In a comment on a post below, Fr. Allan McDonald remarked that he thought the initial, pre-ICEL English translations of the Mass, which were taken from hand missals, were superior to the efforts of ICEL that we are now using. This got me thinking about how 1965 stacked up against the current and the coming translations (plus, of course, 1998).
Comparison is a bit difficult, since many of the orations have changed in Latin — sometimes small changes and sometimes whole new prayers. But I found some that were sufficiently close to make a quick comparison. So, as Rod Serling used to say when introducing stories on The Twilight Zone, for your consideration. . .
Christmas Mass at Dawn
Da nobis, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut qui nova incarnati Verbi tui luce perfundimur; hoc in nostro resplendeat opere, quod per fidem fulget in mente.
Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut dum nova incarnati Verbi tui luce perfundimur; hoc in nostro resplendeat opere, quod per fidem fulget in mente.
Almighty God, now that we have been newly enlightened by the Word made flesh, grant that our deeds may reveal the light of faith that shines in our hearts.
Father, we are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in our words and actions.
God of splendour, at the birth of your incarnate Word we are bathed in new radiance; grant that the light which shines in our hearts through faith may also show forth in our actions.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, as we are bathed in the new radiance of your incarnate Word, the light of faith, which illumines our minds, may also shine through in our deeds.
Easter Vigil: Prayer after the Exodus Reading
Deus, cuius antiqua miracula etiam nostris saeculis coruscare sentimus: dum quod uni populo, a persecutione Aegyptiaca liberando, dexterae tuae potentia contulisti, id in salutem gentium per aquam regenerationis operaris: praesta; ut in Abrahae filios, et in Israeliticam dignitatem, totius mundi transeat plenitudo.
Deus, cuius antiqua miracula etiam nostris temporibus coruscare sentimus, dum, quod uni populo, a persecutione Pharaonis liberando, dexterae tuae potentia contulisti, id in salutem gentium per aquam regenerationis operaris: praesta; ut in Abrahae filios et in Israeliticam dignitatem, totius mundi transeat plenitudo.
O God, we see your wondrous works of old enlighten even our own day. For the salvation that you bestowed by the power of your right hand upon one nation, as you rescued them from the Egyptian persecution, is now conferred upon all nations by means of the water of regeneration. Grant that the peoples of the whole world may become the descendants of Abraham and share the prerogative of Israel.
Father, even today we see the wonders of the miracles you worked long ago. You once saved a single nation from slavery, and now you offer that salvation to all through baptism. May the peoples of the world become true sons of Abraham and prove worthy of the heritage of Israel.
God of our ancestors, even in these present days the wonders of your ancient deeds shine forth: your right hand parted the waters and delivered a single people from the slavery of Pharaoh; now through the waters of rebirth you extend to every nation deliverance from the bondage of sin. Grant that all the peoples of the world may become children of Abraham and enter the inheritance promised to Israel.
O God, whose ancient wonders remain undimmed in splendor even in our day, for what you once bestowed on a single people, freeing them from Pharaoh’s persecution by the power of your right hand now you bring about as the salvation of the nations through the waters of rebirth, grant, we pray, that the whole world may become children of Abraham and inherit the dignity of Israel’s birthright.
These are just a couple of more-or-less random examples, so I won’t draw any firm conclusions. But I would make a couple of comments.
In the first example, our current translation strikes me as the weakest, losing as it does the connection between the two halves of the prayer — i.e. because we are bathed in the light of the incarnation, therefore the light of faith should shine forth in our actions. The coming translation strikes me as the second weakest because the slavish repetition of the Latin word order at the beginning comes across in English as stumbling, like someone who has something he wants to say but can’t quite get started. It’s not terrible by any means, but it is also not as good as it could be. Of the other two, 1998 has, I believe, a slight edge over 1965 because the vocabulary is somewhat richer (e.g. “bathed in new radiance” [found also in 2011] vs. “enlightened”).
In the second example, 1970 and 2011 again vie for the position of weakest. 1970 is an impoverished rendering of the Latin, losing such imagery as the “shining” of God’s mighty deeds as well as the concrete historical reference to Pharaoh (or the Egyptians in 1962/5). It also inexplicably leaves out the reference to God’s right hand. 2011 is simply poor English; indeed, it is technically a run-on sentence, needing a semicolon after “rebirth.” And I am still trying to make grammatical sense out of how the clause “whose ancient wonders. . .” is grammatically related to “for what you once. . .” If I read this sentence in a student paper it would likely get underlined with multiple questions marks put in the margin (my general method of showing extreme displeasure with confused and confusing prose). 1965 seems to strike a good balance of fidelity to the Latin with vernacular clarity. It pretty much says what the Latin says, and says it clearly. Even so, 1998 alone picks up on a shade of meaning in the word transeat, speaking of our “entering” the inheritance promised to Israel, alluding to the promised land. At the same time, 1998 probably overreaches, translation-wise, adding a reference to God parting the waters that is not in the Latin. I actually like it better as a prayer, since it makes clear the parallel between the waters of baptism and the waters of the Red Sea, but it certainly does not hew as closely to the Latin as 1965.
So, just based on these two examples, I am inclined to say, by all means let’s go back to 1965. Given the coming alternative, that is.