The Christian spirit of Advent is challenging: it demands that we open our eyes to the needs of others and act to alleviate those needs.
One of the formulations in the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions (EPVNO), introduced in 1974 in Switzerland, expresses this demand in a pristine and concise form:
Open our eyes to every need, give us the right word when others feel alone and lost.Give us the courage, to help effectively where people live in poverty or under oppression.
The story of the renovation of the Eucharistic prayer is an interesting one:
Whereas in the Eastern Catholic Church the Eucharistic prayer traditionally admits several variations according to different times of the year and celebrations, in the Latin Church the Eucharistic prayer remained without change for more than a thousand years. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council opened the door to the renovation of the Liturgy and within it to the renovation of the Eucharistic prayer.
The first significant change was Paul VI’s allowance in 1967 to say the Eucharistic prayer out loud and in the vernacular tongue, instead of still and in Latin. Also, in May 1968 the Vatican published three new Eucharistic prayers, but many faithful in the particular churches still yearn for other Eucharistic prayers more specific to their needs and circumstances. Therefore, the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1971 established a group to study the questions concerning the renovation of the Eucharistic prayer. This group decided then to promote a similar group dedicated to the same task but specifically for the German tongue.
The German-speaking group had little luck and impact in their task; not so the Swiss Conference of Bishops. The Swiss Bishops formulated and got the approbation of a new Eucharistic prayer for children in 1971. Indeed, the Swiss Commission for the Liturgy (Liturgische Komission Schweiz) constituted in 1972 its own group of study to propose a new Eucharistic prayer. The Commission’s efforts had a setback when in April 1973 the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a circular letter (Litterae circulares) saying that, for the time being, there would be no new Eucharistic prayers additional to those already published by the Vatican. Nevertheless, the Congregation would consider allowing new Eucharistic prayers if special circumstances called for them.
Following a suggestion from the Swiss Commission for the Liturgy the Swiss Bishops seek permission to submit a proposal for a new Eucharistic prayer commemorating the Swiss Bishops’ Synod 72. The Congregation for Divine Worship asks then the President of the Swiss Bishops Conference, Bishop Anton Hänggi, to explain the need for a new Eucharistic prayer. One of the reasons provided by Bishop Hänggi was that the Eucharistic prayer ─one of the most important proclamations of the Catholic Faith─ could be formulated in comprehensible terms to the faithful, in terms that addressed their current worries and hopes in a sensible way.
The authorization was granted and after extremely intense and collective work, the new Eucharistic prayer was ready and was used for the first time by Bishop Hänngi on September 8th of 1974. Shortly afterward the prayer was enthusiastically adopted by other dioceses throughout the world translating it from German since no official Latin text existed. In 1991 the by then renamed and installed Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the official Latin text and named it the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions (EPVNO). In 2002 the EPVNO was added to the Roman Missal and its use was approved for the universal church.
The Swiss Bishops thought of their proposal as being a single Eucharistic prayer with four different prefaces and four different parts in the Intercession section. The four original variations were included in a common theme related to the Bishops Synod namely “God is with Us on the Way”. The variations aspired to include different topics that were and are relevant for the life of the Church in the world. The particular topics were: I. God guides the Church; II. Jesus, our Way; III. Jesus, who cares about every human need; and IV. The Church on the Way to Unity.
The official Latin version rearranged the topics and somehow renamed the titles letting aside the reference to the Synod. The new order is the following: I. The Church on the Way to Unity; II. God Guides the Church on the Way of Salvation; III. Jesus, the Way to the Father; and IV. Jesus, Who Went About Doing Good.
In the former third and current fourth EPVNO ─the one that emphasizes Jesus’ compassion with those in dire circumstances ─ we found in the in the Intercession section the following paragraph that in German reads as follows:
Öffne unsere Augen für jede Not,gib uns das rechte Wort, wenn andere sich einsam und verloren fühlen.Gib uns den Mut, tatkräftig zu helfen, wo Menschen arm und unterdrückt sind.
Which could be rendered into English so:
Open our eyes to every need,give us the right word when others feel alone and lost.Give us the courage, to help effectively where people live in poverty or under oppression.
