Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why change the translation of the Mass?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Why must we endure more monkeying around with the Mass? Isn’t this just another attempt to roll back the great advances made during the times of the Second Vatican Council? Why can’t we just have the Mass in plain ordinary English?


Verne A. Kiular

Dear Verne,

Perhaps a look back in History might help, a look far back, before the Second Vatican Council, back before the First Vatican Council, back to one of the least known and most misunderstood of Church Councils: Vatican Zero.

Vatican Zero is not accepted as a true Church council because we know so little about it. We have only fragmentary evidence and this is gathered from the remnants of a treatise by St. Euflimsius the Stylite, titled “What are These Goofballs Up to Now?” (In Latin, “Quaecumque Facient Hi Stulti Nunc?”) Another problem is that this particular gathering was held under no known Church auspices.

It is to be remembered that at the time the Vatican was not the home of the Holy Father. It was the Emperor Nero’s favorite race track. Those who question the importance of the council remind us that there seem to have more bookies present at it than theologians. When asked if he planned to send representative to the meeting, Pope Clement responded Mercules! Congregare deliris istis? Nunquam!” (Good heavens! Meet with those loons? Never!)

The Treatise begins with “Introivit anas in tabernam....” this seems to be an attempt at humor which loses more than a little in translation. St. Euflimsius goes on to decry the replacing of the noble Greek language with barbaric Latin tongue. However, Euflimsius comes out solidly in opposition to any return to Aramaic at all as a surrender to the hard core reactionaries of the Jerusalem and Damascus Churches.

Remember that Latin was allowed in the Mass because it was the NEW vernacular. The universal language of commerce was Greek. Greek was used from Germany in the north to Egypt in the south, from Spain and England in the west to India in the east. East of the Jordan, Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and still spoken by modern Assyrians, was better known. It was the vernacular until Christianity caught on in Alexandra, Egypt and in Rome which were Greek speaking cities.

There were more people in Rome who spoke Greek than Latin at the time of Christ. It was an international city whose immigrant population, if one includes slaves, probably exceeded its native population. Antioch in Syria and Alexandra in Egypt were also thoroughly Greek cities. The Church used Aramaic in the east and Greek in the west.

As the second and third centuries unfolded, Christianity slowly caught on in the wild west, in Carthage (Tunisia) and Spain, Germany, Italy and Northern France. Southern France around Marseilles was largely Greek speaking. As the empire started to split along a sort of cultural fault line stretching down the coast of the former Yugoslavia, the west including Rome began to speak Latin more commonly and the use of Greek died out in the far west. The Christian East from Syria to India spoke Aramaic, and the Christian heartland, Northern Egypt, Turkey, the Holy Land and Greece continued to speak Greek.

The Islamic conquest of the Christian heartland changed all that. By 750, after beginning in about 630 AD, the missionaries of Islam had conquered the Christian world from Spain to Pakistan leaving only Greece, France and Italy as major Christian lands. The Aramaic speaking Church in the east was eclipsed by the Muslim conquest and even the Greek and Latin speaking areas of North Africa and Syria slowly started speaking Arabic, the language of the conquerors. It was not such a stretch for the Christians of the east, because Arabic like Hebrew and Aramaic, is a Semitic language, but the Latin and Greek culture of Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia were wiped out.

The Greek speaking heartland of Christianity slowly fell to the Muslims beginning with the gradual conquest of Turkey beginning around 1000 AD. That meant that the center of the Christian world moved to what had been the far west of the classical world. It was practiced mostly by hulking, unwashed, illiterate barbarians, from whom I happen to be descended.

They didn’t get out much, except for the occasional crusade. Most people in Europe of the dark ages never got more than five miles away from home. Each little village had its own dialect. It was unwritten and incomprehensible to those from the next town over. You still see traces of it in Europe. My mother’s cousins in Lower Upper Hessia (Yes there really is such a place) get into heated discussions with my father’s cousins from about seven miles down the road as to which village speaks a better form of German dialect. To me, both dialects sound like the Swedish chef on a bender. (Note to the humor impaired; the Swedish chef is a puppet character who talks with a vaguely Scandinavian accent) And don’t get me started on the Bavarians. No one can understand them. Probably just as well.

Where was I? Oh yes, Latin was the only possible common language in the West. It was spoken by anyone who could read, and by many who couldn’t until about 1750! Sir Isaac Newton wrote his best stuff in Latin. It was the only way it could be read by scholars worldwide.

So you see, dear reader, language has it’s problems. It is always creating incomprehensible dialects. Let’s look at simple liturgical phrase, “the Lord be with you”. In some places it would be perfectly acceptable to translate this as “Yo, What up dog?”

Americans, especially those from the Bridgeport area of Chicago, talk funny. I remember a rather tedious Englishman who lectured me every time I asked him to pass the butter. I, having been raised to speak Prince Richard’s English don’t say “butter.” I say “Budder”, all the while thinking I am saying “Butter.” He would remonstrate with me endlessly saying “but-t-t-t-er.” To which I would respond, “That’s what I’m saying, you English twit! Now please pass the @$#%! budder!” Surely if you are a native of the People’s Republic of Chicago you have caught yourself using those colorful dialectical phrases, such as “Jeet yet?” (Did you eat yet?) “No, d’jew?” (No, did you?)

Language changes as fast as a pair dice on an Indiana craps table. This is why universal languages appear. It’s the only way people who live more than five miles apart can talk to each other. English is the new Latin. It is spoken by about 1.8 billion people world wide. Airplane Pilots have to speak English lest there be chaos in the skies. There are more people in China who speak English than there are in the United States. They may not speak it well, but they manage. Especially if you are in a souvenir shop in Shanghai.

If you only speak an obscure language like Flemish or high-middle Bridgeport and, having been shanghaied, find yourself in Shanghai, you are going to have problems. But, if you come from Belgium where the eponymous Flemish language is spoken, you probably speak English better than this author does. So, English is the new Latin.

Now to insult everyone! The die hards who can’t stand the Vernacular Mass need to remember that Latin was once the controversial new vernacular. Those who don’t want to return to a more precise and universal translation of the Vernacular Mass need to admit that American is increasingly different from English. And Sout’ Side English bears little resemblance to either. Stop being so narrow and provincial and learn to speak English, not just American.

So Verne, to answer your question, we are going to translate the Missal into modern English. Finally!

Peace wit’ all yous guys,

Rev. Know it all

(Next week we’ll look at the actual text and have fun mocking the “dynamic equivalence” school of language translation.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Father for this posting.

    I’m excited about the new translation if for no other reason than the Et cum spiritu tuo…

    Being a guy also from the Sout’ Side, I hear the congregational response coming even from my lips as “And also wit’ chew.”

    I won’t miss that.

    - Copreus