Thursday, July 28, 2011

Let the priests bless the bread!, The multiplication of the loaves and the new English translation of the Mass


Christ's hand is raised in blessing at the multiplication of the loaves

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 14:13-21
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples.
What the priest used to say at Mass: “The day before he suffered, he took bread in his sacred hands, and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said; TAKE THIS …”
What the priest will say at Mass: “On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread into his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: TAKE THIS …”
The Institution Narrative of Eucharistic Prayer I (above) is quite clearly modeled on the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. As St. Thomas Aquinas notes (together with many others), the Gospels do not relate that Christ looked up to heaven at the Last Supper, but we may presume this action since it was prefigured at the multiplication of loaves and has been maintained in the earliest tradition of the Church.
What is particularly encouraging about the new English translation of the Roman Missal is the inclusion of the language of blessing in the Institution Narrative. While before – in Eucharistic Prayers I and III – the Latin word benedixit was translated as “He gave you […] praise” [completely confusing the two distinct actions of giving thanks (tibi gratias agens) and blessing (benedixit) by supplying the word “praise”]; the new translation will happily include the notion of blessing – “he said the blessing”.
What is more, Eucharistic Prayer IV will be modified from “he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples” to “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples” – which is much more faithful to the Latin benedixit and to the biblical inspiration of the liturgical text. It will now be very clear that the blessing is directed toward the bread itself, which is about to be consecrated.
This is what we should like to point out in our current article: The liturgical language of the Mass must be rooted in the biblical language of the Gospels (and, as applicable, of the whole Bible). A consideration of Christ’s blessing of the bread just before the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish will serve to explain why the new translation of the Institution Narrative is far more biblical than that which has been used in the English-speaking world since the 1970s.
How sad it is that the old (i.e. the current) English translation hid this act of blessing for so many years. Starting in Advent 2012, a wonderful thing will occur: The priest will once again be permitted to bless the bread at Mass!  

The biblical account of the multiplication of the loaves
We will place side-by-side the Latin Vulgate, together with the English of the Douay-Rheims and that of the NRSV. [recall that the Douay-Rheims translates mostly from the Latin of the Vulgate, while the NRSV is based directly on the original Greek; the Vulgate itself is, of course, from the original Greek]
Matthew 14:19
Vulgata
Douay-Rheims
NRSV
acceptis quinque panibus et duobus piscibus aspiciens in caelum benedixit et fregit et dedit discipulis panes discipuli autem turbis
He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

One can see that, even in the NRSV translation, it is clear that the act of blessing is more than simply “giving praise” to the Father, but is understood as a blessing of the bread which was about to be multiplied.
Consider the words of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide on this point: “Looking up, &c. S. John has, Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed to those who were set down. Wherefore the heretics explain the word blessed, by He gave thanks: but wrongly. For Christ, according to His manner, gave thanks to the Father first, then blessed the loaves. For Mark says, looking up to Heaven he blessed and brake the loaves. And Luke, He looked up to Heaven, and blessed them, viz., the loaves, and brake and distributed them. Christ therefore here blessed both God by praising Him and giving Him thanks, and also the loaves themselves. This He did in order that He might draw down Divine grace upon them, by means of which they might be multiplied, and acquire strength and efficacy to nourish, strengthen, and exhilarate so great a multitude, just as much as though they had been fed upon a rich feast of flesh and wine. Christ by this benediction endued these loaves with some, not physical, but moral virtue; that is to say, He ordained and appointed them for miraculous multiplication, whereby He placed His hand, as it were, i.e., His own Divine virtue upon the loaves, that they should straightway be really multiplied.”
The debate here is whether Christ actually blessed the loaves, or whether his “blessing” was a solely a prayer of praise to God the Father. The protestants desired to claim that Christ did not bless the loaves themselves, but only the Father – for they despise the act of blessing in the Church, together with other sacramentals given at the hands of the priests. But the obvious meaning of the text, and the interpretation which has the greatest favor in the tradition of the Church, is that Christ did bless the bread and (by this blessing) prepared it for the miraculous work he was about to accomplish in it – this is recognized even by the NRSV which is best current Protestant Bible in English (he blessed and broke the loaves).
The great similarity between the multiplication of the loaves and the Last Supper is such that, if one misinterprets Christ’s blessing of the bread at the multiplication, so too will he misinterpret Christ’s blessing of the bread at the Last Supper.
The Institution Narrative in the Scriptures
We will consider the Narrative as it is presented in Matthew and in Luke (I Corinthians 11 is similar to Luke, while Mark is very close to Matthew).
Matthew 26:26
Vulgata
Douay-Rheims
NRSV
cenantibus autem eis accepit Iesus panem et benedixit ac fregit deditque discipulis suis et ait accipite et comedite hoc est corpus meum
And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke and gave to his disciples and said: Take ye and eat. This is my body.
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

