Friday, June 28, 2002

Ite, Missa Est

My more observant readers will no doubt notice that I have corrected my suggested translation of the Epiclesis from the Second Eucharistic Prayer, which I provided as an example of problems faced by translators, such as those who will be employed by Vox Clara in rendering liturgical texts into English. A reader pointed out that I had made an error in the sequence of tenses, and in the use of the pronouns "thee" and "thy". So I fixed my mistake. That's the sort of thing that happens when you toss off an offhand translation at 1:00 in the morning. So what, you may be wondering, am I doing further ruminating on Latin at 3:00 in the morning? Well, I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, so it seemed like a good time to blog.

If anyone was left unsatisfied by my explanation of the troublesome formula for the dismissal of Mass, "Ite, Missa est", don't worry, I too was unsatisfied. I have consulted with my learned Latinist colleagues about the phrase, and they are also unsatisfied. The thing that we (two Ph.D's and 2 M.A.'s in Classics or Patristics) all agree on is that no one is exactly sure what it means. The problem, for those who know Latin, is that a word seems to be missing. But we have only "educated" guesses as to what that word may be. Now the Romans valued conciseness, and so were very free about leaving words out of phrases or sentences. The more stock or idiomatic the phrase or formula was, the free-er they felt about leaving things out. This Roman habit has been the bane of second and third year Latin students from time immemorial. It seems that the Romans thought "everyone knows what we're talking about anyway, so why bother saying the whole thing?" Except that we, coming along centuries or even millenia later, don't always know what they were talking about, so we are left with verbal puzzles.

The most plausible explanation I have heard is that the phrase "Ite, missa est" was borrowed from a standard Roman formula for ending a public meeting or hearing. According to my friend Prof. John Pepino, who teaches Latin and Greek at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Lincoln, NE, the phrase may originally have been "Ite, [causa] missa est." Causais the Latin word for "case," or "matter", as in a court case or a matter of public proceeding. Thus, the formula means "Go, the matter is ended." He adds that the early Roman Christians "would have been accustomed to clearing out of a basilica upon those words."

This may not be the deep "theological" explanation some would hope for. But it has the ring of truth to me. The early Roman liturgy was rather austere and no-nonsense. It became more elaborate as time went on and the Church's understanding of her own prayer developed. But the explanation offered here, and any other, is more conjecture than anything else. So Mark, if you are waiting for the definitive translation of "Ite, Missa Est", I hope you don't hold your breath.



Thursday, June 27, 2002

What Mark Shea Wants, Mark Shea Gets!

Mark Shea was kind enough to describe my thoughts Tuesday on Archbishop-elect Dolan of Milwaukee as "sage". I am grateful to Mark for recognizing my heretofore underappreciated sagacity.

Since I have been elevated to the exalted rank of Sage, Mark asked me to share more of my insights regarding Romanitas and Vox Clara, the new commission established by the Holy See to oversee English liturgical translations. I will be happy to comply. In my comments Tuesday I adduced the establishment of Vox Clara as a good illustration of Romanitasat work. For those unfamiliar with what has been going on, Cardinal Medina, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship ("Divino Cultu") began trying in 1999 to get our Bishops and ICEL, the organization responsible for our dreary and inaccurate English version of the Roman Liturgy, to reform itself. After going around in circles with them for three years and meeting with nothing but excuses, footdragging, and lame attempts at self-justification, Cardinal Medina apparently concluded that ICEL was incapable of being reformed. So he got Archbishhop Pell of Sydney, Australia, Cardinal George of Chicago, and other bishops together to form Vox Clara, which has taken over from ICEL the responsibility for producing a new English version of the Roman Missal. If you consult my Principles of Romanitas below, you'll see that the second is "If you can't convert [your enemies], then render them harmless." By creating Vox Clara Rome has all-but rendered ICEL harmless. ICEL's temporizing and stalling tactics, and indeed, ICEL itself, has been obviated by Rome. I think that John Page, the long time Secretary of ICEL, saw that too, as he is resigning effective August 15. It seems to me that Rome finally realized that it was under no obligation to go on recognizing or "doing business" with ICEL.

Now I wrote above that Rome had "all-but" rendered ICEL harmless. I qualified my statement because ICEL still has some power, because it holds the copyright to all of the official liturgical translations still in use in the English-speaking world. Because it holds copyright, ICEL receives royalties virtually every time a liturgical text appears in print. That means that ICEL will be something of a "cash cow" for some time to come. Until we have new translations, we will be forced to endure the current bad ones.

