We take up today the third “highlight” I would like to present on the topic of the new Roman Missal in English: the orientation of the canon. (And I’m not talking about where to point the big gun!)
The Roman Canon, sometimes also called Eucharistic Prayer I, is one of several different canons the priest may choose to pray during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There are four main options, plus several others, but the Roman Canon is the canon with the longest history in the Roman Rite. In fact, it has been prayed almost unchanged for roughly 1500 years.
By comparing the first words of Eucharistic Prayer I in the new and old English translations with the Latin original, a remarkable change becomes obvious. Let’s begin with the official Latin, employed from time immemorial:
Te igitur, clementissime Pater…
This line, in the English translation of the former Sacramentary, was rendered:
We come to you, Father…
Now, with the newly translated Roman Missal, the following begins the Canon:
To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we…
In Latin, the words of a sentence can be placed almost anywhere and still maintain sensibility. Thus, the placement of words is empowered as a manner of conveying meaning. It is not by mistake, then, that the very first word of the Roman Canon is Te (“You”), referring to God. That the prayer begins with Te tells us the orientation of the whole prayer: toward the Father.
Word placement commands power in English, too, although there is less freedom in its regard than there is in Latin. What we have been praying since 1973, noticeably, changes the initial focus from Te (God) to We (us). This translation fails to capture the fundamental orientation that is so clear in the Latin and instead, unfortunately, places undue emphasis upon the worshipping community.
The new English translation has masterfully restored the essential orientation of this prayer. In addition to reinstating the loving description of our Father as “most merciful,” the placement of the word “you” at the outset of this prayer faithfully accomplishes the same nuance realized by the Latin.
Guided by the tremendous fidelity of our new translation, may we all be led “toward the Father!”