In my previous post, I described the function and structure of the collect and why it is so important to Catholic liturgy. In this post, I begin my weekly analysis of the coming Sunday’s collect to look for the important elements of Catholic doctrine presented in these prayers. I will first present the 1970 English translation of the Latin original, followed by the 2011 translation.
Our series begins with the collect for this Sunday, the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
our help and guide,
make your love the foundation of our lives.
May our love for you express itself
in our eagerness to do good for others.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
First, let’s take a look at the key word missing from the 1970 translation: grace. The word “grace” is the English equivalent of the Latin gratia (as in Ave Maria, gratia plena, or “Hail Mary, full of grace”). But in the 1970 translation, gratia has been rendered as “love.” Unfortunately, “love” is a terribly vague word in English, as it can connote various degrees of affection depending upon its context (e.g., the love—the deep, marital love—one feels for one’s spouse is most certainly not the same type of love one feels for his children or for his parents).
Grace, on the other hand, is a very specific word in Catholic theology, defined in the glossary of the American edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become his adopted children.” This is far from the generic “love” mentioned in the 1970 translation! Rather, “grace” connotes that great gift we receive from God that we could never merit to deserve on our own, yet are welcome to receive nonetheless should we choose to do so. Furthermore, the glossary goes on to define three specific types of grace: sanctifying grace (through which God “shares his divine life and friendship with us in a habitual gift”), actual grace (through which God “gives us the help to conform our lives to his will”), and sacramental grace (defined as “gifts of the Holy Spirit to help us live out our Christian vocation.”) Look at just how much theology has been stripped from the 1970 translation through the use of “love” instead of “grace”!
But that’s not all! Look at how the word “love” is used in the 1970 translation: “. . . [M]ake your love the foundation of our lives.” While the sentiment is not inherently poor, this translation obscures the fact that man can only have God’s “love” at the center of our lives by placing Christ at that center. Again, the word “love” is just too milquetoast and vague in English to function as an acceptable term in this context.
In contrast, the 2011 translation expresses this beautifully as it reveals how we are praying for God to permit His grace to “at all times go before us and follow after” us. Think for a moment on the imagery called to mind by the thought of God’s grace going before and after us. It hearkens back to the days of Moses and the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, when God made His presence manifest for all to see as a cloud leading His people by day and as a pillar of fire burning before them at night. Once again, the dynamic equivalence approach to translation, in an effort to express the meaning of the prayer as succinctly as possible, completely eliminates any reference to this metaphor.
Finally, look at the final supplication in the 2011 translation: “. . . [A]nd make us always determined to carry out good works.” This is a clear and unambiguous reference to the Catholic doctrine that both faith and good works—which serve as outward manifestations of true faith in Christ—are necessary for salvation [cf. James 2:17–18]. Indeed, the Catechism (CCC 1815–1816) states:
The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it. But “faith without works is dead” . . . The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it. . . . Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation.
The use of the term “good works” in the 2011 translation makes this important doctrinal point perfectly clear. Now, let’s look at how it is rendered in the 1970 translation: “May our love for you express itself in our eagerness to do good for others.” While it captures the general idea of the supplication, the word choices employed are ambiguous at best. “Doing good for others” could be as simple as getting the mail for my friend so he doesn’t have to, or helping my grandmother unload her groceries from the car. While admirable acts, these are most certainly not the type of “good works” the Church teaches are necessary for salvation. Rather, we as Christians are expected to perform works of true charity through which our devotion to Christ—yes, Christ—is made clearly manifest, so that our acts serve to convert unbelievers to the Faith. For if we fail in this important task, then we are disobeying Christ’s final command to the Apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19a, RSVCE].