7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Super Oblata ()

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I must tip my biretta to the Internet blog called The Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman for a story in the British Telegraph.  Apparently a group of Latin students in Germany formed a hip hop band about a decade ago named Ista and are now producing and selling CDs of rap music in Latin.  They sell disks through their internet site.  One of the band members made a point WDTPRS made a couple weeks back when we were discussing the language in which papal documents are composed: “Latin is a good language to rap in actually. It has a good rhythm and can be to the point.” 

Before the end of last year we were comparing the first draft of the ICEL translation of ordinary prayers of Holy Mass, the second draft, and our own WDTPRS version which we worked through in fourth year of this series (2003-04).  Let’s get back to that.  We had reached the Roman Canon’s Qui pridie:  WDTPRS LITERAL VERSION: Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands and, when (His) eyes were raised to heaven to You, O God, His Father Almighty, giving thanks to You He blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: All of you receive and eat of this: for this is My Body which will be handed over for you1st NEW ICEL DRAFT: Who on the day before he was to suffer took bread into his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he blessed, broke, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.  2nd NEW ICEL DRAFT (changes underscored): Who on the day before he was to suffer took bread into his holy and venerable hands: with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.

In the 2001 document on translation norms Liturgiam authenticam from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments we find some important principles which those preparing the new vernacular version must adhere to.  For example,

19. The words of the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space. …  20.  … the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.   … 25. So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision. By means of words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s majesty, his power, his mercy and his transcendent nature, the translations will respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself.  (Emphasis added).

I have received notes from people telling me I am wasting my time and energy supporting a better English translation.  I always respond to them that the use of vernacular is here to stay, for better or for worse and whether we like it or not.  Furthermore, would it be better for the Church or worse if, on the one hand, the translations actually conveyed what the content of the Latin original says or, on the other, if the English prayers remained as empty and banal as they are?   So, we had better give support for better translations than we are now forced to use.  At the same time, we are seeing an interest in Latin and more traditional expressions of liturgy popping up all over the place.   All along WDTPRS has been saying we need both good English translations and far more Latin

Not only did The Wanderer itself have an encouraging article about Latin liturgy in last week’s issue, recently in The Washington Times (31 January) there was an article about the beginning of Masses celebrated in Latin (in the Novus Ordo) at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia.   While that article focuses mostly on the older, so-called “Tridentine” Mass, and quotes the His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in his 1997 Salt of the Earth saying, “I am of the opinion, to be sure, that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it”, the focus remains on Latin and more traditional expressions of Catholic liturgy.  According to Fr. McAfee in the same article, “The younger people want to do it more than the older people.”  Fr. McAfee said, “Converts are very open to it. Again, they want the whole thing. At St. Catherine’s [Fr. McAfee’s former parish], I converted two Jews because of that Mass.”  As a convert I too can attest to this: when I became a Catholic I too wanted the whole thing, my entire Catholic inheritance.  The idea that people wanted to keep my newly embraced Catholic  heritage from me made me see red. Going on in that article, (and take note of this all you pastors of parishes out there) Fr. McAfee says one parishioner sent him a $10,000 check and another contributed $5,000 upon hearing Latin Masses were going to begin.  

 This Sunday would have been Sexagesima in the older, traditional Roman calendar.  Our so-called “Prayer over the gifts” is found in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary in the prayers for July under the title Orationes et praeces diurnae.

 SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):

Mysteria tua, Domine, debitis servitiis exsequentes,
supplices te rogamus,
ut, quod ad honorem tuae maiestatis offerimus,
nobis proficiat ad salutem.

 By now all faithful readers of WDTPRS know that mysterium and sacramentum are nearly interchangeable in liturgical Latin.  We like to say “sacramental mysteries”. 

 The language of Latin prayers is quite different from our ordinary speech these days.  One of the things you will notice right away is that it is “courtly”: the language immediately differentiates between the addressee and the speaker.  The incomparable Lewis & Short Dictionary reveals that our term maiestas means “greatness, grandeur, dignity, majesty” and furthermore it is used “of the gods; also the condition of men in high station, as kings, consuls, senators, knights, etc., and, in republican states, especially frequently of the people”.  One of the greatest crimes in ancient Rome was to harm or diminish the maiestas of the people, high treason: majestatem minuere or laederelaesa maiestas.   In English we use the French version, “lese-majesté”. 

 Our Latin prayers will address Almighty God using both personal pronouns (such as the usually invisible tu, and tibi, te, etc.) and also by abstract names such as Maiestas tua (“your majesty”, “your greatness”) Nomen tuum (“your Name”), and Pietas tua (“your goodness”).    In the New Testament words like gloria and maiestas stand for God’s sovereign grandeur, as in Heb 1:3-4: “(Filius) qui cum splendor sit gloriae maiestatis (Greek megalosúnes) in excelsis… He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs” (RSV – cf. also 1 Tim 3:16).  Also in Matthew 25:31: “Cum autem venerit Filius hominis in maiestate sua (Greek dóxe(i))… When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (RSV).  

 Exequor means primarily “to follow to the end, to pursue, follow” but it can also be “to follow or accompany to the grave”.  It can also be “follow up, prosecute, carry out; to perform, execute, accomplish, fulfill”.   Proficio is one of those polyvalent words appearing often in our prayers, and it usually means something like, “to be useful, serviceable, advantageous, etc., to effect, accomplish; to help, tend, contribute, conduce.”  It is rather stilted to say “be serviceable for us”, but our WDTPRS task is to be slavishly literal, not to “be advantageous” unto smooth, liturgically useful versions.  Let’s see what sort of hash ICEL made of the prayer before going on.  You know that when the English is shorter than the Latin, things are going to get ugly.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Lord,
as we make this offering,
may our worship in Spirit and truth
bring us salvation.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
As we are performing Your sacramental mysteries
with due liturgical services, O Lord, we humble petitioners beg You,
that what we are offering unto the honor of Your Majesty,
may be advantageous for us unto salvation.

 Perhaps the most interesting word in our prayer is servitium.  In the abstract it means, “the condition of a slave or servant, slavery, servitude”.  In the concrete it is, “a body of servants, the class of slaves”.   Gaius Plinis Secundus (+79), called Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia uses the word for the “drones” among bees.  The Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer (+159 called simply “Terence”) in his play Andria uses this together with debeo (a form of which is in our prayer today, paired with servitiis) in the phrase “hoc tibi pro servitio debeo… “I owe this to you as your servant”.   The Church Father and Doctor St. Augustine (+430) used servitia debita about necessary service of the poor in a discussion of the active and contemplative life symbolized by the figures of Martha and Mary (s. 103,5).  Turning to another reliable source of Latin clarity, the focused French dictionary of liturgical Latin we call Blaise, servitium is found to be more precisely the liturgy itself and also the service of God by priests.  This is, I think, the meaning we must latch onto here in the service of getting to the bottom of what this prayer really says.

This “prayer over the gifts” rings clear with our humility and God’s majesty.  We apply ourselves to what we owe to God by duty and His commands, but, in doing so, we are in turn enriched beyond our imagining.   The words mysteria tua, Your mysteries, remind us that even though we are acting together in the context of Holy Mass, God is the true actor, the true dispenser of the gifts we receive through the rites of Holy Mass.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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