What Does the Prayer Really Say? 4th Sunday in of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in January 2003
As you know by now, I always welcome feedback, delivered either electronically or by post, and I let you in on some of it. This week is no exception. JW writes via e-mail: “I just wanted to thank you for the great work you’ve done proving us by providing us with accurate translations of the prayers from the Sacramentary. I eagerly wait for your column in The Wanderer each week. Being fluent in Spanish, I also attend Mass in that language. I have come to note that the prayers in the Spanish language Sacramentary were “literally” translated from the Latin. I came to this conclusion by comparing them to your translations, as I am not fluent in Latin. Do you find this true for translations into other languages?”
Thanks for the kind words, JW! All in all, from what I have seen the Latin liturgy fares better in other European languages than in English. Those other translations are, however, not without flaws. As a matter of fact, now that the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) has focused for no little time on ICEL and English, it is turning its sharp-eyed glance to other languages. They, too, must be brought into line with the norms laid down in Liturgiam authenticam (LA), the CDW’s document establishing new norms for vernacular liturgical translations. Sometimes we English speakers fall into the mistake of thinking that everything the Holy See does is really about us (and it probably is, when you consider it for a while….). So, my impression has usually been, when I have used them, that the Italian is pretty good, though it could be improved. I would say the same for Spanish. German and French are less accurate, though not corrupted to the point that the 1973 ICEL version was. I don’t have any experience with other language than those, though I hope to get my Mandarin Chinese into good enough shape so that I can say Mass. In the meantime, struggling with how the translators for ICEL came up with their choices way back when is good preparation for Chinese studies.
LH writes by e-mail: “I am writing in regards to one of your more recent columns in The Wanderer. My mom pointed it out to me (I’m 14 yrs. old). When you said that you guessed that the famous British author J.R.R. Tolkien might have gotten the name for his main character, Frodo, from the French monk Frodobertus, you were incorrect. But it was a good guess. Mr. Tolkien was fascinated with languages, especially that of Norse cultures, and he also knew a lot about their legends. One story in particular tells of the Viking named Frodo, and his adventures;…. Anyway, I just thought you might like to know. I hope that you continue to do well in writing your column.”
Thanks much, LH, but I must point out that I do not, in fact, guess any such thing. What I wrote about in the column for the Baptism of the Lord was that a reader wrote asking about St. Frodobertus and I was guessing that the reader had made a connection between the sounds of the saint’s name and the character in Prof. Tolkien’s great work. I appreciate, LH, that you took the time to write and I am impressed that you have looked into the origins of this name. Perhaps someday you will be translating Latin prayers yourself. And a special thanks also to your parents, who are clearly doing something right in your regard. Start ‘em while their young!
In Mr. John L. Allen, Jr.’s informative weekly feature “The Word From Rome” (17 January 2003) published in website of the National Catholic Reporter and, alas, not somewhere else, we find a very interesting liturgical/sacramental decree from the CDW. “… The decree, signed on Sept. 14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, specifies that if a priest wishes to administer any blessing whatsoever, even if the appropriate ritual book does not specifically require it, he must trace the Sign of the Cross using his right hand. The decree has worldwide validity, and hence overrides any local practice to the contrary. The decree was published in the November 2002 edition of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official compendium of Vatican documents, and is signed by the former prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Jorge Medina EstÃƒÂ©vez, and the secretary, Francesco Pio Tamburrino. Though the decree does not supply a reason, Vatican sources say the concern was to preserve the specifically Christian character of a blessing by a Catholic priest, especially in cultures with other ritual forms that some priests may be tempted to substitute under the guise of “inculturation.” One source told NCR that the congregation got the idea for issuing the decree after an ad limina visit of bishops from Brazil, where indigenous and syncretistic folk religions have a large popular following.” This issue of inculturation is getting to be a problem and will become more and more troublesome over time, I predict, until greater attention is paid to a true and authentic inculturation.
Insightful readers of WDTPRS remember that at the basis of the CDW’s document LA is a sound understanding of inculturation. Without a doubt there is a dynamic exchange constantly going on between the Church and the world. So long as what the Church has to give is logically prior in this exchange to what the world gives back to her, then we are in good shape. The Church must form and shape the world first. This formation is not a chronologically staggered process of formation and reception, naturally. It is ongoing, taking place simultaneously. However, what the Church does must always have a logical, if not chronological, priority. Once it is formed by the proper spiritual values, then the world through its various cultures has many and wonderful human achievements to contribute and integrate back into the life of the Church. However, when the logical priority is reversed, and the Church allows the world to shape her without first having put in place the proper formation in the faith and in morals, then we get into all sorts of problems. As St. Paul wrote in the beginning of the moral section of his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2 RSV).
