What Does the Prayer Really Say? 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
WDTPRS wishes His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and titular Cardinal Bishop of (my) Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni, a warm and prayerful “Ad multos felicissimos annos” on the occasion of his 40th anniversary of episcopal consecration.
You have heard there is a new draft translation of the Ordinary of Mass from ICEL. WDTPRS has this text and we have been looking at bits and pieces, comparing them to both the earlier draft translation and the WDTPRS versions we have provided over the years. In the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) for the sections called the Hanc igitur and the Quam oblationem the new draft translation reads: “Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this offering from us, your servants, and from your whole family: order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen. We pray, O God: be pleased to bless, recognize, and approve this offering in every way: make it spiritual and acceptable, that it become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” The older draft translation gave us: “Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this offering from us, your servants, and from your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen. We pray, O God, deign to make this offering in every way blessed, consecrated, approved, spiritual, and acceptable, that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here are the WDTPRS versions. Remember, it was not our objective to make a smooth, liturgically useful translation: “We beseech You therefore, O Lord, that having been appeased you might accept this offering of our humble familial service: and that you might give order to our days in Your peace, and also that you might bid that we be snatched away from eternal condemnation and be numbered in the flock of your elect. Which sacrificial offering, O God, may you deign in every way to make blessed, accepted, ratified, spiritually dedicated, and acceptable: so that it may be made for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I think the older draft was better than the new draft. The newer draft has lost something of the grace of the earlier attempt, perhaps because the translators abandoned their effort to communicate the structure of the Latin prayers. For example, where the Latin says “Quam oblationem tu, Deus, in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris…” in which the digneris (“deign”) is preceded by an infinitive (facere) and a series of accusatives, the new version simplifies the syntax to a series of infinitives. In the older version we have a more Latin sounding “deign to make this offering in every way blessed, consecrated, approved, spiritual and acceptable,…” to “be pleased to bless, recognize, and approve this offering in every way” make it spiritual and acceptable,…”. I think the newer version is not an improvement over the older draft and it represents a dumbing down of the text. Is the newer draft better than the lame-duck ICEL version now in use? Without question it is. I think, however, that ICEL could give us something better than this new draft. Sometimes the Latin syntax comes into English only with real effort and difficulty. An English version which adheres to the Latin will sometimes challenge a modern listener to think a bit and listen carefully. The Latin turns of phrase might actually have a greater impact and be more memorable than a version sticking more closely to modern, every-day speech. I don’t think a liturgically useful version needs to slavishly adhere to the Latin syntax, but at the same time there are moments when the Latin structure provides us with gems which make the content of the prayer sparkle and shine with interest and provocative meanings.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine Deus noster,
in tua semper devotione gaudere,
quia perpetua est et plena felicitas,
si bonorum omnium iugiter serviamus auctori.
It is possible that tua could be a neuter plural rather than an ablative linking with devotione. It is possible, but I doubt it. Surely it goes with devotione. Words like iugiter and servio are by now old friends, so we can leave them aside. In other WDTPRS articles I have mentioned “false friends”, that is, words very similar to English cognates but having quite different, even surprising meanings in Latin. Your Lewis & Short Dictionary reveals that in classical usage devotio can mean “fealty, allegiance, devotedness; piety, devotion, zeal.” Devotio also means “a cursing, curse, imprecation, execration, a magical formula, incantation, spell.” It is not too difficult to decide which direction to go in the context of our prayer today! You may find a more extensive examination of devotio in the WDTPRS column for the 4th Sunday of Lent. Briefly, devotio can be seen as “a devotion to duty”. Our “devotion” must lead the soul to keep the commandments of God and the duties of one’s state before all else. If we are truly devout in respect to God and devoted to fulfilling the duties of our state, as our state in life truly is here and now, then God will give us every actual grace we need to fulfill our vocations. We are, in effect, fulfilling our proper role in His great plan and thus He is sure to help us.
Grant to us, we beseech You, O Lord our God,
always to rejoice in Your devotion,
for happiness is perpetual and full,
if we serve constantly the author of all good things.
I mentioned above how changing the syntax can lose for us something of the impact of the original Latin prayer. Today’s Collect, which is also in the very ancient Veronese Sacramentary as a prayer during July, has a clause beginning with si… “if”. This introduces a conditional statement: we will get Y if we do X. Consider this in light of the the religious attitudes of many today who presume that heaven’s rewards are ours automatically without our having to do anything more than just feel good about ourselves or, in some non-Catholic groups, make a “once for all” affirmation of Jesus as “personal Lord” and so forth.
