Saturday, September 30, is the Memorial of St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate bible in the 4th century. It’s also International Translation Day.
In honor of the day, let’s take a look of three English translations of the Collect (opening prayer) for October 1, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Roman calendar. The three texts below are:
- the 2008 version approved by the English-speaking bishops and submitted to Rome for approval;
- the 2011 version Rome sent back to the bishops as the ‘corrected’ version for them to implement;
- the 1998 version which the English-speaking world worked on since the early 1980s, was approved by the bishops of the English-speaking world, but was thrown out entirely by Rome as the new translation principles and procedures of Liturgiam authenticam were issued in 2001.
This is 2008, i.e. what the bishops approved:
O God, who make known your omnipotence
above all in pardon and mercy,
increase your grace within us,
and so make those who run towards your promises
sharers in the good things of heaven.
This is 2011, i.e. what Rome sent back and is now in the English missal:
O God, who manifest your almighty power
above all by pardoning and showing mercy,
bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us
and make those hastening to attain your promises
heirs to the treasures of heaven.
It isn’t usually the case, but here I think 2011 may be an improvement in some respects.
This is from the 1998 Sacramentary:
God of heaven and earth,
your almighty power is shown above all
in your willingness to forgive and show mercy;
let your grace descend upon us without ceasing,
that we may strive for the things you have promised
and come to share the treasures of heaven.
Of course it is no criticism of 1998 that it doesn’t follow the Latin slavishly, for that was not the goal nor the prescriptions of the official Vatican document under which the 1998 Sacramentary was prepared before Liturgiam authenticam. The goal was a broad and deep faithfulness to the Latin in the development of a text which was suited for liturgical prayer in English.
For reference, here is the Latin:
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo
maxime et miserando manifestas,
multiplica super nos gratiam tuam,
ut, ad tua promissa currentes,
caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
And for the fun of it, here is the version from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England:
O God, who declarest thine almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity;
Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace,
that we, running the way of thy commandments,
may obtain thy gracious promises,
and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure.
In the 1979 U.S. Book of Common Prayer the contemporary version of this collect is this:
O God, you declare your almighty power
chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Grant us the fullness of your grace,
that we, running to obtain your promises,
may become partakers of your heavenly treasure.
The 1998 Sacramentary also has original English texts connected to the three-year lectionary of Scripture readings. The readings for 26A are about the fairness of God’s judgment when people turn from sin (Ez 18:25-28) and the two sons who do and do not labor in the father’s vineyard (Mt 21:28-32). The Revised Common Lectionary, if you take the optional first reading, are the same except a longer passage is selected for both Ezekiel and Matthew.
Here is the 1998 Opening Prayer for 26A:
you alone judge rightly
and search the depths of the heart.
Make us swift to do your will
and slow to judge our neighbor,
that we may walk with those
who follow the way of repentance and faith
and so enter your heavenly kingdom.
Pope Francis recently returned authority largely to bishops’ conferences for translations, although it remains unclear whether the translation guidelines of Liturgiam authenticam remain in effect for Rome to give its confirmatio at the end of the process. Read Pray Tell’s report here:
Rita Ferrone, “Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio on Translation.”
For some background on translation theory, here is a post Pray Tell ran from translation expert Anthony Pym: “Academic Justification for Liturgiam Authenticam?”