Truth in the New Translation Series # 5 – The Quam Oblationem

We have been exploring the new translation of the Roman Missal that will go into effect by Advent of 2011. It is the purpose of this series to show the value of the new translation by meditating upon the truths that it more accurately translates. These truths were never lost to the Church for the Latin texts have remained with us. However, most Catholics who do not read Latin have not been able to appreciate these beautiful truths since the  1970 translation currently in use omitted a great deal of the Latin meaning. With the new translation, much of this meaningful teaching is fully restored to the faithful. We are a little less than half way through the First Eucharistic Prayer (the Roman Canon). If you have missed previous installments of this series they can be viewed here: Truth in the New Translation Series

To be honest I had suspended this series since I had heard rumors that there were more changes come even to the ordinary texts that have already been published and are actually in use in certain parts of the world. However, after several weeks with no news in this regard, I have decided to reopen the series.

As with previous installments we note first the Latin text. Then the new translation, and then the 1970 rendering that is currently in use. There follows commentary that shows forth the improvements in the new translation.

LATIN: Quam oblationem tu, Deus, in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris: ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat dilectissimi Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi.

NEW TRANSLATION: Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

1970 TRANSLATION: Bless and approve our offering; make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord

Imperative tone ameliorated– One of the significant problems with the translation currently in use is its imperative tone. We seem in many cases to be telling God want to do. The fact that we are asking is lost by frequent used of the imperative voice with nothing to moderate it. Hence the current version says “Bless and approve our offering; make it acceptable….” Are we telling God this or asking Him? In my conversation with fellow human beings I do not speak this boldly. I most often soften the imperative tone with words like “please” or “would you mind?” or “kindly” or “I would appreciate it if…” But the current translation from 1970 does none of this. It is not just a problem with this prayer, but is a problem all throughout the current Sacramentary. It comes off as very bold to speak in this manner and while it is true that the tone of voice of the priest can help, it still remains a very bold and inappropriate tone to use with God. The Latin text however is steeped in humility. The use of  quaesumus (meaning “we beseech” or “we humbly ask”) sets the humble tone. Then, instead of using the imperative voice for the verb form, the Latin more humbly renders it as “we humbly ask that you might see fit (digneris) to make this offering blessed, approved, ratified, spiritual and acceptable in every way.” Now my rather clumsy and legalistic translation is rendered more beautifully and still  accurately by the new translation as: Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable. But the main point to note in all of this is that the seemingly rather proud and imperious tone of the 1970 translation has been set aside and the more proper and humble, requesting tone of the Latin has been to restored to us. This is a much more appropriate manner in which to speak to God.

Oops, Forgot to Mention God– You may notice that the 1970 translation does not have the word “God” in it. But the Latin text states clearly, “Deus.” Now granted, it is understood that we are addressing God here and some may argue it was unnecessary to supply the word again. However, there is a theological matter to also consider. One of the current critiques of the Roman Canon is that in the epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the offerings) the Holy Spirit is not mentioned explicitly. The other more recently composed Eucharistic Prayers follow the Eastern Tradition of mentioning the Holy Spirit explicitly. For example the Second Eucharistic Prayer says “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy…..” The other Eucharistic Prayers have similar invocations. But the 1970 translation made matters worse by not mentioning God at all here. At least the Latin allows for us to possibly understand “God” here to mean “God the Holy Spirit”  While this is debatable it is also theologically important to acknowledge that every external act of the Trinity is always an act of the whole Trinity even if we intellectually attribute specific roles to specific Persons within the Trinity. Hence, saying “Deus” does not exclude the Holy Spirit who is God. But for that reason, the reassertion by the Latin text of the word Deus (God) was not without purpose. We are asking God, (perhaps here referring God the Holy Spirit, or at least inclusive of the Holy Spirit) to bless our oblation. It is good that the new translation re-includes the reference specifically to God.

Superlatives restored – The Latin text refers to Jesus as dilectissimi Filii tui (your most beloved Son). The 1970 translation seemed to have some sort of mysterious bias against these sorts of words. We saw this at the opening words of the Roman Canon where the word clementissime (most merciful) was dropped in reference to the Father. And now we seen dilectissimi dropped in reference to Jesus. The 1970 Translation also rather strangely adds the word “only” which is not in the Latin. Perhaps they were trying to capture the word “most beloved” without saying it? Strange. But the omission of these superlatives adds to the terse and somewhat flat quality of the 1970 translation. The Roman Canon is very charismatic and ecstatic in many ways. It uses an almost “flowery excess” at times. But this helps to call forth  a spirit of joyful prayer and humble gratitude that is quite lost in the 1970 version. Thankfully the new translation restores this sense and mood by translating the Latin accurately and beautifully: so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This piece is from the Vivaldi Gloria in D and the Latin text say simply Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ, only son of the Father). The piece is not as easy to sing as you might suspect. The timing and vocal  acuity necessary make it very difficult. This video is as visually beautiful as the music.

6 Replies to “Truth in the New Translation Series # 5 – The Quam Oblationem”

  1. A widely-expressed complaint is that the new translation is too complex and lacks “proclaimability”. At first sight, the comfortably familiar phrasing of the old translation seems more fluid than the new one, but that impression can be mitigated by printing the text in sense lines – as it will appear in the new Missal

    Be pleased, O God, we pray,
    to bless, acknowledge,
    and approve this offering in every respect;
    make it spiritual and acceptable,
    so that it may become for us
    the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son,
    our Lord Jesus Christ.

    My second general comment is that the previous translation too frequently omitted, altered or obscured scriptural references or allusions in the Latin text of the Missal. The “quam oblationem”, however, is an instance of the old translation being superior to the new one by virtue of just such a manipulation of scriptural reference.

    In the “quam oblationem”, the old translation substituted a quotation from Jn.4:24 (“God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth”) in place of the allusion to Ro.12:1 (“offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship”). The connection with the “quam oblationem” is more evident in the Vulgate (“ut exhibeatis corpora vestra . . Deo placentem rationabile obsequium vestrum”). The White Book annotations point to this as a source.

    The Holy Father has several times explained this notoriously difficult phrase “rationabile obsequium (Gk. logikE latreia) and it is unfortunate that the English “spiritual” fails to convey the full meaning of what is, itself, an inadequate Latin translation of the Greek word logikE – derived from Logos. See “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, pp.44-47 where all these threads are brought into harmony. I see, on re-reading it, that the same chapter (“From Old Testament to New” at p.38) makes the same connection you pointed out in your earlier post about Abraham’s sacrifice and the Lamb of God

    1. From what I’ve learned so far, I’m all for the new translation, however:
      “make it spiritual and acceptable” is far, far weaker than the simplicity and awesomness of the current version –
      “make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and truth”.
      I always tremble when I hear those words.

  2. Love the Domine … and feeling especially blessed that changes are occurring at a time when I am so hungry to understand and that you are taking the time to explain it.

    May I ask why we don’t just go back to the Latin? I have been studying the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic and can sing half of it … so I am sure I’ll be able to learn the Latin as well if I put my mind to it Then if we go to a church in Vietnam or India or Kenya or America, it will all be the same.

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