Let us pray that our bishops will request and receive approval to have the memorial of Bl. John Paul II placed on our liturgical calendars in the States. As a blessed, one is not automatically venerated universally — as is the canonized saint. Bl. John Paul’s feast was chosen since it is the date of of his inauguration as the Vicar of Christ and Universal Shepherd, 1978. What follows is his homily from that day, and the approved English translation of the Collect that will be used in liturgical celebrations where he is remembered.
1. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). These words were spoken by Simon, son of Jonah, in the district of Caesarea Philippi. Yes, he spoke them with his own tongue, with a deeply lived and experienced conviction—but it is not in him that they find their source, their origin: “…because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). They were the words of Faith.
These words mark the beginning of Peter’s mission in the history of salvation, in the history of the People of God. From that moment, from that confession of Faith, the sacred history of salvation and of the People of God was bound to take on a new dimension: to express itself in the historical dimension of the Church.
This ecclesial dimension of the history of the People of God takes its origin, in fact is born, from these words of faith, and is linked to the man who uttered them: “You are Peter—the rock—and on you, as on a rock, I will build my Church.”
2. On this day and in this place these same words must again be uttered and listened to:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Yes, Brothers and sons and daughters, these words first of all.
Their content reveals to our eyes the mystery of the living God, the mystery to which the Son has brought us close. Nobody, in fact, has brought the living God as close to men and revealed him as he alone did. In our knowledge of God, in our journey towards God, we are totally linked to the power of these words: “He who sees me sees the Father.” He who is infinite, inscrutable, ineffable, has come close to us in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in the stable at Bethlehem.
All of you who are still seeking God, all of you who already have the inestimable good fortune to believe, and also you who are tormented by doubt: please listen once again, today in this sacred place, to the words uttered by Simon Peter. In those words is the faith of the Church. In those same words is the new truth, indeed, the ultimate and definitive truth about man: the son of the living God—”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
3. Today the new Bishop of Rome solemnly begins his ministry and the mission of Peter. In this city, in fact, Peter completed and fulfilled the mission entrusted to him by the Lord.
The Lord addressed him with these words: “…when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go” (Jn 21:18).
Peter came to Rome!
What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of the Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. But guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!
According to an ancient tradition (given magnificent literary expression in a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz), Peter wanted to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. But the Lord intervened: he went to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine? “—” Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.
Yes, Brothers and sons and daughters, Rome is the See of Peter. Down the centuries new Bishops continually succeeded him in this See. Today a new, Bishop comes to the Chair of` Peter in Rome, a Bishop full of trepidation, conscious of his unworthiness. And how could one not tremble before the greatness of this call and before the universal mission of this See of Rome!
To the See of Peter in Rome there succeeds today a Bishop who is not a Roman. A Bishop who is a son of Poland. But from this moment he too becomes a Roman. Yes—a Roman. He is a Roman also because he is the son of a nation whose history, from its first dawning, and whose thousand-year-old traditions are marked by a living, strong, unbroken and deeply felt link with the See of Peter, a nation which has ever remained faithful to this See of Rome. Inscrutable is the design of Divine Providence!
4. In past centuries, when the Successor of Peter took possession of his See, the triregnum or tiara was placed on his head. The last Pope to be crowned was Paul VI in 1963, but after the solemn coronation ceremony he never used the tiara again and left his Successors free to decide in this regard.
Pope John Paul I, whose memory is so vivid in our hearts, did not wish to have the tiara; nor does his Successor wish it today. This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes.
Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us to gaze on the Lord and immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.
He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (confessed by Peter), came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ’s mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past, the tiara, this triple crown, was placed on the Pope’s head in order to express by that symbol the Lord’s plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ’s Church, all “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world but in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.
The absolute and yet sweet and gentle power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force but expresses itself in charity and truth.
The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no eventide. Make me be a servant. Indeed, the servant of your servants.
5. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.
So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.
Precisely today the whole Church is celebrating “World Mission Day”; that is, she is praying, meditating and acting in order that Christ’s words of life may reach all people and be received by them as a message of hope, salvation, and total liberation.
6. I thank all of you here present who have wished to participate in this solemn inauguration of the ministry of the new Successor of Peter.
I heartily thank the Heads of State, the Representatives of the Authorities, and the Government Delegations for so honouring me with their presence.
