Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Translation Thursday: A Sense of Frustration

Welcome to this edition of "New Translation Thursday."

I was looking at some photos I took during a vacation in Sicily a few years back and came across this one, taken at the ancient Greek ruins at Agrigento. Thought I would post it, since we here in Chicago are expecting four to nine inches of snow tonight . . .

So, what did you think of the prayers at yesterday's Ash Wednesday celebration?

I certainly understand that we need to do everything we can as Christians to resist temptations, but the military-style language of the Collect ("campaign," "take up battle," and "armed with weapons") distracted me beyond measure.

Last week, a priest asked me what he was supposed to do at the end of the Ash Wednesday Mass. Under the heading "Prayer over the People," the rubric reads "For the dismissal, the Priest stands facing the people and, extending his hands over them, says this prayer:"

He wondered if there was to be no dismissal formula after that prayer, since the rubric reads "for the dismissal." I didn't know what to tell him. He then told me that he was very hesitant to use the word "compunction" in the prayer and that he was thinking of changing the prayer completely or just skipping it altogether. This kind of confusion and dissatisfaction with the prayer is certainly not what the Church intended with this translation. I could sense a real frustration within this very pastoral priest.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Jerry, I'm curious as to why you find the use of "military-style" language troubling? Do you not think we are engaged in spiritual warfare, especially in these last few weeks with the whole HHS mandate issue? We here on earth are indeed the church militant, and the battle is real. Now you have me curious to go back and see what the old 1973 version said...

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

FJH, as I said in the post, I know that temptations are real and that we need to resist, and the Latin is the Latin, no doubt. The military terminology is a huge distraction for me, personally; it implies violence and is simply too strong for my ears. Remember, this is always and only one person's opinion, and I respect yours.

David said...

I rather liked the phrase "weapons of self-restraint". Sort of takes the militant metaphor and turns it on its head at the last minute. Effective, I thought...

Geoff said...

I too was left scratching my head at the Opening Prayer yesterday:

Grant,O Lord,
that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

I find the "old" one much more poetic and prayerful (and still conveying the spirit of the Latin):

Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin this discipline of Lent, make this day holy by our self-denial.

I attended Mass yesterday at St. Gregory (on the northside of Chicago) where they have a high school. All the students were in attendance and it was obvious that many of them are not Catholic. I tried to imagine what it was like for inner-city kids to hear these prayers. In fact, I could clearly see that most of them weren't engaged at all. Simply put, this is not the language that they hear and speak each day. Could I even say that it is not the vernacular to which Vatican II called us? It saddens me because I remember, as a young person growing up in an Evangelical church, how much I liked going to church with my friends. What I saw yesterday was a lot of young people who couldn't wait to get out of church. I know that there are myriad reasons for young people not being interested in church, but aren't we just giving them one more reason to not show up by using language that is so far removed from their everyday experience? The priest did a wonderful job in the homily trying to make the season of Lent relevant to their lives, but then at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he had to go back to using a style of language that is so foreign to our ears.

I also missed hearing these words at the Preface: "Each year you give us this joyful season". For me, this always made me feel like Lent had truly begun.

Kate S said...

I played for our 8:15 am Mass yesterday, attended by the cluster's school children as well as by our parish adults. I keep wondering how the kids are going to understand these prayers when I have to think about them for them to make sense. Though I didn't mind the "weapons of self-restraint", it's so different from the way I'm used to thinking of self-restraint that it took me aback.

Last night, our pastor, who has been trying to prepare the prayers, had a lot of difficulty with the Eucharistic Prayer. At one point, he had to come to a full halt, take a breath and start again from somewhere in the sentence. My heart went out to him. It is very difficult to see the struggle that some priests have with this as well as the struggle many of us have to make sense of the prayers.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jerry. It is one thing to acknowledge the reality (and limited power) of evil; it is another to heap one militaristic metaphor after another. Yes, such metaphors have been used in the past for the spiritual life; but we need to ask if they remain appropriate after all we have seen (and done) in the 20th century--and continue to do in the 21st.

Though I also agree that "weapons of self-restraint" has great "pause value" - it does make one stop and ponder... and would have been more effective had it not been preceded by the other militaristic references.

I am concerned, however, that such language gives the impression that the world is a terrible place... that grace is rare... quite contrary to our sacramental imagination. The lines are drawn too neatly and too absolutely. If we can't encounter Christ "ad extra" - in ordinary life - we'll never encounter him "ad intra."

The 1998 version is clean, poetic, avoids unnecessary violent or dualistic language - yet still makes it clear that we struggle against evil in this life:

Grant us, Lord, the grace
to begin this time of Christian service with a holy fast,
that, as we struggle against the spirit of evil,
we may be strengthened by the practice of self-discipline.

And, yes, I also received a number of complaints from priests about the Prayer over the People.... The editors must have assumed that it was self-evident how it was to be used (since the header says "Prayer Over the People" one would think priests would know what to do)...and, yes, compunction is another unnecessary complication of the language.

Simon Ho said...

"I am concerned, however, that such language gives the impression that the world is a terrible place... that grace is rare... quite contrary to our sacramental imagination."

What a rich imagination you have!

Having gone through (unwillingly) compulsory military service, I think the military imagery highlights discipline and persistence over a period of time. Rich images to recover for Lent, even when compared against the limpid 1998 texts: "practice" just doesn't quite have the same urgency.

Austin Fleming said...

For some 25 years of more I've been praying Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I on the Sundays of Lent. I know it's a prayer the people listened to because so many, over the years, told me how much they loved the line, "When we were lost and could not find the way to you, you loved us more than ever..."

If you compare the text we've been using with the newly translated text you'll see that the poetry and flow of the language has been lost.

I've made a decision to continue using Eucharistic Prayer II from the new translation, the one I've been using since November 27, 2011.

I grieve the loss of a beautiful prayerful text.

Jeff Rexhausen said...

As a military retiree, I find that some of the language of the new Ash Wednesday collect is good, but it has been taken to an extreme in this prayer.

Simply replacing "take up battle" with "contend" brings the prayer away from an exclusively military metaphor and toward a more spiritual struggle. What do you think?