It is enough to consider some of the goofy liturgical things done in the name of “inculturation” to see that the Church is not always being given logical priority in many places. Some people might consider what His Eminence Cardinal Medina EstÃƒÂ©vez did in that decree sited above as being overly picky, but I would demure. What he did is important because it refocuses us on the gift Christ gives and which the Church mediates: the blessing of a thing so that it becomes a sacramental, separation from the material realm of the prince of this world and set apart for God. In other words, the thing being blessed isn’t just “special” from a sentimental point of view. It isn’t merely an aesthetically pleasing object or possession. It is a spiritual help from which the devils of hell reel back in dismay. Christ and the Church’s agent in this is the priest, himself separated from the world through Holy Orders, conformed to Christ, exercising His power and authority. By the power of the Cross, invoked in the sign of the Cross the priest makes with the proper intention, He strips away any presence of and authority of the Enemy and cast it away when he intends to confer a constitutive blessing on a thing. We who are not angels, and who learn by our senses, need to see and experience outward signs of invisible realities. Requiring the sign of the Cross when blessing is a return, in a way, to the Church’s having a logical priority in the dynamic exchange between the Church and the good things the world has to offer.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Redemptionis nostrae munere vegetati, quaesumus, Domine,
ut hoc perpetuae salutis auxilio
fides semper vera proficiat.
This was the Postcommunio for “Sabbato in albis”, the Saturday during the Octave of Easter, having antecedents in the Gelasian Sacramentary.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you invigorate us with this help to our salvation.
By this eucharist give the true faith continued growth
throughout the world.
We who have been quickened by the gift of our redemption, O Lord,
beseech you, that true faith may always gain ground
by means of this aid for eternal salvation.
The mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary tells us that the late Latin verb vegeto means “to arouse, enliven, quicken, animate, invigorate.” There are three kinds of living beings with material bodies, i.e., vegetative, animal and human (angels are living beings too, but without bodies). Proficio has a range of meanings. Basically, it is “to go forward, advance, gain ground, make progress”. In different contexts is can mean this and also, “to grow, increase” and “to be useful, serviceable, advantageous, etc., to effect, accomplish; to help, tend, contribute, conduce”. Think of what it means in English to be “proficient”. So, we might make the choice here to say “that the true faith may always grow”, which would be in keeping with the imagery invoked in vegetati (“quickened, enlivened”) or perhaps we might say “that the true faith may always advance” which would hark to how we are pilgrims in this world. Perhaps “gain ground” captures both? I am reminded of how my (vegetative) oregano and thyme plants tend to “gain ground” over their neighbors, as they creep and spread and take more and more surface as they grow.
By our baptism we are made capable of receiving the benefits of the “gift of our redemption”. By the spiritual (and physical) nourishment offered us in the Eucharist, we simultaneously progress toward our ultimate goal of heaven and we are strengthened for our work here. Chronologically heaven comes later. At the same time, if we desire to be spiritually healthy and later attain that heaven, we must adhere closely to the here and now. Nevertheless, our goal of heaven must always have a logical priority over what we are doing here. The “now” is important because the “later” is more important. We cannot let the present, or the world, blind us to the priority that lies in the future bliss of heaven and the spiritual realm. Our liturgy (music, art, vestments, architecture, gestures, etc.), being a foretaste of the heavenly banquet must give priority to the spiritual and not the worldly, while at the same time it embraces and transforms the world. The Eucharist is the food which changes us into what It is, rather than the other way around.
Baptism makes us all priests in this ineffable dynamic exchange. Some are priests by baptism, others are priests by baptism and by Holy Orders. These are two very different kinds of priests, of course, but they still must embrace both elements of Christ’s priesthood: He is the one who offers sacrifice at the same time as He is the Sacrifice who is offered. Perhaps we can take a clue from the writings of a Father of the Church and reflect on how we can both “gain ground” and also keep in balance the proper relationship of the Church and the world, inculturation:
“If I renounce everything I possess, if I carry the cross and follow Christ, I have offered a holocaust on the altar of God. Or if I burn up my body in the fire of charity…, I have offered a holocaust on the altar of God; … if I mortify my body and abstain from all concupiscence, if the world is crucified to me and not me unto the world, then I have offered a holocaust on the altar of God and I am becoming a priest of my own sacrifice.” (Origen (c. 185-254), In Leviticum homiliae., 9, 9).