Lost merely in translation?


10_10_05_1962MR_09There is an old Italian adagium which says: Traduttore, traditore, in Castilian (Spanish): Traductor, traidor, in English: Translator, traitor. It’s one of those brief proverbs that say so much in so few words, graced with common sense, popular wisdom, and not without reason!

For indeed in just two words, this proverb sums up a fact, proven beyond any reasonable doubt: that translations oftentimes are so lacking, are so bad, as to provoke a traitorous assault on the original meaning.

Be that as it may, translation is fascinating work, but it certainly has its shortcomings. It can be very easy sometimes, but usually, it requires some very careful thought in order to faithfully put into words, the same meaning of words from a different language. There are times when literal translations simply won’t do, because of peculiar idiomatic expressions in different languages.

A great philologist of our time was the great Catholic English author, +J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), the inspired author of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.


The great Catholic author, +J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

He actually knew seventeen (17) languages, though, alas, not with the same competence. He particularly liked the sonorous expressiveness of Latin, and also Spanish (Castilian), which he learned as a young boy from his priest-tutor, Father Francis Morgan +(1935), who was an Anglo-Spaniard priest of the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri.

+Arthur, Tolkien’s father, had died very early on. And his dear mother, +Mabel, a valiant convert to Catholicism in a hostile 1900 England, died only a few years later, but providentially had willed that Father Morgan care for her two children: John Ronald Reuel and +Hilary, his younger brother.

And Tolkien, of course, loved the Scandinavian languages, particularly Finnish, which served to create his own Elvish languages of Sindarin and Quenya.

So he most obviously had acquired the expertise necessary to translate from one language to another, and to translate faithfully in doing so. In fact, his entire Catholic mythology had languages as a main inspirational base, and all the history behind a culture who spoke a given language.

In other words, Tolkien’s literary expertise, finesse, and theory—called subcreation—is rather similar to God’s Creation through his Word: God spoke his Word (Logos), and things came into being: Let there be light, and light came to be. First there was the eternal Word, and then created realities came into being. Tolkien, as a sub-creator author, uttered his inspired word: let there be Hobbits, and there were Hobbits…

And so, when on the First Sunday of Advent, in the year of Our Lord 1969, the Novus Ordo Missæ came unto being by the utterance of a papal word (Paul VI), official translations from the Latin editio typica had already been taking place in anticipation.

Truth be told, said translations were undertaken with hastiness, indeed, much like the entire liturgical “reform” was undertaken with undue hastiness. So much so, that some official translations—despite approval by the local Episcopal Conferences, and even official approbation for liturgical use by Rome—were quite deficient. Hence that old adage: Translator, traitor, can readily be applied here.

It turns out that J.R.R. Tolkien was a very devout traditionalist Catholic, who loved the Traditional Latin Mass, which he attended daily. Needless to say, he wasn’t too keen on the Novus Ordo liturgy, disliking the new rite itself, and particularly disliking the official English-language translations for Great Britain.

He thought the official English liturgical translations were woefully deficient in their vain attempt to convey the beauty and meaning of the original, traditional Latin prayerful expressiveness, which he knew and loved so well.

His grandson, Adam Tolkien, tells what his grandfather did when they went to Holy Mass together: when the celebrant, instead of the timeless Dominus vobiscum, said: The Lord be with you, and the congregation was now to respond: And also with you, Tolkien would continue to respond, loud and clear: Et cum spiritu tuo!

His grandson admits to having felt a bit uneasy, but he assures us that his grandfather was merely doing what he sincerely believed was right and had to do when attending Mass…

So yes, alas, the Novus Ordo liturgy, even to this very day, has some translation problems. Oh, but not only problems in translations from the original Latin to the various vernacular languages.

There are also problems in some original vernacular texts, which do not appear in the official Latin. Indeed, this is one particularly serious issue, because there in fact exist some liturgical texts that appear exclusively in local language “Roman” Missals, but are not included in the Latin typical edition of the Missale Romanum.

