The first two Sundays of Advent gave us an experience of the new translation of some of the liturgical texts for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Most of the changes seem to be trivial and superfluous, a few are comical, but a few others are simply deleterious. Changes I consider harmful can be gathered into two principal categories. Those that are seriously misleading, for example, “he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed. In modern English hell is usually understood as the place of damnation, of eternal separation from God (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033-1037 and 1861).
One of the more egregious errors of the Reformation period was the notion that God the Father made Christ suffer the pangs of damnation in hell. This is a monstrous misrepresentation of the Christian faith. Why do we risk confusing the faithful in this needless way?
The gratuitous imposition of the syntax and sentence structure of Latin on the English language is wrong. An example of this is the prayer after the Our Father: “Deliver us….” There are seven clauses, some parallel and some subordinate, heaped one upon another in a cluttered and clumsily arranged conglomerate of phrases. I challenge anyone to read this awkward “lawyer’s script” aloud and prayerfully without taking at least three or four breaths, so why is it presented as one sentence?
This massacre of English phraseology is the diametrical opposite of the legitimate “inculturation” which the hierarchy say they want to pursue. Not a single African bishops’ conference gave a formal reply to the first draft (the Green Book) submitted to them by the ICEL (witness the summary of interventions at the back of the Gray Book, or final draft). That left the ICEL free to presume that the African local churches were in basic agreement with the ICEL draft text.
The Vatican’s will was not only to have accurate translations, but also to impose the syntax and sentence structure of the Latin original on to the English translation. Let’s say it clearly; there is nothing sacred about the Latin language. It was not the first language of the Church. It became the dominant language in the Western Church only, and it was dominant during the period of the worst moral, social, political and “religious” abuses of Vatican and episcopal authority.
There is absolutely no reason why the syntax and structure of the Latin original should be imposed on English. The proposed reasons for this senseless imposition amount to pious-sounding gibberish.
Unless the ICEL, the Vatican and the SACBC change their minds, there will be even worse disasters in the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayers.
Fr John Converset MCCJ, Johannesburg