Friday, June 07, 2002

Getting the Latin Translation RIGHT

A Discussion Starter for Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic friends and correspondents concerning the priesthood of the Church in the Celebrating of the Holy Eucharist/Mass.

"Your sacrifice and mine" not "My sacrifice and yours" and not "Our sacrifice"

In the Eucharist of the Western Church (medieval and Roman Catholic, followed by some Anglican Churches) the Bishop or Priest as Celebrant says these words before beginning the Eucharistic Prayer:

"Orate fratres ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipotentem"

And this has been rendered into English for use by modern Roman Catholics as:

"Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father."

Obviously this is not a translation of the Latin but a paraphrase, that is influenced by the modern emphasis upon the priesthood of the whole assembly, which, it is held, offers sacrifice to the Father in the Name of the Son with the Holy Spirit. [Note that this is the only instance in the Order of the Mass where the priestly role of the laity is expressly mentioned and placed in an equal and inseparable relation with that of the presbyter or bishop. Thus it is a very important statement and response.]

The Latin does not say "our sacrifice" for, if it did, it would have "sacrificium nostrum."

What it has is, "meum ac vestrum sacrificium" with the adjectives before the noun, thus giving the possessives a force they rarely have. Now it would be improper to translate this as " my sacrifice and yours" because, just as the order of pronominal adjectives is in Latin first person, second person and third, so in English usual courtesy puts the second or third person before the first. Further, the conjunction used is not "et" but "ac", and thus the two possessive adjectives are most closely bound together, giving the sense "the sacrifice which is yours no less than mine."

To translate as "our sacrifice" is to lose not only the meaning of the Latin words, but also of the theology of the total union of the priesthood of the people of God with that of the ministerial priesthood of the ordained clergy in the act of eucharistic sacrifice.

Thus the translation should be "Pray, brethren, that your sacrifice and mine." where the Celebrant puts a little vocal stress on "your" and to which the assembly replies, "May the Lord receive the sacrifice from your hands", as it recognizes the unique role of the ordained minister within the priesthood of the whole Church.

Translations in use by Anglo-Catholics (e.g., in the Anglican Missal, or as added to BCP or Modern Anglican Orders for Holy Communion) improperly provide "my sacrifice and yours" which loses the English courtesy while adopting the Latin form of courtesy.

The doctrine of the priesthood of the Church surely merits a good translation and rendering!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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