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Online Edition: July-August 2008
Vol. XIV, No. 5

ICEL's Response to Bishop Galeone's Criticism

On June 25, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) responded to criticisms of the translation of the Missal heard at the June USCCB meeting. The comments are published with permission from ICEL.

Bishop [Victor] Galeone has broken new ground in the public discussion of liturgical language, raising the debate to a higher intellectual level. Whereas critics of ICEL’s recent drafts have mostly commented on individual vocabulary items, his contribution points to structural and semantic issues that are systemic throughout the Missale. His remarks merit a careful response.

Commenting on ICEL’s proposed translation of the Post-Communion for the Wednesday in Holy Week, he has pointed out that the final verb is preceded by two lines that modify it, whereas the more normal pattern in English is for modifiers to follow their verb. If this principle were followed in this case, the translation might read:

Fill our minds, almighty God,
with sure confidence
that you have given us perpetual life
through your Son’s Death in time,
to which awesome mysteries bear witness.

However, ICEL’s translators have been impressed by the fact that Latin orations, especially Post-Communions, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. Because of this, they have often followed the Latin in placing the modifiers before the verb so that the English prayer also ends on a strong note. In doing so, they have hoped to avoid a defect that many have noticed in the current translations of these prayers, namely that they often end weakly. It has not been possible to follow this procedure in every case, because sometimes too contorted a syntax results, but it has been followed frequently throughout the Missal. The Commission hopes that this pattern, though unfamiliar at first, will soon become familiar, and allow the teleological thrust that marks so many of the Post-Communions to become more apparent to the people.

Bishop Galeone also recommended the addition of ‘this’ to the third line, so that it would read: to which these awesome mysteries bear witness.

The recommendation to insert ‘this’ or ‘these’ where there is no Latin equivalent is made frequently, but the translators have often found themselves disinclined to adopt it, because it narrows the focus of the text. A familiar example is found in the words before Communion currently translated: This is the Lamb of God

These words draw the people’s attention to the Host that the priest holds in his hand, and invite them to recognize Christ present in the Sacrament. But the words were originally those of John the Baptist, spoken when he was at some distance from Jesus. The Commission’s more recent translation, “Behold the Lamb of God...” gives the text a greater polyvalence, inviting the people to remember also the Baptist’s words and the context in which they were first uttered, as well as the eschatological appearance of the Lamb in heaven, which the priest’s subsequent quotation of Apoc. [Rev.] 19:9 recalls.

Returning to the Post-Communion for Wednesday in Holy Week, we can see that Bishop Galeone’s proposal would make the prayer refer clearly to the Eucharist whose celebration is drawing to a close. But it should be noticed that since its earliest appearance (in the Hadrianum manuscript of the Gregorian Sacramentary, dated 811-812), this prayer has been assigned to the day before the beginning of the Easter Triduum. It retained that position in subsequent Sacramentaries, and in the 1570 Missal. This being so, we can see a richer significance in the words mysteria veneranda: they refer not only to the Mass just celebrated, but also to the mysteries of the Triduum that will be beginning next time the people gather. It would seem a pity to remove such a resonance from this ancient prayer by adding the word ‘these’.

International Commission on English in the Liturgy

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