Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

imposing an agenda? (continued)

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 10, 2006

I want to elaborate on my objections below to Bishop Trautman's criticism of the proposed retranslation of the Mass.

The text to be translated into English is the latest edition of the Missale Romanum, the approved Latin base text (editio typica), which is the official standard text of the Roman Rite and the text from which all vernacular versions (German, Tagalog, Spanish, Tamil, English ...) are to be translated.

That means that the task of the translators of the Missale Romanum, regardless of the receptor language, is one and the same: to translate the approved Latin text by means of which the Church has definitively codified the Roman Rite.

One of the translations that Trautman singles out for criticism concerns the First Eucharist Prayer (Roman Canon), specifically the words of the Institution Narrative: accipiens et hunc praeclarum calicem. The proposed retranslation renders the words as "he took this precious chalice..." The translation we've been using since 1974 says simply: "he took the cup."

Note the grounds of Trautman's objection:

[T]he proposed Order of Mass uses the word "chalice" where we had previously said "cup". Eucharistic Prayer I says: "When supper was ended, he took this precious chalice into his holy and venerable hands." Did Jesus at the Last Supper use a "precious chalice" or a "cup"? The gospels clearly say "cup", but even in the Lectionary from Rome we have the word "chalice" imposed on the inspired text to carry out this "sacred language". "Chalice" is not the translation of the New American Bible, nor the New Revised Standard Bible, nor the Oxford Annotated Bible, nor the Jerusalem Bible, nor any current or older translation. Greek-English lexicons and authoritative biblical commentaries all say the meaning of the Greek word which describes what Jesus drank from is "cup or drinking vessel". To say not just "chalice" but "precious chalice" in Eucharistic Prayer I is clearly not a reflection of the biblical text. Should the agenda of a sacred vocabulary, no matter how well-intentioned, be allowed to circumvent the inspired word?

Trautman is correct that the Gospels (Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:20) all use the ordinary Greek word for cup (poterion) in the Last Supper narratives, as does St. Paul in his (1 Cor 11:25-28). Trautman is correct that modern translations of the Bible do not use "chalice" in these passages. Trautman is correct about what he says concerning the lexicons and the biblical commentaries. Trautman is correct that "precious chalice" in Eucharistic Prayer I is not a reflection of the biblical text.

All of which is entirely beside the point.

The translators of the Missale Romanum are not out to translate the Bible, but the Latin version of the Mass. The Latin version of the Mass does not claim to be itself a translation of the Bible. It is what it is: a rite, richly biblical in form, symbolism, and language, but for all that something quite distinct from the New Testament, reflecting the biblical patrimony reshaped by traditions of prayer, worship, and theological reflection -- and given a distinct and characteristic ritual form.

Bishop Trautman may not happen to like that form -- at least as it is mediated in the ancient formulae of the First Eucharistic Prayer. Bishop Trautman may prefer the relatively non-ornate language of Prayers II, III, and IV. Bishop Trautman's aesthetic and liturgical principles -- the principles that inform his preference for biblical simplicity -- may be superior to the principles of those who created and approved the First Eucharistic Prayer. I'm willing to concede all that. It doesn't matter.

Like it or not, the Church has decided the words to be translated depart (consciously, deliberately) from the language of the New Testament narrative: accipiens et hunc praeclarum calicem -- and, for Trautman, it gets worse -- in sanctas et venerabiles manus suas: "into his holy and venerable hands."

"Should the agenda of a sacred vocabulary," asks Trautman, "no matter how well-intentioned, be allowed to circumvent the inspired word?" Of course it should -- whenever the job at hand is not to translate the inspired word but to translate the sacred vocabulary. And here's the key: the sacred vocabulary one hears in "he took his precious chalice into his holy and venerable hands" belongs not to the agenda of Liturgiam Authenticam, not to the agenda of the men who translated the Missal according to its norms, but it obviously and undeniably belongs to the original Latin, the textus vertendus.

Within the terms of the Missale Romanum as it stands now, three of the four main Eucharistic Prayers already use the spare biblical language that Trautman and his colleagues desire. Suppose that they succeed in doing yet again what the "translators" of the 1974 Mass did: in eliminating the ritual language of the only remaining exception, the Roman Canon or First Eucharist Prayer. This is an act of suppression. Free on every occasion of worship to opt for an approved Eucharistic Prayer that conforms to their principles, they want to deprive the rest of the English-speaking Church of the sole text exempt from their sensibilities and their censorship.

So I repeat: who's imposing an agenda on whom?

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