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right, proper, reasonable, inaccessible

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 14, 2007

There's an interesting discussion bouncing around the blogs concerning a faulty rendering of a word in the English translation of Pope Benedict's apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist -- a fault that, in the circumstances, is just a little too tendentious to be accidental. It concerns the desirability of a modest expansion of the use of the Latin in the Mass in case of liturgies held at large international gatherings. Here's the text we were offered (§62):

In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, such liturgies [i.e., large-scale or international liturgies] could be celebrated in Latin.

"Could be"? Could be. But it ain't:

Ad melius ostendendam unitatem et universalitatem Ecclesiae, cupimus commendare suasiones Synodi Episcoporum, consonantes cum normis Concilii Vaticani II: exceptis lectionibus, homilia et oratione fidelium, aequum est ut huiusmodi celebrationes fiant lingua Latina

Latin aequum (in the expression aequum est) is translated by the Lewis & Short lexicon as "right, proper, reasonable." As Amy and Gerald point out (via Father Zuhlsdorf), the other translators managed to convey the sense forthrightly: il est bon, è bene, es ist gut, sería bueno, etc. The English version given us isn't exactly a flat mistranslation, but it introduces an ambiguously concessive nuance that's not there in the Latin. I appreciated commenter Lawrence King's remark from Amy's blog:

The Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer begins: Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi, sancte Pater, semper et ubique gratias agere. The current English translation abbreviates this as "Father, it is our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks..."

Maybe the revised translation will just say "Father, we could give you thanks and praise..."

Well put. Setting aside the question of Latin in the liturgy, this tangential and in some respects trifling controversy does underline some interesting considerations.

  • The anglophone faithful, post-Bernardin and post-McCarrick, no longer presume that, once Rome has spoken, the ecclesiastical apparat is going to tell us accurately what she said. Ronald Reagan's watchword was said to be "Trust, but verify." Ours is briefer.
  • The Internet, for all its dangers, is invaluable for focusing attention on verbal chicanery and for rapid dissemination of the antidotes. Less than ten hours after the promulgation of a document in Rome, correctives to the spin-control are already zapping around the other hemisphere. It's a sort of auto-immune reaction to ideological pathogens.
  • On a more general level, the interest in the Latin master-text, on the part of non-experts, puts paid to much of the nonsense of "reader-response criticism" that trendy scholars often try to sell us. Folks want to get as close as circumstances permit to the real thing.


On a first reading of the document, my own attention was snagged by a different (though likewise tangential) expression, from the last sentence in the passage below (§6, my emphasis).

The more lively the eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples. The Church's very history bears witness to this. Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord's eucharistic presence among his people.
A clarion call? No. But in a characteristically understated and quiet way it reflects the connection between reform and renewed faith that Cardinal Ratzinger gave voice to in the reflections he delivered in that last Holy Week before his election.

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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Mar. 15, 2007 8:53 PM ET USA

    Wow! I was quoted by Diogenes! My fifteen minutes begins now.....

  • Posted by: - Mar. 15, 2007 6:46 AM ET USA

    Bishop Trautman, in whose diocese I worship, periodically issues diktats that the faithful, in their stolidity, more often than not simply ignore. Walk into all but a few churches on Sunday during Mass, and observe the Greatest Generation at prayer -- these veterans of war, strife, turmoil, these survivors who have always looked to God for sustenance and courage, aren't lifting their arms in mimicry of the priest when reciting The Lord's Prayer, and they certainly would never hold hands.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 10:17 PM ET USA

    like cardinal mahony is going to listen to the vatican? and the moon is made of green cheese.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 8:09 PM ET USA

    To Bishop Trautman: On behalf of all laity, I find this translation confusing.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 7:33 PM ET USA

    Another fine example of ICEL and its minions! Obviously, they have yet to receive and understand the message that we're fed up with these erroneous translations and watered down liturgies.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 4:50 PM ET USA

    Your class assignment for all you CWN Readers who want to Learn Latin but believe its beyond you -- is to get Hans Oerberg's wonderful Lingua Latina distributed by Pullins Publishers. Oh, and make sure to buy the CD's with the exercises and audio files. You can zip them onto your IPod or MP3 player and astound your friends with your pitch perfect Latin at Mass or when you are overrunning the barbarians at the sacristy while you dodge the armed phalanx of pant suit communion distributors.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 3:07 PM ET USA

    The Latin ref. instructing the people is "neque neglegatur copia ipsis fidelibus facienda ut notiores in lingua Latina preces ac pariter quarundam liturgiae partium in cantu Gregoriano cantus cognoscant." Even a non-Latinist can tell that the faithful "learn" the parts of the liturgy, not "can learn" or "should learn." Also the use of Latin in prayer is not directly tied to the chant. So the chant can be used in the vernacular.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 2:32 PM ET USA

    #3 should also be noted: "From the varied forms of the early centuries, still resplendent in the rites of the Ancient Churches of the East, up to the spread of the Roman rite; from the clear indications of the Council of Trent and the Missal of Saint Pius V to the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council..." Note what the Council "called for," not necessarily what came forth.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 10:11 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Diogenes, Amy, Gerald et al, for getting this information ("antidotes" to the linguistic chicanery) to all the laypersons & priests in the trenches... We depend on y'all to help us know what the Church has actually stated... Although unlikely, I can at least hope that the proper translation will get to the next USCCB meeting? In the meantime, may all bishops get the accurate translation to the people in their parishes & dioceses (getting it right in their diocesan papers, eg).

  • Posted by: - Mar. 14, 2007 9:15 AM ET USA

    Paragraph 62 notes that the faithful "can be" taught basic prayers and Gregorian chant in Latin. Was the same grammatical construction used to downplay what should have been rendered as "it is right and just that they be taught" these prayers and chant? Please help us ignorant 40-something Catholics who have no Latin.

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