Truth in the New Translation Series: # 2 – The Memento Domine or Commemoration of the Living in the Roman Canon

This is the second installment of a series begun last week on the New English Translation of the Roman Missal. In this series I seek to present the new translation as a truer translation and hence a truer expression of the Catholic faith than the version in current use. In case you missed the first installment it is here:  Truth in the New Translation Series – The Te Igitur

With the new translation the richness of the Catholic faith in the Roman Missal is once again made available to Catholics in English speaking settings. Many of these riches have been kept hidden by an inferior translation ( a paraphrase, actually) in use since 1970.

We now turn our attention to the second paragraph of the Roman Canon known as the Memento Domine. Presented first is the Latin text, followed by the new translation, followed by the version in current use:

Latin Text: Meménto, Dómine, famulórum famularúmque tuárum N. & N.  Et ómnium circumstántium, quorum tibi fides cógnita est, et nota devótio: pro quibus tibi offérimus, vel qui tibi ófferunt hoc sacrifícium laudis, pro se, suísque ómnibus, pro redemptióne animárum suárum, pro spe salútis et incolumitátis suæ; tibíque reddunt vota sua ætérno Deo, vivo et vero.

New Translation: Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them and all who are dear to them we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and fulfilling their vows to you, the eternal God, living and true.

Version in current use: Remember, Lord, your people, especially those for whom we now pray, N. and  N. Remember all of us gathered here before you. You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. We offer you this sacrifice of praise for ourselves and those who are dear to us. We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well-being and redemption.

1. We are God’s servants – In the translation in current use we refer to ourselves as “your people” but the Latin refers to us as famulorum famularumque (literally “servants and handmaids). The new translation restores the more accurate word “servants” to refer to us. It is true that the use of the word “handmaids” has been dropped. This is likely due to its rather archaic sound in the modern setting. The translators have simply made use of the single word, “servants” to  refer to both male and female though, it is true,  the Latin text distinguishes the two. Perhaps in the modern setting we can say it is a distinction without a difference. But the return to the truer rendering of the word “servants” is helpful to our age. In current times we are slow to acknowledge that, before anything else we are or do, we are God’s servants. We are not God’s equal, neither are we free to set the terms of our obedience to God. That would be pride, the primordial sin wherein Adam and Eve essentially said, “I will decide what I want to do and I will decide whether it is right or wrong.” But as it is, we are not to yield to pride, we are to realize and accept that our greatest glory is to be God’s servant. The Lord Jesus said, Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:43-45). It is appropriate as an antidote to the current climate which has downplayed our status as servants of the Lord.

2. A less presumptive declaration of our faith and devotion – The current version rather presumptively tells God what he should know by saying, You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. This tone is rather presumptive and boldly  asserts things about ourselves that we are not the judge of. Hence the new translation more accurately and humbly renders the Latin, and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. Now we will no longer tell God what he should know about us but rather we will simply and humbly accept that he knows for himself and on his own terms the true degree of our faith and devotion. Here too is another antidote to the rather bold and presumptive tone our times.

3. The distinction between the offering of the clergy and the people  – What the priest is doing at the Altar is separate and distinct from what the gathered people are doing. The ordained ministerial priest in virtue of his ordination is making the offering to the Father in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the head). It is Christ himself who is speaking and ministering through the ordained priest. The Latin text does say offerimus (we offer) but the “we” referred to here is the celebrant along with any other con-celebrating priests. As to the people the Latin text says, vel qui tibi offerunt (or who (themselves) offer unto you). Hence the people DO offer unto God, but in an offering distinct from (though related to) what the priest(s) celebrant(s) are doing. The people are offering prayers, a sacrifice of praise, bread and wine, and monetary support, indeed the gift of their very selves to God. And they make this offering as an exercise of the common or royal priesthood they received in baptism. But as the Catechism points out the common priesthood  of all the baptized  and the ministerial priest are ordered to one another but differ essentially (cf CCC # 1547). The Second Vatican Council affirmed that

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.  They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity. (Lumen Gentium 10)

Hence the more careful rendering  of the new translation spells out the careful wording of the Latin text which preserves the inter-related though distinct offerings taking place here: For them and all who are dear to them we offer  you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them. The lack of proper distinction in the past decades has led to harm in both distinct branches of the priesthood. It has led to a clericalization of the laity, thus undermining respect for their proper role and mission in the temporal order as well as at mass. It has also tended to laicize the clergy thus diminishing respect for their distinct role among the faithful in terms of the celebration of the Sacred liturgy, thus sanctifying, teaching and governing in sacred matters and equipping the laity to exercise proper oversight of the temporal order. It is surely hoped that the new translation will assist in rearticulating and thus recognizing the proper roles and distinctiveness of clergy and laity.

4. Rendering  our vows– The new translation says that the faithful,  in making their offering,  are  fulfilling their vows to you (a fairly literal rendering of the Latin tibíque reddunt vota sua). This is a gloss on a phrase that occurs not infrequently in the psalms occurring over a dozen times in this or a similar form: I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you. (Ps 56:12) or again, Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled (Ps 65:1). The fact is that we owe God our praise. To praise God is described repeatedly in the psalms and elsewhere in Scripture as a kind of debt we owe to God. He is worthy of our praise and since we have this debt we have a kind of vow or promise to render and fulfill that debt of gratitude and praise. Too many people today think of worship as something that exists for them. Hence we hear people say that they “Don’t get anything out of Church” or that they “Are not being fed.” But in the end it is not about you or me. The focus is God and that we owe him a debt of gratitude and praise. We ought to go to Church simply because God is worthy and we have a debt or vow to render. It is nice if the sermon is good, my favorite song is sung etc. but that is not why we go. We go to render or fulfill our sacred duty and vow, to give thanks to God who is infinitely worthy.

The current English version misses the Scriptural allusion altogether by simply saying “We pray to you.” Fine, but again notice the subtle shift to us and what we are doing. Notice too a complete loss of the reason, (our vow or duty). The current text also stumbles badly because it inaccurately links the “We pray” to an expected reward: “for our well being and redemption.” In other words the current translation links our act of praying to reward whereas the Latin text and the new translation link to a duty pure and simple. Here again, the new translation will provide a vast benefit by helping us to recover reference to our duty to worship God and render him thanks simply because he is worthy and we have a duty, obligation and vow to render this even without any hope of reward for it.

So here we are only two paragraphs into the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) and we have had much to discuss. The New translation provides vast benefit in terms of teaching and the recovery of sacred truths which the 1970 version obscured. As can be seen the poor translation of 1970 is directly connected to many struggles we have had in the Church in terms of an improper understanding of the faith and of worship. It is not the only cause, but surely we can see how the new translation will help us recover important truths. More installments in this series will be coming soon.

Video: I realize that some of you do not appreciate Gospel music the way I do. But one of the great blessings of Gospel music is that its focus is almost always on God and what God has done. So much of other modern Church music focuses too much on us. One of the great themes of Gospel music is that God is worthy, worthy of all our praise. This song says,

I’ve got so much to thank God for. o many wonderful blessings, and so many open doors. A brand new mercy along with each new day That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise

For waking me up this morning, That’s why I praise You,  For starting me on my way,  That’s why I praise You.  For letting me see the sunshine,  that’s why I praise You  of a brand new day.  A brand new mercy along with each new day,  That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise!