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.
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.