Friday, November 16, 2018

Italian Bishops Approve New Bowdlerizations of the Missal

The Italian newspaper Avvenire reports that a general assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (which owns the paper) has approved a new translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal, which will now be submitted to the Holy See for approval. This translation includes two particularly notable bowdlerizations of the Ordinary of the Mass, one in the Lord’s Prayer, the other in the Gloria.

The penultimate petition of the Lord’s Prayer as proposed will read in Italian “non abbandonarci alla tentazione – do not abandon (leave) us to temptation.” The traditional reading, “non indurci in tentazione - lead us not into temptation” has been in use for centuries, like its English analog, and is known to every Italian, even those who never attend Mass or pray. On a pastoral level, there is absolutely no need to change it whatsoever.

It is also, of course, completely wrong as a translation. The Greek verb in question “eisenenkēis” does not mean “abandon.” It is a form of a highly irregular verb [1] “eispherō – to bring in, lead in, carry in, introduce.” No dictionary lists “abandon” or any synonym thereof as a translation. It is as if Christians have not been praying “lead us not into temptation” in countless languages for over 19 centuries, as if no one has ever bothered to consider what these words mean, and comment on them. It is impossible to believe that pastors with the cure of souls in Italy (or anywhere else) are suddenly besieged by anguished parishioners, tormented at the thought that the Eternal Father might be leading them into temptation. But even if that were the case, is it really an improvement to suggest that God cannot lead us into temptation, but can abandon us in it?

It is equally impossible to believe that there could be another, even more grotesque and unjustifiable mistranslation, and yet there is. A phrase of the Gloria in excelsis has also been modified, from “pace in terra agli uomini di buona volontà – peace on earth to men of good will” to “pace in terra agli uomini, amati dal Signore – peace on earth to men, loved by the Lord.” I hazard a guess, and no more than that, as to the rationale behind this. To speak of “men of good will” implies that there are men who are not of good will, one of the most basic facts about human existence, and one which the Church has for over half a century wasted enormous time and effort on denying. The new reading permits the insertion of a comma, turning the phrase “loved by the Lord” into a non-restrictive adjectival phrase, (“men, who are loved by the Lord”), in a way that cannot be done by translating the actual text.

Our readers may be curious as to whether this new version of the Gloria, if it is approved, will present Italian churches with the same problem recently faced by the English-speaking world, when the new translation was promulgated, and musical settings of the old and hideous paraphrase became unusable. The answer is, Probably not. There is much to be said for the thesis that in many places, the post-Conciliar reform made everything that was worst about pre-Conciliar liturgical practice normative, and Italy is decidedly one of those places. The four-hymn sandwich over a Low Mass is as common as it ever was, although the Low Mass itself is now in the vernacular, and often miked-up so loudly as to destroy all possibility of contemplation or recollection. It is normal for the Gloria to be recited by the congregation, not sung, even on major feasts like Christmas and Easter.

However, the will of the Council is sometimes fulfilled in Italy, vis-à-vis the preservation of Latin in the liturgy, by the use of the so-called Gloria of Lourdes. This turns one of the Church’s most ancient hymns into a responsorial psalm (and one as unpleasant to listen to as any responsorial psalm) by the frequent repetition of the words “Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo”, leaving the rest to a solo cantor, or, more often, to be recited (not sung) by the congregation.

The Italian Bishops’ also wrote in their final communiqué (again, as reported by Avvenire), “in a particular way, the suggestion is made to take care for the quality of singing and the music of the liturgies.” (in modo particolare, si suggerisce di curare la qualità del canto e della musica per le liturgie.) Their Excellencies would do far better to actually take this to heart, and apply their collective efforts to improving the appalling music heard in most Italian churches, rather than to “fixing” translations that were not broken.

[1] “Eispherō” is a compound of the proposition “eis”, which means “into” (not “in”), and the verb “pherō – to bring, to carry.” The latter is a highly irregular word, in that it derives its various tenses from different roots, like the English “be, am, is, etc.” The present form is “pherō”, but the future is “oisō”, and the aorist, from which the verb in Matthew 6, 13 is derived, is “ēnenka.” This accounts for the radical difference between the main verb form by which it is located in a dictionary, and the specific form translated in the Lord’s Prayer, or mistranslated, as the case may be.

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