Mark asks when we're going to get good translations. I don't have a crystal ball, but I expect it will take a few years. Translating something like the Missale Romanum is a daunting task, especially if you want to do it right. Merely knowing Latin well is not enough. You must know and understand the theology and liturgical semiotics behind the prayers and texts, because producing a literal word-for-word translation does not work. The translator must convey the thought expressed in the idiom of one language in the idiom of another. Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote an excellent essay called "The Trials of a Translator" which I would commend to all who are interested in the issue of accurate translations.

An example of these problems is found in the Second Eucharistic Prayer, where a faithful translator has to cope with the problem of what to do with the "dew" of the Holy Spirit which is found in the text of the epiclesis (the moment when the priest extends his hands over the gifts and calls down the Holy Spirit). ICEL deals with the "problem" of the dew by omitting any mention of it whatsoever.

The Latin text has:xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxICEL translates:

Vere Sanctus es, Domine, fonsxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLord, you are holy indeed,
omnis sanctitatis.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe fountain of all holiness.

Haec ergo dona, quaesumus,xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLet your Spirit come upon these gifts
Spiritus tui rore sanctifica,xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto make them holy, so that
ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiantxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthey may become for us the Body
Domini nostri Jesu Christi.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxand Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.


A more faithful translation might go like this:

Truly you are Holy, Lord, the Source of all Holiness.

Grant, we beseech Thee, that the sanctifying Dew of
Thy Spirit may descend upon these gifts, so that they
may become the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Notice, as I mentioned, that the ICEL translation makes no attempt to render the image of the Holy Spirit descending like the dew. I'd also point out, as an aside, that the ICEL version leaves out the bit about "beseeching" (it is typical for the ICEL version to omit such "vertical" language of our humility before God). The image, the metaphor, is readily understandable, and in fact beautiful. But it is difficult to render concisely in English. Some might quibble with my version because the Latin text contains no words about "descend-ing". But I would argue that the meaning and import of the text is made plain by the use of the metaphor of the dew's descent. At any rate, I have gotten into arguments with other Latinists about how to go about rendering the language about the "dew."

Speaking of arguments, a minor one has been running in the "Comments" of Mark's blog about how to render the dismissal for Mass, "Ite, Missa est", in English. This is another translator's crux, because the phrase is idiomatic in Latin, and in fact remained the stock dismissal long after most people had forgotten what it actually meant. Firstly, the word "Missa" meaning "Mass" comes from the use of the dismissal formula, not the other way around. But it is an ancient usage, going back to St. Ambrose at least, and may be as old as the Latin Mass itself. Now, those of you wishing to avoid arcane points of Latin grammar may leave off here. Brad and David get caught up in figuring out what the participle "Missa" is referring to: Brad suggests the Church, David suggests the sacrificial victim, the hostia. I'm afraid that both suggestions, while well intentioned, are fanciful. There is no evidence for either. David's assertion that the use of a participle without antecedent "would make no sense" is also incorrect. Latin uses participles without antecedent all the time, especially in idiomatic or stock phrases. Both Jungmann and Parsch, two sources I trust on liturgical matters, agree that the phrase is a formal dismissal, addressed to the congregation. Jungmann leaves it at that, Parsch goes further, and interprets it as a sending forth. Parsch elaborates that the word "missa" is related to "missio", a sending or mission. Thus , "Ite, Missa est" may be rendered "Go, you have been sent," or, if you prefer Jungmann's more minimalist explanation, "Go, it is finished."


Tuesday, June 25, 2002

At Last, Some Good News from Milwaukee

Catholics within and without the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have reason to hope in the the just-announced appointment of Bishop Timothy Dolan as the new Archbishop of Milwaukee.That his appointment was announced so quickly after Archbishop Weakland's resignation (it is common for sees to remain vacant for upwards of a year before successors are named) can be construed as evidence that Bishop Dolan, who has been an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, was under consideration for the post for some time.

I had the good fortune of meeting Bishop Dolan while he was the Rector of the North American College. He extended the college's hospitality to me while I was in Rome studying Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster, OCD. He is a man of unswerving loyalty to the Magisterium and the Holy Father. I think we can expect him to begin rebuilding the wreckage left by his predecessor.

