Indiana Jones and the new translation

Referring to the climactic scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Deacon Bill Ditewig makes some compelling points about the new translation of the Roman Missal — and one word in particular, “chalice.”  For his jumping off point, he uses a new essay by Rev. John Donahue, S.J. on the topic.

Snip from Deacon Bill:

After seven months of the “new” translation, what is being communicated via that “feedback loop”? Fr. Donahue mentions the stumbling over prayers (especially, I would note, the Collects) by presiders, the “resignation” of all to the various archaic English expressions which were supposed to evoke a sense of elevation, reverence and awe, according to the proponents of the translation. Instead, the language in many cases simply sounds and feels remote and artificial according to the many comments made by parishioners. Furthermore, and this is something not mentioned by Fr. Donahue, but something that I feel is quite significant: From what I have experienced over these months in assisting as deacon at many Masses presided over by many different priests has been a tendency to “re-write” (especially the Collects) the prayers, usually on the fly, in order to help them be more understandable in proclaimed form. While I applaud the pastoral sensitivity involved, I would simply point out that this opens the door to increasing adaptation of the very texts which its designers sought to avoid!

More disturbing, of course, is the further “distancing” caused by many of the choices made in the new translation. By focusing exclusively on the Latin text, and despite the claims of proponents to the contrary, we have distanced our liturgical language from our more ancient scriptural and liturgical roots. “Faithfulness to the Latin” — and even how well that claim stands up to scrutiny is a matter of debate in itself! — has undercut the intentions of both Dei Verbum and Sacrosanctum Concilium by cutting us off not only from the more ancient terms found in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, but from the rich tapestry of meanings those ancient terms sought to convey. Vatican II wanted the sacraments to be characterized by a “noble simplicity”, and in language accessible to all with ease.

Turning to Fr. Donahue’s specific question, I would only add that, in my opinion, the repeated use of “chalice” constitutes an anachronism. The term “chalice” in modern times has come to mean the kind of liturgical vessel familiar to many at Mass; we don’t speak of wine “chalices” in our homes, or even in fancy restaurants. The term is almost exclusively used in reference to a church vessel. As Fr. Donahue points out, there was a Greek version of a more ornate liturgical vessel reflected by its own Greek word, but the fact is, such a Temple cup was NOT what Christ used, nor is that what is referred to throughout most of Judeo-Christian scriptures! What IS referred to is a cup, plain and simple. To retroject the word “chalice” into the liturgical language is, in short, anachronistic, misplaced, and misleading. Put simply, the focus of the translation seems to be on the first half of the communications loop: finding the right symbols and meanings to translate the Latin text, without paying any real significant attention to the second half of the loop: How will all of this be received, translated and interpreted by the people receiving the message?

Read it all.

And check out Donahue’s essay for more.

I’ll just add: from my experience, I’ve also heard priests “make up” some of the prayers in the new translation, or just edit them to make them easier to speak and hear.  (One priest I know flat-out refused from Day One to use the word “dewfall.”  Not sure why.)  I’ve also heard priests soldier through the prayers — and yes, as Deacon Bill indicates, it’s usually the Collect causing the most problems — with results that sound less like sacred worship and more like a train wreck.

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