Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New Translation Tuesday: A Vocabulary Vortex

"New Translation Tuesday" greetings to all.

This past Sunday taught me something about how the human mind works; well at least how my human mind works. I remember well the discussions all over the cyberworld about the Collect for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time when the new text was first released. Here is the text:

O God, who in the abasement of your Son
have raised up a fallen world,
fill your faithful with holy joy,
for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin
you bestow eternal gladness.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The introduction of the word "abasement" had me running to the dictionary. I can safely say that this is a word that I have never used in 54 years of speaking the English language (well maybe 51 years; I don't think I spoke until I was three). So, when all these discussions were going on, I remember learning that the word meant something like "the lowering of one of high rank."

On Sunday, when the celebrant said the word, my mind kicked in and that internal dialogue began, "OK, Jerry, what did the word 'abasement' mean when you looked it up several months ago?" The reply: "Something about lowering in rank." "Oh, but don't you think that some people, maybe the kids here at Mass might think that the celebrant is talking about a 'basement' of a house?" "That is kind of funny."

That's exactly what happened in my mind on Sunday. And guess what? The next thing I was conscious of were the words "one God, for ever and ever."

Collect? Gone. Meaning? Lost.

It was frustrating. Why? Because I truly believe that God has something to speak to my heart in each and every one of these prayers. But my mind just couldn't focus on Sunday. I got lost in a vocabulary vortex.

Ever happen to you?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


FJH 3rd said...


Distractions abound, in day-to-day life, and at Mass.

I have mentioned in your combox on a couple of occasions that, since the debut of the new translation, I have heard homilies refer to the collect at least three times. And I NEVER recall hearing a collect mentioned in homilies before.

The other thought that occurs to me is, just as the faithful are encouraged to read and ponder the readings before they go to Mass, perhaps we should be encouraged to review the propers, too. A hand missal or Magnificat comes in mighty hand for that sort of preparation.

David Bonofiglio said...

What about good old fashioned context clues? We know what happened to the Son of God and it's relationship to the state of mankind. It doesn't seem that difficult to figure this out quite quickly if "abasement" has never crossed your literary path before.

Austin Fleming said...

Over the years I have referred to the opening prayer in homilies when the text was especially supportive of the day's celebration and scriptures. In none of those instances did I refer to the opening prayer in order to explain what it meant.

I don't think we should need clues to help us understand the prayer. The prayer should be a clue to help us understand the day's worship.

Here's an interesting exercise: Google the word abasement. The first reply is the definition Gerry mentioned in his post. Then, click on "images" in the left hand column...

Anonymous said...

Naughty, naughty, Father Fleming!

Kevin Keil said...

In my parish we have many people attending mass who have english as a second language. I can't even imagine how hard it is for them to understand these prayers as they wash over them.

David said...

I didn't get distracted by the word in and of itself, but by its emotional resonance. I'd love to know what the Latin original behind "abasement" is anyway. To my mind, that word in English has a negative connotation and doesn't seem to be the most appropriate word.

If "abasement" refers to the Incarnation, well, the Second Person of the Trinity certainly 'lowered' himself in the Incarnation, but that's something we celebrate with love and devotion as a good thing! "Abasement" suggests that the lower status to which someone or something is brought is undesirable--in this instance, it would mean that being human is a bad thing.

If "abasement" refers more specifically to the Passion, then it makes a little more sense. Certainly Jesus' dignity was denied when he was physically abused, mocked, and sentenced to death unjustly. Even regarding the Passion, though, "we call this Friday good" (to quote T. S. Eliot). We don't celebrate the injustice of how Jesus was treated, but we do celebrate how, in the mysterious workings of God, this situation of injustice, torture, and death became redemptive and salvific. So even in this understanding, "abasement" seems to be inadequate.

I would have preferred to see a world like "self-emptying" used instead. There the emphasis is on Jesus' refusal to cling to his divine nature and his willingness to go through injustice and torture and death because he knew on some level that it was part of God's plan of salvation. It's about sacrifice for the sake of another, and it lacks any connotation of negativity. But I think it's pretty likely that "self-emptying" or something similar wouldn't satisfy the norms in Liturgiam Authenticam.

Anonymous said...

...perhaps we should be encouraged to review the propers, too. A hand missal or Magnificat comes in mighty hand for that sort of preparation.

Actually a fine idea if you have access to a hand missal or if you have money to buy one and if you still have a Catholic bookstore in the area if you have transportation or if you have income to allow you access to the internet and if you have a credit card that you can use to make a purchase and if you're not 16 or older because so much of the above is predicated on age. So much of our response to the new translation is based within our own personal lived culture. Yet, don't we agree that our communal prayers should be accessible/understandable to the vast majority of believers who have reached the age of reason--regardless of income, education, and proximity to urban centers?