Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Have a great weekend! See you Monday!

Translations: A Last Word

The more I work with the new translation, at least for Eucharistic Prayers II and III, the more I find myself saying, well, it's not great, but in most cases we can work with it, we'll get used to it. The major exception is the change to "pro multis": to go from saying Jesus came for all to Jesus came for many is hugely problematic, and not at all in keeping with our tradition or our own experience of God.

If I have one question, having worked through these new translations, it is about this choice to value literal translation over good theology. Why is a more literal translation a better one? What's the value added? Accuracy to an original text, yes, but why is that the ultimate value? What about good theology?

I fear somewhere mixed within this choice is a belief that our prayers are somehow magic spells. You have to say them just so, or they're not valid, or not as valid (whatever that means). And in a sense that makes the eucharistic prayer about us -- it's about our action.

But let's not fool ourselves: we can get every word just right (no matter how we define "right"), and we're still horrible sinners that are desperately in need of God's mercy. The eucharistic prayer is not about us getting it right. It's about allowing ourselves to be available to our merciful Father.

To the degree a new translation helps us become more available to God, it is of value. To the extent that it distracts us from that place, gets us thinking about ourselves "doing it right" or worse still warps our sense of God's mercy, I would suggest it's an obstacle, not an opportunity.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Rest of Eucharistic Prayer II

Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial

of his Death and Resurrection,

we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life

and the Chalice of salvation,

giving thanks that you have held us worthy

to be in your presence and minister to you.

Humbly we pray that,

partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ,

we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.

Remember, Lord, your Church,

spread throughout the world,

and bring her to the fullness of charity,

together with N. our Pope

and N. our Bishop

and all the clergy.

Pretty similar to what we currently use, with some repositioning of phrases in a more Latin way.

A couple word changes that we saw in Prayer III -- "memorial" instead of "memory".

Also, "charity" instead of "love". I have to say, this latter is a sadness for me; "make us grow in love" expresses quite personally my own hunger for our Church, especially in these difficult times. I'm not really sure what "bring her to the fullness of charity" even means, but it seems quite different, more about our action vis-a-vis the world.

Remember Your Servant...

Remember your servant N.,

whom you have called today

from this world to yourself.

Grant that he (she) who was united

with your Son in a death like his,

may also be one with him in his Resurrection.

As in the current translation, this piece is only used when saying a Mass for someone in particular. The first sentence is pretty much the same, with the nice addition of saying the person who has died has been called to God's self.

The latter sentence is pretty different. Our current formulation explicitly links the end of our life to our beginnings: "In baptism he/she died with Christ; may they also share his resurrection."

The new translation is doing the same thing; the "death like his" is the "death" of baptism. But lacking the clear reference to baptism, it sounds like we're saying what unites us with Jesus is just the fact that we, too, have died!


Have Mercy On Us All...

Remember also our brothers and sisters

who have fallen asleep

in the hope of the resurrection,

and all who have died in your mercy:

welcome them into the light of your face.

Have mercy on us all, we pray,

that with the blessed Virgin Mary,

the Mother of God,

with the blessed Apostles and all the Saints

who have pleased you throughout the ages,

we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life,

and may praise and glorify you

through your Son, Jesus Christ.

This last verse cleans up our own translation a bit; rather than separating those who have died as Christians from everyone else, we offer one prayer for all of them together. And we substitute "light of your face" for the current "light of your presence".

I go back and forth on this second change. The image of God's face alight has scriptural roots, and it's poetic. But what does it actually mean to "welcome them into the light of your face?" How do you get welcomed into a face? It sounds like something Picasso might paint.

The final lines stick to the current translation's cast in terms of mercy. Instead of making us worthy we ask that we might be made to "merit" sharing in eternal life.

I'm not sure we can be made to merit something, as merit is based on one's earnings, not the gift of another. But to some degree the same was true with "worthiness" -- it's not so much that we're made worthy as God forgives us or embraces us in our unworthiness.

We end, as currently, with the hope that we may praise and glorify God forever

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Rest of Eucharistic Prayer III

So, we're just about done with the new translations of the Eucharistic Prayer. For variety sake I thought today I might offer the rest of Eucharistic Prayer III, and then tomorrow I'll do Prayer II.

