Sunday, June 25, 2006

English 102 & Liturgy 2006

Finally, as promised, the Domine, non sum dignus.... My previous post (Logic 101 & Liturgy 2006) really is sort of a prerequisite to this one, so if you haven't read it, you might want to check it out before continuing.

Imprimis: Much has been said, elsewhere on the web, about the Bishops' removal of "my soul" from the second portion of this invocation. I will not address that issue here, as all the bases seem to have been covered in what I have read, and I frankly don't see it as that big of an issue.

Now, down to business.

First, let's reproduce and break down - word for word - the original Latin phrase, as that will be beneficial. Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum... Which translates, word for word: Domine (Lord), non sum (not I am) dignus (worthy/fit) ut (that) intres (You might enter) sub tectum meum (under the roof of-me/my)...

Now, ICEL has rendered this phrase pretty well: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof." And, thankfully, the Bishops have carried this translation into their "White Book." (Huzzah!) But Amy, from Florida, doesn't get it. She's hurt, troubled, even losing her faith. See, she doesn't have a roof...

Please understand, I am sympathetic to the poor woman and her lack of understanding. She has somehow (I can't quite understand how) grown very emotionally attached to this phrase. And I do commisserate with her. But with the 1970s translator-terrorists who put her in this position, I do not.

This moment in the liturgy has always been one of my pet-peeves according to the 1970s translation. When I first read that the line was supposed to be a quote from the Centurian in Scripture, I looked up the encounter. Knowing nothing about Latin at the time, I saw there was a difference between the Centurian's phrase "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof..." and the phrase we spoke in the Mass: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You..." And the difference struck me quite profoundly. You could say that I felt the difference - as deeply, or more so, than Amy from Florida felt the meaning of the words she's been saying for the past 16 years of her life.

Having already, in a previous post, made it clear that I believe the Missal authors deliberately quoted Scripture here and that it falls outside of ICEL's competency to change that intention, I'd like to take a deeper look at the actual words of the phrase - in Latin, in the old translation, and in the new one. We can even pretend, hypothetically, that the phrase is not a quotation at all - that it was simply written by the authors of the Missal and that they invented the symbol of a "roof." My case will be the same: there is a deep, fundamentally different position being adopted by those who pray the Latin words and by those who pray the 1974 English abomination. And this difference can be shown through a study of the English structure of the sentence just as easily for those who don't know any Latin.

Let me get right down into my practical argument, so it might be easier to follow me.

When we pray this phrase, we are just about to "receive" the Lord in holy Communion. This is a profound mystery, that we are able to consume the Lord, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. This line of prayer should be, for all of us, a profound moment of contemplation and internal preparation for the Sacrament. Its words are thus very important, and say alot about what our disposition should be. Yet, there is a dichotomy between the original Latin and the currently-used English translation: they imply a different disposition. At least, to my mind, they do.

Take a look at the Latin phrase above, as I have broken it down. The word which I will be focusing on here will be the verb - intres. It is the most important word in the sentence, as it is in any sentence. A sentence requires a verb. Even if it is understood the verb must be there. The single-word sentence "no" really represents a verbal action of "being unwilling;" "Yes" means "I assent;" and when you answer a question with a noun or pronoun, there's always an "is," "am," or "are" understood. Verbs are the action. They are what really make our language. They are the realest parts of our expression because they, in a sense, have being. Anyway, this is besides the point. Just know that the verb here is important, too.

In Latin, verbs conjugate. They take on a different form in a sentence which indicates voice, number, person, and mood. The form intres comes from the verb intrare which means "to enter." Here, it is conjugated to the active voice singular second person, expressed in the subjunctive mood: "you may enter," understood not permissively, but tentatively or potentially. Now, the phrase "you may enter" or "you might enter" is a literal translation of this verb; hence, it is well translated by the 2006 ICEL version: "... that You should enter..." where the "that/should" combination sets up the same subjunctive mood as the word "might" would do out of context.

On the other hand, the 1974 ICEL version not only changes the verb itself - the action used - but it changes nearly everything else about the verb too. Let's take a look: "... to receive you..." The ICEL people place an infinitive into the sentence to relate back to the acting verb: "Am." But "I am... to receive you" by no means translates intres, roof or no roof. Rather, it is an expression of passive voice singular first person in the indicative mood. What on the surface appears to be a small manipulation to get rid of the "roof" has in fact changed the entire thrust and focus of the sentence. It now centers on the first person, rather than the second person (or, if you will, the Second Person.) What was a matter of Christ's volition in "entering under our rooves" has become a matter focused on me, on what I am doing.

So, scripture aside, we can see that there is something fundamentally different being expressed here. And, personally, I think that the difference is important. Our act of "receiving" is a response to an action which Christ has first undertaken. There can be no receiving unless He first comes to us. This moment of prayer provides us an opportunity to recognize our unworthiness, yes, but also to reflect on the free gift of God's only Son - on Him coming to us, freely, of His own action, both in the Incarnation and through the Paschal Mystery.

Now, people might take issue with my theological leanings on this point - and frankly, I don't care. I can afford to not care because, for whatever reason, Rome has chosen to put these words there, and now the Bishops have accepted an actual translation of those words. I'm merely pointing out that there are several ways in which translation can "differ" from an original, and who are we to say on which level the original was meant to communicate? Should we take the risk? Here, in this moment, Rome has willed to put into our minds the words (and the attitude) of the Centurian, humbly recognizing his unworthiness to have Christ come to him. And technically, our old translation has done a lot more than simply change the words of this Centurian - it has changed the entire mood and attitude of the sentence.

People might say that I am reading too much into this. But I don't believe that I am. Words are important, in any language. If I were a storyteller, and I wrote that "John threw me the ball," I would be irritated if someone rewrote my story to say "I caught the ball thrown by John." This irritation would not be merely the hatred of passive voice which gradeschool English teachers plant in their students (this tactic annoys me actually, as the passive voice is a valuable tool in writing.) My irritation would be deeper than that. Because "I caught the ball" and "John threw the ball" really do express different shades of reality, even if they reference the same situation objectively. In one expression, John is acting. In another, I am the main actor. And perhaps it's important to the storyteller than the action come from the Second Person.

Bottom line: in English, as it Latin, it matters how we say it, not just what we say. I thank God that, by the grace of the USCCB and the reformed ICEL, we'll be able to say here what the Centurian really said - and say it how we were intended by Rome to say it.



Blogger Friguy said...

Nicely stated (or written, rather).

Your note on the Second Person reminded me of my greatest translation peeve--"Memorial Acclamation 'A'". This Anamnesis, which exists not in the Latin, needs to be nailed to the nearest coffin. As JPII wrote: "translation is not an experiment in creativity."

Anyway, my annoyance. Unlike the other three, actual anamnesis texts, "Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again" is not in the Second Person. Here, however, the shift is not to an egotistical first person, as in the ICELized "Domine, non sum dignus". Rather, the shift is to an unbelieving third person. Why should we wonder that Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence when we speak--at the very moment He appears on the altar--as if He were not present? How appropriate a time for Second Person, direct address!

Incidentally, "Memorial Acclamation 'A'" would read much more smoothly if the first two periods were converted into semicolons. What a marvelous puncta, indeed! I love semicolons; they're handy and slick; English is blessed with their presence.

Sponsored by Philologists for a Faithful Rendering.

6/25/06, 8:37 PM  

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