The Italian bishops’ conference voted recently to approve a change to the translation of the Our Father used in the official Italian edition of the Roman Missal (Novus Ordo Missae). If the Italian bishops’ decision is approved by the Vatican, then soon the prayer will no longer be recited liturgically with the words, non indurci in tentazione (“lead us not into temptation”). The Third Edition of the Missal used for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite will read in Italian, non abbandonarci alla tentazione (“do not abandon us to temptation”).
The bishops’ conference (known by its Italian acronym, CEI) voted on the change (and another, to the Gloria), during the course of its extraordinary general assembly in the Vatican on November 12-15. It is difficult to criticise the new translation, because it is only by a great stretch that one can call it a translation at all. Writing at the New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo explained:
The Greek verb in question, eisenenkēis, does not mean “abandon”. It is a form of a highly irregular verb eispherō – to bring in, lead in, carry in, introduce. No dictionary lists “abandon” or any synonym thereof as a translation.
More to the point, DiPippo notes, “The traditional reading, non indurci in tentazione – ‘lead us not into temptation’ – has been in use for centuries, like its English analogue, and is known to every Italian, even those who never attend Mass or pray.”
The bishops say the thing is very much run-of-the-mill – normale amministrazione, as they say in Italian – and the result of a 30-year comprehensive review of the current translation.
“The beginning of the work dates back to 1988,” Cardinal Giuseppe Betori told the CEI-owned newspaper Avvenire, “when it was decided to revise the old translation of 1971, republished in 1974 with some corrections.” Cardinal Betori suggested that the change was based on a broad consensus: he cited “the convergence of [Cardinal Carlo Maria] Martini and [Cardinal Giacomo] Biffi, who – as is well known – did not always find their way to one another” on every point.
Cardinals Martini and Biffi were indeed prominent figures and often on opposite ends of the theological spectrum. Both were considered papabili heading into the 2005 conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger. Their “convergence” on this heretofore academic point is interesting for the insider’s view it affords of the CEI’s workings, perhaps, but it also appears to be something of a red herring.
“It was [Pope Francis] himself who put the focus on the translation of the prayer Jesus taught us,” Cardinal Betori explained in the interview with Avvenire. “During the seventh instalment of the TV2000 programme Padre Nostro, conducted by Don Marco Pozza, chaplain of the prison in Padua, Francis in fact emphasised the expression that God leads us into temptation ‘is not a good translation’.” “I am the one who falls into temptation,” the Pope said, adding: “The one who leads you into temptation is Satan. That is Satan’s office.”
In short, it is Pope Francis’s idea, and the CEI decided it was time to run with it. Still, it could be something of a gamble. Francis has expressed general support for the kind of rendering the Italian bishops have given of the Our Father, but there is no iron-clad guarantee he will accept their specific proposal.
Cardinal Betori offered a justification of the CEI’s choice, saying: “It is not the most literal translation, but the one closest to the actual content of prayer. In fact, in Italian, the verb indurre is not the equivalent of Latin inducere or of the Greek eispherein [sic], but something more. Our [Italian] verb is constricting, while the Latin and Greek have only a concessive value: in practice, ‘to let in’.”
Not everyone is buying it. “Even granting for argument’s sake that it was right to touch the only prayer taught by Jesus,” wrote veteran journalist Riccardo Cascioli in commentary for Il Giornale, “was it so necessary to add another factor of instability in the people of God?” Cascioli also asked: “How can we reconcile this punctiliousness [over translation], when every Sunday there are many priests who improvise changes in the liturgy without any ecclesiastical authority intervening?”
If Cardinal Betori’s commentary on semantics provides a fig leaf for the change to the Our Father, the change to the Gloria is a different story. The other change on which the CEI voted was to the first line of the ancient hymn, changing pace in terra agli uomini di buona volontà (“peace on Earth to men of good will”) to pace in terra agli uomini, amati dal Signore (“peace on Earth to men, [who are] loved by the Lord”). The Latin liturgical text simply does not say that – and it is the Latin liturgical text which the translators were asked to render.
The whole Italian Third Edition of the Missal faces one more procedural hurdle: approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, led by Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Still, the Italian bishops are treating this as a fait accompli.