Thank you, Eminent Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church.
I thank you, my beloved Brothers in the Episcopate.
Thank you, Priests.
To you, Sisters and Brothers, Religious of the Orders and Congregations, I give my thanks.
Thank you, people of Rome.
Thanks to the pilgrims who have come here from all over the world.
Thanks to all of you who are linked with this Sacred Ceremony by radio and television.
7. I speak to you, my dear fellow-countrymen, pilgrims from Poland, Brother Bishops with your magnificent Primate at your head, Priests, Sisters and Brothers of the Polish Religious Congregations—to you representatives of Poland from all over the world.
What shall I say to you who have come from my Krakow, from the See of Saint Stanislaus of whom I was the unworthy successor for fourteen years? What shall I say? Everything that I could say would fade into insignificance compared with what my heart feels, and your hearts feel, at this moment.
So let us leave aside words. Let there remain just great silence before God, the silence that becomes prayer. I ask you: be with me! At Jasna Gora and everywhere. Do not cease to be with the Pope who today prays with the words of the poet: “Mother of God, you who defend Bright Czestochowa and shine at Ostrabrama”. And these same words I address to you at this particular moment.
8. That was an appeal and a call to prayer for the new Pope, an appeal expressed in the Polish language. I make the same appeal to all the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church. Remember me today and always in your prayers!
To the Catholics of French-speaking lands, I express my complete affection and devotedness. I presume to count upon your unreserved filial assistance. May you advance in the faith! To those who do not share this faith, I also address my respectful and cordial greetings. I trust that their sentiments of goodwill may facilitate the spiritual mission that lies upon me, and which does not lack repercussions for the happiness and peace of the world.
To all of you who speak English I offer in the name of Christ a cordial greeting. I count on the support of your prayers and your goodwill in carrying out my mission of service to the Church and mankind. May Christ give you his grace and his peace, overturning the barriers of division and making all things one in him.
[The Holy Father spoke in similar terms in German, Spanish, Portuguese, Czechoslovakian, Russian, Ukranian and Lithuanian].
I open my heart to all my Brothers of the Christian Churches and Communities, and I greet in particular you who are here present, in anticipation of our coming personal meeting; but for the moment I express to you my sincere appreciation for your having wished to attend this solemn ceremony.
And I also appeal to all men—to every man (and with what veneration the apostle of Christ must utter this word: “man”!)
— pray for me!
— help me to be able to serve you! Amen.
O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that the Blessed John Paul the Second
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.
From our local shepherd’s column, regarding Susan Sarandon’s remarks about the pope:
I am grateful to the New York Daily News for their editorial in today’s paper that chastises Susan Sarandon, because she “defamed” our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, with her “grotesque characterization” that he is a Nazi. The Daily News also correctly notes that she did this because, “it is clear, she despises the church’s moral teachings.”
In addition to the Gospel that takes his name, St. Luke is recognized as the author of Acts. He seems to enter into his narrative of St. Paul’s journeys in 16.6 ff.
[Paul and Silas] traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, so they crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas.
During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Saint Luke the Evangelist is also the Patron of all who work in the health and medical field, due to his traditionally ascribed metier as a physician. He has also long been venerated as an artist.
Appropriately, our parish of St. Catherine of Siena will hold its annual White Mass tomorrow (18 October) at 12 noon, on St. Luke’s feast, in support of all medical professionals. (It is called the “White Mass” because of the white lab coats… although the liturgical vestments will be red, in honor of the martyr’s blood!) In addition, there is a concert at 2:30 pm to benefit health care providers and their patients and families. For details, call 212.988.8300.
Our sister parish, St. Catherine of Siena, and its awesome Siena Forum, is sponsoring this event as part of its year-long series on Marriage. (Parishioners receive a discount.)
Visit the You and Me exhibit this weekend:
St. Paul the Apostle Church, Yonkers, NY – just off I87 (602 McLean Avenue)
Sat, Oct 15th 2-7pm and Sun, Oct 16th 9am – 3pm
Open to anyone age 15 years and over.
