Readability tests on the Eucharistic Prayers

Father Pádraig McCarthy, a retired priest of Dublin, Ireland, has sent to us the following data concerning the readability of the new translation of the four Eucharistic Prayers. We are pleased to offer this data to our readers.

We have also included some of Father McCarthy’s comments, offering more background and discussing the import of these findings, which we elicited in a follow-up e-mail exchange. They appear below, following the test results.

Our thanks to Father McCarthy for this contribution to Pray Tell. – Editor

  • The Eucharistic Prayer texts were tested without acclamations, prefaces or doxology.
  • These tests do not involve any theological or liturgical positions. The results have serious implications for the suitability of the texts.
  • “Readability” refers to reading text from the written page.
  • A person reading from the page can go back to the beginning of a long or difficult sentence to check where the meaning comes from. A person listening cannot do such a second take.
  • The comprehensibility of the text as delivered in speech will depend on the ability of the person speaking.
  • In the new translation, the longest single sentence in the four Eucharistic Prayers is the “Communicantes” of the first Eucharistic Prayer: “In union with the whole church …”. This has 82 words, but, on account of the list of names, is a little more acceptable. In the current translation, it is in three sentences, but four effectively, with a semi-colon break. The second longest sentence is the opening sentence of the Third Eucharistic Prayer, with 72 words. In the current translation, this is three sentences, with 61 words in total.
  • The current translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer (Roman Canon) has 18 sentences before the words of consecration. The new translation reduces this to 8 sentences. All but one are over 40 words long. (The sentence structure of two of those would allow them to be spoken as two units.) An occasional long sentence is not usually a problem. A succession of them most definitely is.

The results of testing the four Eucharistic prayers in the current and forthcoming translation are as follows:


New – 2010
Current
Number of characters (without spaces) 10,818 9,046
Number of words 2,549 2,177
Number of sentences 72 106
Average number of characters per word 4.24 4.16
Average number of syllables per word 1.46 1.42
Average number of words per sentence
35.40 20.54
Gunning Fog* index 17.21 10.75
Coleman Liau** index 8.35 7.21
Flesch Kincaid grade level 15.40 9.14
ARI (Automated readability index) 16.26 8.41
SMOG 13.10 10.20

* Gunning Fog index: Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading

** Coleman Liau index: Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text

Change in statistics from current translation to new

Words
2549 – 2177 = 372 increase (17.09% increase)

Sentences
106 – 72        = 34 decrease (32.08% decrease)

Average words per sentence

35.4 – 20.54 = 14.86 increase (72.35% increase)

Flesh Kincaid Grade level :

15.4 – 9.14    = 6.26 increase (68.49% increase: Increase from 9.14 years of education to 15.4 years.)

Comments:

The grids give us data according to a number of different assessment tools. We could make it simpler by looking just at the statistics for the average number of words per sentence: in this case, going from 20.54 for the current translation to 35.4 for the new translation.

This alone is startling. I consider it very serious, in that it will make full active conscious participation in the Liturgy very difficult for many people who do not have a college education, and even for many who have! It goes contrary to what paragraph 25 of Liturgiam Authenticam states: “So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable.” I see it as a matter of justice if we are to be followers of the one who came especially for the most vulnerable in society.

It may be useful to provide some comparisons. Barack Obama’s speech at his inauguration has average 20.42 words per sentence. He is an effective and dignified communicator. The legal article by Bishop Brian Dunn which I found on your website (thank you!) comes in at 19.62. Pope Benedict’s letter for World Day of Peace 2011 reaches 32.14 – the highest I’ve found, apart from the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayers; and his letter is not, I think, designed with a view to reading aloud in public.

A wide variety of tools assess readability – there are perhaps 200 different systems, some for specific purposes; for instance, to assess the suitability of a book for a particular grade level at school, or technical manuals. (Think how difficult it can be to understand the User Manual for a new piece of office or kitchen equipment!) They work on a number of factors, depending on the specific application. Factors usually include the average number of words per sentence and the number of polysyllabic words; some have a list of words in everyday use, and then check the number of unusual words of whatever length. The key factor here is always to compare like with like – not two different tools.

The best known one seems to be the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, which has gone through a number of revisions. It is used especially in the field of education.

There’s a Wikipedia article with some technical data on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesch%E2%80%93Kincaid_readability_test.

There is information also on http://www.readabilityformulas.com/flesch-grade-level-readability-formula.php. Here you can download a free 62-page PDF booklet on the uses of Readability Formulas.

