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And so, on an August afternoon last week, the Dutch bishops announced the first fruits of a 2001 request from Rome to realise a new, more accurate translation of the Roman Missal. The process has long been in apparent limbo, although work must have progressed behind the scenes. There was little way of knowing it did, though, and as late as February of 2012, Cardinal Eijk stated that a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer – to be the same in both the Netherlands and Flanders, as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments desired – would still be a long way off. But the differences are now overcome, and the Congregation gave its permission for use and publication on 10 June of this year. The bishops are still to announce exactly when the new texts may be used in the Churches.
As the process took so long and information about progress was so scant, there are still many questions. How exactly will the changes be introduced? Will the faithful simply be presented with a fact, or will there be suitable catechesis? Looking at a similar effort – the new English translation of the Missal – and some of the initial responses to the new text of the Lord’s Prayer, the need for catechesis seems obvious. It is perhaps a characteristic of the Dutch mentality that any change is looked upon with suspicion. What’s more, in matters of faith, one’s own feelings and experience of the new is contrasted with what is known, and the known is usually clung to. “I am going to keep praying the Our Father in my own words, because that’s the way I like it.” With a change of this kind, people not only need to know the reason for it, but also the reasons of these texts, in whatever translation, in the first place. Why do we pray the Our Father? Why does the Mass have the structure it has? Why use one word and not the other?
Words convey meaning, obviously. The words we use in prayer reflect the faith we have, and in that sense it goes both ways: we address God, but the words we utter also teach us. Words, the Word, is central to our faith. Christ speaks to us in the Gospel, the liturgy and even our own prayers, and what He tells us must be translated well. Translation can’t muddle up the original meaning. It’s too important for that.
I hope that the announcement of the new translation, as well as the publication of a first “small Missal” is a first step that is followed by a program of catechesis and education about the word we use and their meaning.
The Lord’s Prayer has existed for decades in both a Dutch and Flemish translation which differed in various places. These differences are by now ingrained in the collective consciousness of the faithful, so finding acceptable changes was a long and slow process. Not only did the new translation need to be more faithful to the Latin source, but it also needed to remain understandable. The words and passages that were the same in both versions were not changed, but the differences were. Here follows a brief look at what was changed. I’m offering English equivalents of the relevant Dutch translations, so this overview serves more as an explanation of the problems and their solutions, and not as an accurate reflection of the text.
The Latin text is as follows:
Pater noster qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum;
fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a malo.
1. in caelis: In the Dutch version this was translated as in heaven, while the Flemish used in the heavens. The plural used in Flanders is more accurate, but was deemed to be archaic. The Willibrord translation of the Bible also generally uses heaven in the singular, and this translation is most often used in the Mass. The choice was made to retain heaven in the singular.
2. sanctificetur nomen tuum: Translated as Your name be holy (or hallowed) in The Netherlands and Holy (or hallowed) be Your name in Flanders. The version of the Netherlands was retained in order to retain the structure of the first three supplications of the prayer, which all end with verbs (hallowed, come, done).
3. sicut in caelo, et in terra: Here the issue centered around the word as (sicut). The Netherlands use zoals, while Flanders uses als. Both words are close in meaning, with zoals something like like as, and als meaning as. The word sicut appears twice in the text and is translated the same both times in the Dutch and differently in the Flemish text. The choice was made for zoals, to keep both instances of the word the same in translation.
4. dimitte nobis debita nostra: Translated as Forgive us our trespass/mistake/guilt (singular) in the Netherlands and Forgive us our trespasses (plural) in Flanders. Debita is also plural, so the choice was made to retain the Flemish translation.
5. sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris: Here the translations differed significantly. The Netherlands had As we forgive others their trespassing, while Flanders used As we forgive our debtors. As mentioned above, sicut was translated zoals. The Netherlands translations translates the noun debitores with a description (others who trespass), while the Flemish also employ a noun (debtor, albeit not strictly in the financial sense). For this reason, and although the equivalent of debtor in this meaning is not very common in Dutch, the Flemish version was retained.
6. et ne nos inducas in tentationem: Here, no difference existed between the Dutch and Flemish versions: And lead us not into temptation. The reason to nonetheless change this lies in the Greek source text of the Gospels in which the Lord’s Prayer comes to us. A more correct translation of tentationem is not so much temptation as it is today generally understood, but with the added meaning of being put to the test. The old translation also seems to imply that it is God doing the tempting, while we ask Him not to lead us into it. This is incorrect, as we, for example learn from James 1:13: “Nobody, when he finds himself tempted, should say, I am being tempted by God. God may threaten us with evil, but he does not himself tempt anyone.” The new translation uses the Dutch beproeving, which may be translated as test, but also as ordeal or tribulation.
Yesterday, I wrote about Cardinal Wim Eijk sanctioning a Dominican priest for celebrating a Maundy Thursday Mass that was invalid because of the liberal approach to liturgy. Whereas the Archdiocese of Utrecht has remained silent after announcing the sanctions and the reasons for them, Fr. Huisintveld has not been idle, and the media have been eager to give him a stage.
Father Harry Huisintveld (pictured) has been rather unavoidable in Dutch Catholic (and some generally Christian and secular) media today, sharing the pain of the sanctions imposed upon him, as well as a seeming lack of understanding of what it means to be a Catholic priest. He showcases a highly Protestant view of liturgy and church: not the magisterium, but the individual is the deciding factor in form and content of worship. In an interview today he stated that he felt free to adapt the Maundy Thursday Mass to the perceived needs to the faithful.
