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Digging out liturgical treasures from new translation of the Mass
HONG KONG (SE): Speaking to what has been the much criticised New English Translation of the Mass, Filipino Benedictine, Father Anscar Chupungco, told around 300 people gathered in the Caritas Hall in Central on November 18 that he was addressing the matter with some apprehension.
“It is as important to understand what it is not, as it is to understand what it is,” Father Chupungco said, explaining that his personal experience lies in his work on the International Commission on English Liturgy prior to 2000, when he was teaching at the Paul VI Institute for Liturgy in Rome, Italy.
However, he pointed out that he was not working on the current translation, but on one that was laid aside in 2001, when the Vatican chose to pursue a policy of literal translation from the original Latin in place of the dynamic equivalence-type that we have become accustomed to since Vatican II first allowed us to pray the Eucharist in a language we could understand.
He pointed out that it has always been known that the current 1973 English translation does have some problems and inadequacies, and the work that he had been doing on the international commission was aimed at addressing these.
Father Chupungco lamented that unfortunately, in all probability some beautiful texts that had been composed will never see the light of day.
He pointed out that the new translation has departed from the concept of vernacular, which is understood as language that is self-explanatory and communicates its meaning without much explanation.
However, this is not true of the new translation, which seeks to introduce concepts that do not exist in English-speaking cultures and, consequently, the words or grammatical constructions to express them do not exist either.
Father Chupungco pointed to the controversial response to the greeting, “The Lord be with you,” as being a prime example. The liturgist noted that the response, “And with your spirit,” makes no sense in English, as it is a concept that is non-existent in the language.
However, he said that the original Latin is referring to a distinction in ancient Roman and Greek culture that differentiated between soul, body and spirit in a person, and by addressing the spirit, it was referring to what is most fundamental and noble.
“It is more meaningful than a simple honorific, like your honour,” he noted. “It is not a title, but the innermost possession of a person.”
He explained that it does not refer to the priestly spirit of the celebrant either, as this is a greeting in the liturgy that is given by the deacon when present, so this is clearly not the meaning.
“But actually it is the greeting that is important,” he stressed, “not the reply. The greeting is a recognition of the presence of the Lord in our midst.”
He explained that this shows that it is impossible simply to copy one language to another, adding that the word communion is also problematic in the new translation, as it is used in several different senses, which creates difficulties.
“Normally, it is the responsibility of the translators to explain their work,” he said. “But in this case, the translators have handed this responsibility onto the priests in parishes to deal with. That is why we are here today,” he quipped.
He described the new translation as being like a newly-born baby. “It is something that we have,” he said.
“And we need to welcome it with all its imperfection and deformity. How do we do this, well that is your problem,” he told the gathering of predominately priests and catechists, who will take up the burden bequeathed by the international translation commission.
He explained that the Vatican most probably picked on English as the language to begin this literal translation policy, because it can serve as a base language for future translations into other languages, as it is the international language of the world.
“Although this is forbidden in the instruction, which specifically says that all translations must be done from the original Latin, who knows what people do,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
He pointed out that there is a scarcity of people well trained in the medieval Latin in which the original Mass texts are written.
“Most Latin scholars are trained in the classical Latin of the Roman times,” he explained, “but there are significant differences between them.”
He went on to point out that this is already apparent in the English version of the literal translation, which has been done without reference to syntax or grammar, style, culture or comprehensibility, as some of the Latin constructions have been mistranslated.
He pointed to the triple “through my fault(s)” in the penitential rite, saying the use of the word through reflects a misunderstanding of the difference between a comma and a colon in the original Latin. “My fault, is the acceptable and accurate translation,” he clarified.
He also pointed out that the words used at the consecration of the wine have become quite unwieldy, because of a fixation on distinguishing between the chalice, the vessel itself, and its contents, and, as a result it has ended up being a confusing sentence.
It has also chosen to use the word chalice, which today is a symbolic word referring to the contents as much as the vessel itself, as is cup (especially when used with the clarifying word shared or same in this context).
This then is followed by the controversial translation of for many instead of for all.
There has been much argument in the English-speaking Church about the meaning of this. However, Father Chupungco referred to extensive writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, explaining that in the original Latin (ad multos–for many) should be read as meaning for all.
The attempted distinction is that Christ’s sacrifice is an invitation to all people, no one is excluded, but it does require a response from the individual.
“So, even though we say many, think all,” the Filipino liturgist explained, adding his repeated refrain from the liturgical commission, “You’ll get used to it.”
On another level he noted that theological correctness has also been compromised in some parts.
He pointed to the prayer, “Pray… that our sacrifice may be acceptable…”
The new translation says, “… your sacrifice and mine…” he pointed out, “which in English means there are two sacrifices, which of course is wrong.”
Father Chupungco said that this illustrates the limitation of literal translation, as in its effort to be literal it has changed an important meaning, which derives from either a misunderstanding of the original Latin text or trying to carry a distinction from the original that the new language simply cannot express.
“The result, bad theology,” he noted.
He spoke of other areas, which need clarification, noting that without detailed explanation they will be problematic also, but with proper catechesis can help people to gain a greater appreciation of the Mass.
He added that while the new rubric demands strict reading from the prescribed text, he is sure that God would forgive a priest for expressing something of himself within the celebration.
“But there is still a great need for pastoral sensitivity,” he said, “and it is the job of the celebrant to work out how to do this.”
The new translation is a response to the Vatican call for a sacred (or sacral) liturgical language, to distinguish it from everyday life.
Father Chupungco added that while it does address some problematic areas of the 1973 translation, it will never be remembered for its literary merit or English composition,
Nevertheless, he concluded that it does introduce concepts, which if unearthed, can reveal liturgical treasures that can help to give us a deeper appreciation of the liturgy of the Mass.
“Does it succeed?” he asked. “Only the people can be the judge of that.”
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