Liturgical Translations: The Road Ahead

The article below was written for the Dutch journal of church music, Gregoriusbladand appeared in their June issue. The English version is printed here with the kind permission of the Gregoriusblad editors.

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53 comments

  1. A very good and succinct overview of the history of the journey we have taken with the the liturgy and specifically the Roman Missal.

    You made mention of Dr. John Page, and how he was poorly treated. Was that based on anecdotal sources or other ones? It is unfortunate to hear how a someone who has worked so hard in service of the liturgy and the Church was treated in such an uncharitable manner.

    I found it interesting how Msgr. Harbert had been critical of the older translation, eventually found himself criticizing the new translation after the 10,000 changes had been introduced. Those changes are still an enigma, I truly wish someone would shine some light on that and expose those responsible for the changes, their justification for doing so, and the authority for doing so. While the 2008 draft had it challenges, it was nevertheless better than what resulted in 2010.

    Finally, just in reference to the words of institution, specifically “all” vs. “many” I feel that this issue is perhaps exaggerated. The words are faithful to the biblical account, so in that regards it is better. Also, the translations used by other denominations use “many” as well such as the Anglicans and Methodists, again the do so in remaining faithful to the biblical witness.

    Just a mix of thoughts after reading through the article.

    1. @Jeffery BeBeau:
      Thanks, Jeff. The mean treatment Dr. Page received has been attested by several reliable sources, both unpublished and published. The Wilkins article cited in the text above would be one of the latter. Msgr. Harbert has also been quoted saying that Dr. Page “took a lot of stick” (I don’t remember offhand where I read it, but it was in a published interview).

      I think I may agree with your final point, yet it remains the instance most often cited as a stumbling block, something that interrupts the peace of mind of worshipers. (Significantly, the Italian and German bishops have resisted the same change.) I suspect that a good deal of discomfort about things that are harder to articulate gets funneled into feelings about the items we can name.

    2. @Jeffery BeBeau:
      Could you please point me to the infamous “List of 10,000 Changes” I see referred to so frequently? That’s about 8 changes per page, and I find it hard to believe that they are substantive changes as opposed to typos, punctuation and font specifics (i.e., Lord in small caps).

      Overall, I’ve heard no complaints about the new missal from the People In the Pews in ages, although a fair number of them are still using the ‘worship aids’ to get the words of the prayers correct. About the only thing that would likely cause a large scale defection at this point would be yet another wholesale change to what we pray each Sunday.

      So why not a 50 year hiatus on this sidebar? Imagine if all the energy were put into writing better music, preparing better sermons, and better serving the people of God! Now that would be a Church of which to be proud.

      1. @Sean Keeler:
        Sean, I think the best resource I have seen that explores the multiple changes from the 2008 to the 2010 texts, and in the process, makes then less faithful to the Latin (and at times violates the principles of Liturgiam authenticam and the Ratio translationis), were a series of articles posted here on PrayTell by an author using the pen name of Xavier Rindfleish.

        http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/tag/xavier-rindfleisch/

      2. @Jeffery BeBeau:
        From a post by Anthony Ruff (internal links omitted below):

        Last July Pray Tell broke the story that the final CDW text has some 10,000 changes compared to the text which the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) gave to the conferences for their submission (with any of their amendments) to Rome. This was substantiated when Pray Tell published four articles by “Xavier Rindfleisch” (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4) comparing the ICEL text and the CDW-approved text. It became apparent to everyone that massive changes, changes of the sort you would not expect to come from national conferences, had been made. Pray Tell has a copy of a letter not made public in which one senior official expresses his alarm to another senior official at the extent (10,000 is explicitly stated) and the poor quality of the changes in the CDW final version.

        There’s more at the link above.

    3. @Jeffery BeBeau:
      the treatment of John Page is a fact, a sad one, Not only does he have to suffer but suffer and be ignored. Perhaps the martyrs got a good deal since what happened to them was public.