This past summer about 45 Sisters of Life attended World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain August 16-21, 2011. The Sisters in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus hosted over 15,000 pilgrims each day at the Love and Life centre evangelizing on the sacredness of human life and love. Learn more about this by reading the blog or seeing video from the site here: http://sistersoflife.org/
Key to the site was the exhibit You & Me (called to communion). The exhibit composed of 35 seven foot banners with beautiful visuals, mp3 players for audio, and inspiring music, profiled true testimonies in the lives of various people who made a courageous decision for life in the midst of great adversity. Over 8,000 pilgrims visited the exhibit, including 12 Bishops. It is a powerful tool for evangelization and very moving!
The exhibit is now here in New York and we wanted to extend an invitation to all of you, especially groups leaders, to see it for yourselves. It is a great opportunity that you don’t want to miss.
Read this great article from this past Sunday’s Catholic New York about Generation Life’s initiatives in the City. Among others is featured Mike Lahey, a musician and now missionary of chaste love for “Gen Life.” Mike is involved with a ton of Gospel efforts in the City… and calls St. Vincent Ferrer his home.
Frederick Crews has reviewed two books on the lives and works of doctors William Halsted and Sigmund Freud. The essay was published in two parts in the New York Review of Books. Both doctors experimented personally and professionally with cocaine, albeit with different motivations and different ends–but the typical effects of repeated cocaine use are comparably present in the two influential men. Apparently, Halsted is to praise for contributing much to modern surgery’s awareness of the need for sterile equipment and environment. Freud, of course, is known for psychoanalysis, and modernity’s radical and arbitrary flight into the sexualized self to find the reasons for all that ails us. What’s amazing is how this modern science and its genesis is to be found in Freud’s own self-medicated neuroses. On this Columbus day, citation of Crews’ conclusion might provoke a read of Parts I (29 September 2011) and II (13 October 2011) of the essay:
From miracle drug to a near-miraculous ‘science’: that was Freud’s progress as an exponent of purported therapeutic marvels. At no point in either campaign did he place the safety and welfare of patients ahead of ambition. When cocaine was found to be tragically addictive for physicians and patients who had followed his thoughtless advice, he fought back desperately in 1887, bending the truth in order to exculpate himself. And when, after decades of claiming that psychoanalysis is the sovereign remedy for psychoneuroses, he allowed that he had ‘never been a therapeutic enthusiast,’ he didn’t apologize; by then his fame as the Columbus of the unconscious was secure.
Freud’s triumph in reaching that pinnacle without the aid of any confirmed discoveries or cures may be the most amazing chapter in the entire history of self-promotion. Neither Rousseau nor Nietzche enjoyed such success in reconstituting the intellectual world to match his idiosyncrasies. But Freud’s own transformation was remarkable as well. Without cocaine, the polite and unhappy doctor of April 1884 might never have become so reckless, so adamant, so sex preoccupied, and so convinced of his own importance that the contagion was caught by millions. Cocaine, along with nicotine, was Freud’s drug of choice–but in the century to come, the opiate of the educated classes would be psychoanalysis.
Event Date(s): 10/10/2011
Venue / Location Information:
Name: St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Address: Fifth Ave. at 51st St.
Event Time / Additional Information: 9:30 a.m.
Web site: www.columbuscitizensfd.org
Archbishop Dolan will celebrate the annual Columbus Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral .
The Mass will mark the beginning of the 67th annual Columbus Celebration presented by the Columbus Citizens Foundation.
Cardinal Egan will be in attendance. The homilist will be Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and pastor of Little Flower parish in Bethesda, Md. He is the author of the “Pillars of Faith” series of commentaries on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His topic will be “The New Evangelization.”
The cathedral will open at 8:30 a.m. for Mass ticket holders, and at 9:15 a.m. for general admission.
The Columbus Day Parade will step up Fifth Avenue from 47th to 72nd streets beginning at 11:30 a.m. This year’s grand marshal is Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings, a global insurance broker. He is a philanthropist.
The 2011 Columbus Day celebration marks the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.
Yesterday was (also) the feast of Bl. Bartolo Longo (1841-1926). A lay Dominican who had turned wholeheartedly to the true faith and to the Blessed Mother after swimming in the dark waters of magic and occultism. A powerful intercessor for those with fears of needing special deliverance, Bartolo Longo was a most zealous promoter of the Most Holy Rosary, and is behind this amazing and powerful rosary novena.
