coming out.
There were other very good points in his talk which we can get into, space allowing, another time. In the meantime, let’s get into this coming Sunday’s …
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Concede nobis, misericors Deus,
ut haec nostra oblatio tibi sit accepta,
et per eam nobis fons omnis benedictionis aperiatur.
This prayer did not have an antecedent in any earlier edition of the Missale Romanum, nor have I discovered it in an ancient source. It might be of new composition for the Novus Ordo.
The venerable Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that fons is a “spring, fountain, well-source”. By extension this means as well “a fountain-head, source, origin, cause.” Make connections in English: for example, “fountains” from which water flows. In church we find a “font”, as in a baptismal font or holy water font. As you are reading this, you see the style of letters make up a “font”. The individual pieces of movable type used printing were once cast by pouring molten metal in a “foundry”. One of the meanings of the Latin fundo, related to fons, is “to make by melting, to melt, cast, found”.
Acceptus, a, um, is from the verb accipio and means “welcome, agreeable, acceptable (synonym. gratus)”. Acceptus is related to gratus, as the effect to the cause; he who is gratus, i. e. “dear”, is on that account acceptus, welcome, acceptable. I think we must say “acceptable” rather than the apparently closer “accepted”.
Grant to us, O merciful God,
that this our sacrificial offering might be acceptable to You,
and that through it the fount of every blessing be may opened to us.
The central image in the prayer is that of a grace flowing out from God as from a font, a source, almost like living water, that is, water which flows. Look at the movement concepts here. God is identified as merciful. We ask that what we bring to the altar will be acceptable by God’s power, for He is the origin of all blessings. A blessing from God, a sharing of something of Himself with us, is to be given by means of the offering. This sharing and God’s gift is likened to a fountain opened up.
Our prayer brings to mind different moments in Scripture of flowing and of water. Think, for one example, of how Moses brought water forth from the rock:
“So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank.” (Numbers 20:9-11 RSV)
This is an Old Testament prefiguring of the sacrament of baptism. In our baptism we became temples of the Holy Spirit, who is at times described in terms of water, even (pace Bishop Trautman!) as rain or dew. Take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church 694 for a description of the Holy Spirit:
Water. The symbolism of water signifies the Holy Spirit’s action in Baptism, since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit. As “by one Spirit we were all baptized,” so we are also “made to drink of one Spirit.” (I Cor 12:13) Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified (Jn 19:34; I Jn 5:8) as its source and welling up in us to eternal life….
“But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (John 19:33-34 RSV)
The flowing water of the baptismal font opens the way to the other sacraments, in particular the reception and celebration of the Eucharist, the “source and summit” (fons et culmen) of our Christian lives (LG 11; CCC 1324). We are enabled by baptism to participate in Holy Mass with “full, conscious and active participation” (SC 14). The word “full” (plena) refers to the integral way the baptized take part in the liturgy, i.e., internally and externally. “Conscious” (conscia) demands knowledge of what one is doing, excluding any superstition or false piety. “Active” (actuosa) means primarily interior receptivity, made possible by baptism, resulting from an act of will to unite oneself with the sacred action being wrought in the liturgy by the real “Actor”, Jesus Christ the High Priest. This interior participation (actuosa participatio) comes to be expressed also in outward, physical participation. Through this participation, when we unite our gifts, sacrifices and aspirations to the sacrifice of the priest at the altar, the abundant blessings of God flow forth to us in a manner that we cannot hope to comprehend in this life. Non-Christians and non-Communicants can indeed “get a lot out of Mass”. But “full, conscious and active participation” has its moment of perfection: when the actively receptive and properly disposed baptized person receives Holy Communion (cf. De musica sacra 22, c). The act of reception of Communion in the state of grace perfectly unites both the interior activity of the heart, mind and soul with the exterior actions of processing forward and physically accepting the Eucharist with gestures of reverence. Communion is perfect active participation which must be prepared for interiorly.
Today’s prayer points to the goal of our participation at Mass. We desire that our participation and subsequent reception open up blessings for us. Subsequently, keep firmly in mind the words of St. Paul about improper participation and poor reception of the Eucharist:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Cor 11:27-30 RSV)
Paul makes the connection between the spiritual and the physical, the interior and the “exterior”. The effects of reception of the Eucharist are, for St. Paul, also physical. If the effects of Communion are also physical, should there not be proper physical preparation for reception of Communion as well as interior spiritual preparation? Should we not prepare ourselves with, for example, fasts and deeply expressive physical gestures of reverence? In fact, the Church requires a Eucharistic fast, perhaps too much reduced to one single hour, before Communion (not before the beginning of Mass) and also prescribes physical movements and signs of reverence during Mass.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of mercy,
accept our offering
and make it a source of blessing for us.
Ho hum…. Zzzzzzz…..
While we can look forward to something better in the future, that is what most of you still have to hear in church now. We need rich beautiful and, above all, accurate translations to help our participation attain that height which Jesus Christ, through the Holy Catholic Church, desires for us!