In early 2012, thanks to a Brazilian ESL exchange student living in my house, I became—unexpectedly—very familiar with the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” She had the film nearly memorized in Portuguese (being a somewhat fashion-obsessed young woman), so watching the DVD in English time and time again was an enjoyable language skills-building exercise for her. I was her coach for specific idiomatic English expressions that didn’t carry over particularly well from Portuguese.
If you’re not familiar with the film, it is set in the world of a New York fashion magazine, overseen by the draconian Meryl Streep, who has just hired a fashion-senseless assistant, played by Anne Hathaway. In one scene, as a team is trying to get a cover photo shoot together, another assistant holds up two nearly-identical belts and says, “It’s hard to choose. They’re so different.” This elicits a chortle from Anne Hathaway, who then says she doesn’t know much about “this stuff.” She is icily informed by Meryl Streep exactly how, years ago, similar people in a photo shoot meeting actually chose the popular color of the nevertheless-distasteful sweater she’s wearing that day; chose it from a pile of “stuff.”
Like all good parables, in our different life situations we can identify with different characters. In the matter of belts and all things fashion, I am essentially Anne Hathaway’s character. Since we were, in 2012, still in the immediate aftermath of the implementation of the 2010/2011 English translation of the Mass, I found myself wondering if people in our parish pews didn’t feel like Anne about some of the changes/choices in all the “stuff” of the translation: “God of hosts” vs. “God of power and might.”
One person’s belt choices are another person’s word choices.
I’m sure that everyone who reads PrayTell can leap to the comment boxes to explain to me why/how that particular change in word choice was made and its value, or lack thereof. That’s a good thing but—gentle PrayTell readers—we inhabit something of a liturgical hothouse, and shouldn’t think that the communities and congregants we serve occupy that same climate.
For example, I recall that, around the same time, there were dire predictions from parish and diocesan liturgy/music people that the new translation was going to drive people from the pews. My own view was that those same people in the pews had recently gone through years of hearing the horrors of clergy abuse and episcopal cover-up. I didn’t believe that those who were still returning to the pews on Sunday were going to be driven away by “consubstantial.”
I raise this topic because of all the hubbub* and scuttlebutt* surrounding the review or possible retraction of Liturgiam Authenticam and consequent hopes that the 1998 ICEL Missal might have another chance. I think that a re-visiting of the 1998 translation in light of the 2010 translation would be a good thing—1998 ICEL, for example, still inexplicably left out benedicimus te (we bless you) from the Gloria. I also prefer 2010’s “supper of the Lamb” to 1998’s “banquet of the Lamb” for the Latin cenam Agni, but am also willing to leave that one up to the belt-choosers. Likewise, Advent I’s opening prayer (2010) “run to meet him” vs. 1998’s “go forth to meet him.” I am aware that there are also numerous examples where a reverse comparison would show 2010’s weaknesses.
One overarching hope I have is that any re-visiting of the translation would pay greater attention to its sonics. It’s likely that, over the course of the years, I’ve irritated any number of workshop presenters who worked on both the 1998 and 2010 translations when I relentlessly asked if the texts (especially collect texts) had been proclaimed or—better yet—chanted aloud as part of the translation process; proclaimed/chanted for a group of people who did not have the texts in front of them. It is through their ears, not their eyes, that most members of the assembly encounter the texts of the Mass Sunday by Sunday. As best as I could determine, from my admittedly small and random sampling, much of the work on both translations was primarily visual.
While every analogy or metaphor limps, and will fall down if pushed too hard, I actually do believe that translators—metaphorically speaking—should wear Prada. As should the theologians, writers, poets, and singing musicians who work with them. It’s a good thing to have knowledgeable people working on the liturgy’s linguistic attire. We must be aware that there are long-range consequences to the choices made, styles selected, and so on. We make a mistake, however, when we think that everyone who is a receiver of the translation ought to care in the same manner and to the same degree as those knowledgeable people. Also a mistake to think that everyone ought to be instructed until they reach the level of the cognoscenti (a trajectory that the movie followed, nearly to the end).
Unfortunately, the aspect of that movie scene which perhaps translated best into the recent realms of liturgical translation was the glacial air of scorn and the behaviors and language of belittling dismissiveness in that room. I both encountered and exhibited those kinds of words and actions frequently, from the 1998 translators to the 2010 translators, to the for/against Vox Clara individuals—we all transgressed. “In all things, charity” seemed to have left the room. There is never a way that discipleship in Christ can translate into those sorts of attitudes and actions, particularly when dealing with, speaking of, or writing about other members of the Body.
With Lent on the near horizon, and matters of liturgical translation (perhaps) on a bit more distant one, we can heed the advice of the fashion consultant St. Paul, and choose the outfit he recommended for the Colossians, clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
*Proclaim—or chant—this sentence aloud. These two words have some of the most delightful sonics in the English language.