Thursday, 4 October 2012

"Preces" and "Intercessions"

My Latin is not strong, but just good enough to cope with some Liturgical Latin. Some years ago now, I came across a situation where the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed in English but, particularly during the major Liturgical seasons, the hymns used are from the Latin breviary. This prompted me to a similar practice with regard to the "intercessions" at Morning Prayer - I now switch at that point in the Liturgy to the Latin "preces". In passing, I also look out for feasts like that of St Francis of Assisi, today, where the English Liturgy of the Hours has no proper hymn but the Latin does.

A couple of examples from Morning Prayer/Lauds of Friday Week One of the psalter:
Christum, qui per crucem suam salutem generi contulit humano, adoremus, et pie clamemus: Misericordiam tuam nobis largire, Domine.
[Let us adore Christ, who through his Cross bestowed salvation on the human race, and sweetly acclaim: Lord pour out your mercy on us.]

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you. Through your cross and resurrection you offer freedom and hope to those ready to receive them: Lord, show us your loving kindness.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis nostris, - et omnes iniqitates nostras dele.
[Turn your face away from our sins, - and cleanse all our iniquities.]

Help us to avoid wrongdoing: - show us your mercy and love.
That the intercessions are not brilliant when considered as translations of the Latin preces is well known, and there are various stories about how they came to be written. But what has struck me of late is how the issues that exist around the preces/intercessions comparison are very similar to those existing around the new English translation of the Missal.

It is sometimes quite striking if the preces are read alongside the intercessions to see how a strong Scriptural allusion in the former is almost imperceptible in the latter. And there is also the question of faithfulness, or a lack of, with regard to the original texts. The second example above illustrates this. The intercession is to a reasonably good degree a translation of the sense of the corresponding Latin; but it definitely lacks the force of the Latin as far as the language of sin and iniquity is concerned, and therefore contains a lack of faithfulness at quite a profound level. Another striking feature that can be seen in the Latin texts and that is not always present in the English texts is the vividness of the theme of light/dawn as the sign of Christ and of the Resurrection.

The question that arose in the background of the new English translation of the Missal is also present here. It is the question of the balance between the universal and the local, how we achieve a Liturgy that is universal (ie essentially the same and celebrated everywhere) and at the same time local (every celebration takes place in a particular Church). This is, of course, a particular instance of one of the major themes of the Council. Seeing this question in terms of "communion", rather than of "centralisation", is important, and perhaps above all in reference to the celebration of the Liturgy. It is communion - the universal lived in the local Church - that requires a faithfulness to the provided Liturgical texts.

It might not be felt prudent to start changing the translation of the Liturgy of the Hours as a whole, but it would be rather nice if proper hymns could be translated and an effort be made at preparing a more faithful set of preces permitted for use even if not mandated for use. In the meanwhile, we can continue with a mixed language usage ....

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