Comme Le Prevoit 5-8

We begin section 5 with general principles of translation. We go to the root of the use of words, in the case of liturgy, a means of spoken communication:

5. A liturgical text, inasmuch as it is a ritual sign, is a medium of spoken communication. It is, first of all, a sign perceived by the senses and used by (people) to communicate with each other. But to believers who celebrate the sacred rites a word is itself a “mystery” By spoken words Christ himself speaks to his people and the people, through the Spirit in the Church, answer their Lord.

What is the goal of providing liturgical translations?

6. The purpose of liturgical translations is to proclaim the message of salvation to believers and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord: “Liturgical translations have become … the voice of the Church” (address of Paul VI to participants in the congress on translations of liturgical texts, 10 November 1965). To achieve this end, it is not sufficient that a liturgical translation merely reproduce the expressions and ideas of the original text. Rather it must faithfully communicate to a given people, and in their own language, that which the Church by means of this given text originally intended to communicate to another people in another time. A faithful translation, therefore, cannot be judged on the basis of individual words: the total context of this specific act of communication must be kept in mind, as well as the literary form proper to the respective language.

Meaning is given priority over the “expression and ideas” of the original text. Not just any meaning, either, but the meaning the Church intends. Included in that meaning would be context as well as literary form. More recently, the Church has determined that the actual words themselves convey more of the Church’s meaning. As Liam suggested in the comment box of the previous Comme Le Prevoit post, these are not theological or dogmatic realities per se, but prudential matters of interpretation and style.

7. Thus, in the case of liturgical communication, it is necessary to take into account not only the message to be conveyed, but also the speaker, the audience, and the style. Translations, therefore, must be faithful to the art of communication in all its various aspects, but especially in regard to the message itself, in regard to the audience for which it is intended, and in regard to the manner of expression.

Communication always involves the speaker, the listener, and the message itself. If one is convinced that the speaker (or source) is faithful, and that the listeners are receptive, then obviously, the accuracy of the message is paramount. However, one might suggest that if the source lacks a certain credibility, or the listeners lack cognition (perhaps in the example of children) or the willingness to receive the message (stubborn folks who distrust their leadership, perhaps), then something more is needed in addition to an accurate message.

8. Even if in spoken communication the message cannot be separated from the manner of speaking, the translator should give first consideration to the meaning of the communication.

So the first principle is outlined in these sections: meaning takes precedence over the particulars of the message.

A cynic might suggest this is indicative of a certain condescension on the part of Rome toward the laity. One with an optimistic view of the formation of the laity since the 60’s might also suggest that cognitively, it is time for a more literal translation–that the overriding importance of meaning has faded somewhat over the past decades. I leave it to the readers to put it to a discussion.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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6 Responses to Comme Le Prevoit 5-8

  1. Talmida says:

    …it is not sufficient that a liturgical translation merely reproduce the expressions and ideas of the original text. Rather it must faithfully communicate to a given people, and in their own language, that which the Church by means of this given text originally intended to communicate to another people in another time.

    Now that’s an interesting idea. What did a Latin Liturgy– the language of academia — intend to communicate to “another people in another time,” for example, the peasants of previous ages, or the “simple” faithful?

    Mystery? Superstition? Secretiveness? Class distinction?

    That actually explains a great deal.

    I wonder if some of the awe directed towards the Church in past ages was assisted or encouraged by the fact that the Liturgy was a mysterious magical language only spoken by the socially elevated clerical and educated classes?

    Is that the awe that translators today are trying to re-inspire?

    Is that a good thing?

  2. Gavin says:

    Meaning is given priority over the “expression and ideas” of the original text.

    So that would tend to rule out the sometimes-mentioned “Dew of the Holy Spirit” in one of the EPs? I don’t really have a preference here, I’m just wondering your take on it. One could certainly say that it’s not a very relevant metaphor, when’s the last time you talked about the “dew” of this or that?

    I will say that this document won’t change my mind on what sort of translation I prefer. I’m not the one making the decisions though, so what does it matter? It is interesting to know how the Church makes decisions on these things. With the exception of “pro multis”, I don’t see anything in here which contradicts the current ICEL work.

  3. Liam says:

    Well, it would be good remember that what we think of as European vernacular languages only achieved a fair bit of stability in the early modern period.

    Latin, of course, was the vulgur tongue – it was the language of the people in not only a fair bit of the Roman empire (let’s say Dalmatia to Gaul to Iberia and North Africa west of Egypt) but also in some adjoining regions (like Dacia (modern Romania) which only had a brief presence in the Empire itself).

    By the time Latin was becoming the language of the liturgy, the popular versions of Latin were already become Romance dialects (in Latin) from how it was pronounced (a process common to many other languages, btw). It’s only in the mid-9th century that we start to see, for example, Frankish Romance being written differently from Germanic. And the vernaculars continued to change a lot over succeeding centuries.

    The use of relatively stable Latin made sense in this context. It wasn’t mere academic or governmental secrecy and power. It was an attempt to have some common base of communication in a situation where vernaculars where highly fluid and highly localised. Consider that what we think of today’s standard vernaculars were only a few hundred years ago very localised dialects. Castilian, Parisian, Tuscan, southeast English, et cet. A *ton* of vernaculars have died or been dying slow deaths with standardization: actually, the holding onto Latin for worship and study staved off that standardization because it relied on an existing and stable common denominator.

    Consequently, I think the *functional* dynamics of the language issue are far more salient than the ideological ones.

  4. Liam says:

    It occurs to me to mention another context that illuminates popular views of language battles versus historical reality: consider the issue of when and how Spanish was imposed on the New World. In the mid-1500s, Felipe II of Spain considered requiring idigenous peoples to be instructed in and taught Castilian. But he abandoned the project when faced with opposition from Franciscan friars and local governors who instead promoted the use of the more expasive indigenous languages (at the expense of more localised languages). And the Council of Trent required that idigenous peoples be instructed in the Faith in their tongue. So there’s one Renaissance and Counter-Reformation approach. How about an Enlightenment approach? You know, getting rid of the oppressiveness of the Church and opening up the world to the glorious light of Reason? Well, Carlos III’s approach in the mid-18th century was informed by this. And it was his reign that mandated exclusive use of Spanish in Spain’s New World colonies.

    I just think this compare/contrast is an illustration of how the championing of vernaculars can play out in ways we tend to forget. And I am a champion of the vernacular. Just realistic, given frail human nature. Consequently, I don’t buy into fairly worn tropes often placed as banners along the vernacular/Latin DMZ.

  5. Rob F. says:

    Although this document never uses the term “dynamic equivalence”, that is exactly what is being described here in CLP#6.

    Similarly, LA seems to endorse dynamic equivalence without actually using the term. LA#20 advocates an integral translation that is faithful and accurate while allowing rearranged wording, syntax, and style “to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer”.

    Regarding Talmida’s comment, I don’t see any reason to suppose that Superstition, Secretiveness, or Class distinction was at play, but certainly mystery was a big part of it, as CLP#5 explicitly says. A faithful translation needs to communicate that mystery. Another need is dignity. The liturgy deserves no less respect than Law or Science. Back when all Law and Science was conducted in Latin, it was natural that Latin be used for the liturgy as well.

  6. Pingback: What is Catholic about a Catholic Translation of the Bible? « Catholic Sensibility

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