One cannot but wonder, stupefied, at the worrisome lack of prudent uniformity of worshiping the same universal faith with the same liturgical texts—and with the same liturgical texts, the same faith (i.e. lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi)—everywhere where a supposed “Roman” Missal is to be used in a supposed “Roman” Rite…

At the same time, one cannot but recognize and admire the language of Latin—its sonority, its densely precise expressiveness, its endearing applicability for music, chanting, and singing, its prayerfulness, its sacredness, its timelessness… A truly Catholic—that is, universal—language chosen by God’s providence for his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Ah… but that’s not all… even the original Latin expressions relating to the theology of the Novus Ordo Missæ, can actually contain very fundamental doctrinal errors. Take for instance #27 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, third typical edition (2002): In Missa seu Cena Dominica… / {Spanish} En la Misa o Cena del Señor… / {English} At Mass, or the Lord’s Supper…

Let us permit this to sink in… The Mass, or the Lord’s Supper… Really? This begs the question: when has the Catholic conception of the Mass ever been identified with the Lord’s Supper? Easy answer: never! That is, until 1969. But, alas, we are talking about a new rite of Mass, aren’t we?

And even less so, as it were, when the Council of Trent specified the dogmatic aspects of the Sacrament of the Eucharist: under Pope Julius III, Session XIII, 11 October 1551 (cf. Denzinger {1958} nos. 873-893); and the later the dogmatic aspects of the Eucharist as Sacrifice of the Mass in Session XXII, under Pope Pius IV, 17 September 1562 (cf. Denzinger {1958} nos. 937-956).

Grammatically speaking, the current third typical edition of the Paul VI Roman Missal, dating from the year 2002, equates the Mass with the Lord’s Supper, as if these two realities were one and the same thing!

That the institution of the Eucharist has something to do with the Lord’s Last Supper, does not mean that the Mass, the Sacrifice of the Mass, is the same thing as the Lord’s Last Supper! But that’s what the new theology behind the Novus Ordo Missæ states. Obviously, this is clearly a Protestant view of the Mass.

Not for naught did Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci elaborate their famous theological critique to Paul VI in 1969, commonly known as the Ottaviani-Bacci Intervention.

How ironic indeed that the new, un-Catholic theology behind the Novus Ordo Missæ has not really attracted more Protestants to become Catholics—this, in addition to postconciliar false ecumenism, well, of course not!—and yet many Catholics have become de facto Protestants because of it.

The official Latin is unmistakably clear in its meaning, and the two official Spanish and English translations offered—specifically for Spain and the United States—are completely literal and accurate vernacular versions from the Latin.

What’s even worse, however, is not that this is what the current, third typical edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) says… it’s been expressed like this right from the start: the first typical edition since 1969! In other words, it’s never been corrected!

But then again, why should it be “corrected” if that’s precisely the Protestant theology that the liturgical “reformers” wanted to impress on the New Rite of Mass all along? For ecumenical purposes, of course…

So, here’s a sampling of some of the doctrinal errors that can be found in the Novus Ordo Roman Missal, second typical edition for Spain (1975), which by the way, is still the current, official version, since the third typical edition (2002) has yet to incorporate the changes and prepare the new translation.

For starters, let’s begin with a Communion Antiphon (Eph 2: 4; Rom 8: 3) for the third ferial day (Tuesday) during Christmastide, before and after the Epiphany of the Lord (6 January). The Latin text reads: Propter nimiam caritatem suam, qua dilexit nos Deus, Filium suum misit in similitudinem carnis peccati.

The official Spanish text translates: Dios, por el gran amor con que nos amó, envió a su Hijo en una condición pecadora como la nuestra. And here’s the official English translation: Because of that great love of his with which God loved us, he sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.

The decisive word in this Communion Antiphon, inspired by St. Paul’s epistles, is similitudinem or likeness. Scandalously enough, that word in Spanish—semejante or a semejanza deis completely absent from the Missal, thereby rendering the understanding that God, in loving us, has sent his Son in our own sinful condition. Not in a similar (i.e semejante) sinful condition like our own, but in the same sinful condition as our own!