Regarding Eucharistic Prayer III, I think what we find is for the most part what we've already seen. Generally, things follow the same formulation. Occasionally there's a choice of words that seems like it breaks things open anew, which is great.

And at other times there's a choice that seems (for now at least) distracting, if not unfortunate. It's a funny thing -- the changes being made don't emerge from a theological choice -- that is, it's not that the powers involved felt that we need to recast our image of God or of the Eucharist. But as we see, they have theological consequences.
Therefore, O Lord,
as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son,
his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven,
and as we look forward to his second coming,
we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.
What does it mean to "celebrate a memorial"? It's not exactly incoherent, but if we want the words of the prayer to impact people, our current "as we remember the saving Passion" seems quite a bit less of a roadblock.
Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and,
recognizing the sacrificial Victim by whose death
you willed to reconcile us to yourself,
grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son
and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.
Again, oblation -- what is that? Is this word choice an opportunity for some deeper nuance into what we're doing at the Eucharist? Or is it pretty much the same as saying "sacrifice", in which case, why not just say that, as it's a lot clearer to people.

Furthermore, do we really want to say that God willed the death of Jesus as a means for our redemption? A bit troubling, isn't it? Certainly it sparks in me the question of what sort of a God we're imagining here.

And there's a funny insularity to the new formulation, too; Jesus' personal decision to offer his life -- his uniquely human agency, his choice -- is sort of erased, subsumed into this larger act of God's will. Which makes the whole thing a bit more of a done deal, as though the human being Jesus didn't make a choice (and couldn't have chosen otherwise).

Our current direct petition to God that he see, i.e. pay attention and respond to Jesus' sacrifice seems a lot more on target. We want God to bring us together, and so we remind him of the free and loving offer that his Son and our brother Jesus made.

Interesting, too -- instead of saying "may we be filled with his Holy Spirit and become one", our new take asserts that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Not sure it's a major point, but I don't know, it feels a wee bit presumptuous.
May he make of us an eternal offering to you,
so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect,
especially with the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs
[with Saint N.: the Saint of the day or Patron Saint] and with all the Saints,
on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help.
Pretty close to our current translation. "Elect" puts emphasis for the saints' lives on God's choice; not bad, but again a funny sort of elision of their wills, their choices.
May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord,
advance the peace and salvation of all the world.
Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity
your pilgrim Church on earth,
with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop,*
the Order of Bishops, all the clergy,
and the entire people you have gained for your own.
Listen graciously to the prayers of this family,
whom you have summoned before you:
in your compassion, O merciful Father,
gather to yourself all your children
scattered throughout the earth.
The use of the term "charity" is interesting. We'll have to reclaim the Christian meaning of the word. "Mercy" might have made that task easier. But taking charity back might be a good thing, too.
To our departed brothers and sisters
and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life,
give kind admittance to your kingdom.
There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory
through Christ our Lord,
through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.
"To all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life" -- and what about the rest? With "pleasing" are we making a point about people's sinfulness? Are some people not pleasing to God? In so many ways our faith is based on a belief that God is a God of second chances and perpetual mercy. You hate to recast language in such a way as to raise doubts about that belief or to narrow the catch of who God loves.

The Mystery of Faith

After the rite of institution, the presider invites us into the the mystery of faith. He will now say simply "The mystery of faith." Why we've cut "let us proclaim" I don't know. Guess it wasn't in the Latin. Sure is nice to help invite people, though.

But we'll get used to it.

The congregation responds in one of three ways:
We proclaim your death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection until you come again.
When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.
Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.

Again, the texts are a little different, and the third is a little wonky -- Save us, O Savior? Writers will have conniptions. But then we'll get used to them.

Have a great weekend.

The Rite of Institution, Part 2: Pro Multis

Perhaps the most controversial change in the entirety of the new translation is a change of one word in the rite of institution.

Here's the second half of the rite of institution:
In a similar way, when supper was ended,
he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
For this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured from you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.
In our translation currently, we say "the blood of the new and eternal covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven." Now, instead of "all", we're using "many". Big, big change.

Here's the explanation I found on the US Catholic Conference of Bishops' website:
When you think of who Jesus chose to die for, it should be all. That's his intention, as we believe it. Jesus did die for everyone.

