The National Proper for Ireland: Other Models for English-language Liturgical Prayer

In this period when we are discussing the impending new official English translation of the Missale Romanum 2002, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on some official English-language additions to the MR2002 for use in a particular ecclesiastical territory.  In 2009 Irish Liturgical Publications released a National Proper for Ireland with readings and prayers approved by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Prot No. 816/07/L, 10 July 2007).  Since Liturgiam Authenticam replaced Comme le prévoit as the principle document guiding vernacular liturgical translations in 2001, presumably this National Proper for Ireland has been judged by both the ICBC and the CDWDS as faithfully fulfilling the prescriptions of that document.  What especially interests me is that many prayer texts contained in the Irish National Proper offer quite a contrast stylistically to those that have so far appeared in reports about the English-language euchology generated by MR2002.

The Irish National Proper clearly distinguishes between optional and obligatory memorial, feasts and solemnities by the kinds of additions to the MR2002 made for each category.  What appear to be optional memorials (but may in Ireland in fact be obligatory memorials of a lower rank) such as for Saints Munchin, Fursa, Aidan, Mel, Gobnait, Fintan, etc., are marked by proper Collects (Opening Prayers) with the rest of the euchology coming from a Common in the MR2002 (such as the Common of Saints: For and Abbot in the case of Saint Fintan).  What appear to be obligatory memorials such as for Saints Ita,  Kevin, Oliver Plunkett, etc., are provided with proper Entrance and Communion Antiphons as well as a proper Collect (Opening Prayer), Prayer Over the Gifts, and Prayer after Communion.  Feasts such as for Saints Brigid, Columba (Colum Cille), and All the Saints of Ireland also boast proper Entrance and Communion Antiphons and Collect (Opening Prayer), Prayer over the Gifts, and Prayer after Communion, but include a proper Preface and Solemn Blessing as well as proper pericopes for First Reading (sometimes with an alternative provided), Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, and Gospel Reading.  Finally, the Solemnity of Saint Patrick includes all the elements found for a feast, with alternative lectionary sets correlated to the three year Sunday cycle (the readings for years B and C being marked “ad libitum”).

While this entire Proper invites careful study, I will here highlight only three examples of styles of vernacular prayer distinct from what appears in the impending new official English translation of MR2002.  The first is the Collect (Opening Prayer) for the Memorial of St. Ita, virgin:

Lord God, it was through the power of your Spirit,
that Saint Ita was tireless in caring for the afflicted
and in guiding the young  towards holiness,
and so we pray:
prepare in our hearts, as you prepared in hers,
a home where you will dwell.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

While this collect clearly reflects the underlying structure of a Roman Collect, it avoids some of the awkwardness of translating the “Deus…qui” clause as “God…who,” preferring to treat what would normally be a relative clause as a declarative statement.   That statement, however, is explicitly cited as the reason for the prayer’s petition (“and so we pray:”).   The actual petition is couched in the concrete language of image and metaphor (“prepare a home in our hearts”) rather than the abstractions that characterize most petitions in Roman collects (“give us heavenly goods”).  One wonders if this petition is redolent of scripture or reflects a particular theme or phrase associated with Saint Ita’s. The stance of the praying community is straightforward and doesn’t employ what may be perceived as the cajoling language of court rhetoric in relation to a sovereign (“deign to vouchsafe to grant”) in formulating its petition.

My second example is taken from the proper Preface for the Feast of Saint Brigid, abbess.  Between the stereotyped protocol and eschatocol [beginning and ending sections – ed.], the body of the Preface reads:

…For your wonderful love is seen in Saint Brigid:
you taught her to open her heart and hands to the poor
and to seek the image of your Son in every welcomed guest.
Through her you showed a people
the way of Mary, the Mother of your Son,
in dedicated service and holiness of life.
On this feast you fill our hearts with joy
for you continue to bless the Church
that you planted by her labours…..

Once again this text respects the underlying structure of a Roman Preface, but enriches its style with concrete imagery and a linguistic lilt that evokes characteristic Irish turns of phrase, e.g., the lovely alliterations in “open her heart and hands to the poor” and the resonance between a customary Irish greeting (“you’re very welcome”) and the Christ found “in every welcomed guest.”

My final and most telling example appears in the Solemn Blessing for the feast of Saint Columba (Colum Cille), abbot and missionary:

May the Lord be a sure path beneath your feet,
A bright light before you,
A kindly shepherd behind you;
This day, this night, and always.
R. Amen.

Here the distinctive cadences of Irish poetry and the characteristic earthiness of Celtic spirituality enrich a solemn liturgical blessing.  I think this represents liturgical inculturation at its best, when the “native genius” of a people crystallizes in distinctive texts and/or ceremonies placed at the service of the Gospel.

I suspect that part of the difference between the English language euchology for the MR2002 soon to be used in the English-speaking world and that highlighted here from the Irish National Proper is that the former translates from Latin originals while the latter’s texts were either composed in English or are translations from the Irish language.  (I presume that this National Proper was issued in both English and Irish editions, but I do not have access to the Irish one [nor could I read it, even if I had].)  This suggests that other territorial bishops conferences may want to follow the lead of the Irish conference in producing dignified and evocative liturgical prayer texts for celebrations proper to their territory (such as Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc., as well as the feasts of United States saints, such as Mother Cabrini, Elizabeth Ann Seton, John Neumann, etc.).

8 comments

  1. Excellent. There is hope that we may yet step back from the mockery of parody language and welcome a dignified, formal and beautiful English into our worship.

  2. My contact for all things liturgical in Ireland is my friend, Fr. Paul Kenny, pastor of Greystones parish in Dublin Archdiocese, doctoral candidate in liturgical studies, and long-time secretary for the Irish Church Music Association. He informs me that “the Irish Edition is still awaiting the recognitio and so we can’t publish it. However, we have been able to issue the particular Irish language texts for St. Patrick and St. Brigid as inserts into INTERCOM – the pastoral magazine that goes to most clergy nationally.”

  3. Thanks, Michael. Keep in mind though, these translations are NOT our translations, and our edition has been granted in recognito. Whether or not if it’s better or not, shouldn’t matter to us. The fact that they based some of their RM 2002 on Irish poetry and other English phrases and not the traditional Latin is probably of great concern to the Vatican, and that is probably why they haven’t been granted in recognitio by the Vatican.

    1. Tim, see my reply in the other thread. No edition has yet been given recognitio except the generic one, which may well not be the final text for any country.

      For what it’s worth, England and Wales are awaiting recognitio of their updated National Propers from Rome. Those Propers form an integral component of the Missal. Without them, there will be no new Missal in those countries until such time as recognitio comes back from Rome. Somehow, I feel it may be later rather than sooner.

      I don’t know if the US National Propers already have recognitio, but I’m sure somone here will tell us.

  4. Beautiful, but I fear just too much so. Therefore, destined to be rejected by the other “little people” assiduously working in the CDW to throw up still more barriers to the Irish church receiving a recognitio for it.

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