Friday, January 28, 2011

Catholic Identity and the New Translation

Those who have been reading for the last couple months will be familiar with my “New Translation Monday” column. Well, it seems that this week is turning into “New Translation Week.” The last four posts have dealt directly with the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, and this will make five.
It is well known now that the entire Missal is available at Wikispooks. Of course, the Ordinary has been available for some time, but there have been rumors, versions, and rumors of versions about what the Proper texts will look like in the end. It seems that we now know. (Thought I have to admit, in this day and age of the internet, it would not at all surprise me to find out that this is not the “final final” text, and that last minute changes will be made before it is sent off to the publisher ... I will, however, give the reports the benefit of the doubt for now, reports that claim this is the version that has been sent to the publishers. It certainly appears to be.)
Being the geek that I am, I couldn’t help be download all the files and begin looking through several of the Collects. Merely because of its place in the liturgical year, and therefore in the Missal itself, I began looking through the Advent Collects. (As a side note, in the new translation they are actually referred to as “Collects” rather than “Opening Prayers.” In previous posts on why vocabulary matters I went into why the term “Opening Prayer” is not appropriate. In short, the prayer is a “closing” of the Introductory Rites; it “collects” the this portion of the Mass into a single prayer. Similar occurrences are found at other points during the Mass.)
As I glanced at the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I nearly fell off my chair. Before giving you the new text, let’s take a gander at what we heard this past year:

fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, we could go through the Latin and point out the deficiencies in this translation, but there is something larger at stake here. To see it, let’s look at the Latin, but more importantly the new translation. The Latin text reads,

Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde,
ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.

Some people may already see the connection I am hinting at. For the rest of us, myself included, reading the new translation brought the whole thing to light:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet
The above is the familiar prayer from the close of the Angelus. The Angelus is the prayer of the Incarnation that has been recited by Catholics throughout the centuries three times daily: 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm. The prayer itself goes back at least 700 years, but probably even to the eleventh century or earlier. In times past, it was one of the most familiar and celebrated prayers in our Catholic heritage, and as such it provided a distinctive mark of Catholic identity. A priest friend of mine has often recalled the story of his family’s restaurant/bar on the east side of Columbus. Growing up, every day when the noontime bells rang out from the Catholic Church across the street, everyone in the bar dropped what they were doing and said the Angelus. Even those who were not Catholic sat in silence during the recitation of the prayer because they know if they didn’t, they would not be served. This story is an illustration of Catholic identity. If the same bells were to ring today, how many Catholics would know why, let alone be able to rattle off the words to the Angelus?
Having the Collect from the last Sunday of Advent taken from this timeless prayer is important for establishing the link between the ritual liturgy and the lived liturgy. In the spirit of lex orandi, lex credendi, if congregations were to hear the Angelus Collect in the context of Mass, those familiar with it would be immediately placed in the presence of the three-times-daily ritual. Conversely, if the Collect were to be used, more people would become familiar with the Angelus prayer itself.
Unfortunately, until now, the prayer has been disguised beneath a mistranslation. I am someone who is very familiar with the Angelus, yet I never realized that the Advent Collect was one and the same. Of course, there are others who have. It only took a quick Google search to turn up and article from Fr. Zuhlsdorf written in 2004 (and reprinted in 2006) on precisely this issue.
I am not one to debate these chicken-and-egg questions. Has the mistranslation led to an abandonment of the Angelus, or was the Angelus abandoned long before, and therefore the “retranslating” of the traditional words for the purpose of the Mass Collect was not seen as such a big deal? Quite frankly, it is probably both. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the loss of the Angelus is both a symptom and a cause of the loss of Catholic identity, and recovering the translation in the Roman Missal can go a long way towards the process of its restoration. At the very least, it provides an impetus for a stellar homily. (Imagine, actually, if the priest on this Sunday were to give a homily that begins with the Angelus and ends with an explanation of the term “consubstantial.”)
Let’s put it this way. When I read the words for the corrected translation of the Collect from the First Sunday of Advent, my eyes “perked” up from line one: “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord...” Imagine how much more will my ears do the same when, blessed be God, they hear the glorious recitation of this prayer on December 18, 2011. Who knows, maybe they’ll even hear the ever faint echo of the Angelus bells accompanying the text.
Posted By Jake Tawney at 3:00 PM
Labels: Liturgy, New Translation of the Roman Missal


B. said...


I have to admit that I have a hard time understanding exactly what your comment is responding to. On the one hand, this post was not about local traditions but the expression of the universal Catholic faith as the common link between the holy Mass and in the devotional life by which the Liturgy is extended through life.

On the other hand, perhaps you were responding to Mr. A. Layne. In any case, I think that the substance of your comment is correct: the universal Church is both ontologically and existentially prior to the particular Church, as J. Cardinal Ratzinger rather conclusively demonstrated in his article, "The Local Church and the Universal Church: A Response to Walter Kasper" (America, Nov. 19, 2001). This of course was already a defense of the official CDF document "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church as Communio" (May 1992). So, in this much, I think you raise a very good point.

On the other hand, the universal Church is "made flesh" so to speak in the particular Churches spread throughout the world. Thus, while there will certainly be local traditions that authentically express the nature of the Church (an authentic kind of inculturation), these traditions should grow organically from the great Tradition of the Church. I recommend that you read carefully the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation (Dei Verbum), particularly nn. 7-10. I think you will find that Tradition, which is one of the two means by which the fulness of Revelation is transmitted to all the Faithful of all time, is not opposed to Jesus (as you seem to suggest), but is rather the working out of what Christ our Lord promised (Jn 16:12), namely, that the Spirit of Truth (the Holy Spirit) would continue to guide the Church into understanding the fulness of what He did and taught. Thus, Tradition itself is guided and developed by the Holy Spirit. Local traditions, then (which is already a rather ambiguous term), must be consonant with both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture since the local/particular Church is an expression of the one-subject, universal Church. There does exist, then, an objective measure of local "expressions" as you term them.

Finally, specifically on the point where you say, "The Church has the power to change the form of the Mass." I can agree that this is true, but not as unqualifiedly as you put it forth. The Church certainly does have the power, given by Christ, to be guided by the Holy Spirit in regulated the outward expression of the sacred Liturgy. However, as Ratzinger has also said, this power is not absolute and certainly cannot be exercised arbitrarily. In fact, the Church is a servant of the Liturgy because she lives from it and expresses the truth of her being in it (see JP2, Ecclesia de Ecuharistia). Thus, any change and development should grow organically from what was before. In the recent past, this has not always happened. Cardinal Ratzinger observed in the Preface he wrote to Msgr. Klaus Gamber's book, "The Reform of the Roman Liturgy" that the 1970/1MR does not seem to be an expression of the organic growth of the Liturgy. Thus, not every exercise of the Church's power is authentic simply because those who have the power do it. This is a very complex topic but I invite you to consider these things.

Nick, thank you for your thoughtful engagement and, as you suggest, let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ, Who shows us His face only in and through the Church, His Bride and Body.

January 27, 2011 9:56 AM

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