Parsing Patibulum

Two weeks ago we had a vigorous discussion about the merits of certain aspects of the revised English translation of the Roman Missal. The discussion was sparked by the unexpected failure of the revised Proper of Seasons to gain the necessary two-thirds vote at the recent USCCB meeting. The conference is now canvassing its members who were absent to see if there are sufficient votes to ultimately approve it.Advocates for the revised translation appear to be "working the room"in an effort to sway the undecided. Bishop Arthur Serratelli, who is chair of thebishop's Committee on Divine Worship, recently published an essay in his diocesan newspaper that responded to some of the arguments made by critics of the translation:

The new translations also have a great respect for the style of the Roman Rite. Certainly, some sentences could be more easily translated to mimic our common speech. But they are not. And with reason. Latin orations, especially Post-Communions, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. The new translations in English follow the sequence of these Latin prayers in order to end on a strong note. Many of our current translations of these prayers end weakly. Why should we strip the English translation of the distinctive theological emphases of the Latin text? A slightly non-colloquial word order can lead the listener to a greater attention to the point of the prayer.Our present liturgical texts are framed in simple syntax. The new translations use more subordinate clauses. This, in and of itself, does not render them unproclaimable. By the very fact that, in some instances, the new translations require thoughtful and careful attention to pauses when speaking helps to foster and create a less rushed and more reverent way of praying. Not a small gain for a proper ars celebrandi.The new translation at times may use uncommon words like ineffable. The word is not unspeakable! For sure, this word does not come from the street language of the contemporary individual. But, then, why cannot the liturgy use words that elevate the language from the street to the altar? People may not use certain words in their active vocabulary. This does not mean they will be baffled by their use in the liturgy. If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities (Liturgiam Authenticam, 27).

The ICEL has also weighed in. Rocco has the full text of their document, which echoes the point that Bishop Serratelli makes about wanting the prayers to end on a strong note. The text also focuses attention on a single word that has become the focus of some controversy:

There remains the issue of gibbet, which Bishop Galeone and others criticize as too archaic for liturgical use. None of the critics of this word seems able to produce a workable alternative. It should not surprise us that an English translation for Latin patibulum is difficult to find, since that word denotes an instrument of torture no longer in use. It is made up of the root pati-, to suffer and the suffix bulum, which, to quote the Oxford Latin Dictionary, forms substan-tives from verbal bases denoting instruments. As a stabulum is a structure devised to facilitate standing (from stare) and a conciliabulum is a structure devised to facilitate the holding of meetings, so a patibulum is a structure devised to facilitate suffering. Guillotine, electric chair and syringe share the purpose of patibulum, but not its shape. Gallows denotes a device similar in shape and purpose to a patibulum, but in modern speech seems only be used for structures designed for hanging by a rope. Yoke is a possible translation, but it has the weakness that it denotes the shape of the device but not its purpose, whereas the pati- element in patibulum draws attention to its purpose. A vivid modern translation might be death-machine, but this would be found unacceptable by those many commentators who prefer blandness in liturgical language.In choosing gibbet to translate patibulum, the Commission has been aware that the phrase the gibbet of the Cross was used by Saint John Fisher.

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