But before orthodox Catholics start dancing in the streets and waiting for the proverbial heads of the Milwaukee liberals to roll, a note of realism is in order. The Church in Milwaukee was not co-opted and decimated overnight, and neither will it be reconstructed overnight. Archbishop-elect Dolan has a task in front of him comparable to cleaning out the Augean Stables, and as much as I esteem him, he is not a Hercules. If he is Archbishop of Milwaukee for the next 25 years he may succeed in straightening out (both literally and figuratively) the mess that Weakland made of what was once a very Catholic city.

I have lived in Weakland-land, and my parents still do. I have endured the pain of attending a Sunday Mass at several parishes there, which were clearly cut from the Weakland mold. I know faithful priests there who have suffered mightily under the oppressive domination of the AmChurch establishment. They now have reason to hope for better days.

But Bishop Dolan will be obstructed and bitterly opposed within the Archdiocese the moment he tries to undo anything wrought by "Brother Rembert". He will be opposed by his priests, and by many laypeople who have been deceived and malformed by the AmChurch agenda. He will be denounced as "retrograde" and "divisive". Make no mistake, the battle in Milwaukee hasn't even begun yet.

If conservatives expect to see sweeping changes and purges within the Archdiocesan structure, I think they will be disappointed. Archbishop-elect Dolan is Rome-schooled and Rome-trained. Romanitaswill be his method. Dom Bettinelli over at BettNet has, I think, sounded the note of gloom prematurely by taking Dolan to task for "thanking" Archbishop Weakland. Just what did you expect him to say, Dom? "I'm glad I'm here to undo the damage done by my heretical and disobedient predeccesor, who, as we all know, is a Poofter"? I think Dom is reading too much into either the voicing of mundane civility or the exercise of Romanitas.

The exercise of Romanitasis sometimes amazing and sometimes frustrating to watch. It can be frustrating because it follows the motto Festina Lente, "Make haste slowly." To outward appearances those using Romanitascan seem to be moving with glacial speed, which will be certain to disappoint and frustrate angry conservatives waiting for the modernists to get their comeuppance. It can be amazing because when it works, one's enemies are sidetracked and obviated bloodlessly and almost gracefully. A recent and brilliant example of Romanitasat work is the creation of the new commission for English liturgical translations, Vox Clara. Romanitasunderstands that one's goals, with regard to "the enemy", are the following:

Convert your enemies whenever possible.

If you can't convert them, then render them harmless.

If you can't render them harmless, destroy them only as a last resort.

Let us conservatives, in and outside of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, remember that Archbishop Dolan's charge is to win souls over to Christ, not to win "battles".


Monday, June 24, 2002

Quo Vadis, Amice?

Today is my day off, so I've spent it relaxing: slept in, caught up on some correspondence, and had a leisurely lunch with a friend.

I have also done some updating to my home page, Quo Vadis? I've uploaded a couple more of my homilies and slightly re-organized it. If you haven't seen it, please visit! In addition to my homilies and articles, you can also see some pictures of me, from my ordination. I hope to have more pics uploaded soon.

I selected the name of my home page because the question "where are you going?" (which is what Quo Vadis is Latin for) became a central one for me in the years I was discerning my vocation. For those unfamiliar with the story, legend has it that during the persecution of Nero, St. Peter decided to flee Rome for safety. On his way out, he passed Jesus, who was walking into the city. Peter asked Christ "Quo Vadis, Domine?" The Lord replied that he was going back into the city: since Peter was fleeing and abandoning his flock, He would have to go back into Rome and be crucified again. This vision had the effect of recalling Peter to his duty: he returned to Rome where he was later martyred. There is a Church on the outskirts of Rome where this event is believed to have taken place.

The Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote a novel based on the Quo Vadis? legend which had two important effects on me: It fired my imagination with enthusiasm for the faith and helped strengthen my then-nascent sense of vocation. It also inspired me with curiosity and the desire to learn and study more the foundation of our Church on the Apostles. This led me, eventually, to graduate study of Patristics at the Catholic University of America. So the book made quite an impact on me. Some of you may have seen the movie, based on the novel, starring Deborah Kerr. The movie is one of the less memorable examples of the 1950's religious/historical epic, a la The Robe. The book is much, much better than the movie: if you haven't read it, you should!