I have little understanding why anyone would not want a new translation. I DO understand that familiarity is often appreciated but the fact is, what we have been using since 1970 is not even a translation. At best, it is a paraphrase. For those of us who know Latin, the poverty of the current English Missal was enough to provoke anger and deep sorrow. The richness of the Latin text is great and masterful, and that most Catholics have had no real access to it is a matter that has needed correction for decades.
In this series which I begin today as an occasional feature I would like to look at some of the new texts which have already been released. I would like to compare them both to the Latin text and to the current rendering (I cannot call it a translation) we are currently using. I would like to begin with the venerable Roman Canon. In this installment we will look just at the opening lines of that text. As you will see many important teachings are being recovered in the new translation, teaching never lost in the Latin but soon to be restored by a correct and complete translation to the English speaking world. I list first the Latin, then the new translation, then the current rendering for your reference. There follows my commentary.
Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas + haec dona haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata, in primis, quae tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica: quam pacificare, custodire, adunare et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum: una cum famulo tuo Pap nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. et omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus.
New Translation: To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you first of all for your holy Catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.
Current Rendering: We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless + these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church, watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world. We offer them for N. our Pope, for N. our bishop, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles.
- Getting our focus right– Notice that the New translation begins “To you therefore” whereas the current usage has “We come to you.” The New translation renders the Latin (Te igitur) correctly. But of equal importance is the fact that the proper focus is restored in the New Translation. The focus shifts from us (“we”) to God (“You”). One of the greatest problems with modern liturgy has been its anthropocentric focus. Modern liturgical notions have wanted to focus on the self-aware, gathered community than seems to frequently to celebrate and focus on itself. Modern songs go on at great length to describe that we are gathered, that we are church, that we are called, chosen, etc. Modern church architecture too has tended to focus the community upon itself with circular and fan shaped churches. It is true that perhaps in the liturgies of the early half of the 20th century that the congregation had all but been forgotten. But the over correction now needs correction itself. The focus of worship is God, what God has done, is doing and who He is. God is worthy of our worship and praise. Liturgy does not exist to entertain me or please me. It is directed to God. God, it is true speaks to us and ministers to us, but until we focus on Him and pay attention to him as our true focus, the Lord’s ministry to us is less fruitful than it should be. Consider for example a visit to the doctor. If the focus is merely on what pleases me and makes me feel good, and not the truth that the Doctor offers, the fruitfulness of the visit to the doctor is severely compromised. In the same way, if my visit to God’s house is on me and what pleases me and affirms me, and not on the truth that God proclaims and on his goodness and wisdom, my visit to God’s house is far less fruitful. Hence the Latin text and the new translation focuses on God and leaves behind the anthropocentric emphasis of the current rendering.
- Celebrating the Father and the Son– Notice the Latin text and the new translation contain far more adjectives in reference to the Father and the Son than the current rendering. The current render calls him merely “Father” whereas the Latin and the more faithful New translation refer to him as a most clement or most merciful Father. Further the Son is referred to as Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord. The Lordship of Jesus Christ cannot be emphasized enough in an age which has tended to reduce him to a merely affirming brother who told us to love each other and other nice things. Further, the great mercy and clemency of the Father must also be emphasized in an age which has tended to identify the Father with the “vengeful God of the Old Testament.”
- Ecstatic joy in the gifts we offer– There is a kind of ecstatic joy in the Latin and the new translation as we describe what we offer as gifts, offering and unblemished sacrifices. When I celebrate the Mass in Latin I sense a real joy as I say haec dona! haec munera! haec sancta sacrificia illibata! (these gifts, these offerings, these holy unspotted sacrifices) We are joyful in what we bring to God and we describe them almost as a child who has personally made a gift for a parent and joyfully presents it. The current rendering does not capture this joy but simply speaks of the them as gifts we offer in sacrifice. Gone is any reference to them as being holy or unspotted. The Old Testament had required a sacrificial lamb that was unblemished, hence the new translation also recaptures the scriptural allusion of the Latin.
- Recovering the Church as Bride– One of the most egregious tendencies of the current rendering is to consistently refer to the Church as “it” rather than as “she” and “her.” The Church is not an impersonal institution but is the great Bride of Christ. She is His Bride and our Mother. You will note that the new translation restores the proper pronoun “her” as opposed to the impersonal pronoun “it”.
- The Church needs more than guidance, she needs governance– Note too that the new translation asks the Lord to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her. The current rendering is less strong asking the Lord merely to “guide” the Church rather than govern her. Frankly we need more than guidance. We DO need governance. We need commandments, and clear instruction. Too many moderns prefer a suggestive and supportive God who affirms but does not correct or punish, who does not direct and command. But the real and true God does command, does insist and does correct and punish. It is proper that the Latin “regere” should once again be properly rendered “govern.”
- A papal title recovered – One of the great titles of the Pope is Servus Servorum Dei – the Servant of the Servants of God. The current rendering omitted what the Latin says and simply called him our Pope. He is that but there is no greater dignity than to be the servant of God. In Mark 10:43-44 the Lord told the Apostles that the greatest among the flock must be the servant, even the slave of the others. The Pope’s most profound quality is that he has authority as one who serves.
- The faith is true– The Latin text is ancient and makes use of the word orthodox. It is used as an adjective, not as a proper Noun as though it were referring to the Orthodox Churches of the East. The word “orthodox” refers literally to “straight (or correct) thinking.” Hence it means that which is revealed to us and which is true. Hence the New translation correctly renders the word orthodoxis in a way that avoids the impression of the Churches of the east and captures what the Latin was originally getting at. The orthodox are those who cling or hold to what is true. The current rendering simply omits any reference to this word. But more than ever we need to recover a sense today that our faith is not just a viewpoint, or a way of thinking. Our faith is a truth claim. The opposite of what we teach is not just less meaningful, it is false. Jesus said, For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:37). The Roman Canon alludes to this verse here. It is good that we have this back in the new translation. More than ever we need to recover a notion that when the Church announces the faith to the world, she (we) are not just expressing an opinion. We are speaking the truth. And those who are of the truth listen to us.
Well, we’re just getting started. And you can see how much has been lost and how much is being recovered in the new translation just these few lines. Praise God for this new translation which restores to us many teachings lost by the poor paraphrase we are currently using. I hope you’ll see that any discomfort in getting used to a new text is more than worth the price to recover the richness of the Latin Text.
Msgr. Bruce Harbert is a member of the new ICEL commission which was responsible for developing the new translation. In this 11 minute video he describes some of the insights and history of the new translation.