Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Welcome to this Third Week of Lent's installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

I can't help but feel a sense of anticipation as we draw closer to the Paschal Triduum. One of the high points of the year, a moment that has helped shape my own Catholic faith, arrives each year at the Easter Vigil. The solemn chanting of the Exsultet shakes me to the core every single year. It is amazing to me how a text that is heard only once a year has had the power to grip my soul so fiercely, especially when these words are chanted:

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave
you gave away your Son.
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God
to see Christ rising from the dead.

On those occasions when I have had the privelege of proclaiming the Exsultet, I have made it a point to stress the words "wonderful" and "boundless." I must admit that I have always had a crack in my voice when chanting the words "To ransom a slave you gave away your Son."

Here is the new translation of this section:

This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners.

At the Easter Vigil to be celebrated in a few weeks, I know that I will have a sense of loss as the Exsultet is being chanted. I know there are those of you who have called me "melodramatic" about this whole issue of grieving the loss of these texts. Yet, I have the sense that these words are approaching a point of being like the final words of a dying friend. And I have to admit that it will take some time to get to know the new friend that is the new translation. Surely this new translation will be a casual acquaintance at first. There will be things about this new acquaintance that will attract me right away, for instance the line "O love, O charity beyond all telling;" just beautiful. But there will perhaps always be that twinge of grief when I recall the beauty of my old friend. But I guess that is what life is all about sometimes. A dear friend once said, "Life is but a series of hello's and goodbye's."

Right now I am feeling the pain of a significant "goodbye."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the old friend has simply been exercising, eating right, gotten in shape, bought a new suit, and feels and looks like a million bucks! Same old friend, new improved appearance!

That's how I'm looking at it!

Matt said...

Great post--

There have been a few moments this year when I realized it was probably the 'last time' we'll be singing something. I grew up with the EP III setting of Mass of Creation (having a singing pastor helps). I know that from a pure scholarly standpoint it's lacking, but I'm going to miss hearing that.

We used the famed "Mass of Light" Gloria during winter ordinary time this year...and we are not scheduled to use it again. I'll miss that too.

I feel at least a little privileged, because I have an awareness of the depth of the changes coming, I can have my brief moments of mourning. Our assembly members may not be so lucky...a lot will just wonder what happened to the music they used to like and know.

Cathy Rusin said...

The poor quality of the new missal translations in general have frustrated me. And while the quality of the new Exsultet may be fine, ever since I saw the new translation recently, I have been in mourning for those powerfully beautiful words that live deep in my heart throughout the year.
Just to lose the three-fold "Rejoice" that brings the good news ever closer (heaven, earth, Church)... ah,it will be very hard to say goodbye.

Linda Reid said...

"I know there are those of you who have called me "melodramatic" about this whole issue of grieving the loss of these texts. Yet, I have the sense that these words are approaching a point of being like the final words of a dying friend. "

I am in the same "melodramatic" boat, Jerry! I have sung the Exsultet for the last 20 years at my parish and can do it nearly from memory. I, too, am grieving for this "last time" that I will sing this translation!

Anonymous said...


As the person who translated the soon-to-be "old" Exsultet a lifetime ago (or so it seems), I thank you from the bottom of my heart for such kind words - and Jerry for posting the topic! You've added quite the note of thanksgiving to my night-time prayer this evening!

Though some people have had critical things to say about the new translation of the Exsultet, I must say that I rather like it. It helps that I know who translated it (shhh . . . so anonymous this is all supposed to be!), the late Dame (as they were called once, then later simply Sister) Maria Boulding, O.S.B. of Stanbrook Abbey (you've read or seen Rumer Godden's "In This House of Brede"? "Brede" was Stanbrook). To say that Sister Maria was in equal measure spiritual and scholarly is to understate the matter. If you have a chance, track down her "The Coming of God." She was a superb Latinist and an accomplished poet. Let her new Exsultet "grow" on you, as it has on me (singing it around the house!). It must have been one of the last things she did: she died of cancer in November 2009. I am happy to see it succeed my poor offering of so long ago.

A blessed Lent, prayerful Triduum, and exultant Easter to you all!

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with the presnt translation is that Dynamic Equivalnce bascially boils down to it was made up. Its like playing telephone- it started out one way and ends up completely different. I'm really glad we are getting back to the source material.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2: before you send too many kudos the new translation's way, and buy too readily into the dynamic vs formal equivalence mantra, you might want to wait and see what the new translation (in its 2010 tinkered-with-by-Vox-Clara form) has done to the "source material."

Here's a sample for you: the Prayer Over the Offerings, Saturday, Week Four of Lent:
Oblationibus nostris, quaesumus, Domine,
placare susceptis,
et ad te nostras etiam rebelles compelle propitius voluntates.

Vox Clara's version, officially approved:
Be pleased, O Lord, we pray,
with these oblations you receive from our hands,
and even when our wills are defiant
constrain them mercifully to turn to you.

1) There's not "from our hands" in the Latin original
2) There's no subjunctive clause "when our wills" in the Latin original
3) The "etiam" (even) of the original Latin modifies "our rebellious (defiant) wills" not Vox Clara's made-up subjunctive clause
4) Even if there WAS a subjunctive clause, Vox Clara's use of "even" is mistaken, as its petition does not reach for the exceptional but seek the ordinary from God
5) The last line violates correct English grammar by placing the adverb after the verb and sandwiching the object between verb and misplaced adverb.

"Really glad to be getting back to the source material"? Don't count on it with the "gift" Vox Clara has given us!

Anonymous said...

""Really glad to be getting back to the source material"? Don't count on it with the "gift" Vox Clara has given us!"
-- as my father used to say " There's always something."
We as americans always have something to say about everything. Sometimes it is just better to be positive and take the Third edition as a whole and accept the fact that we need to move on.

Anonymous said...

This may be throwing pearls to swine:

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Haec nox est,
in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,
Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit.

They're really translating "vinculis" as "prison-bars" and "ab inferis" as "from the underworld"?

Why not "chains" or "bonds" or even "fetters"? Is "prison-bars" chosen because it has the same number of syllables?

And, whatever the heritage of "inferis", using "underworld" smacks of Charon and the river Styx. "From the dead" or "from the grave" sound much better to my ear.

But that's just my opinion.