Vol. XIV, No. 5
News and Views
Conflicting opinions about the proper way to do liturgical translations has been a besetting problem for at least four decades. Sometimes a glance at the past can help to give perspective to current controversies.
In an article by Gareth Edwards, “Modern English in the Mass”, in the October 22, 1966 issue of America magazine (pp 483-485), the author argues that Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy implies that “the nearer the language of the Eucharist can be brought to modern vernacular, the greater the resulting benefit…. [O]ur democratic society and informal habits make it necessary for us to think of God as a friend, not as a king…”
“It would be a great pity”, writes Mr. Edwards, “if, at the moment when it bursts out of the strait jacket of Latin, it allowed itself to be enclosed in that of Anglican English…. If the Church wants to sweep the world like the Beatles, it must use language as contemporary as theirs”.
“The people of God have a right to enjoy their worship”, he writes. “Vocabulary must be kept simple”, Mr. Edwards advises; and to be avoided are religious words that “have the disadvantage of a certain staleness”, and “have acquired the deadness of stock phrases”. His examples: “almighty, ascended, catholic, Church, holy, resurrection, rite, sacrifice, salvation, Scriptures”.
He continues, “In this writer’s view, it is often better to find equivalents for these expressions that, while doing no violence to their meaning, will inject a little surprise or shock into the liturgical context with beneficial results”.
Even the word “amen” would be excised from the vocabularies of Catholics “who have a right to enjoy their worship” — its meaning must be made explicit in order to avoid “spiritual loss”, says Mr. Edwards. Thus, “Amen” should be “We thank you”, “We believe this”, “Answer our prayer”. (He does not explain how the choice among his alternatives should be made.)
The Pater Noster, rendered by Mr. Edwards according to his own translation principles, becomes:
Heavenly Father, may your name be said reverently. May your reign over men come soon. May your wishes be carried out on earth, just as they are in heaven. Give us today the food we shall need tomorrow. Cancel our debts to you: we cancel those others owe to us. Keep away from us the worst trials and save us from the power of evil. Answer our prayer.
“It would be doing a grave wrong to English-speaking humanity to impose on it, for generations, third-rate language”, he writes.
Ah. Yes. Three generations of English-speaking Catholics have experienced the effects.
Two days before the May 30 ordination of Bishop James Conley as the new auxiliary bishop of Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput recalled another bishop, whose perseverance and fearless defense of the Catholic faith are virtually unparalleled in history of the Church. Saint Athanasius (ca. 296-373) was bishop of Alexandria during the Arian heresy, which threatened to split the Church.
In his May 28 column in the Denver Catholic Register, Archbishop Chaput wrote,
“Seventeen centuries ago a young deacon and scholar named Athanasius of Alexandria was inspired by the Holy Spirit. In a time of heavy turmoil in the world and in the Church, Athanasius fought for the true Catholic faith at the great ecumenical Council of Nicaea and throughout his entire career.
“Emperors hated him. His enemies falsely accused him of cruelty, sorcery and even murder. He was exiled five times. And in the face of it all, he became the single most articulate voice defending the true and undiluted Catholic faith, which is why even today we remember him as Athanasius contra mundum: ‘Athanasius against the world’. He never gave up. He always had courage. He had the truth, and the truth won. And in the end, he became one of the best-loved bishops and greatest Doctors of the Church — and the Catholic faith we take for granted today, we owe in part to him.
“That’s the vocation of a bishop. That’s the vocation Bishop-elect Conley will take up on behalf of God’s people. But that’s also the vocation of every Catholic believer fully alive in Jesus Christ”.
— Source: Denver Catholic Register
Pope Benedict XVI spoke of bishops as “liturgists” in his homily for Mass on the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, Sunday, June 29, 2008, in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
At the end of his homily, in words especially addressed to the 40 new metropolitan archbishops on whom he conferred the pallium, a specially woven lamb’s-wool band symbolizing their jurisdiction and unity, Pope Benedict said,
“This brings me back, finally, to St. Paul and his mission. He expressed the essence of his mission, as well as the most profound reason for his desire to go to Rome, in Chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans, in an extraordinarily beautiful passage. He knows he has been called ‘to serve as liturgist of Christ Jesus for the peoples, ministering as priest the Gospel of God, so that the pagans may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’ (15:16). Only in this passage does Paul use the word ‘hierourgein’ — ministering as a priest — together with ‘leitourgos’ — liturgist: he speaks of the cosmic liturgy, in which the world of men itself must become adoration of God, an offering in the Holy Spirit. When the whole world will have become the liturgy of God, when in its reality it will have become adoration, then it will have reached its goal, then it will be whole and saved. And this is the ultimate objective of the apostolic mission of Saint Paul, and our mission. It is to such a mystery that the Lord calls us. Let us pray in this hour that He may help us carry it out in the right way, to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ. Amen”.
The Holy Father’s homily is accessible on the Vatican web site.