30 September 2013

St. Jerome and the Vernacular

St. Jerome: the first to translate the entire Bible into the vernacular. That is, unless you consider Greek the vernacular. In which case the New Testament was written in the vernacular (except possibly the Gospel of St. Matthew) and the Septuagint was the first translation into the vernacular. Of course, you could also say that Hebrew is the vernacular because us slaves just don’t understand the language of the Master.

I guess we have to use the vernacular no matter what language we choose until we celebrate the Eternal Divine Liturgy in Heaven. But will we fully understand the true Liturgical Language? It seems we will spend eternity contemplating, but never fully understanding, the true Liturgical Language: The Eucharist/Incarnation, the mystérium fídei.

The only Liturgical Language that is not the vernacular is Christ, the Word of God. Every copy of Scripture we have is just the vernacular. It is our best effort to understand the mystérium fídei. But do we have to wait until we are in Heaven before we can abandon the vernacular?

The Incarnation is only in Heaven right now, but the Eucharist is with us. They are one and the same. Thus, the earthly Presence of the Eucharist is the Heavenly Presence of the Incarnation and the Heavenly Presence of the Incarnation is the earthly Presence of the Eucharist. Heaven is on earth.

We can abandon the vernacular, in part, right now: in receiving and adoring the Eucharist. Whatever vernacular we use, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Old Slavonic and, yes, even English, can aid us in understanding the true Liturgical Language. Some concepts are better understood in some individual vernacular languages, and translate poorly into other vernacular languages (don’t try to translate the Filióque into Greek), but all can be useful.

Of course, bad translations can do great damage, as was clearly demonstrated around the time I was born. What makes other translations so much better, such as St. Jerome’s and Sts. Cyril and Methodius’? I’ll give you a hint, there’s an “St.” in front of their names. Perhaps this is why the English translation of the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal is so much better. (Not to canonize the members of ICEL, but after meeting and listening to Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, I am very inspired by the current direction of liturgical reforms. Msgr. Wadsworth also often celebrates the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Should we take note?)

There is, however, much work that still needs to be done (I've got some ideas myself that don’t break any of the present rules of the Ordinary Form). There has been, and will continue to be, liturgical reform until we no longer rely on the vernacular (the Extraordinary Form was just a temporary and minor reform published in 1962 of the major reform of the Council of Trent in the 16th century), but only have the Eucharist/Incarnation. Until then, we have to do the best we can with the vernaculars and try to keep liturgical abuses to a minimum. We can’t have everyone exiled to Iran. (Whose signature is that at the bottom of Prot. n. 166/70 and Prot. N. 1970/74 in the first few pages of The Roman Missal?)

So, we have to continue to use the vernacular until Christ says to us, perhaps in the vernacular St. Jerome translated the Bible into, “Ite, missa est, allelúia, allelúia.” To which we will joyfully reply, “Deo grátias, allelúia, allelúia.” Until then we can just pray something like, “Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy upon us, and save us. Amen.” Or as St. John Chrysostom may have prayed, “Δι᾿ εὐχῶν τῶν ἁγίων Πατέρων ἡμῶν, Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστὲ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, ἐλέησον καὶ σῶσον ἡμᾶς. Ἀμήν.”