Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New Translation Tuesday: "The Rhythm of Popular Prayer"

Happy "New Translation Tuesday" to you all. I have been reading Liturgiam Authenticam again, chiefly because I put my nose in it once again last week when preparing my presentation to our customer care representatives here at WLP. You can find the entire text on the Vatican's Web site here.



I want to take the opportunity today to comment on paragraph 20:

20. The Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, while drawing on centuries of ecclesial experience in transmitting the faith of the Church received from the Fathers, are themselves the fruit of the liturgical renewal, just recently brought forth. In order that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries, it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omission or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.


I am focusing on this paragraph because of my experience this past Sunday, as well as my experience at the Funeral Mass of John Wright, the former director of marketing here at WLP. (John died suddenly on July 1 while attending his family reunion.) The celebrant at Sunday's Mass at Saint James was Fr. Harry Hagan, OSB, scripture scholar from St. Meinrad Archabbey. He preached magnificently and prayed the liturgy with dignity and simplicity. The celebrant at John Wright's Funeral Mass also prayed the texts in a noble and simple way. I was drawn into the rhythm of the prayers more deeply at both Masses, chiefly due to the liturgical style of these fine celebrants.

I mention these experiences because of what Liturgiam Authenticam has to say about popular prayer. The translation from the Latin, according to this document, should be done in such a way as to produce a "flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer." My question: what is this "rhythm of popular prayer?" I believe that what has formed the rhythm of popular prayer is the praying of the popular prayer itself. For thirty-five of my fifty-two years, the rhythm of my own liturgical prayer has been shaped by the action of praying the prayers of the liturgy itself. From what I have seen from some of the newly translated texts, the rhythm is quite distinct from the rhythm to which we have become accustomed. I find it odd that Liturgiam Authenticam sets forth principles of translation that apparently force a new translation that, by and large, is not a "flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer." What it seems to have done is force a new rhythm of prayer that hopes one day to become the rhythm of popular prayer. This is certainly a legitimate goal, if it indeed is the stated goal for translation. But it simply is not.

And it is the establishment of a new rhythm of liturgical prayer that will probably be the most jarring aspect during the first years of the implementation of the new English translation. I am all for accuracy of translation, but wonder about the wisdom of establishing a new rhythm of popular prayer.

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about this. Feel free to comment.

Got to sing. Got to pray. (Oh, this is the new rhythm!)

9 comments:

Diezba said...

Careful not to pluck a dependent clause out of context, Jerry. The whole sentence (which influences the quote you write about) is:

While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omission or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.

In other words, while it is ok to arrange things for the "rhythm of popular prayer," this is only acceptable "insofar" as "the original text" is "translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omission or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses."

Popular prayer rhythms aren't to be ignored, but neither are they to allow the English text to be divorced from the Latin text. Which text, of course, is the actual text of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Diezba left this comment, which blogger prevented me from approving, for some reason:

Careful not to pluck a dependent clause out of context, Jerry. The whole sentence (which influences the quote you write about) is:

While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omission or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.

In other words, while it is ok to arrange things for the "rhythm of popular prayer," this is only acceptable "insofar" as "the original text" is "translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omission or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses."

Popular prayer rhythms aren't to be ignored, but neither are they to allow the English text to be divorced from the Latin text. Which text, of course, is the actual text of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Moya said...

I am so sad that at times the language of the new translation is so clumsy. I love the present translation which flows so easily.
My other main worry is that at times it is difficult to understand the new translation, yet Second Vatican Council The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy states ...texts should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease.....

Anonymous said...

Actually, it would be a good thing if the english text was "divorced" from the Latin. It no longer makes sense to use Latin as a basis for translation. Everything we have seen and heard up to this point proves it. Although many words today have latin roots, it makes no sense in a contemporary society to use it as a basis for translation. The people of God have a right to prayers that are thoughtfully composed and understandable. If Jesus actually spoke Latin I would probably feel different. However, he didn't. Rome using a dead language as a basis for translation and trying to force it on everyone is not the right thing to do, nor is it pastoral. However, many would argue that Rome doesn't understand the word "Pastoral". The term probably doesn't exist in Latin.

jdonliturgy said...