Note the words perpetua and felicitas in our Collect. When and if you hear the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer), you will recognize the names of two ancient martyrs, Sts. Felicity and Perpetua. It is hard to imagine that these two words are in this Collect by mere coincidence. As a matter of fact, in the eighth century Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis or Sacramentary of Gellone today’s prayer appears for martyr. Trivia moment: the cloister of the Benedictine Abbey the Sacramentary came from, Saint-Guilhem-le-DÃƒÂ©sert of the Gellone valley in France, was disassembled during the terror of the French Revolution and rebuilt in “The Cloisters” in New York City. But I digress. Who are Saints Felicity and Perpetua?
After a lull in the official persecutions of Christians, in A.D. 250 the Emperor Decius determined that Christians were the enemies of the Roman Empire. At that time in the Empire there was widespread corruption and decadence in the aristocracy, the Persians were menacing the Eastern borders and Germanic barbarians were pressing on the North. The economy was a disaster. From the pagan point of view, something had upset both the proper order of society and the relationship of the state with the gods, the pax deorum. A new religion was taking hold in great numbers. Decius issued a decree: under pain of death everyone was to sacrifice to the Roman gods and obtain a certificate that they had done so. The aim was to cut down the leaders of the troublemaking Christian sect. The result, however, was a strengthening of the Church through the blood of martyrs (from the Greek word for “witness”). A new cult of martyrs developed and many were thereby attracted to Christianity.
The whole of the third century was marked by persecutions of Christians, though they were sporadic and often localized. But we know they took place whenever social conditions degenerated enough to warrant a scapegoat. We have documents from that period attesting to the persecution of Christians including the prison diary of a young woman named Perpetua, martyred around 202 in Carthage, North Africa. She was still a catechumen (not yet baptized), but who nevertheless identified herself as Christian. She handed over her still nursing baby and insisted on being put into the arena during a civic festival. After many tried to dissuade her, she got her wish. With great heroism she faced the animals and gladiators. After many torments a young gladiator was sent to finish her off, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Finally, Perpetua grabbed his hand and pointed his sword at her own throat. The heroism of Perpetua inspired many people who also began to give strong witness to their faith and were subsequently imprisoned. This is also the fate of a pregnant slave girl name Felicity (Felicitas). Felicity had her baby just before the imprisoned Christians were in their turn all sent to the arena. The acta (trial records and transcripts) and ancient diaries indicate the sort of amazing love these Christian martyrs had for each other in prison. There is a very powerful scene related when Perpetua and Felicity arrange each other’s clothing so as to preserve their modesty even while they were being tortured. They bade each other farewell with the kiss of peace. The kiss of Perpetua and Felicity should remind us today to be dignified and to uphold the solemnity of the moment in Holy Mass if and when the optional sign of peace is invited.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father of all that is good,
keep us faithful in serving you,
for to serve you is our lasting joy.
Pardon me but…. ARRRGGG! What were they thinking? For years we have seen, again and again, that many of the lame-duck ICEL prayers bear little or no resemblance to the Latin originals. The Holy See says it is determined to remedy this situation. The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) issued the document Liturgiam authenticam (LA) establishing norms for liturgical translations. LA was a source of great hope for the Catholic faithful in the pew and at the altar alike. Will the members of the Vox Clara Committee and the officials of the CDWDS allow themselves to be intimidated into dumbing down the translations in preparation, draft after draft after draft, slowly chipping away at beauty and accuracy, allowing the erosion of time to blunt the good initiative that was begun now several years ago?
Keep in mind, folks, what we are trying to accomplish in this series, now about to begin another year of service. The liturgical language of formal prayers, which we are examining each week, is meant to be experienced in a living, breathing, sacred action called Holy Mass, not just through smudgy ink on newsprint. The content of these prayers must enter into our hearts through our eyes and ears to become part of who we are. We need our prayers! Please, give us good translations!! Why is this taking so long!? Folks, please pray that our shepherds, especially men like His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, His Eminence George Card. Pell of the Vox Clara Committee and Fr. Bruce Harbert, Executive Secretary of ICEL, will make every effort to move positively and with determination to implement LA with an enthusiastic response to what it intends. They must resist the pressure to gut the texts of their elegance and content for the sake of the lowest common English denominator. Let our hearts and minds be drawn upward, even if we are challenged, and not forced downward into the shapeless goop of daily prattle where nothing sparks our minds or fills our hearts with hope.
Next week: the final WDTPRS on the Collects of our Sunday Masses.