Saturday, December 15, 2007

Latin Lesson for 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

May I recommend getting your own copy of the Daily Roman Missal (ed. James Socias). It’s a wonderful resource: readings for all Masses, weekday and Sunday, all 3 cycles, Proper of the Saints, Common Masses, Ritual Masses, a summary catechism, and loads of Devotions and Prayers. The beautiful leather binding and gold gilt pages make you want to respect what’s in it…something the disposable Missalette lacks.

But the feature that I most enjoy about the missal is its inclusion of Latin. The missal employs Latin alongside the English in the canon and also inserts it at the Responsorial and Alleluia verses.

While some do not see any reason to pay attention to the Latin, I personally find it absolutely fascinating. As you may know, Latin is our Catholic ancestral language (one of them – Greek is the other). Latin is also the official language of the Church. So if you want to know what the Church really says about something, you need to “go to the Latin”.

This is the same reason Biblical scholars “go to the Greek” – since it’s the language in which most of the Bible was written, or at least has come down to us. No serious student of the Bible doubts the importance of “going to the Greek” in any genuine study of the Bible. Thus, we shouldn’t doubt the importance of “going to the Latin” when we are searching for the truth in matters as regards our Liturgy and official Church teaching.

I am not a Latin scholar, but Latin resources are easy enough to come by these days. One particular resource is Latin Grammar – Grammar Vocabularies, and Exercises in Preparation for the Reading of the Missal and Breviary. Since we are at present more concerned with the study of Latin as it regards our Faith and not the reading of Virgil or Cicero, this book (and its companion “Second Latin”) would be an excellent and focused resource. Other excellent resources are only a click or two away online. But back to the topic at hand.

The side by side translations of the Responsorial and Alleluia verses sometimes amaze, amuse, or at least interest me. Here is an example.

This past Sunday, (34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C), the Responsorial Verse reads:
“The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.”
The accompanying Latin text reads:
“Venit Dominus iudicare populos in aequitate”.

Let’s do a word by word translation:

Venit - Venit is a third person singular perfect indicative active verb, and is the main verb of the sentence. Thus, we get: “came” or perhaps “has come”.

Dominus – Lord

Iudicare – to judge

Populos – people

In – in
Aequitate – equity or justice

The words are quite easy and almost a transliteration, thus you almost don’t need a dictionary.

The actual translation is:
“The Lord has come to judge the people in equity (justice)”.
And again, the English translation in the missal is:
“The Lord has come to rule the earth with justice”.
Since the English translation of the Lectionary is authorized by the USCCB we cannot question its legitimacy so we won’t. We can and should however dig more deeply into texts to better understand and grow from them just as a student of the Bible would want to get at the words behind the words to get a better sense of the biblical message.

In this case, I see the Latin giving us a full sense of God as Judge, something we don’t hear much about anymore, along with such related topics as sin, hell, purgatory, judgment, etc. I don’t know about you, but I need constant reminding about my “End”. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me good. I’d like to say that I choose “Good” because I want to please God. But I don’t. Perhaps I’m not spiritually mature enough, so the “fear of the Lord”, helps me in times of great temptation.

But let’s continue the Latin Lesson just a bit more. Again, I in no way want to slight or slander the English translation as we must accept it as valid and licit. But the word study here is valuable.

There are those who may say “well, it may not be an exact translation but it still gives the same sense or the same meaning”. Maybe it does, but the bottom line is what the Latin actually says and what it doesn’t say.

The English uses the word “rule” instead of “judge”. In Latin, “to rule” is “regere”. There is no relation here to “judge”. It’s a completely different word with a completely different sense. Obviously the Latin wanted to stress that God will judge us … and that there is something to judge!

The English translation uses the word “earth” instead of “people” (populos). “Terra” is the Latin word for “earth”. While it could be argued that “earth” implies its human inhabitants why not just use “people” since that is what it actually says? Also, only “people” can be judged since only people have free will and thus something to judge. God won’t be judging the rocks and dirt.

The above discussion reveals an obvious attempt to “soften” the message of the scripture, something that happens quite frequently in the current Lectionary and in more contemporary versions of Scripture. While we cannot contend with the translator’s right to make such modifications, I believe we should ask ourselves if a “kinder, gentler” message is what our culture needs just now. I personally think not. Yes, God is infinitely loving and merciful. But He is also infinitely JUST. I wonder if we understand the implications of that.

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