  2. In case you wish to write a more balanced view, I would be willing to sit for an interview. I’m a layperson, and a choir director. I have no degree in theology or linguistics, but this revision instituted by the Vatican and the USCCB was welcomed at my Novus Ordo parish, from the “traditional” Mass to the praise & worship Mass congregations.

    In my humble opinion “For many” is far better during institution, than “all”, if only as a balance to the lack of homiletics on the reality of Hell, and the truth that others besides Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, and Nero will reside there.

    The rushed translations of the 60’s and 70’s with their “gender inclusive” language were found wanting in the decades of reflection the magisterium had to study them. Remember that the process began with one of the most travelled, and multi-lingual Popes we’ve had. His travels and experiences in Mass all over the world caused him to see how fractured the language of the Mass had become from one locale to the next.

    And, frankly I can see why a protest entitled “Misguided Missal” went nowhere. It is an insult to the Bishops and Cardinals responsible for the revision.

    1. @Chip Stalter:
      I’m not sure where it says in sacred Tradition that Hitler, Khan or Nero is in hell. As far as I know the Church has never declared that anyone is there, other than the devil. Its reality is not doubted but its population remains unknown. Though some might want to condemn the translators there, as some of his contemporaries condemned St Jerome.
      Having just finished a biography of the man I am amazed at how contentious theologians were about translating the original languages into the vernacular back them.
      Plus ca change…

      1. @Bruce Janiga:
        Pope Eugene IV in Cantate Domino seemed to imply that people were in Hell. Relevant extract below:

        It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

  3. Thank you for sharing this article. The unhealthy power struggle that motivated the current translation needs to be known. A bad tree producing bad fruit. Our hunger for God enabled us to see beyond the linguistic smokescreen. Now that this crucible period is over, we can make our way together toward meaningful worship.

  4. “the very idea of producing a “timeless” vernacular translation was not seen as the goal.”

    Why can’t this be a goal? Almost 500 years on, the translations and original compositions of the Book(s) of Common Prayer of the Anglican Communion are still in use and have become part and parcel of the English language. It’s not everyday language, but it’s elegant, elevated, and in a sense, sacral, and completely understandable today.

    1. @John Kohanski:
      There is very little use of 16th century texts in the Anglican Communion anymore. A few conservative parishes will still have a traditional language service at 8am (spoken), and 1662 Evensong lives in England, but Anglicanism is no longer defined by those texts.

      1. @John Schuster-Craig:
        I’d say Doctor that traditional evensong lives everywhere. Even Grace Cathedral in SF uses the traditional language for evensong. As far as communion services in the traditional language go, yes, it’s probably akin to the extraordinary form in the Roman Church percentage-wise. But ask an Anglican how the Magnificat starts and I’ll bet you hear “My soul doth magnify the Lord” and not “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” If that’s not defining…

  5. Well, each Communion partner seems to have their own BCP, not necessarily the English 1662 BCP. But it was used when I was in England, even if only confined to an early morning communion service and much more widely for choral evensong, especially in cathedrals, universities, and large parishes. There are a number of communities in my area that use rite I from the American BCP as well. Regardless, I stand by my last sentence, and, I can’t see why a goal hasn’t been and can’t be to at least try to produce something more timeless for the Roman Missal in English.

  6. I disagree with a couple of Rita Ferrone’s points. Firstly, while I am no fan of Liturgicam authenticam, I think she misrepresents it academically when she says, “…every Latin word must be accounted for. The syntax and capitalization patterns of Latin originals must be reproduced. The ordering and numbering of notes in the text must not be changed.” What LA actually says regarding syntax: “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet (20).” So it is indeed permissible to rearrange the syntax, and to omit some words, so long as they are not integral to the content. She also quotes Paul Inwood regarding musical settings of new texts, about “living with the texts.” I vigorously disagree with Paul on this one. Yes, composers must live with the texts, but it doesn’t take 40 years. It’s more to do with skill. Poll composition professors across the country, and they would say the same. And frankly, music did not get “better and better.” There were excellent and poor settings written just after the Council and much later. It has little to do with the progression of time. Look at Benjamin Britten’s excellent settings of new English texts – he didn’t take 40 years to write them. The reason there is such “dross” in new musical settings (and let’s face it – in the Ordinary, it’s only the Gloria that is substantially different) is not because these composers have not had time to live with the texts, but because the composers have a poor sense of text setting and poor compositional skills. That’s not the text’s fault.

