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I really am torn sometimes when having the kids in my Religious Ed. class read scripture, on the one hand we've got the Catholic Good News Translation from St. Mary's Press (Breakthrough Bible) which they don't stumble over and has nice pictures and everything.

And on the other hand we've got the old crusty falling apart St. Joseph's New American Bible which is not particularly archaic in language, but definitely less readable and absorbable for the short time I've got the kids.

The problem I have with the GNT is that it doesn't sound like Mass, so when I say "Blessed are the meek" and the bible says, "Happy are the meek" I've got to do some explaining. Namely I need to explain how happy and blessed coalesce.

The only problem is, I don't believe that happy and blessed do coalesce, at least not on earth. As Our Lady said to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, "I can't make you happy in this life, but I can in the next". At that moment, she was blessed, she still died a painful and tragic death at a young age, but she was blessed - and maybe happy, but not happy as the world knows it.

So, why even use the word "Happy" to describe being "Blessed" isn't this a complete misnomer or do the transliterators expect everyone reading to understand this?

and furthermore, how does happy = blessed and how does blessed = happy?

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You might consider rewording the title of the question. I feel like it doesn't encompass everything in the body. –  JustinY Dec 2 '11 at 15:52
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Interesting enough, some Portuguese versions uses "bem-aventurado", which is a term nobody sees nowhere else than in Matthew chap. 5. –  lvella Dec 2 '11 at 19:29
    
Interesting take on use of 'Blessed' in Mass. There's a mishmash of Blessed's and Happy's there in English adoremus.org/12-0101-blessed.html –  Peter Turner Dec 2 '11 at 20:54
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5 Answers

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The root senses of the words

As you have noticed, English has changed a lot since the first translations were made. Now, the original meaning of 'blessed', according to the etymology, is 'consecrated', but it started to pick up a second meaning—over time it started to sound like more like the word 'bliss', and so, following on the idea of being consecrated, the idea of blissfulness or happiness was added to it. (This is explained at dictionary.com. For another example of how unrelated words can influence each other's senses, compare how the word 'niggardly' came to be politically incorrect.)

It may also be instructive to look at the meaning of 'happy' in the past. The word 'happy' comes from the word 'hap', meaning what happens by chance. The words 'mishap' and 'happen' itself are related; the former is a bad chance occurrence, and the latter is what just happens to occur. The root meaning of 'happy' thus is what we might describe as 'lucky' or 'fortunate'—as the familiar saying goes, "happiness is based on happenstance".

While we do not strongly associate the idea of good luck with 'happy' today, the association was stronger in the past, so the translators of the time may have preferred not to use it here, though people who wrote dictionaries would use it to specify when they said 'blessed' that they mean this sense.

Which sense is actually meant?

We can find out by looking at the original language. While English uses 'bless' for both the idea of consecration and the idea of happiness, Greek has two different words: εὐλογέω (eulogeō) is to bless as in to consecrate, and μακάριος (macarios) is happy.

In the original Greek of the beatitudes, 'μακάριος' is used. So indeed the sense of happiness is intended here; Jesus is talking about the future happiness of people who are not traditionally considered to be happy, not the future consecration of people who are not traditionally considered to be consecrated.

(In Latin likewise there are two different words -- benedico is to bless as in to consecrate, and beatus is happy. It is from the latter that we get the name 'beatitudes'.)

But 'happy' is different from 'blessed' somehow

Now, as you say, you "don't believe that happy and blessed do coalesce, at least not on earth". You have reason to say this, but this is less about the meaning of the words and more about their associations. The idea of 'blessed' happiness is strongly tied to the religious idea whose name it shares and so we tend to use the word only in religious contexts or with religious feeling -- and because we make it a religious idea, we tend to think about it more and realize that real happiness is not of or in this world.

Because 'happy' has no such religious association, we tend to use it more lightly and don't think of it in such a way. But the idea is still in the word; one may see it when we are talking about happiness in a philosophical but non-religious way, as when we speak of the saying of Solon, "call no man happy till he is dead"—the original Greek for the 'happy' here is also of the same root as μακάριος.