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41 comments

  1. I think readability statistics on the new Opening Prayers would be a bit more interesting. The Eucharistic Prayers will be used week after week. While they will be new and different at first, people will become used to them through frequent repetition. The Opening Prayers, on the other hand, will only be heard once every three years. Moreover, even the most basic missalettes contain the Eucharistic Prayer, so people can read along; few contain the opening prayers.

  2. This post is incredibly condescending. My brother, who is developmentally disabled, has a better understanding of Holy Mass than I do. He can’t count change but approaches Holy Communion with a very deep, pure, and simple but knowledgeable piety. He believes in the Real Presence and can articulate that belief thanks to a very kind and patient priest who taught him and another developmentally disabled man a very simple catechism for Confirmation.

    All this talk of “comprehension” and “active participation” is liturgical nomenklatura doublespeak. Who’s to say that my brother derives any less from Mass than the greatest Thomist, philologist, or patristics scholar? He is always up early in the morning to remind me to take him to Mass. There is no greater “active participation” than his smile after receiving Holy Communion.

    1. Yes and no. Certainly participation is something more than intellectual understanding. But it’s not unrelated to intellectual understanding either.If the prayers are harder to understand intellectually, there is a problem.
      awr

      1. There is the stereotype of the child who is underachieving in school because she is not being challenged at a high enough level to make class interesting. Sometimes the path toward greater participation is not in making something easier, but more rigorous.

    2. Thank you, Jordan, for your comment. I apologise for any possible implied hurt. Yes, there are many who have a great appreciation of Mass, regardless of the words used. We have much to be very grateful for in such people.

      For most people, however, the words are very significant. If not, why even bother with a new translation? If I had written my comments in the Irish language instead of in English, this would immediately exclude a large number of people. The new translation uses English words (some of them strange), but in many cases it is not English as we know it. The syntax, the way the words are put together, is that of a person who has not mastered the English language, and who still thinks in the syntax of their other language. This may result in a quaint or humorous effect in the short term. In the long term it becomes tiresome and frustrating, and excludes many. To insist without necessity on language which will be an obstacle to those one wishes to serve is unwise, and even unjust. It also carries the implication that to worship God in one’s everyday language is somehow less worthy than using an artificially “holy” kind of language.

      1. If you have a chance to read this: no offence taken, Father. We all have a lot to learn from those who are developmentally or intellectually disabled. Often, those with intellectual disabilities often possess great gifts of charity and forgiveness. These two attributes are often sorely lacking in this world.

        Thank you also for your longer paper on this subject. Although I’m supportive of the new translation, I agree that the preponderance of clauses rather than finite sentences will confuse some Catholics. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to study languages that prefer long sentences might not see these syntactic difficulties at first sight. For a long time I denied that the complex sentences of the new missal might impede participation.

        I am more and more convinced that there is a place for the Sacramentary translation alongside the new translation. I used to think that having a de facto liturgical schism would solve the problem, but liturgical anarchy is probably not wise. I could see many instances where an indult to use the Sacramentary might still be necessary. Churches with a sizeable number of parishioners who speak and read English as a second or third language might offer Masses with the older translation. Multilingual and culturally diverse Masses might wish to continue with the Sacramentary. Catholic school students might benefit from school Masses in the older translation.

        Perhaps the question is not so much the perceived “holy register” of the new translation but the implicit prejudices behind the notion that the Sacramentary translation and by extension those who benefit from its celebration are less sophisticated.

  3. The issue of comprehension on the first reading is less salient with a repeated text of this sort. It is more salient for things like collects.

    This may help to explain why, among folks with a mixed view of the pending translation, there is less concern over the Order of Mass and more concern with the collects.

    YMMV.

  4. Well, the shortening of American attention spans appears highly correlated to the debasement of the quality of public rhetoric.

    I don’t believe cooperation with this trend is a good thing.

  5. Ronald Reagan is widely regarded as a highly effective and dignified communicator. I believe the vocabulary and sentence structure he used was even more simple and direct than Barack Obama’s. I suspect he would score better than Obama on any of these different scales. Who could argue against using the “Great Communicator” as our yardstick?