    1. @Doug O’Neill:

      Doug,

      While I agree with you about the poor sense of text setting and poor compositional skills that many works exhibit, I am going to disagree with you about whether standards improved. I do not think you were around in 1970s and 80s, and certainly not in the UK, where marked improvements in a number of composers’ outputs were visible as they gained experience not only of the texts they were setting but also of what congregations actually need. Not everyone is a Britten or a Messiaen.

      I see two major problems facing us today. One is that new people desirous of being composers are constantly joining the ranks of those writing for the Church, and because they are inexperienced or incompetent or both what they produce drags the overall standard back down. This can certainly give the impression that there is no improvement. Many composers today want instant gratification by being published, and are unwilling to spend the years learning their craft that are desirable and, I believe, necessary. At the same time, publishers are, I believe, to some extent frightened of being left behind in the market and so they accept for publication material which they might otherwise not spend time on. I also think that some employees of some publishers have a sense of taste and liturgical appropriateness which is very different from yours and mine.

      The second problem is the “star mentality” that has long dominated Catholic music publishing in the US, far more noticeably than in other countries. This has led publishers to put out material by well-known names because they know they can market it. This is compounded by the fact that, as I stated above, over two or three years the publishers have produced as many if not more Mass settings than the entire corpus of the previous 40 years. The result is confusion for the “consumer” because of the profusion of material that is simultaneously available instead of spread out over time. This leads parish musicians to rely on marketing hype and, more especially, to purchase music based on the name of the composer rather than any intrinsic merit in the setting itself.

      Generally speaking, I see little discernment taking place. I wrote in one national journal that I thought parishes should be doing the same as clothes shoppers: trying on things until they found the ones that fitted best, and not to be afraid to jettison quickly those that did not suit. I think it is unfortunate when you hear parish musicians saying things like “We thought we’d like this one because we like other things by X, and but when we got it and used it we found we didn’t. But as we’ve spent all that money on it, we can’t afford to try anything else for quite a long time.” If the liturgical publishing industry were able to do something about that situation, it would be wonderful, but it would mean being more altruistic than commercial. I hope that in the future electronic online publishing may enable trial-and-error to happen much more easily, but that will of course mean relying more on people’s honesty.

      1. @Paul Inwood:
        Paul, those are very thoughtful and wise comments. Thanks. I was around in the 70’s, but I was a toddler and not Catholic at the time. 🙂

    2. @Doug O’Neill:
      Doug, sorry for the delay in replying to your thoughtful comment. I wanted to look a few things up before responding. I’m sure of my facts in this case, but don’t have all the paragraph numbers committed to memory! 🙂

      I would contend that I am indeed representing Liturgiam Authenticam fairly. To state all the relevant paragraphs would have weighed down the text; my task was to summarize the salient points.

      To respond to the points you raise:

      1. The phrase “every Latin word must be accounted for” was actually suggested to me by one of the ICEL translators as a fair summary of what LA requires. This does not contradict LA 20. What it does is more accurately represents the case than to say a “word for word” translation is required. You can omit a word if it is “accounted for” in some other way. This is how “without omissions” is to be read, and how it has in fact been read.

      2. What you report here as what LA “actually says” about syntax is incomplete. LA 20 must be read in conjunction with LA 59, which urges the reproduction of the syntax of the original even when it is foreign to the receptor language. The scales are thus weighted heavily in favor of reproducing Latin syntax, and that is in fact what happened. It happened not because the translators were wild to do so on their own bat, but because they were following the instruction. The fact that the instruction sprinkles the concession “insofar as possible” here and there does not lighten this demand, but merely allows for an occasional exception when one’s back is against the wall.