So why change 'blessed' to 'happy' in the translation?

It's true that 'blessed' already has more of the connotations that one would want in this text. But, especially for those not raised to religious terminology, the word is kind of obscure — and without use in a variety of contexts, it's hard for people to learn what a word means; the meaning tends to get muddled. By updating 'blessed' to 'happy'—which we can do now that 'happy' no longer means 'lucky'—we at once make the original idea more accessible, and hopefully stimulate in the word 'happy' the kind of thinking about happiness we have already done when using the word 'blessed'.

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To be blessed is to have a good thing be brought on to you. If you yourself "bless" someone, you do them good; "blessed" means God has done, is doing, and/or will do good to you. To be "blessed" is to have received a blessing, which is the opposite of a curse. Whereas, "happy" is an emotion. To translate "blessed" to "happy" is, I believe, not a good translation, in fact I believe it's an awful translation, despite its frequency. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," "blessed are those who mourn", these don't sound like a happy time at all, but when Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount lists a number of "blessed" people he explains why they are, despite all expectations, actually experiencing blessing in the long run. They are not "happy"; they are not "giddy". But in the long run, he's saying, they're in situations that will have proven out to have been worth it.

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The Beatitudes in the (GNT) translation are actually a tad bit different than you've originally stated. Matthew 5:3 -5:10 commonly referred to as the beatitudes reads in the (GNT) as :

True Happiness

3 “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

4 “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!

5 “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!

6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!

7 “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!

8 “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!

9 “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!

10 “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

I feel the language of humility versus meekness is important as it helps get to the root of your question. Yes, it can be easily seen definitively that meekness and humility are different things, they are synonymous, they are synonymous word choices that make the language more accessible to a child and in conjunction with the notion of a promise of God being received it makes it something a child understands that expresses a basic concept that establishes a foundation that can be later developed upon.

Lastly on this topic I can say that the Reformation Study Bible offers support on this topic in saying that:

5:5 the meek. This beatitude resembles and is perhaps based on Ps. 37:11. The meekness in view is spiritual meekness, an attitude of humility and submission to God. Our pattern for meekness is Jesus (the same Greek word is translated “gentle” in 11:29), who submits to the will of His Father.

to inherit the earth. The ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, whom Paul calls “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13; cf. Heb. 11:16).

I say all this to say that I think the test is more reconcilable with the notion of happiness than one might think as happiness is a very fluid idea that one defines for themselves and is ever evolving and that seems like a good accompaniment to a text that is intended to be a foundation and to encourage growth.

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Blessed= God's force of grace applied to your life/ individual circumstances. Generally speaking, this manifests as The Lord providing a place of comfort and/or shelter, knowledge, etc., IN SPITE of the circumstances. (Psalm 23, for ex.) In the case of Peter- "blessed are you Simon, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in Heaven. (Matt. 16:17) We see Jesus commenting on the energy of the force of grace that enlightened Peter. Depending on what reality you'd like to focus on, we can define "Happy" in two different phases. 1) "O happy is the man", will be realized by an individual who finds himself under the force of God's grace. 2) "happiness" can mean anything, from psychological appeal to physical stimuli- outside of God's force of grace.

Matthew 5:3-11, commonly referred to as "The Beatitudes", lists several specifics where Jesus directly pronounces/promises grace to be applied to those believers who find themselves in the middle of these circumstances, conditions, or states-of-being.

Lastly, "blessing" has absolutely nothing to do with financial prospering. It is mutually exclusive to the concept. Blessing can sometimes include that state of being, but to be "blessed" means to be placed under God's force of grace.

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Ah, the nuances of language. Interestingly enough, dictionary.com defines blessed as "Made Holy; Consecrated" but then lists a synonym as "Happy." I would proclaim that if you are "Holy" you will indeed be happy. Though, if you are happy, that in no way means you are Holy.

I have the same problems you do when trying to equate blessed with happy. Though I would venture that if you can manage to follow the beatitudes, you will indeed be happy and content because you've managed to rid yourself of worry, angst, strife, and greed. If I could get rid of all of that in my life, I think I would be a very happy person and feel blessed.

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