WDTPRS 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

When the bishops of the USCCB meet in their upcoming plenary session, His Excellency Most Rev. Donald W. "Ineffable" Trautman will continue his jihad against the new translation of the Roman Missal.

Since the Erie bishop doesn’t like "slavishly literal" translations, I thought to honor the event of the plenary by providing some slavishly literal translations.

Here is a piece I wrote about the Collect for this Sunday, the 33rd of Ordinary Time.

The article was written for The Wanderer some years ago.  It concerns a Collect which is actually an ancient prayer, found in manuscripts such as the 8th c. Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis.

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
.

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.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
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-Désert 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 trouble-making 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?

We 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.

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16 Responses to WDTPRS 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

  1. gmarie says:

    Referring to the literal translation of the Collect, it is striking how much instruction in moral theology there is in this general prayer and what little appears in the ICEL’s version. One does not have to be engaged in the study of Thomistic moral theology to see in this short passage that we are ordered towards good and will achieve our natural end (“…happiness is perpetual and full” for those who “serve constantly the author of all good things”). It is a shame that the watered down translations of the ICEL have served to bewilder the faithful, in relation to properly formed consciences.

    I am grateful to the good bishops who have heeded the call of the Holy See and are taking to heart the message of Liturgiam authenticam. May their voices drown out that of Bp. Trautman and others like him during the upcoming plenary session.

  2. Mitchell NY says:

    I did not get “author” of all good things from the ICEL translation, and yet how important a reminder is that !

  3. TNCath says:

    I can’t wait for this week to start! I just wish Raymond Arroyo and company were going to be there to give us a true picture of what really happens. Is there anyone out there that has done an unofficial count of how many bishops Bishop Trautman might be able to sway?

  4. mpm says:

    I had a thought.

    Now that everybody is being so generous, and especially if the USCCB goes against that vein by voting to retard yet longer the promulgation of the improved English translations for the benefit of the whole English-speaking world, perhaps bishops might be given permission to generously allow for the use of the Ordinary parts of the Mass already translated and approved to be used where people, or “stable groups”, request it?

    Non nobis, Domine, non nobis….

  5. MikeJ9919 says:

    Father Z,

    I’m a little confused by your opposition to Bishop Troutman’s campaign. Let me preface this by saying I agree with you on the ICEL translation. Week after week, I’ve been horrified that the beauty of the Latin text has been stripped away during the process of translation. I also agree with you that there is nothing wrong with people having to “reach” a bit to understand (though I don’t actually think “ineffable” is a reach.) I know Bishop Troutman’s original position was that certain words should be dumbed down, and I strongly disagree. We should use the full gamut of the English language, taking whichever words most properly convey the meaning, even if it requires the occasional dictionary.

    But as I understand it, Bishop Troutman’s current gripe is the lack of proper grammar in the translation. I understand translation is a difficult process and Latin grammar is different from English grammar, but shouldn’t the goal of translation be to fit the “rules” of the receiving language while sacrificing as little of the meaning as possible? Do you actually think they should just throw out the rules of English grammar for the sake of perfectly literal adherence to the Latin text? Or is it that you suspect (as I do) that this grammar argument is just a stalking horse for Bishop Troutman’s desire to dumb down the vocabulary? In other words, do you think he saw that argument wasn’t going to be successful, so he hoped he could scuttle the translation entirely with the grammar argument and later work his vocabulary in? [He’ll use anything he can get hold of to stop the new translation. And I don’t think for a mine minute that the people reviewing the grammar at the level of the Holy See will be unfamiliar with English grammar.]

  6. Eyeawa says:

    Speaking of Bishops, is there any truth to this?

    http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/091113

    and this;

    http://www.reformcchdnow.com/

    I’m getting confused.

  7. Sandy says:

    I know so well the names of Perpetua and Felicity from my younger days when we ALWAYS heard the Roman Canon. When all those names are heard, you can feel the presence of those saints who now intercede for us. To me it is very moving and beautiful, a connection to the eternal.

  8. kenoshacath says:

    If we all went back to the Traditional Latin Mass there would be no discussion on translation and we could give proper honor and glory to the one Triune God. We would have no distractions at worship. The devil loves distractions!

    I heard an interesting comment by a priest on EWTN the other day. He spoke about how St. Francis always revered the written word of God. He would never think to throw away anything containing His Word. How many of you cannot toss a prayer card away (even if you already have 8 of the same)? However, in the Novus Ordo, the EWTN priest reminded us that we toss away the printed liturgical books without thinking twice. There is no longer respect given to the written word of God. In the TLM, we do not have the year A, B, or C to worry about and we each have our own cherished missal year after year. It is never out-dated.

