From Mr Tom McIntyre SIR – Fr Leo Chamberlain (Letters, December 4) thinks he was “mistaken” to value our plain English Mass. Hardly. Plainness in prayer is a divine command. The current issue is actually between plain and plain – the Mass in pure English for our time, against a medieval sermo simplex literally translated. Grammar affects both. Plain Latin, for instance, needs many conjunctions. Good English, Ronald Knox pointed out, uses few.
Fr Leo pleads old age. That gives him some feel and attachment for this revived Latinising Missal language. The feel and attachment of the millions, though, is for the Mass that they know and can follow. And unlike Fr Leo, they have no Latin to tell them what the literal version means.
“One can hardly dispute St Jerome’s fundamental principle, to translate the sense.” Mgr Harbert does. He argues that there is no underlying sense, justifying literalism by the Marxists’ long-discarded mort de l’auteur theory. Fr Leo, too, in condemning paraphrase, disputes St Jerome’s principle. If translation is not literal, Ronald Knox again reminds us, it is paraphrase.
Fr Leo’s irritation at “from east to west” is strange. On its own a solis ortu, etc, might be temporal (“from the rising even to the setting of the sun” ie, all day long). But the Mass reference is to Malachi 1:11. The New Jerusalem Bible translates “from farthest east to farthest west”, ie universally. Trent held that this prophesied the universal sacrifice of the messianic age.
Far too few Fathers, Doctors of the Church or popes are available in plain modern English. Canonising Latin idiom makes things worse.
Yours faithfully, TOM McINTYRE Frome, Somerset