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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