I agree whole-heartedly with your concerns, Jerry. As to the people's responses, getting comfortable with them will take time, good catechesis, and consistency in implementation. In terms of how the new translations of the priest's orations and other texts will 'flow' to the ear, it will take time, good catechesis on the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary, and most importantly, presiders with the rhetorical skills needed to proclaim the new translation well. I suspect that the last part will be the weakest link.

peregrinus_sg said...

With due respect for the position of the liturgy as the source and summit of the Christian life, the liturgical style as encapsulated in ICEL's first generation liturgical books cannot be all there is to the treasury of the rhythm of popular prayer.

Surely this treasury of the rhythm of popular prayer would include the "traditional" translations of the Angelus, the Salve Regina (found in the latest edition of the Manual of Indulgences published by the USCCB, as opposed to ICEL's more modern paraphrases of 1982) as well as the hand missal translations of the prayers of the Roman liturgy (people were encouraged to read along and pray with the Priest); it could even include the Elizabethan style found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, especially now with the setting up of the Anglican Ordinariates.

In fact, based on the few samples of the presidential prayers that I've seen (collects, prefaces, Eucharistic Prayers), the style found in the new translation of the Roman Missal generally stands within the tradition of the rhythm of popular prayer as witnessed to by the traditional translations and the hand missal translations. The flat style in ICEL's first generation books seemed extraordinarily out of place, and could perhaps be viewed as a jarring departure from the tradition.

It's funny how after using the texts for close to 40 years, the banal style is being claimed as a tradition in its own right. But luckily, the old texts will expire just shy of its 40th birthday; so canonically, it will have no force of custom to back its continued use.

Chironomo said...

Rome using a dead language as a basis for translation and trying to force it on everyone is not the right thing to do, nor is it pastoral.

Anon...first, they're not forcing it on everyone...only those who attend Mass in English. Also keep in mind that Latin ceased being a vernacular language early in the Church's history but was maintained as the language of the Church... precisely for that reason, and precisely for the same reason that Latin was (and still is to an extent) the language of Law...it cannot be misconstrued or "interpreted" to mean something that it doesn't mean because it doesn't develop connotative meanings.

As for the "Rhythm of popular prayer"... had the new translation been the translation given in 1972 and had we been praying it for the last 38 years, we would be citing it's rhythm as the rhythm of popular prayer.

I really don't understand the attraction to base-line language or popular vernacular for use in the liturgy. Is there anything wrong with a little study to learn the specifics of your faith? This would be an EXCELLENT opportunity for adult education efforts to study the Catholic Faith via the Mass texts now that they actually say what we are supposed to believe.

As for the Latin, you don't have to be a Fullbright Scholar to learn the Latin needed to understand the Ordinary of the Mass... takes about 6 months of relatively light study, or a couple of years of weekly repetition (like attending Mass in Latin and following in the Missal?). The Latin of the Mass is simplified already...not exactly like reading Cicero or anything!

I would love to do an actual test (seriously): Have a group of six people listen to the Eucharistic Prayer in English (old translation if you prefer) and then answer a series of questions about the theological content and meaning of what they heard. Then have a group listen to the same EP in Latin and follow along with the written English translation and then answer the same questions. Which group do you think would actually have better "comprehension" of what was said? It would be an interesting thing to know...

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Chironomo,
I think what you suggest as a test is a grand idea. This is exactly the kind of study and mystagogical reflection I am hoping the new translation (if and when we ever get it!) will engender. I think it is a whole new world for liturgical studies; a world that takes the actual human experience of text as a valid conversation partner in study. I'll volunteer for your first round!
Peace,
Jerry

Chironomo said...

Jerry;

To be fair, I would think you might not be the best candidate for such a test, nor would I as I assume that both of us have studied the Eucharistic Prayers extensively enough to know their content independent of having to hear them yert again.

An ideal subject would be the random "back row" Catholic who attends regularly but probably is not the model of "active participation". For that matter, test subjects would not necessarily have to be Catholic.... it might actually be better if they weren't, as that would then give a good picture of what those texts by themselves can actually convey. I think we assume a lot more background knowledge of the faith than we know...