Today the Order celebrates with particular fervor Our Lady of the Rosary. In specific, today’s feast commemorates the great naval victory of the Christians over invading Turks at Lepanto on this day in 1571. The Dominican pope at the time, St. Pius V, initiated the roots of today’s celebration.
May Our Lady defend us all in battle.
About a week ago, I received a package in the mail from a lively and very good priest friend of mine, Fr. Patrick. The box had big magic marker letters all over it that said, “Do Not Open Until Feast Day!” I don’t know what FedEx made of that, but I acquiesced, and, the optional memorial of St. Bruno being a number of days away, I placed it in a corner of my office to forget about it.
Today, going to my community’s Morning Prayer, I learned that Fr. Bernard “Larry” Keitz had passed away earlier this morning. He had served at St. Vincent Ferrer for the last twelve years, although he had been in and out of nursing home and hospitals for the last six months or so. I was able to visit him from time to time, as several members of our community and parish were able to do; and I was also able to see him the day before yesterday. My prior had called me up and said, “Bruno, you probably want to go see Larry. He’s not long.” I am grateful for that.
Fr. Keitz is the first Dominican I’ve known pretty well and lived with who’s passed away. We Dominicans have a rather profound commitment to suffrage (prayer for the dead); and I remember something an elder friar told me once, “You’re not totally a member of a community until one of your brothers dies.” So, you can imagine the impact of this morning.
To be sure, he and I sat on rather opposite sides of the aisle. I am what Fr. Keitz would call, without histrionics, “an ultra-conservative.” Nevertheless, we actually reached many of the same conclusions about things—e.g., the priest should pray the Mass ad orientem, all our meals should be in silence, our president is a disaster—even if we reached these same conclusions by way of different paths.
But more seriously, he stood out for me as a member of the community who would regularly ask me what I thought of a Scripture passage, how I preached on a particular Saint, or what I happened to be reading; and he would share with me the same of his own. Although we’re an Order of Preachers, we’re also guys; so, this kind of conversation doesn’t happen as much as you might think. At any rate, what was able to develop was a Dominican friendship.
Around mid-morning, I went to condole with our cook, a Sicilian from the old country who loves us all very much. (She used to call him “Fr. Keitzy,” and, as only a nona could think salutary, would bring him milkshakes in the hospital so he would get better.) Seeing the tears in her eyes and reading the lines from my priest’s script, I told her that at least we know he is at peace now; he is in a better place. After all, when I had seen him last he was quite out of it, moaning and trying to take off his gown and get out of bed; and his body had been marked with deep and numerous scratches he was giving himself in his sleep. So, I pointed out that, due to his experiences in recent months, at least he knew what he was in for and had been given the grace of time to prepare: a genuine blessing and therefore source of consolation.
Maria said, “Fr. Bruno, I know what you say is true. But you know what? We are never prepared as we would like to be. Everybody knows he’s gonna die; everybody knows he has to prepare. But who doesn’t want more time?”
Well! I might have silently offered one minor revision, (changing “never” to “rarely” to provide for the saints), but this scholastic had just gotten schooled with a life-earned sed contra. As I went to my office I was thinking, “She’s totally right… and I’m not so ready myself.”
Then, sitting down at my desk, I remembered Fr. Patrick’s box. And what did I find inside that package that had admonished me a week ago to wait until today to open it?
A human skull with a note on it: Memento mori frater. (Remember your death brother.)
Having processed the weight of the morning (and having made plans to go to Confession), I went to report to Maria what had ensued after our first exchange. She said, “God has His ways of talking to us so we hear Him. Who lives his life every day asking God to admit him to heaven?”
Now, Maria’s a pious woman, but not a daily communicant or the kind that would read the daily Mass lessons as part of her prayers. So, you can imagine how my feeling a little spooked changed to feeling profoundly grateful for God’s personal Providence when I discovered today’s Gospel (Lk 11.5-13):
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
“Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,”
and he says in reply from within,
“Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.”
I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves
because of their friendship,
he will get up to give him whatever he needs
because of his persistence.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him?”
