Monday, October 18, 2010

Translations and Transgressions

There were many things that went wrong in this church right after Vatican II. To me, it was a huge miracle that VII was protected from error given the environment it was held in. But the changes made in the name of VII were a different matter.

One of those changes was the translation of the liturgical texts from Latin into English. Now what the translators were supposed to do was translate. They decided that while they were add it they would "fix" some of the texts they didn't really agree with. They would never admit this but it is quite obvious to those who know Latin and English that the English texts is not an honest attempt to render the same meaning, emphasis, and tone as the original Latin.

For example, the phrase mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima is part of the penitential rite. It means something like "my fault, my fault, completely my fault." The translation renders it "through my own fault." They eliminate the repetition and emphasis. They turn a very strong statement into a very bland statement. Why would they do this? It is not because they don't know enough Latin. So it is not a bad translation. It is a choice not to translate the sacred text but to transgress the sacred texts.It is not that they don't know what the texts mean but that they don't like what they mean.

Penitence was not a popular thing back in the 1970's. It never is but it was particularly unfashionable at that time. People didn't want to focus on their sin but on the love of God. So they run into this part of the mass where we are supposed to do exactly that. To brutally and honestly call to mind our sins. So they change it. They are sure they are right. They don't admit they changed it. If they wanted to change the nature of the liturgy they should have proposed a change to the Latin texts. That would have been the process. This was a dishonest way to inject themselves and desecrate church's liturgy.

The examples of this sort of thing are many. CtC has an issue with the translation of a Vatican II document that shows a similar abuse. Translators were simply playing games. I don't know of any other organization that has as much trouble doing simple translations as the Catholic church. So many people in positions of power have such a strong impulse to water down the church's message. It means translations take a long time because trust has been lost.

The good news is things are getting fixed. It only took about 40 years but the translation of the liturgical texts is being replaced. They will probably complain about it for another 40 years. This is the one thing about the church. There are mistakes made. But over time the big mistakes get fixed. Jesus is building his church and a few well-meaning but wrong-thinking churchmen are not going to stop Him. The consequence of what they do can be serious but not in a lasting way.

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