QUAERITUR: Translation of “benedixt” in the Roman Canon

From a reader:

Would you consider doing a blog entry on the translation of “benedixit” as “said the blessing” in the new translation of the Roman Canon? I find this rendering a bit distracting as I can’t, with my basic knowledge of Latin, see how they got that translation. A good explanation of why it is okay would be really helpful (assuming there is one). Thank you.

Some context:

Qui, pridie quam pateretur, accepit panem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas, et elevatis oculis in caelum ad te Deum Patrem suum omnipotentem, tibi gratias agens benedixit, fregit, deditque discipulis suis dicens: …

 

The question focuses on the translation of Latin benedico, a compound of bene + dico, which obviously means in the first place, “to speak well of any one, to commend, praise”. By extension it also used in later, eclessiastical Latin, as “to bless, praise, or adore” God. Sometimes the object, God, is in the accusative (benedico Deum) and sometimes the “object” is in the dative, as in “to speak well to God”, “to adore God” (benedico Deo). By even more extension, it means when in reference to created things (people, objects) “to bless, consecrate, hallow”.

So, “to speak the blessing” is not at all outside the pale when rendering benedico.  But why not just say “bless”?

Perhaps the translators and those who approved it thought that they had to spin out the fact that the word is a compound, bene+dico.   For my part, I think it should be simpler.

 

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9 Responses to QUAERITUR: Translation of “benedixt” in the Roman Canon

  1. John Nolan says:

    At least it’s now actually translated (in the German version it still isn’t). The post-Conciliar Church seems to have a problem with blessings, witness the controversial ‘Book of Blessings’ which unlike the Roman Ritual doesn’t actually bless anything.

  2. Actually, I think this translation is meant to reflect the original meaning of the word “benedixit” in the context of the Last Supper — from which the Words of Institution are taken. In that context “benedixit” means “said the Passover blessing prayer over the bread.” Which Our Lord then broke and distributed. Obviously, we don’t say that blessing prayer any more, so in the EF that word was appropriated to the Christian blessing with a Sign of the Cross. The older translation that just said “blessed it” represents that appropriation, not the original meaning of the word. So there is a logic here.

  3. vox borealis says:

    Hm. It looks as if the translators are trying subtly to make panem *not* the direct object of benedixit. I’m not saying they were trying to be heretical or anything, but perhaps there is some liturgical-historical reasoning, i.e. that Christ did not bless the bread but rather made a more generic blessing (blessing his disciples?) as he distributed what was literally the first Eucharistic communion? Still, grammatically it is pretty clear that panem “goes with” all the of the finite verbs: accepit, benedixit, fregit, dedit.

    It is interesting, perhaps, to note that this is the same translation as used in the NAB for Matthew’s version of the consecration at the Last Supper (26.26). Looking at the Greek, the text reads “…labôn ho Jêsous arton kai eulogêsas eklasen dous tois mathêtais eipen…” (literally and clumsily: Jesus, having taken the bread and having said the blessing, he broke it [and] having given it to his disciples he said…”

    Perhaps the translators were trying to get some of the Greek flavor, which employs more participles in this case? Whatever the reason, the NAB translators and the translators for the Roman Missal appear to be trying to convey something very technical and precise by rendering “benedixit” as “he gave the blessing.”

    Whether that works or not is another story.

  4. vox borealis says:

    Ah, and then Fr. Augustine beats me to it, with a more economical and clear explanation.

  5. Fr. Augustine is surely correct in that this change is intended to more accurately translate the underlying scripture. However, I wonder whether an indirect effect is a subliminal connotation of a change from an explicit consecration to a “mere” institution narrative–in a sense that would lessen the emphasis on the Mass as perpetuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross, and increase the emphasis on it as a re-enactment of the Last Supper. Noting that traditional Catholics seem always to speak of “consecration” rather than use the phrase “institution narrative” that is common among others.

  6. Sam Schmitt says:

    For some reason the new translation of the 4th Eucharistic Prayer has “blessed . . . it” instead of “said the blessing,” even though the word “benedixit” appears there just as it does in the 1st and 3rd EP, where it is translated “said the blessing.” (There is no “benedixit” at this point in the 2nd EP). Any reason for this?

  7. Vecchio di Londra says:

    To me it seems fanciful to see the word ‘benedixit’ as referring to a Seder blessing.

    Of course Our Lord, who was Jewish, would naturally have used a Jewish form of prayer to bless the bread and wine of the First Eucharist, but surely it would not have been the ritual Passover/Seder blessing – for that would already have been said before the start of the Passover meal, which was already well under way when Christ interrupted it so dramatically.

    I can see no reason for altering the ancient and established words of the Latin Canon in which Christ ‘blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples…’ The words are actually supported by the original Greek, which the ancient Roman liturgists knew well, and by the corresponding passage in the Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil.

    In the Greek text of Matt. 26:26 the recent translators may have been misled by the punctuating comma after ‘kai eulogisas,’ and overlooked the word’s strongly implied referral back to ‘labon arton’ and the immediately following verbs ‘broke’ and ‘gave’ – which like ‘eulogisas’ also clearly refer back to the bread. An ‘it’ participle is simply not needed in that sentence structure. Nobody would be expected to ask the writer ‘He blessed what?’ – or assume some other unspecified ‘blessing’ – for we have, as far as I can see, no intransitive use of ‘eulogeo’ throughout the NT.
    This view of the First Eucharist is reinforced by the Greek of Rom. XII:14.
    Also, if one looks at the prefiguring passage in the Greek (Luke IX:16) – the miracle of the loaves and fishes – it is clear from the Greek of that narrative that the verb ‘eulogeo’ – which is always transitive on the several occasions where it occurs in the NT – unambiguously takes an object, and clearly states that Christ ‘blessed and broke’ the loaves and fishes. (The Last Supper narrative in Luke says ‘having given thanks’ rather than ‘blessed’, but this too is a form of blessing: calling the Father’s blessing on the action He is about to perform. It works together with Matt, rather than contradicting it.)
    For me, ‘blessed it‘ is the clear meaning of the text. No one had ever questioned it before now, and it seems a bit late to start. Also, if a translator is going to assume (wrongly) that ‘bless’ is intransitive, then surely ‘said a blessing’ would be more relatively accurate – ‘The’ implies there’s one known and common formula, which is and was not the case.

  8. Of course, our Holy Father has emphasized–in discussing the “pro multis” matter, as I recall–that the Latin liturgical text is an primary source in itself to be translated accurately directly from the Latin, independent of questions about the translation of Hebrew scriptures.

  9. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Henry Edwards – Hear hear!