But "many" is a more accurate translation of the scripture passages from which this line comes. It also recognizes the fact that Jesus' action alone does not save us. We have to accept the invitation offered and participate in our own salvation.

In the abstract, all very well and good. But let's read it again:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
For this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured from you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

If you ask me, the new translation does not read as though Jesus is saying people have to choose or have to participate. The statement concerns rather who his sacrifice is for or what it will accomplish -- either way, his sense of purpose. "Many" is scripturally accurate, yet I know of no accepted, orthodox theologians today who would say that Jesus didn't come for everyone. Gospel texts make a point of showing him reaching out to non-Jews, to those on the margins, to sinners and those who were culturally taboo. At the crucifixion he calls on God even to forgive his murderers. When even those who reject him or do him violence are accepted, who practically speaking is not included in his "many"? Few or none, I would say.

Bottom line, the rite of institution is not a moment in which we as Church should imply some are in and some are out. Frankly, I'd say it's not a moment which should be tampered with at all; changing the language, particularly in this way, will only create conflicts and "sides" that distract from this radical offer of Christ's love. Unintentionally or no, it politicizes, destabilizes a sacred moment. Not a good idea.

We've also decided cup is no longer appropriate, we must say "chalice". To my mind, this show the translators playing a bit of fast and loose. Does any of us actually think at the Last Supper Jesus spoke about "chalices"? But there you go.

Rite of Institution, Part 1

After the Preface the Holy Holy Holy stays the same, with the exception of the first line, which now reads "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts." The new version is a line from Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah sees a vision of angels attending on the Lord in Heaven. They call to one another "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."

For some the line may be a little less straightforward than our current "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might." (Who are these "hosts" of which we speak?) But the underlying idea, us quite literally joining the choirs of angels, makes sense.

What follows for quite a spell is pretty similar to what we already know.

You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
the fount of all holiness.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us
the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion,
he took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:

The invitation that the Spirit come upon the gifts like "dewfall" is new, and nicely poetic, if a little passive in its take on the Spirit.

Otherwise, it's just changes of order, really, with some somewhat more awkward extended constructions. Sometimes you wonder about the strength of the changes. Is "fount" really better than "fountain"? Do we need "we pray" before the petition that follows? It seems to break the chain of thought (and it's obvious that this is something we are praying for, isn't it?).

But again, this translation is all about being faithful to the Latin.

What's really challenging is what comes next. More on that tomorrow...

The Preface, Part 2: Getting Our Latin On

So, again, the different prefaces are two entries below. Here's what I notice when I compare them:

If we look just at the first paragraph of the two translations, probably the thing that's most clear is that the current version moves sort of chronologically -- from the the Word at creation to the incarnation to the crucifixion and the resurection. And the version to come does the same thing, but adds phrases in the middle that sort of jump ahead -- "whom you sent as our Savior and Redeemer", "fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people." Nothing wrong with that, but it does make it a little harder to follow as a listener, less purely the story and more story mixed with credal profession (i.e. story mixed with "this is what it means").

Also, if you look at the new version's first paragraph or stanza, you'll see it's quite long, and yet consists of just one sentence. This is classic Latin organization; Latin loves long sets of clauses upon clauses. But English doesn't, especially in the spoken word. And so again, it's a bit more challenging to follow.

Lastly, Mary's name is never mentioned. She's just "the Virgin" -- a bit more icon than person.

Not exactly the icon we're talking about.

A little too white, and still not exactly an icon, but better.


Back to Work

Sorry I haven't posted in SO long. I went from retreat to a really really bad flu, and I've taken my time recuperating. The 40 year old body -- oy vey!

I'm going to spend the rest of this week posting about the eucharistic prayer in translation, as I promised. But I wanted today to just tell you about a really neat liturgical moment I witnessed yesterday. I live next door to St. Francis Xavier parish, which the Jesuits have run since 1847. It's a very interesting church, lots of great statues and paintings; but until the last couple years it's been in serious need of repair. Dark, dingy, paint peeling, front falling off -- a real mess.

