Saturday, January 16, 2010

Liturgia Horarum et Latina

So, those of us who prefer a more literal translation of liturgical texts are quite happy that there will soon be a new translation of the Mass for English speaking Catholics. Of course, there is more to liturgical prayer than the Mass. For instance, often pray the Liturgy of the Hours in Latin using the four-volume set. ICEL sometimes did surprisingly well with some of the antiphons, intercessions and other parts. Of course, the psalms are taken from the wonderful Grail translation, and the readings are taken from the New American Bible.

There are some spots, however, where ICEL applied some of the same principles that led to the ultimate rejection of their initial translation of the Missal of Pope Paul VI. Except for weekdays of the four week psalter, the collects are the same as the ones in the corresponding Mass, so have the same defects. I wonder if new editions of the English translation of the office will have the new translations? I suppose.

Be that as it may, I sometimes pray the Latin with the English translation at hand to deal with difficult passages. This can lead to some real head scratching about choices ICEL made. This was especially evident yesterday when I prayed morning prayer. There were several spots where I said "huh?" (not a prayer word generally, I know). For instance:

The Invitatory Antiphon in Latin was: Confitemini Domino, quia in aeternum misericordia ejus. Misericordia means "mercy." The ICEL English: "Come, let us give thanks to the Lord, for his great love is without end." Now, God's mercy is certainly a manifestation of His great love, but it is a particular manifestation that is being highlighted especially on Friday. The emphasis on Friday is on sin, penitence, the cross, mercy.

The second instance where I scratched my head wasn't as significant, but it did point to a general problem of ICEL, the de-poetification of liturgical texts. In the Responsory to the reading the Latin says, Auditam fac mihi mane misericordiam tuam, which means in smooth English, "In the morning let me hear of your mercy" ["Make your mercy heard to me in the morning."] The English? "At daybreak, be merciful to me." The "At daybreak" is a nice, poetic touch, but the rest just prosifies it.

The next one is an example of the allergy ICEL seems to have to the frequent appeal to God for intellectual enlightenment. In the Intercessions we read: Christe, sol et dies noster, illumina nos radiis tuis, et omnes sensus malos iam mane compesce. In English, "Christ, rising sun [nice], warm us with your rays, and restrain us from every evil impulse." So, is it the illumination of light of Christ, or the warmth that helps hold our evil impulses in check? Is this a subtle shift away from Thomistic intellectualism and towards good old American style emotivism?

Finally, and this is quite common in the ICEL translation of the office, in the Collect, there is the exchange of the word "love" for gratia. I'm just going to look at one phrase because I have some pancakes to fry for my kids. It talks about the ignis, quem tua gratia fecit accendi [the fire Your grace has kindled in us]. ICEL: "the fire that your love has kindled in us." "Grace" is a biblical word with a more specific meaning than "love." We should not be allergic to it.

Am I being nitpicky? This is only one hour in one day. There are four "shifts" in meaning. The cumulative effect has got to add up over a four week psalter.

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