    If the obvious errors in translation aren’t being changed as of yet(pro multis), why should we think that the not-so-obvious errors will be considered? All of the translation fixes will bring us back to the TLM, which the Holy Father has openly promoted. Let us follow his lead and ask for it everywhere.

  9. Margaret says:

    While we’re on the topic of translating liturgical texts, is there any way to ensure that the new musical settings of the forthcoming new texts will actually use them word-for-word? I was pulling my hair out at Mass this morning at a parish I usually avoid. Besides the fact that the Gloria was arranged in a chorus-and-verse format (bad bad bad!) every “verse” featured some paraphrase or another instead of the actual approved text. In fact, now that I think about it, the “Holy Holy” and the “Lamb of God” also featured paraphrase.

    I’m sorry, but that is simply inexcusable. When I was a composing student, if I tried to get away with tampering with someone else’s text while doing a vocal setting, the professor would have swatted me over the head and sent me back to the piano to re-work things. It’s part of a composer’s job description to make the music fit the text, not the other way around.

    I’m just worried that after all this translational wrangling, not that much may actually change in many parishes, because the music writers will feel free to alter the text willy-nilly. (Even though they’d never dream of re-wording Shakespeare or Byron.)

  10. Tom in NY says:

    There’s a lot of sense in the comment “traductor traditor,” as you can see in comparing translations above. The principal challenge in Latin-English translation is sentence structure. Lingua latina una sententia anglica tres loquitur. J. Caesar, who wrote in Latin in the style most comfortable to English speakers, still needs study to make “good” English. The first line of “De bello gallico” starts almost in English word order, the second sentence, like good Latin, puts the verb at the end, “Hi..inter se differunt.”

    One factor in the Latin-English translator’s favor is vocabulary. Latin and French arrived on Albion’s shores with the Norman Conquest. They were official languages there for nearly four hundred years. Their influence has stayed, enriching English’s treasury. Translators from Latin can use this history; we use it in ordinary speech today.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  11. You keep on with the “slavish translations” Fr. Z.
    This is, indeed, making an impact, whether some like it or not.
    We cannot continue to have “dumbed down” vernacular renderings of the Latin ‘editio typica’.
    If we do not have a faithful translation, it will continue to erode the faith of many and aid and abet the agenda of the ones who want to change our Catholic faith.
    I celebrate both forms of the Roman Rite and look forward to being able to celebrate the vernacular Mass without having to gasp now and then.

  12. ssoldie says:

    We have been having his kind of translation since Vatican II. One of the many fruits? Let’s recover our Catholic identity by restoring our beautiful english translation given to us by very learned and devoit Shepherds, in the Traditional Latin Mass,” Gregorian Rite” Read them, they are so beautiful and reverant.

  13. jfk03 says:

    The lovely thing about the Byzantine liturgy is that it was not significantly maimed by the “spirit” of Vatican II, and its ancient prayers were never dumbed down.

    Here’s an example: “Preserve, O God, the holy orthodox faith and orthodox Christians, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” How would the old ICEL have translated that? I am sure it would have been considered too insensitive and insufficiently PC to have survived the censor’s blue pencil.

  14. Father S. says:

    So long as we are nitpicking (and I’m all for it, by the way) there is one small bit of license in the “literal translation.” Latin has a word for “O”, namely, “O.” While it has been inserted into the “literal translation” it is not present in the Latin. A more faithful translation than “O Lord our God” would be “Our Lord God.” In this way, the noun functions adjectivally as opposed to dividing the adjective (noster) that modifies both nouns (i.e., Domine Deus). This is linguistically analogous to a title such as “the Lord Archbishop of St. Louis.”

    In the grand scheme of things, this is not so important. However, the post is about translation. It just seems to me that this is worth mentioning. When I taught Latin, I certainly would have counted off for this.

  15. MattW says:

    Thanks for the translation, Father. Your blog has inspired me to dig back into Latin; oh, the joy!

    Are any affordable, Latin versions of the NO w/ propers out there?

  16. Hooks says:

    “O, passi graviora, dabit Deus his quoque finem”: oh you, who have suffered worse, God will put an end to even these things!
    “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit!”: perhaps, one day, it will be a joy to remember even these things!
    Two (classical) Latin quotations that have helped me through the last forty years in the desert ‘they’ made and called peace!