Yesterday was the rededication -- the unveiling, if you will, of the renovated church, which is mind-blowingly different. In fact throughout the Mass you could see people, including the Archbishop, craning their necks up to look at all of the details that had been so totally obscured, hidden really by dirt and darkness before the renovation. If you have ever visited our church, you have to come back now. It really will rock your world.

So, as part of the renovations, the parish decided to build a new altar, made out of the wood from the old kneelers of the parish -- a remarkable symbol in and of itself. And so within the rededication, the archbishop had to bless this new altar. And this is what he did: first, he took off his chasuble, and put on a sort of apron. Then, he was handed a full container of chrism -- not as big as a decanter, more like 2 or 2 1/2 times as big as a beaker. Which is a lot of chrism. (Chrism, again, is the sweet-smelling blessed oil the church uses at baptism, confirmation and ordination to the priesthood.)

The archbishop took this oil and poured it all -- all of it -- over the top of the altar, back and forth. Then, using his own hands, he rubbed it in. While music played in the background we simply watched as he slowly, quietly worked the oil into the new altar. It was so basic and fundamental, not about smells and bells, frilly prayers or garments, as like watching a carpenter go about his work. It somehow made the moment very physical for us watching, and very personal.

If you ever get a chance to go to the dedication of a church, or to see an altar blessed (at least by Archbishop Tim Dolan), I highly recommend it.

Back on track tomorrow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Preface, Part 1: Future Tense

Hello from our silent retreat! Not much time to keep up this week, but thought I'll just post the preface (old and new), and then in the next few days post some comments on these changes, as well. And the rest next week.

For today, here's the new translation of the preface to Eucharistic Prayer II:
It is truly right and just,
our duty and salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy,
through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ,
your Word through whom you made all things,
whom you sent as our Savior and Redeemer,
incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin.
Fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people,
he stretched out his hands as he endured his Passion,
so as to break the bonds of death and manifest the resurrection.
And so,
with the Angels and all the Saints we proclaim your glory,
as with one voice we sing (say):
And here's the translation we currently use:
Father, it is our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere,
to give You thanks through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

He is the Word through whom You made the universe,
the Saviour You sent to redeem us.
By the power of the Holy Spirit
He took flesh and was born of the Virign Mary.
For our sake He opened his arms on the cross;
He put an end to death and revealed the resurrection.
In this He fulfilled Your will and won for You a holy people.

And so we join the angels and the saints
in proclaiming Your glory as we say:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eucharistic Prayer II: The New Translation

In recent weeks on this blog I've turned to the to-be-released-in-2011 new translation of the liturgy a couple times to try to understand the intention behind some phrases in our current Eucharistic Prayer III.

As of tonight, I am helping with an 8-day retreat for Jesuit scholastics and novices in Racine, Wisconsin, (Say a prayer for us!) and I have no idea what sort of internet access I'm going to have, so I thought it might be fun to post a couple pieces that begin to walk step by step through the new translation of Eucharistic Prayer II, to give a sense of what we're in for. So, as of today, Tuesday, I'm posting ones for tomorrow, Thursday and Friday. And if I can get internet access, I'll post the rest next week.

As a primer, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of two different theories of translation and the conflict that has led to this new set of texts.

Theory 1: The Word
One take on translations of liturgical texts is that above all they must be true to the original language used. That is to say, in some sense the revelation of God's spirit is most fully captured in the original language and construction, and therefore what is required is the most literal of translations.

The problem with this, of course, is that different languages construct their ideas differently, and contain very different conceptions within them. They say Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow; English has only one. English tends to be very direct in its construction, offering subject and verb near the beginning of a sentence. Latin texts often involves many introductory dependent clauses. A literal translation can consequently make for difficult or confusing reading, and involve new gaps in information, too. It might literally say what the Latin text says, and yet also be far less clear and meaningful to those hearing it.
Theory 2: The Spirit
A second theory of translation is that one begins with the actual text and attempts to understand it on its own terms; what truths or information is it trying to express, and how? What's the "spirit" of the words, and the style? And then, in translating one attempts to make sure that those truths, that spirit and style are conveyed through language that befits its audience. Of course, the translation must ever be grounded in the original text, or it is not a translation. But one must be willing to adjust the language and construction so that it makes sense, or revelation is impossible.

