Given the reaction to my speculations about the propriety of presenting God as a slave-holder and baptized Christians as his house-slaves in translations of the Roman Canon, I propose the following with some trepidation. Since my concern here is NOT mistranslation of an underlying Latin text (the focus of #1) but whether and how to translate aspects of a text generated at a point in history whose cultural assumptions may be far from our own (the focus of #2), I look forward to any insights that might move this discussion forward.
Gerald O’Collins’ (with John Wilkins’) helpful booklet Lost in Translation: The English Language and the Roman Mass (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press 2017) alerts the reader to a concern of Comme le pre’voit, the set of guidelines directing liturgical translation until the release of Liturgiam Authenticam:
“…Comme le pre’voit speaks of historical matters accurately. It recalled, for instance, that in the Latin liturgy ‘many of the phrases of approach to the Almighty were originally adapted from forms of address to the sovereign in the courts of Byzantium and Rome.’ Hence translators should ‘study how far an attempt should be made to offer equivalents in modern English for such words as quaesumus, dignare, clementissime, maiestas, and the like’ (CLP) 13. Unfortunately, those who prepared the 2010 Missal…seem to have failed to put this question to themselves.” (27)
“The 2010 Missal relentlessly pursues…the unctuous or fulsome paths of [Byzantine and Roman] courts, with ‘graciously’ incessantly introducing prayers: ‘graciously grant,’ ‘graciously accept,’ ‘graciously choose,’ and so forth. ‘We pray’ is likewise regularly inserted….” (39)
What O’Collins describes above is what I mean by “verbal forms of court etiquette.” In other parts of Lost in Translation, the author argues convincingly (at least to me) that the insertion of these elements of ancient court address needlessly complicates these prayers in English. In addition to O’Collins’ discussion of how or whether to translate quaesumus inserted into prayer-texts (perhaps for the sake of cursus or concinnitas), I would raise the possibility that the Deity is sometimes addressed with court vocabulary, obscured in our translations by leaving particular words in lower case.
For example, the Collect for the 29th Sunday of the Year reads in Latin:
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, / fac nos tibi semper et devotam genere voluntatem, / et maiestati tuae sincere corde servire. Per Dominum….
The 2010 Missal translation reads:
Almighty ever-living God, / grant that we may always conform our will to yours / and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart. Through our Lord….
I remember when I prepared to pray this text aloud I was confused: I thought I knew what it meant to “conform our will to” God’s but it wasn’t clear to me how we might “serve [God’s] majesty in sincerity of heart.” My confusion dissipated when I considered that “tuae maiestati” might be a polite form of address, normally rendered in English with capital letters: “Your Majesty.” I then remembered Latin letters written during the patristic era that frequently used such honorifics in addressing the recipient of the letter: “Your Clemency,” “Your Grace,” “Your Mercy,” “Your Piety,” etc. I am left with the question of whether or not future translators would choose to indicate these honorifics (if in fact they are) by means of capitalization or simply omit them in favor of some form of the pronoun “you” (“grant that we may always conform our will to yours / and serve you in sincerity of heart”).