      3. For the retention of capitalization of the Latin, see LA 33.

      4. For the exact replication of the order of the notes, see LA 66.

      1. @Rita Ferrone:
        Rita, thanks for the response. I knew you were correct about #3 and 4, so I didn’t mention those previously. I just re-read LA 59 – I can understand why you would say it urges the reproduction of syntax, but it also seems to give an “out” later in the paragraph. It still does not seem as if LA mandates strict syntax. Together with LA 20, I would think that it’s more of a “translate as accurately as you can, but some liberty for vernacular flow is fine” thing. What I’m basically saying is that even though many of the Missal texts can be criticized for awkward syntax, I’m not sure that’s entirely the fault of LA, which actually seems to permit some flexibility in that regard.

        Your first point makes a lot of sense – I’ll go along with that!

  7. I’m struck by Rita’s use of the passive voice. At times, it is used because the specific actor(s) is (are) not known — see the 10,000 changes. At other times, however, it seems to simply elide responsibility. Knowing which category to put some examples, however, is not clear.

    “But it was made clear that no original compositions would be approved for the English version of the Missal.” By whom was this made clear?

    “Two of ICEL’s highly skilled and generous contributors — an American (Anthony Ruff, OSB) and a Briton (Alan Griffiths) — protested the final alterations to the text and the secrecy surrounding the process. They were made to resign.” Again, by whom?

    I raise these examples because of the first of the concluding questions Rita raises: “First, tension exists between the decentralized model of oversight for translations (described in Sacrosanctum Concilium), and the tightly controlled, centralized one (as imposed upon ICEL, and reinforced by Vox Clara). How will this tension be resolved?”

    The question speaks of oversight, and honest oversight is a two-way street. It requires speaking directly with one another, openly. Where changes are made secretly behind the scenes, that is not oversight but an imposition of power. Where individuals are forced to resign, but those imposing the force do so behind walls of secrecy, this is again an imposition of power under the guise of oversight.

    How will this tension be resolved? Whether one prefers decentralized or centralized oversight, it is critical that such oversight be visible, open, honest, and direct. If it is not, it is not oversight, nor is it truly helpful.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt:
      Peter, you raise an interesting question. I used passive voice sometimes when I did not know, sometimes when I was not at liberty to say, and sometimes when I wanted to avoid a false specificity. For example, Cardinal Arinze answered the question in the negative about original texts in English, but was he the originator of that decision? Not to my knowledge, nor is it public knowledge, and frankly it’s unlikely; but who actually determined this policy remains unclear, at least to me.

      There is a lot of imposition of power in this story, and a lot of secrecy. You are quite right that this has been a negative influence.

  8. By the way, the above was only supplying the relevant text. It is not a commentary on my or the Church’s beliefs.

  9. @Todd Orbitz
    Much of that texts seems to have been refuted at the Second Vatican Council. You can immediately tell that by the mention of Jews, as well as the mention of the schisms that the church is trying to fix (although they seem to be making it worse with some of this translation process). Yes, we know that people are going to Hell, I lost count of the number of times Jesus mentioned that in the Bible, but he was very inclusive for all people: the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor and the rich. Using such exclusive language is sure to turn off many people, especially youth who are troubled with many things. You don’t gain churchgoers out of fear, but love.
    However, while I will admit that the new translation is more beautiful, and many have told me so (I am a church pianist), it does detract from the ability to relate to the mass. Jesus came down to earth speaking like the people of his time, so it makes me wonder why the church cannot do the same.

  10. Because English is the global lingua franca many people imagine they are speaking it correctly and have acquired mastery in it who are far from having done so. I suspect that this applies also to many of the non-English speakers who have meddled in the translation of the liturgy.

  11. I was reading this morning that the Episcopal House of Bishops has initiated a revision of the BCP. Will be interesting to see how this proceeds in another denomination.

    1. @Alan Hommerding:
      Worth noting that of the nine daily eucharists at the Salt Lake City General Convention, not one was in traditional language. I think that gives you some sense of where TEC is headed.