It is true that the adverb como means like, so a literal English translation from the Spanish reads: God, in his great love with which he loved us, sent his Son in a sinful condition like ours. Now, can this very poorly-phrased expression be understood in an orthodox manner? Well, to be fair, yes… but it sounds extremely awkward, and it’s not the obvious meaning.

One could argue that the translator does not wish to convey the heresy that Christ’s humanity is sinful because he himself is a sinner like we are, but… that’s exactly what the official Spanish liturgical text conveys, notwithstanding local approval in Madrid, and subsequent approval in Rome. Who does the translating? Moreover, who is responsible for the revision and approval?

Another example: one of the Orations after Communion, during the Mass for the Dead. The Latin text reads: Sumpto sacramento Unigeniti tui, qui pro nobis immolatus resurrexit in gloria, te, Domine, suppliciter exoramus pro famulo tuo N., ut, paschalibus mysterii mundatus, futuræ resurrectionis munere glorietur.

The official Spanish text reads: Alimentados con el Cuerpo y Sangre de Cristo, que murió y resucitó por nosotros, te pedimos, Señor, por tu siervo N., para que, purificado por el misterio pascual, goce ya de la resurrección eterna.

The official English translation reads: Having received the sarament of your only Begotten son, who was sacrificed for us and rose in glory, we humbly implore you, O Lord, for your departed servant N., that, cleansed by the paschal mysteries, he/she may glory in the gift of the resurrection to come.

Comparing the second typical edition Roman Missal for Spain with the third typical edition of the Roman Missal for the United States, it would seem that the third typical edition incorporates a more faithful vernacular translation from the Latin typical edition.

The decisive words in the Spanish text are ya and resurrección eterna, which in context, give the Oration its materially heretical meaning.

What the Spanish text is saying is that we are praying for a dearly departed whom we hope is already, now (i.e., ya) enjoying the eternal resurrection (of the body), which is, of course, impossible, for that will only occur and the end of time, not “now,” that is, with the advent of the Second Coming of Christ in all his Majesty.

The Spanish text prefers the singular paschal mystery instead of the original plural paschal mysteries, but this may just be a question of literary style. Sadly, however, the Spanish Oration itself represents a very common doctrinal error in our times, regarding the eschatological dimension: that which sustains that upon dying, the dead resurrect with a different body, beyond the confines of this material world. It’s quite simply a gnostic heresy that despises the material, or the visible of God’s Creation.

Truth be said, though, I have noticed that in some re-printings of the second typical edition of the Roman Missal for Spain, the word ya has been eliminated, so it would seem that others have also caught this glaring doctrinal error and had it duly removed…

The Latin and the English texts better express the hopeful prayer that the dearly departed may experience the gift of the (bodily) resurrection that is yet to come, in the future. It reasonably presupposes—though it does not state so specifically—that it’s the same body that is buried now, which will receive in due time its eternal retribution, hopefully the gift of the resurrection for life eternal. And that expresses the Catholic faith on the matter.

One more particularly worrisome example: Preface X for Sundays in the so-called Ordinary Time, or Per Annum. This Preface X does not form part of the Latin typical edition of the Missale Romanum. Therefore, it’s not a question of a faulty translation from the original Latin. And that’s precisely why this is especially so worrisome.

It’s a Preface specifically composed for the Spanish Misal Romano. It sings the praises of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, Dies Domini, which certainly has a beautiful biblical and patristic underlying theology.

