Monday, April 10, 2006

"Incarnate" is not Intelligible to the Vast Majority?

Bishop Donald Trautman of the (Catholic) Diocese of Erie weighs in on proposed changes to the English translation of the Catholic Latin-rite Novus Ordo mass (read the whole thing here).

In the proposed translation of the Sacramentary we meet words and expressions that many would consider not in the speech of the mainstream assembly. I cite the following examples:
  1. The proposed translation for the Nicene Creed uses the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” to replace the present wording “one in being with the Father”. Also in this Creed the new wording “by the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary” replaces “he was born of the Virgin Mary”. Both words “consubstantial” and “incarnate” are not readily intelligible to the vast majority of those in the assembly. The present texts are accurate, orthodox formulations of our faith approved by the Holy See and prayed by our people for the past thirty-five years.

  2. A proposed translation for Eucharistic Prayer I reads: “Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light and peace.” The phrase “a place of refreshment” is a literal translation that conveys the image of a heavenly spa or tap room at the heavenly hotel. Using the word “place” wrongly identifies heaven as a geographical location. Presently we translate this prayer as follows: “May these and all who sleep in Christ find in your presence light, happiness, and peace.”

  3. A proposed translation for Eucharistic Prayer II reads: “Make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit.” This is an exact translation of the Latin, but it would not make sense for most in the assembly. While the phrase “dew of your Spirit” is a beautiful biblical metaphor, its literalness as translated does not resonate or communicate with contemporary Christians.
In our current Lectionary we encounter similar examples of accurate literal translations which result in impoverished English texts making them impossible to proclaim or understand. The following are examples:
  1. On the Third Sunday of Advent, B Year, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, we read: “When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Christ.’” Clarity is missing in this exaggerated literal translation which comes from our revised Lectionary translated in Rome. People are confused about what was admitted and not admitted. The former Lectionary simply said: “The testimony John gave when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, ‘Who are you?’ was the absolute statement, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” I would simply add, if this isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

  2. On the Twenty-Fifth Sunday, C Year, in Luke 16:1-13, we read: “Then to another steward he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’” Does anyone in the assembly know the meaning of “kors of wheat”? The Lectionary sent to Rome by the American Bishops said: “A hundred measures of wheat.” The Lectionary from Rome uses a technical, unintelligible term “kors”.

  3. In 2Timothy 1:1-3, 6-12, we have nine lines literally translated for one sentence. The lector is out of breath by the ninth line. A proclaimed text cannot possibly be understood by the hearer when it is so long. This is a frequent failing in our present Lectionary. Little consideration was given to the fact that a scripture translation in the Lectionary is to be suitable for proclamation. This requires different punctuation and treatment of subordinate clauses as found in the original.

  4. Any number of examples could be cited to illustrate that the present Lectionary slavishly translates pronouns, failing to supply nouns. In a translated text for public proclamation a pronoun should often be replaced by a noun for the purpose of intelligibility and clarity.

He goes on to take issue with Liturgiam Authenticam, an instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments:

Liturgiam Authenticam wants a more profound sense of the sacred, a transcendent emphasis in liturgical translations. Paragraph 47 contains a particular norm in this regard: “Liturgical translation…will facilitate the development of a sacred vernacular, characterized by a vocabulary, syntax and grammar that are proper to divine worship.” The text then goes on to claim that this sacred vernacular “has occurred in the languages of peoples evangelized long ago”. Some liturgists dispute this claim. Liturgical scholar Peter Jeffery comments: “Try as I might, I cannot figure out what historical period or language they are talking about. When and where did liturgical translation of the Roman Rite create a sacral vernacular that even shaped every day speech?”

He also pumps for “inclusive language”:

When people come to celebrate Eucharist they come with the everyday language of contemporary American culture in their ears and on their lips. That language reflects the influence of television, videos, movies, newspapers, magazines, and best sellers.

I could have lived without that mental image - the Eucharist in the everyday speech of television and videos. “Take this cup, y’all, and slug it on down. This here is my blood, the blood of the best deal you’re ever gonna get - fo’shizzle, my flockazizzle!” At least I left out the F-word...

He uses Matthew 10:41 as an example of exclusive language – “Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward -” claiming that it excludes women. How? If a woman receives a righteous man, she’ll get a righteous man’s reward. What’s the matter with that? Not to mention my pet peeve that the generic word “man” does include women in standard English usage.

I don’t really have a dog in this hunt, and I don’t like to go after bishops. Wait! Before the lightning strikes, let me rephrase that! I try to avoid going after Catholic bishops.

As someone who teaches students on a regular basis, however, I find this way beyond irritating. If you look at Bp. Trautman’s essay, he uses 7322 words (including the titles) to complain that the proposed changes to the liturgy are too complicated for his parishioners to understand. Leaving aside the elitist arrogance of his thesis, I would submit that he could have used half the bandwidth to teach his flock the meaning of the liturgy, compared to the verbiage he spends defending the use of the lowest common denominator in composing the liturgy. Silly me, but I thought one of the primary jobs for a bishop was to teach and edify the faithful, not to condescend to them. It is a sad decline in the state of the Episcopate from John Chrysostom (the Golden-Mouthed) to Trautman the Banal-Mouthed. No wonder so many masses sound like they were composed for Sesame Street.