  12. Generally speaking, I see little discernment taking place. I wrote in one national journal that I thought parishes should be doing the same as clothes shoppers: trying on things until they found the ones that fitted best, and not to be afraid to jettison quickly those that did not suit.

    Paul, your characterizations of the state of being in the contemporaneous sacred composition economy are refreshing. However, your quote above reflects a perspective that dwells primarily within the establishment economy, and ignores or demeans those of us who have spent a lifetime honing our compositional and discernment skills. Many of us outside of the NPM umbrella are quite capable and inclined to filter through Bob Hurd, Mike Joncas and you, as well as the very-studied works of Mueller, Jernberg, Ostrowski and many other self-publishers (you should check out John Naples “Offertorios for 3 voices”) in order to invigorate our extant repertoires. But as you and I can only be in one place at one time, there will always be other dedicated folk, not so studied, who “consume” new music by the same STARS over and over, acquire that which they can via minimalist listening and performance practice, and never, ever break out of that modality.
    This digression: I’ve noticed that in the liturgical industrial complex of late that the most compelling composers happen to be women. Sullivan-Whitaker, Ridge, Berberick, Farrell, etc. are attracting my interest moreso than the “regulars.”

  13. Kyle Myers : @Todd Orbitz Much of that texts seems to have been refuted at the Second Vatican Council. You can immediately tell that by the mention of Jews, as well as the mention of the schisms that the church is trying to fix (although they seem to be making it worse with some of this translation process). Yes, we know that people are going to Hell, I lost count of the number of times Jesus mentioned that in the Bible, but he was very inclusive for all people: the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor and the rich. Using such exclusive language is sure to turn off many people, especially youth who are troubled with many things. You don’t gain churchgoers out of fear, but love. However, while I will admit that the new translation is more beautiful, and many have told me so (I am a church pianist), it does detract from the ability to relate to the mass. Jesus came down to earth speaking like the people of his time, so it makes me wonder why the church cannot do the same.

    Perhaps you missed what I wrote immediately after that. I was referring the person to a relevant text that did say people went to Hell, no more, no less. I stated it was not a commentary on my belief.

    But in any case, since you have decided to address the content of such document (which was NOT my intent) I will comment on the binding nature of it.

    It is primarilly an historical document at this point, although it was written as a partosal one in an attempt to reunify the relevant schism in 1441 at the Council of Florence.

    The most interesting thing is that it is a conciliar papal document that seems to have been made irrelevant by subsequent similar conciliar pastoral documents, most recently in Nostra Aetate.

    Which, in light of analysis seems to indicate the fungibility and permutability of such conciliar pastoral…

  14. Thank you, Rita, for an illuminating review of this sad story. On a tangent–I hear that Pope Francis will be mostly preaching in Spanish during his US tour in September, since his English is (by his own admission) rather weak. Does anyone know yet what language he will use for the liturgies themselves?

  15. Thank you, Rita, for bringing this issue to the fore. It is important to consider, despite the emotions engendered in light of language in worship.

    I recently heard a lecture at the American Classical League 2015 annual conference by linguist-anthropologist and Latin teacher Mallory Ann Hayes (“What Primary Language Acquisition of Latin in Children Reveals about Spoken Latin”, 2015 ACL Insitute, 27 June 2015). Hayes studied several families who attempted to teach their children oral Latin from a very young age. Although this experiment met with mixed results, Hayes noted that sentence subordination (which is very prevalent in Latin, ie relative constructions, subjunctive constructions etc.) are one of the last aspects of language which a person learns. A person’s holistic understanding of sentence subordination often develops at a much later date than parataxis.

    Despite some dreadfully poor “translations” in the new English Missal, I appreciate the high level of sentence subordination. If a person is familiar with Latin, a high level of sentence subordination in the English translation might help this person get a better grasp of implicit nuances. I realize, however, that most do not know Latin. I also realize that some persons’ very late grasp of English sentence subordination, or some persons’ complete inability to understand English sentence subordination, might preclude three-layer relative clauses in a single collect.

