Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Translation Tuesday: Preface for the Trinity

Tuesday morning greetings from the "home office" here in Franklin Park, Illinois.

Well, it certainly was an interesting discussion that several Facebook friends and I had late yesterday concerning this text, the preface for the Most Holy Trinity, celebrated this past weekend.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,

always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit
you are one God, one Lord:
not in the unity of a single person,
but in a Trinity of one substance.
For what you have revealed to us of your glory
we believe equally of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead,
you might be adored in what is proper to each Person,
their unity in substance,
and their equality in majesty.
For this is praised by Angels and Archangels,
Cherubim, too, and Seraphim,
who never cease to cry out each day,
as with one voice they acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts …

I posted the text, wondering how others heard it or prayed it. Some comments:

I listened to that five times this past weekend and decided that the translator probably lost some hair trying to write it. Or chewed off his fingernails. Well, the same substance, different manifestations...Could have been both...

Reads much better than it sounds without the text in front of you. Even then, you have to know the sentence logic behind subordinate clauses and even sub-subordinate clauses.

This seems perfectly sensible to me. Really.

Reading it in print, it makes enough sense to me...but on the other hand, it annoys me. When prayers seem to be more about clarifying doctrine than praising God, they just sort of tick me off.

Really, whoever translated and approved this should be ashamed. I heard it three times this weekend and couldn't follow it at all. My guess is the assembly tuned out to their happy place.

 I had to pray this at three liturgies...and I still can't comprehend. I hope Pope Francis gives Episcopal conferences the responsibility for translations again...but I'm not holding my breath!

Has the Latin truly been translated into English if phrases like "a Trinity of one substance" do not account for the way English is understood by its speakers? "Substance," really? There is not a single living native English speaker who would ever use the word "substance" to explaining the essence of God. It remains in our liturgical language as jargon - professional jargon; words used by one professional to prove to another professional that he's done his homework. Used in this manner, it is a phrase that is not understood by the vast majority of Catholics. It is a phrase that should not appear in prayer. The prayer pretends to be intelligible only when the mind focuses on the mysterious contradictions in numbers and ignores the nouns. If one pays attention to the nouns and interprets their meanings according to modern English usage, how could he or she be faulted for believing that Catholics worship three Gods. My two brothers and I each have something proper to our individual persons and yet are made of the same substance: physical humanity. Likewise, we are not one person, but we are a threesome made of the same substance.

I saw the pain in the presiders face as he tried to sound prayerful. He is a good presider and a spiritual man, but by the middle I was just grimacing and by the end paying attention to the child in the pew in front of me happily playing until I hear the music start.

The reason why I posted this was because of my own experience at Mass on Sunday. My pastor prepares well to pray these texts. And each week he chants the preface dialogue and the preface. I was sticking with him as the preface unfolded and he tried his very best but ended up getting caught up in the language, trying to make it all intelligible for us. But he had to stop at least twice and I really felt for him.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

To me, this preface is a lot like the Athanasian Creed. If you weren't confused about the Trinity before reading it, you will be after!

Florida Music Director said...

Honestly hadn't given this much thought, though I do enjoy the phrase "one substance." I guess it is just so much easier to tune out now...unlike the previous propers which I pretty much had memorized.

What I did notice is that my pastor ALWAYS chants the Sunday preface (sometimes more successfully than others) and this weekend he did not.