Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Catholic culture in the oddest places... 

The blackboard in the gym had "SAVE" written on its corner, though what writing was to have been saved must have been erased at some point. Moreover, the "S" had somehow been smudged to illegibility, leaving only "AVE" on the board for about a month. One day I came in to the gym to find someone had written "MARIA" next to it.

And driving on the freeway, I saw a car with the license plate "TE DEUM"; upon closer inspection, the driver was one of the priests at Queen of Peace.

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Friday, May 07, 2004

A Rare Treat 

Rarely is poetry about science or math any good, in my limited experience. Most of what I have encountered is filk, little better than that produced by high schoolers at summer math camps, whose sole purpose is to rhyme and to amuse. But this month's First Things offers a little gem that is quite stunning:

Olber's Paradox

The heavens hold more stars than earth has grains
Of sand, and given time, each tiny sun
Combined should make a world where starlight stains
The sky bright white and dark would be undone.
And yet the night remains. The dim stars gleam
Their separate ways, and constellations drawn
Connect their dots, while under them we dream
And sleep, then wake to such a thing as dawn.
The universe, expanding since its birth,
Is larger, older than its light; sublime,
The force that keeps this constant day from earth--
The same that measures out our years--is time:
The limitation that provides us night
And saves us all from unremitting light.
   --Robert W. Crawford

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A Draft of the New Translation of the Liturgy 

Apparently ABC (the Australian national radio, not the US company) has obtained a draft of the new Mass translations. Their coverage is inane, as one might expect; their interview of Dr. John Page, former executive secretary of ICEL, can be readily summarized:

ABC: Has the translation process gone awry?
JP: I don't know; since I left ICEL, I don't have any inside information.
ABC: Have you seen the new draft translation of the Mass?
JP: No.
ABC: In that case, please tell us about your concerns.

On the other hand, the interviewer's own comments after this interview describe "And with your spirit" as "actually quite pretty."

ABC's interview with the Presbyterian minister Dr. Horace Allen, former co-chair of an ecumenical translation body, had a little more meat and was even more curious. He seems quite upset that the Catholics, following Liturgiam Authenticam, have basically stopped ecumenical consultation on translations. Why is this bad? Because, he says, "Protestantism is not to be trusted on its own in liturgical matters. We have always known we needed the wisdom and the experience of the church of Rome, and at last, it became possible and now it is impossible." That's not to be dismissed outright.

Following this interview, however, ABC's commentary is decidedly more negative. In classic chronological snobbery it speaks of the "highly formal, sacerdotal, even prissy language of a bygone age," like "a group of servile Spanish or Italian courtiers addressing a mediaeval king." (To think of God as our King, to think the Mass should be formal, is apparently so last century.) More tellingly, it complains that the new translation sounds too Catholic, radically different from the world: "an almost neo-Platonic emphasis on holiness and purity, the perfect church surrounded by a world that is hostile, dangerous and defiling; the priest as a member of a sacred caste." In short, the new translation is not tame; it will not cater to early-21st-century upper-class sensibilities; and it dares to think Vatican II meant the Church to transform the world, not be subsumed by it.

What are my own thoughts? The translation seems to be of uneven quality. There are passages that are utterly beautiful:
Most merciful father,
we therefore humbly pray and implore you
through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord,
to accept and bless these gifts,
these offerings,
these holy and undefiled sacrifices,
which we offer you in the first place
for your holy Catholic Church:
be pleased to grant her peace,
to guard, unite and govern her
throughout the whole world,
one with N. our Pope,
N. our bishop,
And all bishops who, holding to the truth,
Hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.

We pray, O God, deign to make this offering in every way blessed, consecrated, approved, spiritual, and acceptable.

On the other hand, there are some that struck me as stilted and jarring:

Misereatur nostri omnipotens Deus
et, dimissis peccatis nostris,
perducat nos ad vitam aeternam.
May almighty God have mercy on us
and, with our sins forgiven,
lead us to eternal life.

Quite precise--but the ablative absolute does not roll off the tongue in English. I actually prefer the old "forgive us our sins." And again, I concur with the ABC reporter that

Praeceptis salutaribus moniti,
et divina institutione formati,
audemus dicere:
Taught by commands that bring salvation
and formed by divine instruction,
we have the courage to say:

is not smooth English. Literal, but too clunky to be conducive to prayer. (And I had been hoping for a better sense of the boldness in "audemus," perhaps "we dare to say.")

On the other hand, I should make allowance for contempt bred by unfamiliarity. In mostly unaltered passages, despite approving in principle of the restoration of "who" for "qui," I find myself mildly resenting the change from what I have known all my life. Yet even in a day or two of sitting with these draft translations, they grow on me. "With our sins forgiven" may not be how I would pray personally in English, but I can imagine it echoing through a church. "Commands that bring salvation" sounds awkward initially, but very quickly could become stately ritual language.

Moreover, it is to be remembered that this is a draft. Necessarily, it will have some high points and some low points, the latter hopefully to be ironed out before publication. And glancing through, I think I would readily exchange the consistent mediocrity of today's translations for the mixture in this draft. An occasional awkward ablative absolute or less-than-smooth phrase is well worth the unadulterated poetry of the Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace on earth to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we worship you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
   have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
   receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
   have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

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