    While some of the 1998 propers work quite well, inevitably a noticeable lack of sentence subordination will require compromise translations of the Latin syntax and semantics. An occasional literal translation of a relative clause, if needed to clarify meaning, should not be rejected immediately out of a concern for accessibility.

    Some readers might accuse me of an “eat cake” attitude. Still, why can’t liturgy be challenging at times? Are we all not challenged to understand word and sacrament? Why serve up paraphrase only to make sure no one is intimidated? There is a balance between inclusiveness and intellectual challenge.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      I’m curious to know what a high level of sentence subordination has to do with English syntax and style where the preference is for shorter and more principal clauses.

      If you want to hear sentence subordination well then why not attend the Mass in the language which will provide you with that, rather than look for it in a language in which it is a foreign body, so to speak.

      If you want to have a pizza you don’t go into a Chinese restaurant looking for it.

      I’m in Germany at the moment where the words of institution include the phrase, für alle. As a justification for using ‘all’ instead of ‘many’ the last line of the third verse of Thomas Aquinas’ exquisite hymn, Verbum supernum prodiens which he wrote for Morning Prayer for the feast of Corpus Christi at the request of Jacques Pantaléon, Bishop of Rome (Urban IV) and formerly Patriarch of Jerusalem, comes to mind.

      Referring to the disciples it begins:

      Quibus sub bina specie
      Carnem dedit et sanquinem
      Ut duplicis substantiae
      Totum cibaret hominem.

      It’s just as well there was no CDW there in the thirteenth century to take him to task for that paraphrase.

      Thanks, Jonathan and Fritz! Amen.

      1. @Gerard Flynn:

        If you want to hear sentence subordination well then why not attend the Mass in the language which will provide you with that, rather than look for it in a language in which it is a foreign body, so to speak.

        I do attend Mass most often in Latin. Sometimes I attend in English. The current translation requires quite a bit of work (especially in semantics). I am sympathetic to those who want change, simply because of the ineptitude of the translation. I do not, however, think that any aspect of English syntax and semantics is off-limits for a new translation or re-evaluation of the 1998 translation.

        I agree that Latin and English are different languages. Latin prefers sentence subordination; English prefers little to no sentence subordination, especially in colloquial speech. I am in full agreement with you and Jonathan. However, historical translations, in particular the Prayer Book, do not shy from sentence subordination and other complex constructions. Should we encourage translators to fake a Cranmerian writing style? Certainly not. Are all aspects of the Prayer Book suitable for today’s English? Certainly only relatively few aspects are relevant. Even so, a willingness to learn from the history of the English language when re-translating or re-evaluating a translation is valuable. It’s very important that a future translation is rooted both in a future view of translation science and also the linguistics of the past.

  16. Its meant to be worship, not a series of semantic puzzles designed to make linguistics graduates feel smug.

  17. Jordan, my concern is not that the new translation isn’t “accessible”; it is that it isn’t English.

    No skilled user of modern English, however educated, uses deeply nested phrase subordination when speaking. In some legal documents, perhaps, but not in speech. Not in street speech, not in academic discourse, not even in addressing a judge in court.

    Let me restate your point with a different feature of Latin. Suppose that the researchers had found that children were slower to learn the subject-object-verb order that is more typical in Latin. Would we translate dignum et justum est as “right and just it is”?

    I don’t think we would, because nobody other than Yoda speaks that way.

    Bad grammar and style is not an intellectual challenge. It’s just bad grammar and style.

    1. @Jonathan Day:

      Jonathan, I agree with you that spoken and even formal spoken English (the courtroom, as you note) do not use excessive grammatical subordination. The foundational documents of the American republic, for example, are often accompanied with a modern translation or a paraphrase for this reason.