Here’s the main body of the Preface: … porque hoy, tu familia reunida en la escucha de tu Palabra y en el Pan único y partido, celebra el memorial del Señor resucitado, mientras espera el domingo sin ocaso en el que la humanidad entera entrará en tu descanso. Entonces contemplaremos tu rostro y alabaremos por siempre tu misericordia…

And here is an unofficial, but faithful English translation: … because today, your family, reunited to listen to your Word and in the breaking of the one and only Bread, celebrates the memorial of the Risen Lord, while awaiting the Sunday without eventide, in which the entirety of humanity will enter unto your rest. Then we will contemplate your countenance and forever praise your mercy…

The allusion to the breaking of the one and only Bread is inspired in the expression in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2: 42). But the celebration of Sunday, the memorial of the Risen Lord, rather ignores the fact that Mass is being celebrated, that is, the Eucharist as the Sacrifice of the Cross, notwithstanding that it’s Sunday, the day of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

From a theological viewpoint, the supreme act of our Redemption is the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Priestly Passion and Death of Our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Resurrection therefore, is the blessed consequence of the Lord’s Sacrifice, and though the Resurrection obviously has a salvific dimension, it’s not the redemptive act, proper.

The redemptive act proper is the Lord’s Priestly Sacrifice, which is celebrated at Mass, though it be Sunday… Preface X merely disregards the essential sacrificial nature of the Mass, despite it being Sunday, the day of the Lord’s glorious Resurrection. Again, a Protestant view of the Mass, denying its fundamental sacrificial nature.

Furthermore, an even more problematic expression in this Preface X is the materially heretical affirmation regarding the eternal Sunday: … in which the entirety of humanity will enter unto your rest. Then we will contemplate your countenance and forever praise your mercy…

The text presumes that the entirety of humanity, that is, all of humanity will enter unto the eternal blissful rest of the Lord, on that celestial Sunday without a sundown, which is Heaven.

The problem with this expression is not the description of Heaven as being an eternal Sunday, which is inspired by biblical and patristic theology—i.e., Sunday being the day after Saturday, the first day of the week, the eighth day of the week—but rather that all of humanity will enter unto the Lord’s rest.

That is quite simply heretical, specifically an ancient heresy of the III century: the Apokatástasis which held that everyone would be ultimately saved, even the devils, the fallen angels.

But that’s never what the Catholic faith has taught. That we should pray that everyone be saved in the end—in the subjunctive sense of the verb—most certainly does not mean the same as presuming that everyone will be saved in the end, and celebrate this false assuredness in a liturgical setting.

Pope Pius XI said that the sacred liturgy is an organ for the Church’s Ordinary Magisterium. This is so because the liturgy of the Church expresses the Catholic faith of the Church; if you change the meaning of the words, you change the comprehension of the faith.

Only those who ultimately are saved in the end will be the ones—the only ones—who will contemplate the Lord’s countenance and forever praise his mercy, as Preface X goes on to say.

We must remember: this liturgical text was composed directly in Spanish, and was duly approved (sic) by the Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, and also from the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Alas, a very problematic Preface, and this time, we cannot blame the doctrinal errors contained therein to a bad translation from the Latin… because there is no official Latin text to translate from!

And so, taking very seriously into account the truth behind the intrinsic relationship between faith and liturgy—lex credendi, lex orandi, lex vivendi / the law of belief, is the law of prayer, is the law of living the faith—some official vernacular translations from the official Latin are notably deficient in this regard.

All the more so when there are glaring heresies, without even the poor excuse for losing the meaning in an inexcusable faulty translation.

How many doctrinal errors—with the accompanying obstacles to true evangelization—are there in the various officially-approved vernacular editions of the supposedly reformed “Roman” Missal after Vatican II? God only knows…

We would do well to remain firmly attached to the Traditional Roman Rite. It can trace its roots to the apostolic era. It is the Rite of the Holy Catholic Church, as handed down faithfully through the centuries, along with the Roman Breviary and the Roman Ritual of the Sacraments. And with regards to the Sacrifice of the Altar, it’s the Mass of All Times.

Doubtless, J.R.R. Tolkien, a profoundly Catholic philologist, who knew so well the absolutely crucial importance of words, meanings and expressions, and how an entire culture is defined by its language and history, was right all along…


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