By his own words, he has received much support, and that is not surprising. After all, he is curtailed in his freedom to do what he wants and that freedom is, in the eyes of modern man, the highest right of all people, one that trumps all others. By curtailing the exercise of this right, Cardinal Eijk is the legalistic bogey man wielding those mortal enemies of personal freedom: rules and regulations.
This attitude, especially when it is the attitude of an ordained Catholic priest, is a much greater affront than the strict sanctions imposed by the cardinal. Fr. Huisintveld has made himself the arbiter of what can and can not be done in and with the liturgy, thus removing all loyalty to, and even recognition of, the Magisterium of the Church. In essence, he is saying that he is under no obligation to maintain the Mass as it has been handed down for generations, and which has developed like that for good theological and pastoral reasons, when and if he perceives it is not necessary. He knows better.
If that is your attitude, that is bad enough. But to be surprised, even indignant, if the Church you belong to, but whose rules you disregard, calls you out on it (and not for the first time), is a whole other kettle of fish. That is nothing more than pandering to the superficial feelings of people who see a man’s freedom being curtailed. “Help, I’m being repressed, because I only want to be Catholic when it suits me.”
Fr. Huisintveld may be good with people, he may be a beloved priest and have many other skills which are not relevant here (although both he and the Dominican Order in the Netherlands disagree with that – “he is such a nice man, how can you do that to a nice fellow who means no harm?”), but he is a bad liturgist and a worse priest for it.
Priests are not priests for themselves. They are God’s priests for the people. They don’t get to decide what God should and should not desire in the worship that is His due.
As it was revealed today that the liturgy for Fr. Huisintveld’s Mass was drafted by a liturgy committee, I am reminded of a comment made years ago by my own parish priest: “”The first thing you should do as a priest is to get rid of the liturgy committee.” We already have a liturgy committee. It’s called the Roman Missal.
Photo credit: Fr. Harry Huisintveld
The bishops today sent out a memorandum with the adaptations to the Eucharistic Prayers during the sede vacante. Also included are prayers for the success of the conclave and the new Pope. And in the midst of it all, they have introduced a lasting change to the Roman Missal. From now, the sixth Eucharistic Prayer will include the name of the diocesan bishop, in addition to the name of the Pope and a reference to all the bishops, as is standard in the other Eucharistic Prayers. Explaining the decision is a short sentence: “The diocesan bishop should not be left out of the Eucharistic Prayer (cf. Redemptionis sacramentum, 56).”
The document they refer to was and Instruction released in 2004 by the Congregation for Divine Worship “on certain matter to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist”. Paragraph 56 of that document has this to say:
“The mention of the name of the Supreme Pontiff and the diocesan Bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer is not to be omitted, since this is a most ancient tradition to be maintained, and a manifestation of ecclesial communion. For “the coming together of the eucharistic community is at the same time a joining in union with its own Bishop and with the Roman Pontiff”.”
Considering that, the new decision fits well with the desire expressed several years ago by Blessed Pope John Paul II that the various translations of the Missal be brought into better accordance with the Latin original text. Although there is commission, which includes several Dutch and Flemish bishops, tasked with reviewing and improving the Dutch translation, very little has come out of it as yet. But this is a nice start. Now let’s hope that the change takes effect in practice, and can usher in more progress towards a new translation.
Photo credit: Diocese of Lancaster
Late last night I was reading some thoughts about the new English translation of the Missal, and one point in specific made me think about my own introduction to the mysteries of the liturgy. The poll mentioned in Father Z’s post includes the statement “I worry that young people and those considering joining the church will be turned off by a liturgy that sounds esoteric or out of touch to their ears“, to which a vast majority seemingly answered in agreement. I’m not even going to answer the question of whether the new translation really is ‘esoteric and out of touch’ because it uses ‘difficult’ words, but I would like to consider if it is fear grounded in reality, that “young people will be turned off”.
When I first attended Mass, in Advent of 2005, language did not play a big part in my experience. Of course, I noticed that the priest was speaking, and I paid attention (still do) during the homily and the readings, trying to apply them to my own life. But the wording of the Eucharistic Prayer, for example, which also in Dutch includes words that are not used in daily conversation, was not instrumental in my decision to return and attend more Masses. It did not turn me off.
Was that because I didn’t pay attention? Not really, as I indicated above. Rather, the entire structure of the liturgy – rituals, gestures, words – was something to get to know. I did not separate one piece to try and understand before I turned my attention on the next bit. And if I did not understand something immediately (which, in the beginning, was basically all the time) I considered it more of a challenge to learn than a reason to be put off.
The liturgy and its language have nothing to do with quick satisfaction and the lowest common denominator. Rather, it must invite and challenge. The liturgy is, after all, primarily something that is supposed to bring us closer to God, not about making things easy for us. And I think that a correct liturgy will have that effect on people: they will notice that the priest is not there to entertain them, but to commune with God on behalf of, and with, the people.
Difficult words – for a given value of difficult – are really quite secondary to that. And people are smart enough to realise that. The only prerequisite is that the priest knows what he’s doing and performs his liturgical duties correctly. But that goes for many people in many situations.
My point, or perhaps a point, is that the liturgy is always going to be strange and new to people who are first introduced to it, regardless of the language used. Yet people continue to join the Church every year. These people knew that they were not going to understand everything they saw immediately. It is not only okay to use different words in the liturgy, it is even necessary. The liturgy is more than a social gathering or a community meeting, and the language must reflect that. Then it is one of the things that will elevate people, allowing them to join the priest in transcending the mundane practicalities of ink, paper and everyday words. A movement upwards, towards God.