Six characteristics of the Latin Missal and how they carry through the English translation.
Bishop Saratelli, New Jersey, Chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship and Chairman of the Ad hoc Sub-Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations, Commissioner of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy.
1. “Latin orations…tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point.” Teleology refers to the fundamental meaning of people, things, or life in general; eschatology refers to the ultimate realities that give meaning to this world, and which are our final destiny. The prayers strongly emphasize our ultimate purpose and destiny in this life, leading to eternal life. This is something that gets lost if not translated well—thus the new English prayers will seek to convey this same emphasis.
2. Biblical References will be made clear. In the translation now in use, many of the phrases—in Latin—use explicitly Biblical language that was lost in translation. The new translation makes a great effort to restore this Biblical language—either so those praying may recognize the words of Scripture, or else seek them out to discover the source of a particular image.
“In Eucharistic Prayer III, we will no longer say: ‘From east to west, a perfect offering is made to the glory of your name.’ Instead we pray the words of Malachi 1:11: ‘…from the rising of the sun to its setting.’”—which was not so well translated in our current version. Now it is both more faithful, and more poetic, without loss of meaning.
The words we speak together currently as the priest shows us the Eucharist before communion are a weak translation of Matthew 8:8, which will be restored as follows: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word…”
3. “The new translations are careful to keep the allusions from patristic writings,”—that is, those major figures of the Church’s early centuries, such as Augustine, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Basil and others, who were so important in teaching and transmitting the Apostolic Faith.
In several places, the original Latin prayers include phrases and images that come from these great saints, but again, they were lost in translation. Now they are put back.
4. The new translation will respect the “rich vocabulary of the Roman Rite. The post-communion prayers employ a variety of words such as nourished,fed, recreated and made new….The many different words of the Latin text are not monotonously translated with the same words,” Saratelli observes. “Thus, by being faithful to the Latin text, the new translations enrich the use of our liturgical language in English.”
5. The Latin text uses many concrete images and parallel expressions. It also uses anthropomorphic expressions—i.e., human images of God—that “add a certain poetry to the prayers. “And so,” Saratelli explains, “while it is perfectly good English to say: in your pity hear our prayers, the translation respects the poetry of the text and, in the blessing of ashes, says: in your pity give ear to our prayers.”
6. Exactness and style befitting the liturgy. Care is taken to ensure the prayers teach about the Faith with clarity, as they are intended to do with the underlying Latin text which uses exact language as well.
“The Latin prayers are concise and noble in tone,” Saratelli observes; “When we frame our prayers in liturgy, the language of the street is not appropriate.”