  6. It seems to me that the liturgy is hard to understand, period. Each Sunday we have four Scripture readings if one includes the Responsorial Psalm. How well do any of us really understand all these readings. Do we toss them out? Although, I would be in favor of having only three (including the Psalm) and maybe having an additional year for what is removed. There have been books and books written to help us understand the Mass and scores of thesis written on it. So, at a certain point, we have to say it is a mystery, something we enter, not a problem to be solve or completely comprehended. How many Catholics were served extremely well by the EF Latin Mass for centuries? There’s something more involved than unbridled intelligibility when it comes to grace.

    1. Father Allan,

      There are mysteries aplenty, but if you expect folks to attend to what’s happening [or maybe just attend at all], the language we use to talk about those mysteries needs to be reasonably straightforward. What we will be getting is not.

      The one valid defense I’ve heard for the transliteration is that the Latlish version will be used for translation to other vernaculars by language groups that don’t have [read can’t afford] Latin scholars. OK, fine. That’s an academic issue, and a pastoral one for those language groups. Use the transliterated version for that purpose.

      But, we who worship in English deserve a translation that works IN ENGLISH. Intelligible English. To wave ‘mystery’ about as an excuse for poor work is well, pretty poor. Poor leadership, poor scholarship, and poor pastoring, to start.

      Your question about Catholics well served by the Latin Mass is, as you must know, not answerable. Undoubtedly, some were, but it seems – from comments here and other places – that a great many were praying the rosary, or otherwise engaged whilst sitting there as the priest faced away from them and mumbled in an unknown tongue.

      A humanities professor of my acquaintance defines good writing as possessing the qualities of simplicity, clarity, and grace. These seem like reasonable expectations of our liturgy, too. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re getting.

      1. Simplicity, clarity and grace.

        Well, I can see that definition for essay-writing.

        For poetry, not necessarily so.

        And liturgical texts are in a different genre, combining prosody and poetry and other genres. (And I am not talking Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser or Milton here. Even the poetry of Emily Dickinson is neither simple nor crystalline in clarity. Or the prose of someone as forthright as Flannery O’Connor…. Given the argot-laden prose emanating from academic guilds like the MLA, we have to choose wisely for the truly gifted writers who might serve well the literary genres of the vernacular English liturgy.)

        So, we have to be careful about confusing the standards for liturgical genres with those for other genres. I don’t think the translation principles of 1969 or 2001 got us there yet, and it’s a discussion worth having, but probably not with the current PTB.

      2. OK, I’ll yield on simplicity if we can have a fairly high degree of clarity and grace. Mind you, I don’t think it’s a poor or unachievable standard for liturgical work, but, okay, some complexity is useful.

        My objection remains, though, that there are many excuses offered for what is in too many places simply shoddy work. There is no reason to not use contemporary formal language instead of a collection of archaic words that will have half the congregants clustered around the dictionary so helpfully provided at the back of church.

        As I asked once before, why are we making so complex what Jesus gave us so simply? Tell the stories, sing the songs, share the meal, and go out to live loving lives. Let’s not get too wrapped up in ourselves while we’re at it, either.

    2. Lynne: “As I asked once before, why are we making so complex what Jesus gave us so simply?”

      The official version is “we want to restore a sense of the sacred and the transcendent at Mass.”

      But having oblique and obscure language is a simplistic and rather unhelpful way of trying to achieve this. Rather educate presiders in how to plan, execute and manage appropriately reverent liturgies.

      Literal translation appears to me to be an unintelligent step backwards in the progression towards full, active and conscious participation at Mass – a safe harbour in which we cling to Latin words because we’ve run out of ideas and don’t know what else to do.

      1. If St. Gregory the Great were alive today, would you tell him that the codification of the Canon was merely something to be “clung to”?

        Our Latin liturgical heritage is much, much older and durable than an attempt of three generations to remake liturgy in our image and likeness. Did St. Thomas Aquinas “run out of ideas” when he lovingly described each and every one of the twenty-five signs of the Cross of the Canon? Did the author of the veni Sancte Spiritus fail in his masterful use of meter to convey human life, toil, and death under the mystery of Pentecost?

        When have our generations even approached these awesome monuments of prayer, literature, and mystical thought?

  7. The celebrants will just have to take bigger breaths before longer sentences. Clearly they still think we lay faithfull are dim and will be unable to cope. We shall.

  8. Had seen this elsewhere – thanks for posting. IMO, this gets at the heart of our current issues with liturgy (and this has very little to do with what standards, process, etc. you use in translation).

    Liturgy, Scripture, Music is “PROCLAIMED”……the definition and use of this word is deliberate….we are not just “reading” this liturgy.