Today’s reminder is that we ought to be as prepared as possible for death. St. Bruno founded the Carthusian order, who’s strict contemplative and hermit-like community amounts to as complete and perpetual a death to the world as may exist (and has existed, without major reforms, for close to a millennium). Ironically and little-known, Fr. Keitz had something of a moribund fascination with the Carthusians. He manifestly found their kind of commitment to solitude and silence extreme—and yet, he always read the latest book on the order, and kept a book of “Carthusian spirituality” in his room. (Sometimes I think he took to me simply because of my name.) So, all things being considered, I’m sure he knew about the memento mori as much as anyone. Nevertheless, as Maria said, however much we all know we’re going to die, when that final time finally comes, many of us would have appreciated a bit more.
So, ask every day such that you will one day receive; seek all the time, that at the end of your time you will find; and knock with all your soul, so when it finds itself separated from the body the door will be opened to you.
And also recall that in Christ’s parable, the person knocking at the door is doing so to feed a friend who has just arrived home after a long journey.
Father Keitz was 84. Requiescat in pace.
(Hopefully this post on the liqueur is not self-serving…)
Chartreuse: The Famous Green Liquor [sic] and St. Bruno
by Taylor Marhsall [from his website]
Chartreuse is that famous French liqueur made by Carthusian Monks. The founder of the Carthusians was Saint Bruno, an amazingly dedicated man who sought Christ in all things.
In 1084, Saint Bruno and six of his companions, he presented themsleves to St Hugh of Châteauneuf, Bishop of Grenoble, who installed them in a deserted location called Chartreuse, not far from Grenoble. Here they built a monastery for their life of prayer, poverty, and study. The monks began producing a spicy liquor (it contains 130 herbs!!!) of the same name “Chartreuse” in the 1700s.
From the Dominican Office of Readings, taken from a letter by the fifth Master of the Order, Bl. Humbert:
Without doubt, in these last days at the end of the ages the Savior has raised up our two Orders [of Friars Preachers and Friars Minor] for the ministry of salvation, calling to them not a few followers and enriching them with heavenly gifts so they can work effectively, not only for their own salvation by word and example, but also for the salvation of others.
Acknowledging the glory of God rather than our own, these Orders are the two great lights which brighten and illumine with heavenly radiance those everywhere on earth who sit in darkness and the shadow of death….
These are the two witnesses of Christ, who are clothed in sackcloth and already preach and give testimony to the truth.
These are the two bright stars that according to the prophecy of the Sibyl, have the appearance of the four living creatures of the last days, and cry out the name of the Lamb summoning all to humility and voluntary poverty.
Two great programs begin this week:
Theology in the City: The Beauty of Apocalypse
First Mondays, 7 pm – St. Vincent Ferrer Church Hall
3 October – Conference One: THE NATURE OF BEAUTY
Bible Study: The Gospel of St. Matthew
Tuesdays, 7 pm – St. Vincent Ferrer High School
Register through the parish office and buy the commentary $8: 212.744.2080
Professor Esolen teaches at the Dominican-run university, Providence College (RI). Rerprinted below is an interview the news service Zenit conducted with him about the new translation of the Roman Missal, which will commence with Advent. His article in Magnificat, under the editorship of Domincan Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP, occasioned this wonderful exchange.
Literature Professor Offers Insights Into the Poetry of the New Translation
By Kathleen Naab
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, SEPT. 29, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Literature professor and translator Anthony Esolen has written what could be called a doorway to the new translation of the Roman Missal.
A commentary by Esolen can be found in the Magnificat Roman Missal Companion, a 200-page booklet that costs less than $4, and that offers a profoundly insightful introduction to the prayers the faithful are about to have on our lips, and hopefully, in our hearts.
As the new translation is set for implementation in less than two months, ZENIT spoke with Esolen about his insights into the new translation and how we can better understand the reasons behind the changes.
ZENIT: To serve as introduction, why did Magnificat pick you to give a commentary on the new translation?
Esolen: That’s a good question. I said to them, “I’m not a professional theologian!” But they wanted instead someone whom they could trust to speak about the beauty and the subtlety of the sacred poetry that the prayers of the Mass are. I’ve spent my adult life, after all, reading and teaching poetry, from the ancient world through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to modern times. I’ve also worked a great deal as a translator myself, rendering poetry from Latin, Italian, and Anglo Saxon into English poetry. That work includes editions of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, and the three volumes of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’m also somewhat conversant in New Testament Greek and in Hebrew. So I suppose those considerations helped to determine the choice.
ZENIT: You suggest that a translator is hired to be humble, regardless of what he’s translating. Explain this and how it applies to the liturgy.