      No modern English composer of liturgical texts will ever approach the paragon of English translation, the Prayer Book. Certainly the current English liturgical books could be revised indefinitely, but without approaching this high standard. Cranmer’s genius was the translation of Sarum propers, such as collects, with at most first layer grammatical subordination (i.e. a single relative clause). The Latin archetype likely, but not certainly, contained more depth of grammatical subordination. The Prayer Book’s restrained use of grammatical subordination to points where its use best explained the Latin is perhaps a wise path for future English language translations. Cranmer did not despise parataxis, but found the right balance between the two linguistic concepts.

      Should Latin nested clauses be translated literally? No, as doing so destroys comprehension. This insistence is a major fault of the new translation. I agree with you Jonathan and the majority of PTB readers on this point. Still, a translation made up of single subject-verb-object sentences only and with (at most) trisyllabic words, like the 1973 Sacramentary, impoverishes expression. If a congregation struggles with a collect with one relative clause, it is incumbent on the celebrant to explain it to them in the homily the significance of the collect.

      The English language, like many, contains phrasal constructions so that they may be used for clarification. Let’s not be afraid to use these constructions when fruitful.

  18. Since Jordan and Jonathan are hanging out in this comments thread and since their Latin is much better than mine, perhaps that can explain something to me. Here is the Latin and English of this past Sunday’s collect:

    Deus, qui in Fílii tui humilitáte iacéntem mundum erexísti, fidélibus tuis sanctam concéde laetítiam, ut, quos eripuísti a servitúte peccáti, gáudiis fácias pérfrui sempitérnis. Per Dóminum…

    O God, who in the abasement of your son have raised up a fallen world, fill your faithful with holy joy, for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin you bestow eternal gladness. Through our Lord…

    Aside from the question of why humilitáte is translated “abasement” rather than “humility” (four years into the new translation, I’m still shaking my head over that one), I was wondering about the ut. My first instinct would be to translate it “that” or “so that” rather than “for,” since it simply makes more sense as a prayer: we ask to be filled with holy joy, so that God may give us eternal gladness. Am I missing something here? In fact, I can’t really figure out what the English is trying to say. We make a request, and then we state a fact. What’s the connection between them? Is this fact the basis for our request? But hasn’t that already been given in the opening subordinate clause?

    (I would also tend to reshuffle the last part to read, “fill your faithful with holy joy, so that you may bestow eternal gladness on those you have rescued from slavery to sin”—maybe because I think having the direct object followed by the indirect object is a bit easier to comprehend in oral proclamation.)

    (And where did “fill” come from? Doesn’t concéde mean “grant”?)

    (My God this translation is a mess!)

  19. The 1998 translation has:

    God of power,
    who raised up a fallen world
    through the lowliness of your Son,
    grant to your faithful people a holy joy,
    so that those whom you have rescued from the slavery of sin
    may delight in the happiness that never ends.

  20. “No modern English composer of liturgical texts will ever approach the paragon of English translation, the Prayer Book.” I respectfully do not think this has to be the case…by choice perhaps it is — but certainly not by necessity. The ability to translate is not lost and neither is the ability to render texts into an English composition that is at the same time rich, faithful to the language’s own internal genius, pleasing to the ear, whilst not an enigma to the mind.

    I add a hearty “amen” to the posts of Fritz Bauerschmidt and Fr. Ron Krisman…especially, and sadly, #45.

  21. Fritz, humilitas means “lowness” or “insignificance” in classical Latin — a state of being, not a virtue. In ecclesiastical Latin it tends to mean “humility”, the opposite of pride — a virtue. I don’t think “abasement” captures either meaning. The translation fails twice with one word.

    Ut can mean “for”, but in that case the verb (facias) would be in the indicative mood. Here, it’s in the subjunctive, so “for” is a very unlikely translation. Failure three.

    And concede means “allow”, or “pardon”, or “grant” — think of a king handing out a donation to the poor, or a judge letting a prisoner off lightly. “Fill” doesn’t work at all here.

    Failure four.

    This example of the new translation manages to mangle the sense of the Latin AND do so in convoluted English. Impressive!