    Proclamation hinges on the trained skills and abilities of the prersider, lectors, cantors, choir(s). Any skilled public speaker knows that you must read and listen your community – you need to pause, emphasize, change tone/style, inflection, etc.

    Why is liturgy at times boring, failing, etc. – listen/read….in many ways the VC2010 will not “fix” things – only make it worse.

    Any translation (1998, ICEL 2008, VC2010) would still be putting a bandaid on the problem – dioceses that use foreign priests who do not know english well enouph to proclaim; young priests who do not have adequate skills in terms of proclaiming or academic attainment that only equates to community college level; sound systems that impede any proclaimation; older, retired priests who can no longer proclaim.

    This is the true “elephant in the liturgical living room”.

  9. “dioceses that use foreign priests who do not know english well enough”

    That reminds me of a young Polish priest I once heard who, not being fluent enough to express his thoughts with some subtlety, once said in his homily: “Sex is good!” – creating an awkward moment in the mostly elderly congregation.

  10. Since childhood I have been accustomed to reciting after Communion the indulgenced prayer ‘En ego’ otherwise known as the Prayer to Jesus Crucified, which dates back at least to the beginning of the 17th century. In both Latin and English it consists of a single sentence; the word count (including the single-letter ‘I’ and ‘O’) is 86 for the Latin and 103 for the English.

    Generations of Anglicans were brought up on the English of the King James bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer’s Collects are more or less word-for-word renderings of the Latin and elementary schoolchildren in Victorian England learned them by heart. Universal literacy was underpinned by these texts.

    Re-reading Simon Schama’s ‘Citizens: a Chronicle of the French Revolution’ (1989) I came across the following somewhat startling observation: “… literacy rates in late eighteenth-century France [ie before the Revolution] were much higher than in the late twentieth-century United States.”

    Whose fault is that?

  11. For 1800+ years, the vast majority of Catholics couldn’t read at all. We managed quite well.

    I’d rather have my Mass complex rather than simplistic.

    The words of the ordinary of the Mass will be repeated 52 times a year for church-going Catholics. We will get the hang of it.

    For the propers, the priests are instructed to use the homily to explain them to us. They will cope, those that don’t continue to extemporize and entertain.

  12. My suspicion is that the more complex structure of the New Missal will prose greater problems for priests saying the Mass than for the people listening.

    Many priests after all these years have not learned a way to speak the solemn prayers at the end of Mass so they cue the people to say “Amen.” So often we are just left wondering if he is really finished.

    A suggestion: that priests invite laity to practice with them saying the priest’s parts. Surely there are plenty of lay people who have various sorts of public speaking experience.

    Have a half dozen people take a try at a collect (or portion of longer prayer). Have the group critique their attempts, saying what they liked and disliked. Then have the priest take several tries at the same collect with the group critiquing him.

    Many people might enjoy helping Father say Mass better. The whole process might motivate priests to give this greater priority.

  13. “Generations of Anglicans were brought up on the English of the King James bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer’s Collects are more or less word-for-word renderings of the Latin and elementary schoolchildren in Victorian England learned them by heart. Universal literacy was underpinned by these texts.”

    I believe that the Blessed Thomas Cranmer would consider himself part of the Comme le prevoit school rather than that of the Liturgiam Authenticam. He usually did not translate word-for-word. Indeed he and the revisers of 1662 improved on many of the Latin collects through their English translations.

  14. The new translation is not worse because it is more complex. The author’s point is more that the current translation is one level, and the new translation will be at a significantly different level. Simpler is not always better, but a sudden shift from one level of discourse to another will be wrenching.

    Mystery and incomprehensible language are not related. Someone can have a grasp of a mystery without understanding any of the language. We did that with Latin for years. But understanding the language can help uncover the mystery, as when the Easter Vigil readings show many dimensions of water; if you do not understand the language, the mystery of Baptism is less accessible. Mysteries are mysterious enough for a lifetime of contemplation, so adding another layer of puzzles around them does not help.

  15. Thanks, Jack and Jim…excellent distinctions and points. Again, you have to understand the prayer to proclaim it so that it captures the ear/imagination/emotion of the hearers. Why is it that some of our most stirring speeches, articles, proclamations are brief; are almost poetic; sound like a musical composition and sticks in the mind of the listeners.

