Thursday, June 27, 2002

What Mark Shea Wants, Mark Shea Gets!

Mark Shea was kind enough to describe my thoughts Tuesday on Archbishop-elect Dolan of Milwaukee as "sage". I am grateful to Mark for recognizing my heretofore underappreciated sagacity.

Since I have been elevated to the exalted rank of Sage, Mark asked me to share more of my insights regarding Romanitas and Vox Clara, the new commission established by the Holy See to oversee English liturgical translations. I will be happy to comply. In my comments Tuesday I adduced the establishment of Vox Clara as a good illustration of Romanitasat work. For those unfamiliar with what has been going on, Cardinal Medina, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship ("Divino Cultu") began trying in 1999 to get our Bishops and ICEL, the organization responsible for our dreary and inaccurate English version of the Roman Liturgy, to reform itself. After going around in circles with them for three years and meeting with nothing but excuses, footdragging, and lame attempts at self-justification, Cardinal Medina apparently concluded that ICEL was incapable of being reformed. So he got Archbishhop Pell of Sydney, Australia, Cardinal George of Chicago, and other bishops together to form Vox Clara, which has taken over from ICEL the responsibility for producing a new English version of the Roman Missal. If you consult my Principles of Romanitas below, you'll see that the second is "If you can't convert [your enemies], then render them harmless." By creating Vox Clara Rome has all-but rendered ICEL harmless. ICEL's temporizing and stalling tactics, and indeed, ICEL itself, has been obviated by Rome. I think that John Page, the long time Secretary of ICEL, saw that too, as he is resigning effective August 15. It seems to me that Rome finally realized that it was under no obligation to go on recognizing or "doing business" with ICEL.

Now I wrote above that Rome had "all-but" rendered ICEL harmless. I qualified my statement because ICEL still has some power, because it holds the copyright to all of the official liturgical translations still in use in the English-speaking world. Because it holds copyright, ICEL receives royalties virtually every time a liturgical text appears in print. That means that ICEL will be something of a "cash cow" for some time to come. Until we have new translations, we will be forced to endure the current bad ones.

Mark asks when we're going to get good translations. I don't have a crystal ball, but I expect it will take a few years. Translating something like the Missale Romanum is a daunting task, especially if you want to do it right. Merely knowing Latin well is not enough. You must know and understand the theology and liturgical semiotics behind the prayers and texts, because producing a literal word-for-word translation does not work. The translator must convey the thought expressed in the idiom of one language in the idiom of another. Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote an excellent essay called "The Trials of a Translator" which I would commend to all who are interested in the issue of accurate translations.

An example of these problems is found in the Second Eucharistic Prayer, where a faithful translator has to cope with the problem of what to do with the "dew" of the Holy Spirit which is found in the text of the epiclesis (the moment when the priest extends his hands over the gifts and calls down the Holy Spirit). ICEL deals with the "problem" of the dew by omitting any mention of it whatsoever.

The Latin text has:xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxICEL translates:

Vere Sanctus es, Domine, fonsxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLord, you are holy indeed,
omnis sanctitatis.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe fountain of all holiness.

Haec ergo dona, quaesumus,xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLet your Spirit come upon these gifts
Spiritus tui rore sanctifica,xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto make them holy, so that
ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiantxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthey may become for us the Body
Domini nostri Jesu Christi.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

A more faithful translation might go like this:

Truly you are Holy, Lord, the Source of all Holiness.

Grant, we beseech Thee, that the sanctifying Dew of
Thy Spirit may descend upon these gifts, so that they
may become the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Notice, as I mentioned, that the ICEL translation makes no attempt to render the image of the Holy Spirit descending like the dew. I'd also point out, as an aside, that the ICEL version leaves out the bit about "beseeching" (it is typical for the ICEL version to omit such "vertical" language of our humility before God). The image, the metaphor, is readily understandable, and in fact beautiful. But it is difficult to render concisely in English. Some might quibble with my version because the Latin text contains no words about "descend-ing". But I would argue that the meaning and import of the text is made plain by the use of the metaphor of the dew's descent. At any rate, I have gotten into arguments with other Latinists about how to go about rendering the language about the "dew."

Speaking of arguments, a minor one has been running in the "Comments" of Mark's blog about how to render the dismissal for Mass, "Ite, Missa est", in English. This is another translator's crux, because the phrase is idiomatic in Latin, and in fact remained the stock dismissal long after most people had forgotten what it actually meant. Firstly, the word "Missa" meaning "Mass" comes from the use of the dismissal formula, not the other way around. But it is an ancient usage, going back to St. Ambrose at least, and may be as old as the Latin Mass itself. Now, those of you wishing to avoid arcane points of Latin grammar may leave off here. Brad and David get caught up in figuring out what the participle "Missa" is referring to: Brad suggests the Church, David suggests the sacrificial victim, the hostia. I'm afraid that both suggestions, while well intentioned, are fanciful. There is no evidence for either. David's assertion that the use of a participle without antecedent "would make no sense" is also incorrect. Latin uses participles without antecedent all the time, especially in idiomatic or stock phrases. Both Jungmann and Parsch, two sources I trust on liturgical matters, agree that the phrase is a formal dismissal, addressed to the congregation. Jungmann leaves it at that, Parsch goes further, and interprets it as a sending forth. Parsch elaborates that the word "missa" is related to "missio", a sending or mission. Thus , "Ite, Missa est" may be rendered "Go, you have been sent," or, if you prefer Jungmann's more minimalist explanation, "Go, it is finished."