Friday, 2 November 2007

What do these prayers really say?

It's natural for a Catholic teacher to want to illustrate points through the liturgy. If the law of prayer governs the law of faith, then the liturgy should back up everything that a catechist would want to say.

However, we all know how bad our current English translation is, and how it fails to convey the meaning of the Latin prayers that it should be rendering in elevated and accurate English. Concepts like 'grace' seem never to make it into our prayers. This makes it a near-useless catechetical tool.

(And what damage has the expunging of any mention of supenatural grace done to the faith of the Church? I remember once reading this rather extraordinary letter. I suppose it is authentic?)

It is common place to excuse the poor standard of the current translation by saying that it had to be done very quickly, and mistakes are inevitable. Also inevitable, it is said, is the periodic re-translation of vernacular texts, made necessary by the changes in idiom that are inherent in the nature of a 'living' language.

In the first place, many of the prayers were already translated in the old missals. Where these were not ideal for public recitation, alterations could have been made. But there is no question of the ICEL translators being the first ones to translate many of the introits, collects, post-communion prayers etc., not to mention the fixed part of the Mass. Secondly, the mistakes are not of the sort that are made in a rush. For example, a 12-year-old knows how 'credo' should be translated, and it's not in the first person plural. In other words, the errors are deliberate, not the result of time-pressure.

In the second place, I don't see why vernacular translations should have to be made every three decades. One need only point to the Book of Common Prayer, which was used in the Anglican church for several centuries and is still beautiful today (theological difficulties aside).

It is good news, therefore, that the reformed ICEL has finished its draft of the new Roman Missal (2002). This now goes to the bishops' conferences, who have until March 2008 to make recommendations. It is hoped that the whole thing will be finalised by the end of 2008, and then things just need rubber stamping.

It will have been a long time coming, but with Summorum Pontificum one might well ask whether it will be enough to preserve the reformed Roman Rite in the long run. As the old rite becomes more common I think that many people, especially us young people, will vote with their feet.

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