    Some of you have remarked about the difference in dynamic translation (the use of poets; linguists; writers, composers) and LA (that seems like “one note” – literal translation). Think Gettysburg Address (it has some words and phrases we no longer use in day to day speech but its impact lives on); study Churchill’s speeches; yes, read Reagan, MLK, John XXIII.

    Liturgy needs to work on many levels – not just words that literally translate from the latin. Liturgy is a “community action” – it touches via all of our senses; not just audio.

    Jack – excellent suggestion but how many priests do you know involve folks in composing their homily; in planning liturgies that include music; how many priests annually have themselves videotaped so they and others can critique both the strengths & weaknesses?

    How often have you heard a presider/homilist use the hymns; chants; antiphons to connect to that day’s scripture and then connect to the propers, eucharistic prayer; dialogues in the eucharist, talk about how a hymn/composer articulates the insight of that day’s scripture?

    Again, the translation (whether 1998, 2008, 2010) is not what will revitalize our liturgies. We spend too much time talking about accidentals – which translation, etc. – when the failure is with how the liturgy is brought to life (e.g. read the black; do the red as an example of missing the whole point of liturgy and making it a “juridcal exercise”of the priest or the endless discussion around “äd orientam”)

  16. Has he done an analysis of the NAB NT that is printed in the current US lectionary? When I was a reader in the US, I don’t have the impression that the NAB NT was composed of short sentences, especially in the Pauline epistles.

    But just wondering though, do many of us actually take in every word in the prayers? I know there are times I find certain phrases especially meaningful and I pause to meditate and pray those words, thus missing out on the rest of the texts the Priest is praying. The flatness and simplicity of the current translation means there are very few such nuggets to chew on; but perhaps we don’t need to absorb every idea contained in the texts at one go.

    1. Having listened to the Pauline Epistles for years and having served as a lector as well, I have often wondered if the current readings were designed to obscure the Epistles, not proclaim them. The convoluted language is bad enough, but frequently the key sentence refers back to a subject that is not included in the excerpt being read. I can only assume the convoluted language preservers an underlying Latin or Greek sentence structure at the expense of conveying meaning. I can’t explain the poor editing. It’s almost as if someone somewhere decided that it would be dangerous if the Catholics in the pews ever understood what Paul taught!

      1. It’s our usual liturgical somnambulism. THe Jerusalem Bible was more than usually execrable when it came to Paul. Things would have been better if we had used the RSV.

  17. Ray Marshall: For 1800+ years, the vast majority of Catholics couldn’t read at all. We managed quite well.

    A non-argument, I’m afraid. For ca. 1600 years the vast majority of Catholics couldn’t hear what was going on at Mass, so it didn’t matter. Now they can, and it does.

  18. Reading the comments I am amazed at how none of them see fit to address the situation of those for whom English is a second language.
    At 72, and having suffered through such things as “Mass at a the faldstool in the presence of a greater prelate at the throne”, where the poor bugia-bearer wasn’t sure where his illumination was needed next, I thing we need to realize that the times are really changing for the church in the U.S. and those of us of European ancestry need to let go of our grey-haired provincialism.

  19. Yes, the Collects will be the big problem.

    Compare these for readability:

    2010
    Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
    the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
    with righteous deeds at his coming,
    so that, gathered at his right hand,
    they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

    2008
    Grant, we pray, almighty God,
    that your faithful may resolve
    to run forth with righteous deeds
    to meet your Christ who is coming,
    so that gathered at his right hand
    they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

    It’s like that with almost every comparison. It’s as if Vox Clara’s revisers set out to make a text that was already complex but rhythmical and, with reasonable preparation, readable, into one whose fractured phrases and clunky rhythm (or lack of it) would trip on the tongue and land on the ear like a sack of potatoes.

    1. Forget the stylistic problems: what does this mean, when we listen to this?

      First, who are we talking about? We are both the “we” of the prayer and part of the “faithful”, but surely we would not use the third person (“your faithful”) to talk about ourselves, so we must be praying for the faithful other than ourselves, right?

      Second, when are the events that we are praying for? Are we praying that people have *now* the resolve that they will run to Christ *at his coming*? Will the good deeds be done *at his coming* (it seems like it, in the 2010 version) or will they be done *now*? Also, are we running in our eagerness to meet Christ (2010) or running in our eagerness to do good deeds (possible in 2008 version)?

