A little while ago, John P. Sonnen of Orbis Catholicus posted an image which stopped me in my tracks . . . a picture of a sheet handed out, apparently, at the doors of the Xystine (alright, Sistine) Chapel before Evening Prayer on 1st July this year – above.
The comments which were made about it were pungent, but on the whole not unreasonable; but the whole discussion raised a very clear question in my mind . . . the question of why, when they got down to translating Liturgia Horarum, those translating it into English decided that it was better to ignore a number of quite significant elements of the Office in favour of their own versions.
In particular, the responsorial prayer at the end of Lauds and Vespers are not direct translations – although in places one might, I suppose, call them paraphrases – but the biggest crime is the hymns.
The original hymns of the Office (as set out in Liturgia Horarum) have, on the whole, a long history; and whilst I accept that some of them have been modified at various points (and not always wonderfully sensitively or successfully) they have at least retained – as far as I can see, anyway – a theological integrity; they remain consistent with the Catholic Faith in which they stand.
In the English version of The Divine Office, however, although there are one or two hymns which are apparently ‘quasi-translations’ of the originals, there is also a general permission to use other hymns – or even poems, when reading the Office : and those come from an extended Appendix . . . by no means all of which are Catholic in the first place, or good English in the second.
In other words, they sometimes – as one of Mr Sonnen’s commentors points out – assert heretical (or at least heterodox) principles; and much more frequently do no service to God, either by clear theology or literary beauty; both of which are legitimate servants of His.
But why ? Hardly because the hymns can’t be translated – as a single example, the useful ‘Lauds and Vespers’ book produced by the Newman House Press in the US (edited by Fr Peter Stravinskas) provides decent translations for all the hymns for those Offices throughout the four-weekly cycle, as well as the seasonal propers and those for many great Feast days.
Those translations come from three sources : Ven. John Henry Newman, S. Cecilia’s Abbey on the Isle of Wight, and The English Hymnal – none of which is exactly difficult to find . . . which still leaves one asking why the powers that be decided to abandon the regular structure of traditional hymnody in favour of what they did.
I don’t know : but I’d love to.