Volume 117, Number 2, Summer 1990
OUR ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS
Monsignor Richard J. Schuler
Solesmes Abbey has just released the long-awaited volume, "Gregorian
Missal." This modern "Liber usualis" is the ideal prayerbook for use at
Mass sung in Latin with all the chants for both the proper and the ordinary
parts provided in square notation. A French edition has been on the market
for several years.
In admiring this book and welcoming it as a most useful tool for the
congregation and the choir, one's joy is harmed if not lost when the
official English translations are examined. The editors provide the chants
both with their Latin texts and also the translations of those texts made
by the monks of Solesmes, intended only for the benefit of the reader and
not for public recitation. However, the texts for those parts belonging to
the celebrant, which are not given in Gregorian notation, such as the
orations, are printed in a second column alongside the Latin. The official
version of the liturgical texts for English-speaking nations (ICEL) is the
version provided. One is not only appalled by the banality of that English
translation, but what strikes one so forceably is the damage done to the
very content of the Latin prayers in what is supposed to pass as a
Deus is translated as Father; relative clauses are made into declarative
sentences; "gratia" is never translated as grace. The Latin prayers are
scarsely recognizable as the same composition in the parallel column. For
example, here is the prayer over the gifts for the Second Sunday of Advent:
"Placare, Domine, quaesumus, nostrae precibus humilitatis et
hostiis, et, ubi nulla suppetunt suffragia meritorum, tuae nobis
indulgentiae succurre praesidiis."
Lord, we are nothing without you. As you sustain us with your
mercy, receive our prayers and offerings.
Or this oration from the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
"Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, continua pietate custodi, ut,
quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur, tua semper
Father, watch over your family and keep us safe in your care,
for all our hope is in you.
We have been deprived of the beauty of the prayers of the Latin liturgy,
and we have at the same time been subjected to a poverty of expression in
English which is truly a language of great beauty and power. Rather than
transferring the classicism, the strength and the theological wisdom of the
Latin texts, the translators have emasculated the Latin orations and having
labored have not even produced a mouse.
What all of us knew for nearly two decades but have probably forgotten is
now clearly laid out for us in the "Gregorian Missal" with the parallel
columns of the Latin and English texts of the Mass.
One need not wonder why the liturgical reforms have been so much less
successful than what was hoped for. One need not ask why the great
privilege of the use of the vernacular in our worship has not been the
great boon it was expected to be. The answer lies openly before us: the
banality, even ineptitude of the ICEL translations that we are forced to
use and pay for.
While we welcome the Solesmes "Gregorian Missal" as a marvellous tool for
worship, we unfortunately welcome it also as an on-going reminder of the
defective language that we have been obliged to use in the worship of God
in our own tongue.
How long, O Lord, how long?