As we approach Holy Week, shudders of apprehension accompany the realization that the central core of the Church’s Year will once again be sullied by infelicities, some of them rather hideous, and errors in the English translation of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal. The following few examples are typical.
Beginning with the procession on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, and noting that the psalm translation used is the 2010 version of the Revised Grail Psalter (now superseded, though the updated version has not yet been made generally available), we find a missing line and incorrect pointing in the psalm (24/23) following the first antiphon.
Currently printed as:
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?*
The clean of hands and pure of heart,
whose soul is not set on vain things, †
who has not sworn deceitful words.*
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?*
The clean of hands and pure of heart, †
whose soul is not set on vain things,
who has not sworn deceitful words.*
The psalm (47/46) following the 2nd antiphon is given, following the Latin, in four stanzas of 4, 6, 4 and 6 lines respectively, despite the fact that the translation used arranges this psalm in five stanzas of 4 lines each.
The translation of the hymn Gloria laus et honor tibi sit, as we will see with other hymns in the section of the Missal, has been designed to be sung with the neums of the Latin chant. This necessitates contorted syntax, padding, and other literary artifices in order to make the words fit syllabically with the music. In the present example, we find such phrases as:
Israel’s King are you, King David’s magnificent offspring;
where the word “magnificent” is used to translate the Latin inclita
you are the ruler who come blest in the name of the Lord.
and the prosaic
men and women on earth and all creation join in.
On Holy Thursday, the chant Ubi caritas est vera is subjected to the same treatment, matching words to the neums of the Latin chant. Here, the most noticeable feature is padding, especially in the final stanza:
V. May your face thus be our vision, bright in glory,
V. Christ our God, with all the blessed Saints in heaven:
(“Saints in heaven” padding out beatis)
V. such delight is pure and faultless, joy unbounded,
(“and faultless” = additional padding)
V. which endures through countless ages world without end. Amen.
(“which endures” and “world without end” even more padding)
The same is even more true of the translation of the hymn Crux fidelis inter omnes on Good Friday. Here, the text is an extraordinarily free paraphrase of the Latin original, first produced for the doomed ICEL 1998 Sacramentary. The translator is alleged to have been Michael Hodgetts, an English hymn writer and translator who once served on ICEL’s Translation Subcommittee, but it has not been possible to verify this. The text has been lightly edited for the current Missal, and, just like the Gloria laus and Ubi caritas, is designed to fit the neums of the traditional Latin chant.
In addition to general padding and the incorporation of “explanatory” concepts that do not appear in the Latin original, another problem here is the introduction of vocabulary that will not be familiar to most people in the pews. The refrain sets this in motion with:
Faithful Cross the Saints rely on,
Noble tree beyond compare!
Never was there such a scion,
Never leaf or flower so rare.
Sweet the timber, sweet the iron,
Sweet the burden that they bear!
The phrase “the Saints rely on” appears nowhere in the Latin, and it is clear that its only function is to rhyme with “iron” in line 5, as is the case with “scion”, at the end of line 3.
The latter unfamiliar word is not the only one. The very first verse continues:
Sing, my tongue, in exultation
Of our banner and device!
Make a solemn proclamation
Of a triumph and its price:
How the Savior of creation
Conquered by his sacrifice!
The number of people who will understand “device” to be the word designating the heraldic insignia on a shield is rather limited, one feels. These days, devices are often to be found in basic computer technology to indicate a piece of hardware, gadget or machine that carries out a particular task, in warfare (an “incendiary device”) or to mean a trick, cunning ploy, gambit, etc.
A different problem arises in stanza 8:
Lofty timber, smooth your roughness,
Flex your boughs for blossoming;
Let your fibers lose their toughness,
Gently let your tendrils cling;
Lay aside your native gruffness,
Clasp the body of your King!
Here, the language used in line 4 and 5 will most likely induce sniggering rather than devotion — a lesson for those who pursue rhyme at all costs.
The vicissitudes of the translation of the Exsultet are too well-known to repeat here; but it is worth drawing attention to the priest/deacon-only paragraph at the end of the introduction of the praeconium paschale:
Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.
Yes, that’s one sentence, 52 words and 11 commas (as compared with the Latin original’s two sentences, 40 words and 8 commas), not to mention the reference to Levites, which will have some people remembering the parable of the Good Samaritan and others scratching their heads, and the adjective “awesome” which will risk being accused of being an Americanism by those from elsewhere.
Finally, one of the prime texts of the former translation, here comprehensively dismantled into prosaic nothingness, is the Blessing of the Baptismal Water. Who can forget the shivers that would run down the back of the neck on hearing the words:
Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs,
which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power.
vestiges of which can still be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 1217ff : http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a1.htm
Instead, we now hear:
O God, who by invisible power
accomplish a wondrous effect
through sacramental signs
and who in many ways have prepared water, your creation,
to show forth the grace of Baptism;…..
continuing on for another 24 lines before reaching the first principal subjunctive verb of this massive sentence.
These are only a few examples. There are literally hundreds more. I can’t help feeling that Holy Week, above all, should not be providing multiple occasions of sin in this way. Anyone who feels that this is an improvement on what went before surely needs to reconsider.
After the new Ordo Missae appeared in 1969, the first tranche of the Missal to be released was the Rites of Holy Week, enabling them to be used in the vernacular for Holy Week 1970 ahead of the publication of the complete English missal translation in 1973. It would be wonderful to think that a revised translation of these rites could once again be published as a separate fascicle, restoring some sense of the deep, powerful and joy-filled celebration that we once had.