December 31, 2011

New Translation: Victimhood

In accord with my practice for the minimum use of Eucharistic Prayer I, I've been praying the Roman Canon through this whole week of the Christmas Octave. This has given me further opportunity to pray through and reflect upon the new translation.

One thing that strikes me with some intensity is the restoration of the triad at the end of the Unde et memores: offered to God is the hostiam puram, hostiam, sanctam, hostiam immaculatam.

The new translation renders this as it is in the Latin: this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim.

The old translation did away with the structure of the triad, replacing it with this holy and perfect sacrifice.

On the one hand, I like the restoration of the normative structure of the prayer. Now I just have to let go of the interior urge to make the signs of the cross that accompany this moment in the Extraordinary Form! On the other hand, I see the translation problem. In our time and place, victimhood and victimization have such a connotation of meaninglessness injustice. Jesus' victimhood was certainly an injustice, but one that was, in the paradox of the cross, superabundant in meaning. Can we hear this over and above our common connotations of 'victim'?

Even though hostia and victima may have been somewhat interchangeable in late antiquity when the Roman Canon came together, the meaning-history of hostia, with its general sense of sacrificial victim and technical use as such in ancient religion would seem to be lost to the average pray-er speaking it as 'victim' in twenty-first century English.

So it goes to some basic questions regarding liturgical translation. For example, what is the value of trying to bring out the sense of terms in our best guesses as to their original connotation and intent? On other hand, one of the values embedded in the new translation, and to which I consent easily, is that sacral language, such as that of the liturgy, is not supposed to be the same as or beholden to common speech.

So what do you think? Is it an o.k., good, or not-so-good thing to translate the hostia in hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam as 'victim'?


Marc said...

A good thing, of course. Now if only people can figure out how to do catechesis again....

There is also of course the fact that hostia has a certain meaning in Scripture and Tradition, with accompanying patristic and theological traditions, that amount to more than 'best guesses as to... original connotation and intent'.

(Did you see Father Martin Fox's post the other day re the NCRep and its 'campaign' re the new version? the conclusion: they're not really upset with the translation....)

Greg said...

Marc's comment re catechism makes sense.

There is liturgical and theological language and then there is the language of common affairs.

The question seems to concern the degree to which one arrives ready to participate in a liturgical event. Or does one remain in the common world with its meanings?

It would be fascinating to interview parishioners regarding their experience of the liturgy.

I'm fascinated by the different experiences that seem to be taking place and how people conceptualize the events taking place.

Anonymous said...

Not knowing Latin, I would have trouble answering this question. According your post hostiam could mean could mean either victim or sacrifice. Through some research I discovered in Latin, hostia denotes the "victim of the sacrificial act”. Would a more correct translation be: this pure sacrificial victim, this holy sacrificial victim, this spotless sacrificial victim? In pursuing your question further, I began to wonder where the English word “host” comes from: is it related to hostiam? If so, might a correct translation be: this pure host, this holy host, this spotless host? Translating isn’t easy!

sam said...

Question: Why do you "have to" let go of the interior urge to make the signs of the cross as in the extraordinary form? (Do the rubrics of the ordinary form forbid such a gesture? If not, it would seem to me to be an obvious way for the old rite to enrich the new...)

Brother Charles said...

That's a question. One of my confreres says that if the rubrics don't say you can't do something, then you can. He makes all the crosses, and does many even more arcane things. I guess I take the other approach, trying not to do anything that isn't prescribed.

Then there's the practical consideration of not being labeled a traddy. :)