Wednesday, June 30, 2010

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.


Michelle said...

One of my Augustinian friends says the point is not to do liturgy right, but to do it well.

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

You got it, Michelle. My point exactly. Someone once told me, beware: the right can sometimes be the enemy of the good...