Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Translation Tuesday: Breathing and Phrasing: The Violin as Preparatory Instrument

"New Translation Tuesday" greetings.

On Sunday, I was struck by the collect. In my travels throughout the United States helping parishes and dioceses prepare for the advent of the new translation, it was this collect that I used as an example of a much better and more inspiring translation of the original Latin.

The former translation:
God our Father,
may we love you in all things and above all things
and reach the joy you have prepared for us
beyond all our imagining.
We ask this . . .

Lovely prayer.

New translation:
O God, who have prepared for those who love you
good things which no eye can see,
fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love,
so that, loving you in all things and above all things,
we may attain your promises,
which surpass every human desire.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son . . .

In my opinion, this new translation is much richer. It alludes to the New Testament text, "No eye has seen, nor ear heard . . ." And the cadence of the prayer is lovely: "so that, loving you in all things and above all things . . ." My pastor prayed this prayer beautifully on Sunday. As I heard it, I was drawn to think about heavenly realities, those promises that "surpass every human desire." For me, this is a winner of a text.

Now, for the flip side.

I spoke with a priest last night who has been ordained just shy of fifty years and has spent his life in service to the Church and to his fellow priests in a particular way. He lamented when he talked about the collect for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the new translation:

O God, who, looking on the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
raised her to this grace,
that your Only Begotten Son was born of her according to the flesh
and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory,
grant through her prayers,
that, saved by the mystery of your redemption,
we may merit to be exalted by you on high.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son . . .

He said that he struggled mightily with this prayer and, even though he prepared it, he still stumbled "at least three times" as he prayed it. He wondered if anyone in his congregation grasped the meaning when "sentence fragments were piled one on the other."

What I found remarkable in my conversation with this priest was what he told me about his own preparation for the new translation himself.

Apparently, he used to play the violin in his younger days. When he began to see the complexity of the new prayers, he decided to study the violin again. He did so, he said, so that he would better be able to breathe with the new texts. Just as he needed to learn once again to phrase and "breathe" with his violin playing, he needed to pray these newly translated prayers with a kind of breathing and phrasing that the former translation did not need as thoroughly as the new. I found this fascinating and so laudatory. Even though he has done this work so that he can better proclaim these texts, he still lamented over the inability to pray the Assumption collect well.

These two examples, Sunday and Assumption, show us how uneven some of these new translations can be in actual practice.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Charles Culbreth said...

Nice allegory, Dr. J!
All it takes to slam dunk most of these collects/prefaces is some measure of preparation.
When we play with fire is when we will don't prepare, ie.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Since I am not a priest and don't have the responsibility of leading the assembled community in these prayers, I can't authoritatively comment on how much preparation it takes to read/pray them well.

As a lover of good liturgy for many years, I appreciate the large amount of preparation that my pastor undertakes each week.

As a member of the community with considerably more education and linguistic training than most in our parish, my experience is that, even though he usually does a very good job with the collect each week, I am only able to appropriate it as my prayer about 10% of the time. Most of the time I just pick out one phrase and let that carry my heart.

I feel like the new translation has created an impairment, similar to partial loss of one of my senses, that keeps me from grasping the fullness of the prayer.

Anonymous said...

Greetings. New to this blog. Does anyone know what steps the USCCB is taking to realize the Second Vatican Council's desire of restoring Gregorian Chant at Mass? I've read a few articles on the Reform of the Reform and was somewhat surprised that this is such a priority in the Holy See but it seems like business as usual in my parish.