18 January 2015

(2) THE 1990s Translation.

Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Eternal God. 

So: the old, 1970s, translation of the Mass had the disadvantages which we have discussed. Indeed, the problems with that translation were widely recognised very soon after it came into use. I will quote the words (2002) of a man who cannot be accused of any sympathy with Traditionalism: Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a "Spirit of Vatican II" prelate whose antipathy to Joseph Ratzinger's views on Liturgy were public and were very vigorously expressed. (He was a man who never did things by halves; his Wikipedia entry gives information about his financial, sexual, and architectural misdemeanours.) "This restorationist movement [i.e. the views of Joseph Ratzinger, Aidan Nichols, and others] should be distinguished from the ongoing search for liturgical renewal according to the norms already established. Liturgists who were involved in the first liturgical reforms after the council consider that the renewal was halted in midstream and agree that many valid criticisms of the present state of affairs are in order. For example, in citing the low quality of some translations, they call for a more elevated and poetic style ...".

Accordingly, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) set to work in the 1980s and, in 1992, submitted a new translation of the Missal. It was generally agreed that it represented a considerable improvement upon its predecessor. But there was now a new kid on the linguistic block. In just one decade, a new -ism had become dominant among fashionable liturgists: Feminism. Under this novel intellectual tyranny, gender-specific nouns became very unpopular; which was bad news for words like Lord. And it was also bad news for pronouns, which, notoriously, "take the place of nouns", but can, in the English language and in the third person singular (he/she/him/her) be (to the fury of feminist ideologues) gender-specific.

So, in the 1992 draft, the Preface did become closer to the Latin ... for a while. Here is that draft:
It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation
always and everywhere to give you thanks 

                (well, goodish so far ... but here comes the problem in line 4:)
God of majesty and loving kindness.

You see what has happened to Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Eternal God.. I explain above how Lord represents the old Hebrew 'tetragrammton', YHWH, the august Name under which Moses and our spiritual ancestors, God's First People, addressed their and our God; I remind you that Holy Father was the phrase characterising the Great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in S John Chapter 17. But Lord and Father are, to some, unacceptably gender-specific. Out they both have to go. So the translators again applied the principle of 'Dynamic Equivalence' (go for the meaning and forget the words). Deus (God) was allowed to stay; Domine ... Omnipotens Aeterne ... (Lord ... Almighty Eternal ...) were expressed by the word majesty; and the cuddliness (foolishly) assumed to be implicit in Pater (Father) was rendered by loving kindness.

The same processes can be seen at work in the translation, in 1992, of the Answer (Suscipiat Dominus ...) to the Orate Fratres: "to the praise and glory of His Name" has to be purged not only of 'Lord' but also of any masculine pronoun, so we end up with "... will be pleasing to God for the Glory of God's name ...".

Pronouns (like His) exist to save you from having continually to repeat nouns (like God). "Matilda needed to go shopping, so Matilda set out for Tescoes with Matilda's shopping list" becomes, for normal English speakers, "Matilda needed to go shopping, so she set out for Tescoes with her shopping list". But, for feminist liturgists, pronouns ... masculine  pronouns, that is ... are a minefield. So they avoid them by multiple repetitions of the noun. (Curiously, they do not have the same problems with feminine pronouns: I read recently an account of how the Church of England's senior {and very episcopable} woman clergyperson gave a 'blessing' which mentioned Wisdom and then displayed no coyness at all about feminine pronouns.)

When Rome considered this 1992 translation, all sorts of things hit all sorts of fans. For a while, there was some toying with the idea that it could be corrected. But it became clear that the new virus of feminist linguistics was too deeply embedded in it. In the end, Rome threw the whole lot out, hook, line, and sinker, and declared that Comme le prevoit, the document which prescribed the "Dynamic Equivalence" mode of translation, was no longer in force. The order went out that ICEL should be reformed and cleaned out. And a new Instruction about vernacular translations was, to the incandescent fury of Rome's critics, put in the place of Comme le prevoit. The new Instruction, Liturgiam authenticam, is a very fine and scholarly document indeed; one of the great monuments to the pontificate of S John Paul II. You might find it useful as a litmus paper by which to judge the 'scholarship' of 'experts': ask a soi-disant 'liturgist' what he thinks of Liturgiam authenticam and, if he rubbishes it, you'll know he's a phoney. (Pronounce it Lee-TOUR-jee-am ow-TEN-tee-cam. If he doesn't catch on first time what you're talking about, just keep repeating it, louder and louder, until he does. It's the only sort of language these people understand.)

Liturgiam authenticam is the how-to-do-it tool which lies behind the praiseworthy translation which, thank God, we Anglophone Catholics now use. We should be grateful for our new translation, and never forget how truly terrible its predecessor was; or how close we came to having the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass turned into a feminist polemic.
Sometimes a wistful joke used to be made: "Since 'Traddies' are allowed to use the 1962 Missal, those who still love the Vatican II Missal [by which the speaker means the old translation] ought to be allowed to use that." This reveals a profound misunderstanding. Both the old obsolete ICEL, and the new translation, are attempts to render what is basically the same Latin original, which was produced half a decade after the Council. Since our new translation is closer and more faithful to the post-Vatican II Latin original, it has every claim to be welcomed as more authentically "the Vatican II Missal".


Melinda said...

Medieval commentary on Boethius explored plenty of reasons why Philosophy and Wisdom were feminine:

"Circa primum sciendum est quod Philosophia hic introducitur sub persona mulieris, cuius triplex est racio: quarum una est quod tam apud Grecos quam apud Latinos philosophia feminini generis est; secunda quia sicut mulier lacte suo infantem nutrit, sic philosophia lenibus sententiis minus sapientes; tercia quia mulier naturaliter est magis compassiua et ideo aptior persona ad consolandum miseros et assidendum egris."

Guessing none of these made their way into the blessing? They do remind me of Augustine's moving tribute to Monica, though, that he couldn't be satisfied apart from Christianity because he had sucked down the name of Christ with her milk.

GOR said...

The linguistic gymnastics some ‘Spirit of Vat II priests’ go through to avoid any reference to God in masculine terms would be comical if it were not so subversive. The acid test for me, when older priests take this approach, is asking if they changed the Latin gender of the words when they were first ordained and celebrated Mass in Latin.

I suspect not. “Too soon, old…too late, clueless”

Anonymous said...

"Since our new translation is closer and more faithful to the post-Vatican II Latin original, it has every claim to be welcomed as more authentically "the Vatican II Missal".
The problem remains that it is the Vatican II Missal. I only can repeat that it would be very important to get the official permission to use the elder, "papalist" Anglo-Catholic, Liturgical English translations of the Tridentine Missale as well as the blessings, the funeral liturgy etc. as alternative "Extraordinary Form" for the Ordinariate, as these translations are part of the authentic Anglo-Catholic Liturgcial heritage, isn'nt it? This would be a real mutual enrichment and fully in line with the Spirit of Summorum Pontificum.

Tony V said...

The thing that bugged me the most about the old translation was 'And also with you'. I was shocked when I learned, some 20 years after the new mass had been imposed on us, that the Latin text still said 'Et cum spiritu tuo.'

And then there was the omission of the 'mea culpa (x3)' from the (truncated) Confiteor, the omission of the 'holy' from the Suscipiat, the 'we believe'...I don't worry about prefaces and prayers because I'm usually reading the bulletin or turning around looking at the clock then.