The National Catholic Review
Wrestling Long and Hard

As a member of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, I want to praise Bishop Donald W. Trautman, who usefully highlights some of the challenges facing translators of the Roman Missal (How Accessible Are the New Mass Translations? 5/21). The text he discusses, the prayer over the gifts for Masses of the Blessed Virgin during Advent, is one of the most difficult in the Missal and caused I.C.E.L.s translators to wrestle long and hard. They will be glad of any further help that may be forthcoming.

The difficulty arises in part from the prayers allusions to two doctrines that were better understood in patristic times than today. Not only its language, but also its thinking, is remote from what Bishop Trautman calls the contemporary mainstream of U.S. Catholics.

The first doctrine is that the sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigured and were brought to an end by the sacrifice of Christ. The churchs redefinition of her attitude to Judaism at the Second Vatican Council has made Catholics hesitant to speak of the New Testament as superseding the Old; but without some notion of the bond between the testaments, it would make no sense to read the Hebrew Scriptures at the Christian liturgy at all. The translators have found no word better for expressing the concept in question than the traditional one, prefiguring.

The second is the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which means not only that she abstained from intercourse, but that she remained physically intact as she gave birth. How this happened is a mystery. Some of the Fathers said that Christ passed from her body like a light through glass. Our Latin text uses the word ineffabiliter. Unspeakably does not seem to be a good translation. Nor do inexplicably, indescribably, inconceivably or incomprehensibly, all words whose connotations would not fit the context. So the translators chose, here and elsewhere, to press into service an English word that, though rare, is not difficult to explain: ineffably.

Inviolate is aurally ambiguous, since it can be heard as in violet. The translators wished to avoid it and looked around for an alternative term to use in this sensitive area of discourse. They felt that many would find intact too directly physical or medical. Other terms that were proposed could be heard as indelicate. In the end, inviolate was the best they could do.

Though the theology of this prayer is ancient, its text is not. It was not even in the Missals of 1970 or 1975, but first appeared in the 2002 edition. It may have been written as late as 1987. Translators find recently composed prayers among the most difficult of all because, in eagerness to hand on the churchs tradition or to incorporate the insights of Vatican II, modern authors sometimes cram too many ideas into too small a space. But their compositions are in the Missal, and they must be translated.

Bishop Trautman ends with a call that I.C.E.L. can readily echo: Speak up! Anybody who can offer a better version of this difficult text is most welcome to send it to the I.C.E.L. secretariat for consideration by the bishops of the commission when they meet in July. It is healthy for critics of any translation to ask themselves not only Do I like this version? but also Can I do better?

(Msgr.) Bruce Edward Harbert
Washington, D.C.

Stuff and Nonsense

I am a bit behind on my reading and only just now looked at the April 30 issue.

As usual, there are good articles (if there werent, I wouldnt be a longtime subscriber), but as usual there is a certain amount of nonsense. You need a nonsense editor to watch for this stuff and delete it; remember, there are callow college kids reading this.

I notice the Corporate Hall of Shame mentions Union Carbide as responsible for releasing poisonous fumes into a poor neighborhood. The release was due to the sabotage of an Indian employee, and the neighborhood was Carbides own property, which was illegally populated by squatters. Do you think the Indian government might have been negligent in not removing them?

And Coca-Cola apparently is making people die of thirst by buying up sources of fresh water all over the world? I really would like to see some substantiation of this. It sounds highly dubious, a typical example of hysteria by corporation-hating nuts.

I also have noted that churchmen are prating about the evils of globalization, as if this were accepted truth. I happen to be of Irish descent and note that the poverty-stricken island of my parents time is now one of the worlds most prosperous countries, thanks to the effects of globalization. Lets hear it for globalization!

Thomas Farrelly
Seattle, Wash.