Esolen: The translator, I believe, must adopt as his motto the words of St. John the Baptist, referring to Jesus: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” It wasn’t my job, when I was translating Dante, to intrude my personality into the poem. It was rather my job to bring out Dante’s personality, his concerns, his acerbic wit, his devotion, his passions.
Now if this is true of what Dante called his “sacred poem,” it is all the more true of the liturgy. Here, we must consider the words of the Mass not simply as the work of excellent human poets, but as a gift of God, mediated through the Church, to his people. At all costs, then, the translator must wish to render the words of the Mass with precision and power, respecting the literal and figurative meaning, the poetic and rhetorical form, and the beauty of the original. For instance, it is not the job of the translator to omit words simply because they strike him as too redolent of the Church rather than of the street corner — to translate words such as “sacratissimam” and “sancte” and “venerabiles” as simply nothing. It is a sin against the whole community, thus to impose one’s individual taste.
ZENIT: People have complained that the sentences in the new translation are unwieldy, with many phrases strung together. You defend this practice. Why?
Esolen: I do not defend unwieldy sentences. This complaint has as its basis one sentence in the first Eucharistic Prayer, which is long and complex in the Latin, and now also in the English. What I defend are well-constructed sentences, as elements of oral poetry. All the old prayers are so constructed. When you break up those sentences into three or four separate sentences, the effect is to be disjointed; the essential relations between words and images and Scriptural allusions are lost. These phrases are not “strung together.” Anyone who makes that allegation has a wholly mistaken, and I may say a childish, understanding of the Latin.
For example, one of the prayers for the Feast of the Holy Family is built upon the image of the “domus,” the house or home. We consider first the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and we pray that we will imitate them in our own homes — in “domesticis virtutibus,” which the translators happily render as “the virtues of family life” — so that we may enjoy the glories of the house of God. To translate that three-part prayer, which is one tightly constructed sentence, into a three-part prayer in one tight English sentence, is not to “string phrases together,” but to reflect artistic unity by artistic unity.
ZENIT: You also offer three defenses for preferring a literal translation of the Latin. One of those you describe as “unlocking the figurative meaning beneath.” Could you give an example?
Esolen: Every translator of poetry knows that the choice is not between the literal and the figurative, but between a loose or general rendering and one that is both literal and therefore sensitive to the figurative meaning also. It is a constant concern. Take the word occurrentes in the collect for the First Sunday of Advent. The loose paraphrase from 1973 merely grasps for the general idea behind the text, that Jesus will meet an “eager welcome” when he comes again. But the literal, concrete meaning of the word is rich in Scriptural allusion. The root of the word comes from the verb currere, to run. If we keep the notion of running in mind, we recall — as the prayer intends us to recall — the parable of the five wise virgins, their lamps filled with oil, who ran forth to meet the bridegroom as he came. The translators have now rendered the line in such a way as to bring out both the literal and the figurative meaning, and thus also the Scriptural allusion: We pray to the Father for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.” That’s what I call a translation. The other was a paraphrase.
ZENIT: You frequently note the vast difference that comes with a seemingly slight change in wording. For example, in the Creed, we will express faith in God, creator of all that is “visible and invisible,” which you say is quite different than “seen and unseen.” How so?
Esolen: The 1973 text was often deaf to the precise meanings of English words. It wasn’t simply that the paraphrasers misconstrued the Latin. They misconstrued the English also, or they were not paying close attention to the English. The example above is a case in point. The Latin visibilium et invisibilium is not the same as visorum et insivorum. When we say “seen and unseen” in English, we mean those things we happen to see and those things we happen not to see. So, for instance, I have not seen a certain planet in the heavens, nor have I seen the mother of St. Peter, or the stone rolled before the tomb where Jesus was buried. But all those things are visible, provided there be someone at hand to see them. When we declare that the Father is the creator of all things visible and invisible, we are affirming the existence of things that no one can see with the eyes of the body, unless God chooses to make them manifest: angels, for instance; but also such immaterial objects as the moral law.
ZENIT: How would you suggest using this commentary?
Esolen: The Mass must increase, and I must decrease! I’d read the commentary as a way of becoming familiar with the beauties and the subtleties of the text — as if walking through a doorway – and then I would put the commentary aside and meditate upon the prayers of the Mass themselves in all their glory.