24 May 2009

A Tentative Thought About A Translation

What does actuosa participatio mean? If it is the battleground on which part of the fight about what Vatican II and what followed it actually means, wouldn't it be a good idea to agree on what the words mean?

Musing on something written by Pope St Pius X on "How to hear Mass", I thought I caught a glimpse of what liturgical reform was trying to lead to, and the way in which we are caught in a trap, constructed by people who aren't translators, who are trying to translate.

What the Pope was saying, and what the liturgical reforms from the middle of the 19th Century onwards seem to be aiming at until they were hijacked by people with a different agenda, was that Mass wasn't a point in time at which the faithful were obliged to be present in Church, but the greatest of prayers, which they were enjoined to follow as near as possible word by word, praying the same prayers as the priest was saying to be as close as possible to Christ the Priest and Victim as he became Man on the altar.

Even as late as the 1950s "communion" could often mean going to an altar after Mass and receiving Communion in a separate ceremony, from hosts consecrated at a different Mass: only the priest communicated during Mass itself. The liturgical reform meant everybody focusing on the Mass as a unity.

The problem with the Latin expression "actuosa participatio" comes because people try to translate it in English words, one of which begins with "act" and the other which becomes "participation". It is a poor way to go about translating anything.

What the expression really seems to mean in this context is something like "conscious engagement": "I am uniting myself with the action of the priest at the altar"; not a prescription about what anybody, other than the priest and the server, each of whom has things to do, should be doing. I am here because I am at Mass, not because I have to be at Church.

Just a thought.


Gregory the Eremite said...


Have you read Fr. Z on this issue?


(as well mediator dei, mystici corporis and de musica sacra...)

Ttony said...

Gregory: I hadn't read that particular post - I wasn't reading Fr Z when he wrote that!

But I wanted to make two points: that the translators (on both sides) skew the argument by their poor translation; and that there was a need for reform, even if it wasn't for the reform we ended up with.

Ches said...

This second point is the point a lot of Tradis now don't want to face because a position of no-reform is so tied up to the ground they occupy.

Ottaviani said...

Ches - hardly. The problem is that at the present time there simply aren't enough of the right people in the Holy See to effect a "reform" that bears any respect for the past and present the what is unchangeable and venerable to the present. The pope is surrounded by too man people who would like nothing more than to screw things up.

Th thing that is in need of reform urgently at the moment, is NOT the traditional liturgy but the present curia and the prevailing 60s naive optimism that still inhabits the church.