    1. @Jonathan Day:
      While I think many of the orations could be better than they are, this one might win the prize for comprehensive awfulness. Am I just living in fantasy land in hoping that the English-speaking bishops of the world would ask the CDW to let some work be done on these? Please?

  22. Keep praying, Deacon Fritz 🙂

    There are plenty of saints who were suppressed for years – decades even – by their orders or their bishops. They are known as saints now because they were obedient, and accepted their suffering.

    At Garabandal, the Blessed Virgin stressed to the children the importance of obedience to their parents and the church: even over obedience to HER. If the Virgin Mary recognizes and defers to the authority of Bishops, we should probably try to do the same.

    I think we’re all called to obedience to the Church on this matter, and I really don’t think that griping about it in public accomplishes anything at all, other than legitimizing those who would alter the missal. Those who DO alter the missal have to be aware that it is a very grave thing they are doing.

    I do understand where you are coming from: I agree that some of the prayers are clunky and, well, badly translated. But there is really nothing we can do to change it, other than, as you say, petition our Bishops. Discussing proper translations from Latin is a nice thing to focus on though….

    1. @Agman Austerhauser:
      You seem to be conflating three distinct things:
      1) Generalized p***ing and moaning on the internet because you don’t like the translations or the process by which they were arrived at.
      2) Not using or modifying the appointed texts because you think they are inadequate.
      3) Analyzing specific translations to try and assess their adequacy.

      I agree in seeing little point in #1. When the translations were new it was understandable that people needed to express their dismay or blow off steam. But in my judgment that time has passed, as I noted on this blog within a few weeks of the translation appearing (you will see from the comments that at the time it was not a very popular opinion).

      I am generally opposed to #2, but I must admit that if I had occasion to pray the opening prayer for the Immaculate Conception in a public setting I might omit the word “too,” since it seems to deny the very doctrine we are celebrating (just as, in the early days of the old translation, I would not have been able to bring myself to say, addressing the Father, “you alone are God” in the 4th Eucharistic Prayer—an error subsequently corrected).

      But as to #3, how does this hurt the Church? There are some people who comment on this blog who have expertise in liturgy or theology or linguistics or history or just have plain common sense. What is the harm in discussing specific inadequacies in our current translation? Where is the disobedience? Who’s to say that some critiques developed here might not some day find their way to the ear of a bishop (some folks here actually know a bishop or two)? I think #3 is done out of a desire to help, not out of a spirit of disobedience.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:

        Deacon Frtiz,

        I’m reading more and more of your work on this blog, and I totally appreciate what you are saying. I’m not lumping you or anyone else into the “disobedience” category, except for possibly those mentioned in passing by some others on this blog who “know of priests who edit their Missals”. Of course that is all hearsay, and there are no names of priests given. I can only pray for that those priests would at least petition their bishops for permission to alter the prayers.

        I agree with you that the “blowing off steam” period is over. There is nothing good that comes from griping and moaning, yet some people (especially laypeople who are just learning about the translation process so often retold on this and other blogs) might feel encouraged to sustain the moaning. I know of a few people in my immediate life who just cannot accept the words “chalice” or “consubstantial”… they need to get over it already. Please don’t think that I am grouping you in with those people, because I’m not.

        I respect (I’ll even use the word love), your writing, and in my message just previous, admittedly conflated my thoughts on obedience with my general appeal to pray and write to bishops. Having more scholarly discussions on Latin translation is an unintended and unexpected bonus to a bad translation though, no? 🙂

        If only more Catholics read prayers in their original Latin and compared them with the vernacular translations to discuss accuracy!

        I don’t see anything at all wrong with your point #3, and I enjoy reading articles on it. What elicits an emotional response from me, though, is when people feel free to call the entire Missal a “manifestly defective text”, whose continued enforcement constitutes “deliberate, ongoing malice”.

        Again, I would encourage (as you no doubt do), continued prayer and discussion on the translations, with a goal of being able to offer to the CDW some constructive criticism.

        Thanks for all…

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