This short contribution to Pray Tell was prompted by my recent presiding and preaching. While I have accepted under obedience the present English translation of the Missale Romanum at use in the United States, I am still on occasion gobsmacked (a word I learned from Irish friends and that I have gratefully made part of my vocabulary) by what we are expected to pray aloud, presumably so that the assembly members may understand and affirm their assent to the prayer by their “Amen.”
Here is the presently approved translation of the collect I prayed for Thursday after the Fifth Sunday of Easter:
2011 RM: O God, by whose grace, / though sinners, we are made just / and, though pitiable, made blessed, / stand, we pray, by your works, / stand by your gifts, / that those justified by faith / may not lack the courage of perseverance. / Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, / who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / one God, for ever and ever.
While it is possible to tease out the meaning of this text through its meandering syntax, I honestly believe that those simply hearing it, even as I tried to proclaim it slowly, with attention and varying vocal pitches, did not have a clue about what the prayer was expressing. (Please re-read this last sentence for my attempt to mimic the style of the prayer, a style that would delight Henry James and Ford Madox Ford.)
So as I was trained to do, I searched out the underlying Latin that has been the same in the various post-Vatican II versions of the Missale Romanum:
MR 1970 / 1975 / 2002: Deus, cuius gratia iusti ex impiis / et beati efficimur ex miseris, / adesto operibus tuis, adesto muneribus, / ut quibus inest fidei justificatio / non desit perseverantiae fortitudo. Per Dominum….
Here is my “slavishly literal” translation of the Latin text:
God, by whose grace we [human beings] are made just from being [human beings] without reverence for God and made blessed [human beings] from being wretched [human beings], stand by your works, stand by your gifts, so that to those in whom the justification of faith exists, the courage of perseverance may not be lacking. Through [our] Lord…
Knowing that a high value for the present translation was concern that every nuance of the Latin original be reproduced as far as possible in English, I was impressed by the care with which the collect had been translated (although I cannot find any justification for inserting “we pray” into the English translation unless the attempt was to soften the force of the imperatives). It is certainly a more careful translation of the Latin original than the rather free paraphrase found in the Sacramentary 1974:
Father, in your love you have brought us / from evil to good and from misery to happiness. / Through your blessings / give the courage of perseverance / to those you have called and justified by faith. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son….
However the present translation still strikes me as very difficult to understand when only proclaimed vocally and not visually read during the proclamation of the text. Then I searched out the proposed 1998 ICEL translation that never saw the light of day, even though it had been approved by a variety of bishops’ conferences:
ICEL 1998: Most holy God, / your grace has brought us from sin to righteousness / and turned our wretchedness to joy. / Stay with us, Lord, / and do not forget the gifts you have bestowed, / that we who are justified by faith / may have the courage to persevere to the end. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / God for ever and ever.
If the Sacramentary 1974 translation judged “too much a paraphrase” and the present translation judged “too literal a translation,” the 1998 version seems to me “just right.”
While I realize that there is little enthusiasm among many of our bishops, priests and faithful to take up the question of yet another translation of our Mass texts, I would again propose that there should be (at the USCCB’s Office of Divine Worship? At university liturgy programs? At ICEL’s offices?) a repository of reports from those of us who employ these texts in our pastoral work pointing out strengths and weaknesses in the present translation. Perhaps then we will not look upon the 1998 ICEL translation as “love’s labors lost.”
Featured Image: The priest holds the missal, Catholic church in Chunakhali, West Bengal, India — Stock Image via Deposit Photos