Thursday, January 19, 2012

Treasures of the Roman Missal: Eucharistic Prayer IV

There are inexhaustible riches buried in the Eucharistic Prayers of the modern Roman Rite. The new English translation helps uncover them, but to delve even deeper, we need to look directly at the Latin. I recommend a look at Eucharistic Prayer IV, which is rarely used, but is a stellar recounting of salvation history filled with resonant biblical language and powerful imagery.

Here's a selection from the Post-sanctus of EP IV, first in the new English translation, and then in the underlying Latin:
You formed man in your own image
and entrusted the whole world to his care,
so that in serving you alone, the Creator,
he might have dominion over all creatures.
And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship,
you did not abandon him to the domain of death.
Here is the Latin:
Hominem ad tuam imaginem condidisti,
eique commisisti mundi curam universi,
ut, tibi soli Creatori serviens,
creaturis omnibus imperaret.
Et cum amicitiam tuam, non oboediens, amisisset,
non eum dereliquisti in mortis imperio.
There are two pairs of bolded words in the English and in the Latin: commisisti and amisisset, imperaret and imperio. The two pairs are translated in different manners. Let us look at the second pair first.

The word imperaret is a third person imperfect subjunctive form of the verb imperare "to order, command; to rule (over)." The word imperio is the noun form of that verb: "command; authority; rule". It is sensible to translate them into English as "might have dominion" and "the dominion", for this captures the sense of the Latin words and the linguistic link between them. The treasure I see here in the text is this: God gave dominion (mastery, you could say, or stewardship) of His creation to man, but when man sinned, He did not let death have dominion over man. This treasure is not too hard to spot in the new translation. (The previous English translation was another matter, translating these two words as "to rule" and "power", two words not immediately related to each other in English. The proposed 1998 text used "be stewards" and "power", even less associated with each other.)

But I think a more concealed treasure (partly due to the translation) is in the first pair: commisisti and amisisset. The first is the second person perfect form of the verb committere which means "to entrust" along with "to bring together, unite"; the second is the third person pluperfect subjunctive form of the verb amittere which means "to lose" along with "to send away; to part with". Both verbs are related to the root verb mittere which means "to send". The treasure to be uncovered here is that God unites — sends together, com-mittere — man and the rest of His creation as part of His friendship with man, but then man casts away — sends away, a-mittere — this friendship. God puts something special and precious into the hands of man, and man casts it aside.

These are just two pearls of great price I've uncovered as I study the Eucharistic Prayers (during the research phase of my work on Praying the Mass vol. 3, The Eucharistic Prayers). There are many more to be uncovered!