Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Latin: a giant practical joke?

In the TLM there's always a prayer said shortly before the consecration that's called the Secret, because the priest says it quietly instead of out loud. The words change from Mass to Mass, but always ask for some benefit from the Holy Communion we're about to receive. Here's the Secret for the Mass of the second Sunday after Easter:

Benedictionem nobis, Domine, conferat salutarem sacra semper oblatio: ut, quod agit mysterio, virtute perficiat. Per Dominum nostrum...


May this holy offering, O Lord, always bring to us Thy healing blessing: that what it represents in a mystery, it may accomplish with power. Through our Lord...

Beautiful prayer, but right now I'm just looking at language. I've never learned Latin and I know nothing about it, except what I glean by comparing the Latin that's prayed in church to the translations given in my missal. These translations are very literal, so you'd think it would be easy to line up the Latin version with the English. But you would be wrong. As far as I can tell, the word order in this particular Latin prayer is:

Blessing to us, Lord, may bring healing holy always this offering...

Now that is just ridiculous. Who's with me? I suspect all those dead Latin-speaking Romans are having one over on us. They were only pretending to speak their language like that; they didn't really, behind closed doors. How could they?

I also have a theory that if you snuck up on a sleeping Irishman and suddenly smacked him awake, his surprised exclamations of protest would sound like any normal American's. (Normal = talks like me.) They're faking the accent thing because they've found it attracts women. Ditto for the whole British Isles, and I'll add Australia and New Zealand.

Turns out that 94% of the world is faking something or other; stay tuned and I, a rare genuine person, will reveal all. :)


Anonymous said...

Drat! You found us out. Dutch people, when alone, also speak English. American English. We only try to speak Dutch for the tourists (and grutjes, does it hurt our throats)!

Warren said...

Well, you're forgetting about that weird thing called grammar.


English grammar, and the limited number of verb tenses available in English, will always make it hard to understand. If you think it's fun in Latin, try Greek, Hebrew, or Old Church Slavonic some time.

The more complex the thought, the more Subordinate Clauses (aka Santa's Little Helpers) the more hopeless it is to parse it using your english grammar skills.


Cathy said...

This is a rather convoluted Secret. The puzzling part to me is that benedictionem and salutarem are so far apart in the Latin sentence. Despite this, because they are both in the accusative case, they go together.

The literal translation doesn't account for the case of each word, which we know by the Latin word endings. The case indicates the role of each word in the sentence.

If you include the cases of the words, you have:

Blessing (accusative=direct object)
to us, (dative=indirect object)
may bring (subjunctive verb)
healing (adjective in the accusative, so it goes with blessing)
holy (adj. in fem. nominative form, so it modifies oblatio)
always (adverb modifying holy)
offering (nominative case, so it it is the subject of the sentence)

Then, if you rearrange the words according to a normal English sentence order, you could say:

May always holy offering bring to us, Lord, healing blessing.-Cathy

Warren said...

Hooray for Cathy. I wanted to say something about ablative subjuctive discursive accusative flobbygimletive stuff about Case Suffixes in Latin, but I have forgotten it all.


Rachel Gray said...

I knew it! I knew the Dutch language couldn't be serious! :)

But I didn't know that English has fewer verb tenses than Latin. I sense I'll be entangled in all sorts of horrors if I try to go any deeper in my study.

So "semper" modifies "sacra" rather than "conferat"? That makes more sense for the word order...

Thanks for the Latin lesson!

Anonymous said...

Much like Australia was used as a penal colony, the Netherlands was the place where all people with respiratory infections were sent to keep Britain safe.

In both cases, you can still hear the results ;)

Cathy said...

So "semper" modifies "sacra" rather than "conferat"? That makes more sense for the word order...
Oops, no. I just checked a half dozen missals with different translations and they all have "semper" modifying "conferat".

(In most of the old missals, "semper", in this prayer, is translated as "ever", which has a nice archaic ring to it.)

Mery Widjaja said...

I dunno why my head is spinning reading these comments....;-)

JimAroo said...

veni vidi dormio

through 4 years of Latin

Rachel Gray said...

I think I like Dutch humor. :)

"Ever" instead of "always" does have a nice archaic ring, especially since it makes me think of "forever", and then of eternity.

Mery, try taking a nap-- it worked for Jim! :)

JimAroo said...

Veni, Vidi, Dormivi

I stand corrected...I must have really been dormant in the dormitory.
Perhaps I was gazing out the dormer window. Maybe I was as dead as a dormouse.

Rachel Gray said...

Or a doormouse. :) Wake up!