Sense of Dignity

In Treatment, Not Prison (5/28), Peter Ninemire asserts with clarity the need for treatment and rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders. However, the need for treatment, not prison extends far beyond the addicted population. Having worked with the incarcerated population for some 11 years, I am all too aware of the bi-polar or schizophrenic (or otherwise mentally ill) offender who is not so ill as to warrant emergency placement in an in-patient psychiatric facility, yet is sufficiently ill to have acted out in such a way that the police very properly took that person off the streets. The result is overcrowding in an extremely expensive corrections setting rather than a less expensive community-based supervised group home. A far more important issue, however, is that a corrections facility is the wrong setting for these persons. Even the very enlightened corrections system in Vermont undermines the dignity of the mentally ill person-at-risk. The supervised group home enables the person to maintain some sense of dignity.

(Deacon) Pete Gummere
St. Johnsbury, Vt.

End This War

I wish to comment on the editorial about treatment of the military, A National Shame (5/28). My daughter was telling me recently about a group she joined that is helping the new needy of the United States. With fundraisers, physical aid and moral support, they are helping the spouses and families of the men and women of the reserves and national guards. These spouses are left for a long period of time running their family life alone. Money is very tight.

Why is it that no one in the United States is asked to sacrifice for the terrible war except these people? Taxes are not raised to pay for the war; in fact, tax decreases are given. People are not allowed to question the war, because it shows we are not supportive of our troops, some would say.

In all my reading about how the war was sold to us, I keep coming back to the question Why did President Bush want to do this? and What does he want now when he keeps refusing to listen to the country to end this war?

Mildred Rahrig
Wolcottville, Ind.

Heartening Book

I just finished reading Of Many Things (5/28), the essay on intercessory prayer and how we apply it to our saints, including frivilous and superstitious requests we sometimes make. (Dear Saint Anthony, please come around....) As I was reading, I thought, As soon as I get to the end of this article, Im going to e-mail this editor and let him know about a life-changing and heartening book entitled My Life With the Saints. It is a kind of faith journey tell all about one priests lifelong journey with saints who served as cheerleaders and models in times of adversity. I lent my copy (for which I had waited three weeks) to my boss, my pastor, and he never returned it: Im still reading it. But I noticed that he kept referring to the book in his weekly and Sunday homilies. Finally, he admitted that he wanted to keep the book because he enjoyed revisiting his own lifelong relationship with the saints! When I finished reading the essay I found the name of James Martin, S.J., who is the author of My Life With the Saints!

Kathleen Carriere
Warminstoe, Pa.

Comments

THOMAS FARRELLY | 9/14/2007 - 5:18pm
Msgr. Bruce Herbert invites anyone with a better translation of the cited "difficult text" to the ICEL Secretariat. It would have been thoughtful of him to provide an address, preferably an e mail address, considering the convenience, speed, and ease of this prevalent means of communication. While there are no doubt other Roman Congregations concerned, has it occurred to anyone at ICEL that if a prayer is not easily comprehensible to the faithful, perhaps it should be replaced by one that is? In this particular case, the technical meaning of the "perpetual virginity" of Our Lady is probably unknown to a majority of Catholics; to those who do, it really has very little weight regarding our veneration of her. Certainly, it is of far less concern to a modern man than it was to the Church Fathers. Surely Our Lady can be honored by better prayers than this one, which is ineffably awkward and meaningless to the average Catholic.
THOMAS FARRELLY | 9/14/2007 - 5:16pm
Msgr. Bruce Herbert invites anyone with a better translation of the cited "difficult text" to the ICEL Secretariat. It would have been thoughtful of him to provide an address, preferably an e mail address, considering the convenience, speed, and ease of this prevalent means of communication. While there are no doubt other Roman Congregations concerned, has it occurred to anyone at ICEL that if a prayer is not easily comprehensible to the faithful, perhaps it should be replaced by one that is? In this particular case, the technical meaning of the "perpetual virginity" of Our Lady is probably unknown to a majority of Catholics; to those who do, it really has very little weight regarding our veneration of her. Certainly, it is of far less concern to a modern man than it was to the Church Fathers. Surely Our Lady can be honored by better prayers than this one, which is ineffably awkward and meaningless to the average Catholic.

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