Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Translation Thursday: A Liturgical Curmudgeon

"New Translation Thursday" greetings to all. Feels like a week with two Mondays, doesn't it?

This morning I received the latest edition (May-June 2012) of the Newsletter from the Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship. It contains a short article, "Understanding the Grammar of the Roman Missal, Third Edition."

I think this is a helpful article. It attempts to explain two issues that have apparently been the source of complaints received by the committee. "The Secretariat for Divine Worship offers commentary on two frequently-raised issues: the qui clauses (relative or dependent clauses beginning with the relative pronoun “who”), which are found not only in the proper orations of the Missal but also in the Order of Mass, and the expression quaesumus (usually translated as “we pray”)."
The article goes on to explain the reasons why these particular words were translated as they were from Latin to English, beginning with this: "The complex grammatical structure of the orations was one of the major changes in the style of English used in the new translation of the Missal."
I spent time poring through this article, which was quite complex itself at times. The challenge here, though, is finding ways to help people in our congregations understand the "complex grammatical structure" of these prayers. I can't imagine printing something like this in the parish bulletin. I think the majority of Catholics would get lost or simply lose interest. This is more than a little frustrating for many people. Obviously for some of these prayers, the meaning cannot be instantly grasped upon a first hearing. This is a sad fact. Now we need to set about explaining why the use of the word "who" is actually correct when, to many ears, it just doesn't sound correct. Am I way off base here? While I appreciate the article in the newsletter, it just seems regrettable that such an article needs to have been written in the first place.
I guess I am having one of my "liturgical curmudgeon" days.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Alan Hommerding said...

I remember hearing a comment in the hallways of the theology department at Notre Dame: "If you have to explain why you said what you said the WAY you said it, or explain what you DIDN'T mean by what you said when you said it ... you probably said it very poorly to begin with."
I think the first part applies to the translation of the "qui" clauses.
Kudos to the bishops for trying to build a bridge between #11 in Sacrosanctum Concilium and what appears to be a mindset that the Mass is primarily the right thing said by the right person at the right time.

Anonymous said...

there is an old Axiom that says If it isn't broken don't fix it. too bad liturgists cannot understand this SIMPLE statement.. Other parts of the Catholic Church need fixing first e.g Quality of homilies every week and the selection of bishops in the USA.

Anonymous said...

I'm told that there are a few "we pray"s thrown in that have no corresponding quaesumus, but I am not able to verify independently.

I'm going to agree with Alan. The fact that the bishops feel the need to issue this document is an admission that the translation is poor.

I also agree with you, Jerry, that "O God, who have..." sounds really weird (to my British ears as well as to your American ones). It's grammatically correct, yes, but is not a construct that any English-speaking person I know would use. Personally, I feel that adding "you" in there helps: "O God, you who have...". That, at least, clarifies that the "O God" is second-person singular. Having said that, of course, we're not allowed to "take liberties" with the text of the Mass, so we're stuck with the barely-parsable jumble that has been handed down to us by Google Translate.

Did I say Google Translate? Sorry, I meant Vox Clara.

If the bishops' document (which I have not read) concentrates on qui and quaesumus, it declines to address the bit after the Our Father that makes no sense at all in English: "...await the blessed hope and the coming of...".

Getting off my hobby-horse now, I promise.

Paul Robertson