Thursday, November 09, 2006

On bees and Latin and today's feast

I love the fact that today the Church celebrates a building. That's part of the genius of Catholicism, to lift up the concrete (no pun intended. Though, if there's any concrete at St. John Lateran, it's well hidden! :-)) everyday things, to remind us that even these can reveal God. And to remind us, that in a very concrete way (ok ok!), God 's revelation is tied to some very particular historical realities. This people, this time, this place.

And of course, the history buff, the polyglot and the lover of all things arcane in me, was intrigued by this little bit from a comment (explaining the bees in the decoration in the Baptistery of St. John's) left by the redoubtable Zadok Romanus in the post on today's feast at Open Book:
Of course, one could also take the bees as being a reference to the bees whose wax is used in the making of the paschal candle. The bee is mentioned in the Latin Exultet but is sadly missing from the English translation.
Here's the relevant bit from the Latin text of the Exsultet:
Qui, licet sit divisus in partes, mutuati tamen luminis detrimenta non novit. Alitur enim liquantibus ceris, quas in substantiam pretiosae huius lampadis apis mater eduxit.
There you have it. Apis mater. Mother bee! Here's the literal translation:
Which fire, though now divided, suffers no loss from the communication of its light. Because it is fed by the melted wax, which the mother bee wrought for the substance of this precious lamp.
In the English text of the Missal this is now rendered as
a flame divided but undimmed.
The words above just aren't there. A truly minor thing, for sure, in the large scheme of things. But why? Why this mercilessly efficient excision of such delightful image! The mother bee producing wax for the candle whose light is the light of Christ? This concrete connection with creation, God's creation, in this poetic phrase, working in her own orderly way, a part of the salvation of the universe?

Yeah, I'm being hyperbolic. But is it not emblematic of a certain way of thinking about the liturgy, and therefore about the faith? A certain ruthlessly efficient calculus that, when applied to weightier matters, results in the loss of a lot more than just a humble mother bee?

Or perhaps I'm just a little melancholy having finally gotten to Jody Bottum's reflection on the swallows of Capistrano in last month's First Things.

[This is hardly the only instance of a translation that departs from the original. A few weeks back, our place hosted the fall meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. At the morning Mass, the celebrant used the Roman Canon (EP I). In the Latin, the prayer for the Pope is rendered thus
una cum famulo tuo Pap nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. et omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus.
In English
We offer them for N. our Pope, for N. our bishop, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles.
"Orthodoxis" is just dropped. Of course "orthodoxus" in this context does not refer to the members of the Orthodox Churches, but to orthodoxy. Would it not be better to pray, in English, like one does in Latin, for "all who cultivate the orthodox, catholic and apostolic faith?" Especially that morning?]

To end on a less irascible note -- the first reading from Ezekiel, describing the life-giving water flowing from the Temple at Mass today reminded me of that splending Gregorian chant of the Easter season -- the Vidi Aquam.
Vidi aquam egredientem de templo,
a latere dextro, alleluia:
et omnes, ad quos pervenit aqua ista,
salvi facti sunt, et dicent, alleluia, alleluia.

V. Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus:
R. Quoniam in saeculum misericordia eius.

V. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto:
R. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in saecula sæculorum. Amen.
[English] [Pdf file with the Gregorian neumes.] [I think this is a link to an mp3. Or, just send me your phone number and I'll call and chant it for you on your voicemail. :-) Heh.]

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