The problem with this approach is the possibility that in the name of so-called "truth" or following "the spirit" one can veer far away from the actual original text, and even introduce one's own personal spins. If you've ever been to a Mass where the presider added material to the prayers and found yourself getting uncomfortable, you've had an experience of how "spirit" translation can go bad.

Up until about ten years ago, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, the Church's official body on evaluating and revising the liturgical texts, had been working from a tempered theory 2, attempting to fix where early post-Vatican II translators had lost track of the text, while maintaining the sort of poetic style, structure and language that befits prayer in the English language.
A set of translations were completed, only to be pushed aside and the committee dismissed, in favor of a new team and far more literal translations. It's those translations that we have coming in the next year.

The two posts that follow (beneath this one) look at the introductory call and response of the new translation of Eucharistic Prayer II.

And With Your Spirit

So here's how Eucharistic Prayer II will now begin:
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right and just.

"And with your spirit:" What's up with that?
Actually, the English translation of the liturgy is pretty much the only one that hasn't been using this phrase "and with your spirit" all along. For us the phrasing doesn't immediately make a lot of sense, so when we went to the vernacular after Vatican II, we went with something that we thought captured the reciprocality of the response more clearly. The new version aims to be a much more literal translation, so we get "And with your spirit".

I went to the USCCB website to get some sense of the nuances to the phrase. It sounds on the surface oddly dualistic -- why are we talking about the presider's spirit? And on one level, they say it really is sort of reciprocal greeting. The presider's words express his hope that the spirit of the Lord may be with the congregation. And their response suggests likewise of him.

The USCCB goes on to suggest that the spirit reference can also be meant to indicate that the presider has a special spirit as an ordained minister. "Some scholars" assert this,
the website indicates. In which case the response would be not only a reciprocal wish, but a wish that God might nourish the presider's special gifts.

Anyone who has read this blog more than a couple times will know that I'm not a big fan of this sort of interpretation. In part, that's because these recent moves to make it more clear that the priest is somehow special strikes me as incorrect to the humanity of the individual presider, as a distraction to the dynamics of liturgy -- and in another sense as altogether and completely unnecessary. The presider is the guy wearing the shimmery garments and living a celibate life, after all. How much more clear can it be that he's a little bit different?

I guess my other worry is that what we see here, and may see elsewhere as this new translation rolls out, is a fabulous instance of liturgical retconning. A retcon, if the term is unfamiliar to you, is a storytelling technique in which you add back story to already known characters or series of events which completely changes the interpretation of those characters or events. When it turned out that one entire season of
Dallas had been a dream, or that in The Sixth Sense (SPOILER), Bruce Willis is actually dead -- that's a retcon.

In liturgy, we have peripheral practice for which there were once important reasons, practices that emerged out of concrete needs of a church at that moment. But then, those moments pass. That's not to say we discontinue the practice, or that we necessarily should; the point is, the meaning of those practices grows less clear.

And into that vacuum, we can easily rush in with new interpretations that are not connected to history, but to our own current set of assumptions and priorities. Some in the Church today want to make it clear the presider is distinct, that he stands out from the congregation. And so we reinterpret vague old language in a way that helps retroactively justify that.

It's not necessarily a matter of cold calculation, either. The language is vague; it lends itself readily to new explanations. But if we're not careful, we can take transform parts of the liturgy from opportunities for revelation into ideological mouthpieces.

Right and Just

The other thing we see in the opening is that "It is right to give God thanks and praise" has been changed to simply "It is right and just." This might be a more literal translation, but boy is it clunky. The prior version actually offered the same number of syllables in the response as in the presider's words -- which is how good liturgical poetry works. It has a rhythm that satisfies, that signals movements like yearning or completion.

The old version also allowed the congregation to restate for themselves -- to own, if you will -- the presider's invitation that we give thanks. This new version doesn't quite do that. If anything it calls attention to the words being used. What do we mean it's "just" that we give thanks. How is that different than "right"?

Clearly, this is a minor point. But it does speak to a main issue with these translations, which is that they are so literal as to sacrifice the poetry of the words.

On the other hand, the new translation uses "right and just" right away again in the preface that follows.

It is truly right and just,
our duty and salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Father most holy, through your beloved Son...

It's a nice way of connecting the dots.