The actual official American version reads as follows:
Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened.
As we note, the American version is softened. There is no direct talk of poverty or oppression. It could be that the translators did not want to instill in the Eucharistic prayer terms common in the Marxist revolutionary discourse of the ’70s and ’80s.
The Mexican version on the contrary goes, in my view, deeper both in the social as well as in the theological meaning of the prayer. It reads as follows:
Danos entrañas de misericordia ante toda miseria humana,inspíranos el gesto y la palabra oportunafrente al hermano solo y desamparado,ayúdanos a mostrarnos disponibles ante quien se siente explotado y deprimido.
And it could be roughly translated so:
Give us guts of mercy before every human misery,Inspire in us the passing gesture and the passing word,to comfort the brother who is alone and in despair,help us to be there for everyone who feels exploited or depressed.
The most important singularity in the Mexican version is the asking for literally “guts of mercy before every human misery” (“entrañas de misericordia frente a toda miseria humana”) instead of “open eyes before the needs of others”. Two peculiarities of this translation are worth noticing:
The first is the obvious reference to the ‘guts’ (‘entrañas’, from the Latin ‘interaneus’, meaning originally ‘intestines’). A word that in Spanish lacks the vulgar connotation that the English word has. In English, we could use ‘insides’ or ‘entrails’ but I suspect that both words lack the force of ‘guts’. ‘Entrañas’ refers to the innermost capacity of the person to feel compassion. An “amor entrañable” (“love out of the guts”) is profound and true love. The eyes may be the windows of the soul, but the guts are the reference to a metaphorical place where the person feels, as a whole, more strongly and deeply rational emotions.
The second variation is the use of “every human misery” instead of “the needs of our brothers and sisters”. In Spanish the word ‘misery’ refers not only to material needs; ‘misery’ also conveys every spiritual or affective deficiency. Moreover, because the talk is of “every human misery” that includes our own ‘miseries’ ─our share of shortcomings, vices and weaknesses.
The Spanish version asks God for the proper feelings regarding the others’ and our material and spiritual needs. Feelings that in turn motivate us to act to alleviate the misery of others and our own. The prayer invites us to a Christian kind of awareness: a particular way of perceiving the sufferings in the world along with a strong commitment to try to alleviate them.
The Mexican version is indeed unfaithful to the German prayer. But its lack of precision is certainly more than compensated with the new theological meaning, the radical allusion to the “guts of mercy”. The translators hit the mark by mistake, and we should be grateful for their imprecision.
Sadly the new and unfortunate 2015 edition of the Misal Romano for Mexico changed the translation and dropped both the reference to the “entrañas de misericordia” and the reference to “every human misery”, along with the reference to the exploited and oppressed. And this precisely in times when Mexico needs “guts of mercy” before our ‘miseries’ more than ever. I resist quoting the new, insipid translation and I hope that, in time, we could go back to the original and powerful mistranslation which misses the exact words but catches the spirit.
As Christians, we are called to remind our society of the different kinds of material and spiritual poverty, and of the tragedy of living a life without guts of mercy. Then as the late Tony Judt wisely told us:
“Even if we concede that there is no higher purpose to life, we need to ascribe meaning to our actions in a way that transcends them. Merely asserting that something is or is not in our material interest will not satisfy most of us most of the time.” It takes some guts to be up to this task.
 The information about the making of this new Eucharistic prayer comes from: Arx, Das Hochgebet für die Kirche in der Schweiz.
 See: Arx, Ibid. 293.
 The Roman Missal, 222.
 Misal Romano, 864.
 This is the new version: “Concédenos estar atentos a las necesidades de todos los hombres para que, participando en sus penas y agustias, en sus alegrías y esperanzas, les mostremos fielmente el camino de la salvación y con ellos avancemos en el caminto de tu reino.” And could be rendered into English so: “Grant us to be attentive to the needs of all people so that, sharing in their sorrows and anguish, their joys and hopes, we may faithfully show them the way of salvation and with them advance on the path of your kingdom.”
 Judt, Ills Fares the Land, 180.