EADING COMMENTARY by the early liturgical translators can be infuriating, because many acted as though they were the first to realize that good translators render ideas not words. In their immaturity, they carefully avoided choosing words and phrases resembling the Latin. When all was said and done, their “translations” often looked like this one:
This is not to suggest that a “slavish adherence” guarantees a better translation. Moreover, I have no problem with translators taking a free approach if their goal is truly to help people understand—but they must avoid doing too much violence to the original. Therein lies the dilemma, of course, and that’s why the famous Italian phrase (“the translator is a traitor”) contains so much wisdom.
It’s not for me to argue about whether new translation (“MR3”) is more accurate; others can judge that. However, I would point out that MR3 was ultimately inevitable. 1 When the internet was invented, the official Latin became accessible by all—and the old ICEL simply could not stand.
BUT NONE OF THIS MATTERS. The real scandal is how 99% of our Catholic churches replace the official texts of the Church each Sunday. If you start talking about the Propers, most Catholics have no idea what you mean. My generation has never heard the Propers.
With what do we replace the Propers? Texts are supposed to be “approved,” but the USCCB—incredibly!—has said we can ignore the GIRM when it mentions such requirements. When I open my brand new GIA hymnal (2013), I find lyrics like the following:
We have covered earth in shadows, and sorrow thickens its veil.
Peoples stunned in desolation weep softly, tremble, and wail:
Children who die still as children; poor deprived of sun and air;
Women forced to sell their bodies in desperation and fear.
Others can judge whether this is a good hymn. Others can judge whether “air” rhymes with “fear.” Others can judge whether it feels weird for a congregation to publicly sing about “women forced to sell their bodies” in church. It’s not for me to judge such things. My only point is that it’s silly for folks to argue vehemently about liturgical translation principles when 99% of the Propers are being replaced 95% of the time.
One of the reasons I’ve mentioned the Jogues Illuminated Missal so frequently has to do with its large, beautiful typeface. The Propers are celebrated. When we complain about goofy modern hymns, we sound negative and filled with hate. Showing someone the pages of the Jogues is different—it’s a positive approach. It challenges people by asking, “What is so unacceptable about the official texts of the reformed liturgy?”
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 The early ICEL translations would never have been tolerated if the Vatican declaration (26 September 1964) had been obeyed:
“Missals to be used in the liturgy, however, shall contain besides the vernacular version the Latin text as well.”
But in 1969, Archbishop Bugnini’s group overruled the Vatican directives.