Luke 22:18
Vulgata
Douay-Rheims
NRSV
et accepto pane gratias egit et fregit et dedit eis dicens hoc est corpus meum quod pro vobis datur hoc facite in meam commemorationem
And taking bread, he gave thanks and brake and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me.
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

One can see that Luke does not include a specific reference to Christ blessing the bread before he consecrates it. However, this blessing is quite explicit in Matthew and was prefigured in the multiplication of loaves. Even the Protestant NRSV translates Matthew’s account with a reference to the blessing of the bread.
However, we do admit that there is this slight difference between the various accounts: In Matthew and Mark, there is explicit reference to Christ blessing the bread. But, in Luke and Paul, there is no such reference. Still, this is no contradiction, but only a case of silence on the point (in Luke and Paul).
The Church has constructed the Institution Narrative of the Mass from a combination of the diverse elements of the various biblical accounts of the Last Supper. From Matthew and Mark, the Church has taken the action of the blessing of the bread just before the consecration.
The text of the Mass (from the Roman Canon) reads: Accepit panem […] tibi gratias agens benedixit, fregit, diditque disciplulis suis – “He took bread […] and, giving you thanks, he blessed, broke, and gave it to his disciples.” This would be the most literal translation of the Latin of Eucharistic Prayer I. The blessing is clearly directed toward the bread – hence, traditionally, the priest made the sign of the Cross over host with the word bene + dixit.
Sadly, many persons in the Church have tried to dismiss the act of blessing the bread, favoring instead the idea that the blessing is only an act of praise given to the Father. While there is some room for linguistic debate about the word Hebrew notion of blessing, it is quite significant that even the Protestant Bible (NRSV) translates the text of Matthew in the sense of Christ blessing the bread. The Catholic scholars who want to cover-over the act of blessing are more protestant than even the modern-day Protestants!
An evaluation of the new translation
The Institution Narrative of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I)
Latin
Old English translation
New English translation
Qui, pridie quam pateretur, accepit panem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas, et elevatis oculis in caelum ad te Deum Patrem suum omnipotentem, tibi gratias agens benedixit, fregit, deditque discipulis suis, dicens:
The day before he suffered, he took bread in his sacred hands, and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise, He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread into his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying:

The new translation of this passage is not perfect. It does not explicitly state that Christ blessed the bread, but rather gives the more open-ended wording “said the blessing”, which could be interpreted either as a blessing of the bread or as a blessing of God.
Still, we can at least be happy that the word benedixit has been preserved in the English! While “said the blessing” does not explicitly and clearly state that Christ blessed the bread, it is much better than the old “gave you … praise” which explicitly denied the act of blessing!
Most happily, Eucharistic Prayer IV has come along even further: Moving from “said the blessing” (in the old translation) to “he took bread, blessed and broke it” (in the new translation). Here, the blessing of the bread is explicit and the unity of the liturgical language with the biblical text is preserved.

2 comments:

Jon said...

I'm afraid that I have to agree that this translation, while somewhat better, is not much better.

The translation as "said the blessing" stands athwart the Holy Father's idea of "mutual enrichment." In the TLM, at the word "benedixit," the priest makes the Sign of the Cross. In my Baronius Missal, that action comes at the English words "blessed it."

In making the Sign of the Cross over the hitherto unconsecrated bread at that point, the priest makes explicit in himself (alter Christus) the act of Christ. In regard to the proposed purpose of reform found in Sancrosanctam Concilium, these words, combined with the restoration of that act, make evident in an explicit fashion the union with Christ at the Last Supper and the priest at the altar.

"He said the blessing," blurs this act somewhat, and makes the Sign of the Cross at that point, if the action is to be restored to the Novus Ordo, less explicit and perhaps problematic.

Thus endeth the rant.

kkollwitz said...

Thanks for this, I may refer to it in Catechism class this year.

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