The current activities surrounding the Vatican directive to bring our current English translation of the Mass more into line with the Latin, and thus what the text actually says, continue to fascinate me.
Not ever having seen the Latin of the Novus Ordo, the Mass that most of us know, I never gave the English translation a thought, other than I thought it incredibly dry. But I just chalked that up as my own spiritual problem.
However, now that I have this beautiful Daily Roman Missal published by Midwest Theological Forum which has the Latin text alongside the English, I can’t help but be fascinated by the contrast between what the text actually says and what the English translators made it say.
The Novus Ordo, or the New Order of the Mass (as opposed to the traditional Latin Rite), was promulgated by Paul VI in 1969. The English translation soon followed with what I will call the Novus Novus Ordo, simply because there are so many liberties and deviations from the original Latin Text as to almost be a new order of the Mass in and of itself.
Of course the translation in question is completely valid and licit and I will never take issue with what has been approved by the appropriate ecclesial authorities. But since the Bishops have been ordered to redo the thing, it is fair to say what I have always thought…that there is something definitely wrong or at least incomplete with the current text.
One of those is the famous “mea culpa”. I was surprised to see that “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” is still part of the Novus Ordo. I thought that all that apologizing was done away with in the “spirit of Vatican II” and the new liturgy. But there it is…on the left side of my missal.. The English, as you know, flatly reads “through my own fault” as opposed to the literal “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”. Again, this is not the Latin of the Tridentine Rite. This is the Latin of the Novus Ordo. It’s what we are supposed to be saying.
The threefold apology reminds me of the famous 70’s dictum “the medium is the message”. Huh? Let me illustrate. In many languages there is no recourse to the comparative and superlative senses of a word. And even where the language affords such recourse, the cultural application may supersede. Here’s an example. I was a teacher on an English speaking Caribbean island for several years. It was common when one wanted to emphasize something to repeat it three times (e.g. “The wave was big, big, big!”). The description was usually accompanied by both the appropriate physical and facial gestures and ended with the colloquial “missun” as in “big, big, big, missun!” (You had to be there.) Somehow, saying the wave was “very big” or even “very, very big”, just didn’t get the point across.
Same reason why we say “Holy, Holy, Holy” instead of “very, very Holy”, or why we say the Lamb of God or the Lord Have Mercy, three times. There is also the scriptural echo of Peter’s threefold denial and the later threefold “Do you love me?” There are scriptural and linguistic reasons for repeating something three times. The creators of the Novus Ordo, despite seeming to have no problem with massive revisions on other parts of the Mass didn’t mess with the threefold mea culpa. That in itself should say something. However, enter the English translation and it's gone!
Now, one more, and this one really get me. I hope the Bishops will vote to change this one. It’s in the Gloria, 2nd line where it says “and peace to his people on earth”. It’s just amazing to me at how the English not only does this not come anywhere close to the Latin, but completely negates what the original text actually says.
The Latin says “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”, literally translated it says “and on earth peace to men of good will”. It’s “peace to men of GOOD WILL”, not “peace to his people”. And I’m not even arguing the inclusive language thing. They could have translated it “peace to people of good will” for all I care, but the main deal is they left out “good will” altogether. No need to be good. Peace is for everyone. That’s not what the Latin says and that’s not what the Church says.