Sunday, June 15, 2008

traduttore tradittore

There is an old Italian proverb which says traduttore tradittore, i.e., the translator is a traitor. As the American bishops discuss and debate the latest translation of the Roman Missal, the old battle lines are renewed: FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE vs. DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCE. Fifteen years ago I wrote my first article for Homiletic & Pastoral Review (HPR) entitled "The Desecration of Catholicism" where I exposed the deliberate and conspicuous absence of the SACRED, the HOLY in the ICEL translation of the Sacramentary we have had since 1970. Priests and parishioners are begging and pleading with our bishops to RESTORE holiness to our liturgical language. Lex orandi, lex credendi shows us that pedestrian prayers dilute doctrine. Yet, the arguments we hear and see in the media while the USCCB has its summer meeting focuses on a few instances of what some call archaic verbiage. This is a red herring. The real consternation lies with the vapid and vacuous vocabulary we see in the English translation of the Ordinary form of the Roman Missal. The typical Latin text, be it 1970 or 2000, uses the word sanctae (holy) in the response of the congregation after the priest says his offertory prayers at the preparation of the gifts: Suscipiat Dominus sacrificum de manibus tuis ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui, at utilitatem quoque nostram totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae. ICEL translated that into: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church. Note the obvious omission of the adjective "holy" whereas the typical Latin text uses it to describe the Church (Ecclesiae suae sanctae).

Words like holy, sacred, venerable, blessed, et al. are consistently missing in the English translation of the Latin text of the Missal. Present in the Latin but absent in the vernacular. Why? This is not an issue of archaisms. Nevertheless, why the zealous fervor to render our sacred worship banal? Why are pronouns referring to God no longer capitalized? Why the blatant removal of the adjective "Holy" whenever coupled with Eucharist, Mass, Bible, etc. As one who celebrates Holy Mass daily, I want an ELEGANT and ACCURATE translation of the typical Latin text. I need an English translation that is NOT prosaic or pedestrian. Many of my parishioners do not have post-graduate degrees but they are not so unsophisticated and illiterate that they must be given a translation that insults their intelligence and which will not edify their spirit. God deserves respect and divine worship needs to be REVERENT. Sanitizing liturgical texts of sacred language is self-defeating. Dumbing down insults the People of God. Sacred Liturgy needs a holy vocabulary to inspire the faithful to aspire to holiness. Accurate, elegant and edifying translations of the Roman Missal will fulfill the spiritual needs of the clergy and the faithful. Pretending that we are still on Sesame Street does nothing but erode Catholic worship to the level of bare recognition. No need to use Shakespearean or Elizabethen English, however, colloquial, mundane and hackneyed phrases will make the Sacred Liturgy bland and tasteless. The source and summit of our Christian life deserves BETTER.


Anonymous said...

I'm amazed the word "sacrifice" was kept in there.

I agree that we must have better translations. From what I have read, the proposed texts are a great improvement in this regard. I think some words need a bit of tweaking (e.g. "gibbet"). But on the whole, this new translation is a true gift.

gawgiagirl said...

Father you are right on. Thank you for standing up for us in the pews who want more reverence and respect for God and the Holy Mass. Please let us know what we can do to help you get this message across to the USCCB.
I keep you always in prayer.c

Dan L. said...


That was a very powerful statement, and I agree with you 100%.

We must mean what what we mean, no watering down, no comprimising. Jesus, himself, was quite like that.

--Dan L.

Adrienne said...

Yes - but Father - will "Joe and Mary Catholic" be able to understand it???? Only kiiiiidding!!

I LIKE gibbet. It is a great word. I have no idea what word could be used as a replacement.

Anonymous said...

I see the point of your article. I have never quite understood why the English version of the missal is so defective when compared to translations in other languages which are in general very faithful to the Latin original While on the one hand you cannot expect everyone to prefer mass in Latin over the vernacular, it is only legitimate to expect the translation to be faithful to the original. Ars traductoria!

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