Saturday, June 24, 2006

English 101 & Liturgy 2006

Let's get right down to business, here. For a quick review of the proposed amendments to the Order of the Mass for use in America, please click here.

As I read through these amendments, I must say that I was - by and large - happily relieved. They were not quite as incisive as I thought they might be.

That having been said, something in my old English-teacher-wannabe blood was stirred up by certain changes, and I decided to vent a couple of these to see if I'm crazy in my observations. So, please respond.

1) First, the issue of flowery language. Ours is a beautiful language, despite what many say. This is the language of Chaucer and Spencer, Shakespeare and Marlowe, Donne, Keats, Byron, and Shelley. It is quite capable of communicate truth in a powerful, evocative way.

Now, I'll admit to being a bit of a throwback. I'll occasionally ejaculate a "forsooth" here and there to keep conversation interesting. So, I happen to like the usage of "prithee" and "pray" in place of the overused "if you please." So, my only complaint with the change from "May I have your blessing, Father," from "Pray, Father, your blessing" is that it sounds more common, and I like my liturgy - and my language - a little on the flowery side. But this is one of those cases in which the usage that was cut from the translation is, forsooth, a bit outdated, and I'm willing to admit that. But in the context of the other acoutrements of Mass, like incense and Gregorian Chant (because those are used everywhere in the US, aren't they?) does "Pray, Father" really seem all that out of place? But I digress...

2) I'm a little more convicted about my second complaint with the adapted translation. In the first Eucharistic prayer, the ICEL phrase Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ has been adapted to say "Mother of God and our Lord, Jesus Christ." The translation currently in use (1974) renders the phrase "Mother of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God." Now, I have to say, I like the 1974 version better here, although I could tolerate the new ICEL translation. I do not understand the alteration made by the USCCB. The reason for ICEL's re-rendering of the phrase seems to be that they wanted to remain closer to the original Latin word order: Genetricis euidem Dei et Domini nostri Iesu Christi. The USCCB adaptation, rather than resorting to the earlier ICEL translation, seems to want to remain closer to the Latin word order as well. What I don't understand is why the Bishops made any change at all.

The problem is that saying "our God and Lord Jesus Christ" as opposed to "God and our Lord Jesus Christ" applies the modifier across the copula. That is, God and Lord Jesus Christ are obviously One and the Same, ours. This is also captured by the 1974 version, "Jesus Christ, our Lord and God." However, the new Bishop's version leaves a little wiggle room by limiting the modifier "our" to the "Lord Jesus Christ." Thus, one could more easily be confused by the wording to think that Mary is Mother of God (one entity) AND our Lord Jesus Christ (another entity.)

Now, I know what your thinking: this is splitting hairs. Obviously, we profess faith that Jesus Christ is God. It is explicity stated in several other parts of the Mass. No one is in danger of drawing this inference. And of course, I'm not accusing the Bishops of deliberately changing this phrase to theologically alter its meaning. What I'm saying is that a needless alteration of the English word-order affects the phrase in such a way as to leave room for doubt, theologically. Why take the chance? What is the reason? To my ear and eye, the ICEL translation has just as workable a cadence and proclaimability as does the adapted form. Strictly speaking, the USCCB has captured the Latin word order more closely than ICEL - but they took liberty upon the word order in several other places where ICEL was closer, so I doubt that this was their justification for the change. So, again, I might be splitting hairs and talking about something which is 1/1,000,000th of a real chance. But even that little chance seems unnecessary when it could so easily be avoided. From the standpoint of the English language, and comparing the phrase to the original Latin, I can hypothesize no reason for having altered the ICEL version... anybody have any ideas?

3) My next complaint is with the very next alteration made by the Bishops, and is, coincidentally, a little more severe of a complaint. Again, it's something of splitting hairs, but like the previous case I can see no reason for why the change has been made. ICEL's phrase counted among the flock of those you have chosen has been made to say "counted among the flock you have chosen." But these English phrase really say two rather different thing. Now, here again, maybe Liturgiam Authenticam or some other source is a justification for trying to render the theological "spirit" of a phrase, or whatever, but I'm trying to play a non-theological, English-enthusiast role in this criticism, and I merely want to point out the rather significant difference in these renderings. The first speaks of individuals having been chosen to be members of a flock. It implies that each sheep has been selected individually. The latter phrase, on the other hand, generalizes by cutting the specifying genitive phrase out of the sentence. In this second version, the Bishop's adaptation, a "flock" has been chosen. The individual sheep might never have been looked at in this choice.

Now, as with our last example, in this case we seem to have broken even with the 1974 version. The Latin phrase "in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari" was, then, translated "count us among those you have chosen." They missed the grege. Well, now we have the grege back, but have missed the electorum, the "those." I don't mean to say, again, that the Bishops have tried to take a theological swipe at our "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" by this removal. But I do wonder why the removal, since it takes out a turn of phrase that could easily be used to catechize on that point which was so highlighted in the Council. We are individually chosen and called to be Christ's sheep. The Latin says so. The new ICEL translation says so. The adaptation, really, does not. Any thoughts?

4) Now my English hat is really on. Why, pray, has ICEL's "...dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, the one good and the source of life..." been changed to say "...dwelling in unapproachable light. Yet you, the one good and the source of life...?" That's a rhetorical question, by the way; you don't have to answer it. I'll answer it. Call this just another chapter in a long and sad story called The Death of the Semicolon by Americo Mediocrito. I love semicolons; I love using semicolons; if semicolons were people, I would hang out with semicolons.

Why? Because semicolons are interesting. Who would you rather go to the bar with - a period, a comma, a semicolon? A period would be boring and just sit there in silence; a comma would speak in fits and starts, yawning frequently; but a semicolon would just ramble on and on until you had to beg him to shut up. At least he'd be interesting.

I have no real complaint with this phrase as it will be spoken in the Mass; my complaint is with the reason for its having been rewritten. Supposedly, the period in place of the semicolon "was adopted, in order to shorten the opening sentence for the purposes of easier proclaimability." Well, hell, I don't know how. A semicolon does break a "sentence," in the sense that is separates one complete thought from another; but it does not do so with the divorcing abruptness of a period. I'd like to know how the Bishops were intending upon proclaiming this sentence differently, had the semicolon been left in place, because it seems that they don't understand what that poor little punctuation mark does. I shudder to think of celebrants doing a confused pirouette in midsentence. Perhaps the change was better, all things considered. I just hope that I won't get rammed in my car by someone from the BCL speeding through a "yield" sign on a highway ramp...

That is all of my chagrin with the current translation. I know I promised you a word about the "Domine, non sum dignus..." and I will not reneg on my promise. However, my say on that will not be a complaint against the action of the BCL, but rather a defense, a-la Father Z's post, against the old version of this phrase, from a standpoint of English. It will hope to show why the "roof" is a necessary piece of this phrase, in English, if it is to have the full meaning of the original and a speakable, workable structure as a sentence. As such, I will put this in a separate post. Stay tuned!



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