      Third, what does it mean to run with good deeds (or to meet with good deeds – in the 2010 version it’s not clear which verbs goes with the “with”)? Is it a matter of accumulating good deeds like a child picking shells on the shore, so that when we meet Christ, we can run to him and show him how many we have picked up? I suspect that that’s what is meant, but that’s not really what the 2010 wording conveys.

      These texts are so strange. The more I ponder them, the less they make sense. It’s not the mystery of faith that’s blocking me: it’s the mystery of a wording that is ambiguous, vague, and inexact.

      PS – one more question: “resolve” to do what? Resolve to run towards Christ when he comes? That’s what it seems like. Resolve to do good deeds? That’s what I suspect is meant. These ambiguities are maddeningly frustrating.

  20. I don’t know, Fr. Johansen. Even if the texts are received by congregations without problems, even if they follow the rules of LA, even if they are close to the Latin, they’re not good English. That’s a fact, not something to be debated, is it?

    Maybe my approach is too analytical, but, in order to internalize a prayer (or to do Lectio Divina on a reading), I first try to fully understand its meaning simply as a text written in English. But with the New Missal prayers, often, I fail already at that level. I am mystified and frustrated: that is the way I would normally take to first appropriate the meaning of the prayer, then ponder it, then hopefully enter the mystery; but for the New Missal, the road is blocked at the start by silly grammatical issues.

    What to do? The New Missal doesn’t come with a guide explaining what each sentence means, does it? (Or is that what is meant by the “catechesis” that will be needed – first, a textual analysis? – I would love to see that…)

    Should I change the way I pray? Forget about English precision, receive the text of the prayer as an unstructured bag of words, and try to work with that instead? I fear that it will impoverish my prayer.

    I am not the only one who cares. Some of the loudest complaints voiced here come from lovers of the English language. Isn’t it an objective truth that the English of the New Missal is bad?

  21. Fr Rob, I tried to fisk your piece on my weblog. But it really fisks itself. You lambaste the current translations, not even mentioning the 1998 ones. Then you lambaste Fr Ryan’s site and its signatories, in a very biased and unfair way. When it comes to proclaiming the merits of the new trnaslation you merely cite the reactiosn of a group under your leadership and even these reactions are very mixed. This is far from a ringing endorsement of the new translation! Claire is right — this will be deleterious to prayer. It is just the distraction we do not need.

  22. @ Barry Moorhead #29: This sounds like a good argument for the restoration of Latin as a universal liturgical language. 50 years ago this brouhaha over the Tower of Babel would have been unthinkable.

  23. You should study the history of the liturgical movement. In fact, 50 years ago the liturgical journals show the complete turmoil in Catholic liturgy. It was still behind the scenes, but it was there. The desire for vernacular had reaching a boiling point. It was all waiting to explode.
    awr

  24. The liturgical movement was mainly a feature of continental Europe. Joseph Ratzinger was conversant with it; I doubt if many of the English bishops were.

  25. “The new translation uses English words (some of them strange), but in many cases it is not English as we know it. The syntax, the way the words are put together, is that of a person who has not mastered the English language, and who still thinks in the syntax of their other language. This may result in a quaint or humorous effect in the short term. In the long term it becomes tiresome and frustrating, and excludes many.”

    This is the best description I have yet found of the peculiar discomfort the new translation creates.

  26. EXPECTING SPONTANEITY IN THE CANONICAL PRAYERS

    Having devoted 25 years to training future priests, I always thought that it was demeaning for the celebrant “to read prayers” during the Eucharist. Prayers worth their salt were to be “proclaimed from the heart.”

    Furthermore, for over a millennium, any celebrant worth his salt was capable of spontaneously adapting memorized Eucharistic prayers so as to accommodate each specific congregation and each particular celebration. In the 70s, this spontaneous adaption of prayers was written into the very rubrics, and the power of this modality was felt by their congregations.

    Beginning in the 80s, however, priests were increasingly expected to adhere woodenly to what was written. This regimentation demeaned the intelligence and charism of priestly orders and facilitated boredom in the congregation.

    All of this humbug regarding faithful English translations of the ancient texts would disappear as soon as we recognized that the words given were only meant to serve as templates to guide the spontaneous adaptations of the celebrant.

    The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, c. 250 CE, says: When the bishop gives thanks . . . , it is not absolutely incumbent on him that he recite the identical words which we stated above. . . . Let each pray according to his ability [to improvise] . . . (9.3).

    Would that the traditionalists in Rome today would return to the much older tradition of expecting spontaneity in the canonical prayers!

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