For International Translation Day: Sunday’s Collect in Various Versions

Saturday, September 30, is the Memorial of St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate bible in the 4th century. It’s also International Translation Day.

In honor of the day, let’s take a look of three English translations of the Collect (opening prayer) for October 1, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Roman calendar. The three texts below are:

  • the 2008 version approved by the English-speaking bishops and submitted to Rome for approval;
  • the 2011 version Rome sent back to the bishops as the ‘corrected’ version for them to implement;
  • the 1998 version which the English-speaking world worked on since the early 1980s, was approved by the bishops of the English-speaking world, but was thrown out entirely by Rome as the new translation principles and procedures of Liturgiam authenticam were issued in 2001.

This is 2008, i.e. what the bishops approved:

O God, who make known your omnipotence
above all in pardon and mercy,
increase your grace within us,
and so make those who run towards your promises
sharers in the good things of heaven.

This is 2011, i.e. what Rome sent back and is now in the English missal:

O God, who manifest your almighty power
above all by pardoning and showing mercy,
bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us
and make those hastening to attain your promises
heirs to the treasures of heaven.

It isn’t usually the case, but here I think 2011 may be an improvement in some respects.

This is from the 1998 Sacramentary:

God of heaven and earth,
your almighty power is shown above all
in your willingness to forgive and show mercy;
let your grace descend upon us without ceasing,
that we may strive for the things you have promised
and come to share the treasures of heaven.

Of course it is no criticism of 1998 that it doesn’t follow the Latin slavishly, for that was not the goal nor the prescriptions of the official Vatican document under which the 1998 Sacramentary was prepared before Liturgiam authenticam. The goal was a broad and deep faithfulness to the Latin in the development of a text which was suited for liturgical prayer in English.

For reference, here is the Latin:

Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo
maxime et miserando manifestas,
multiplica super nos gratiam tuam,
ut, ad tua promissa currentes,
caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.

And for the fun of it, here is the version from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England:

O God, who declarest thine almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity;
Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace,
that we, running the way of thy commandments,
may obtain thy gracious promises,
and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure.

In the 1979 U.S. Book of Common Prayer the contemporary version of this collect is this:

O God, you declare your almighty power
chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Grant us the fullness of your grace,
that we, running to obtain your promises,
may become partakers of your heavenly treasure.

The 1998 Sacramentary also has original English texts connected to the three-year lectionary of Scripture readings. The readings for 26A are about the fairness of God’s judgment when people turn from sin (Ez 18:25-28) and the two sons who do and do not labor in the father’s vineyard (Mt 21:28-32). The Revised Common Lectionary, if you take the optional first reading, are the same except a longer passage is selected for both Ezekiel and Matthew.

Here is the 1998 Opening Prayer for 26A:

O God,
you alone judge rightly
and search the depths of the heart.
Make us swift to do your will
and slow to judge our neighbor,
that we may walk with those
who follow the way of repentance and faith
and so enter your heavenly kingdom.

Pope Francis recently returned authority largely to bishops’ conferences for translations, although it remains unclear whether the translation guidelines of Liturgiam authenticam remain in effect for Rome to give its confirmatio at the end of the process. Read Pray Tell’s report here:

Rita Ferrone, “Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio on Translation.”

For some background on translation theory, here is a post Pray Tell ran from translation expert Anthony Pym: “Academic Justification for Liturgiam Authenticam?

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4 comments

  1. This is an example of I wouldn’t want to look back to the 1998 as a default referent. The bookending energy to the overflowing of mercy and forgiveness is our running or at least speed walking with urgency; “strive” is, by contrast, pedestrian (pun intended) – more like something from a mission statement. In fact, I suspect the obsession with organizational mission statements (and PowerPoint messaging) in the last dozen years of the last century in the USA taxes or spoiled our poetic voice; let’s look forward, not back.

  2. Also for comparison purposes, here is the old ICEL translation (which for those of us in the US who pray the Liturgy of the Hours is still the current translation):

    Father,
    you show your almighty power
    in your mercy and forgiveness.
    Continue to fill us with your gifts of love.
    Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise
    and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.
    Grant this through our Lord…

    This is actually not bad as a translation, inasmuch as it doesn’t over-simplify or eliminate basic ideas in the original, as the old ICEL tended to do.

  3. I’d combine the two: “manifests your omnipotence” has “ni-” in common. I like that 2011 captures the participial forms. 2008 gets the idea of the Latin verb in reference to grace. It’s already there for the baptized, and so it needs to increase. “Multiply” works too. I’m not going to translate the rest for want of time, but I will say that while “good things of heaven” is more literal, “treasures” is more biblical.

  4. In effect there are three translations of this prayer authorized for use: the Liturgy of the Hours (Aust, England and Wales, Ireland etc), the Canadian Sunday Celebration of Word and Hours, and the 2010 Roman Missal.
    By the way, the prayer was one of the few that Thomas Aquinas commented on for its rich theology of mercy (see the work of Innocent Smith)

    In any case, here is the translation from the Liturgy of the Hours (translated in 1974) for use in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland etc.
    Lord,
    you reveal your mighty power
    most of all by your forgiveness and compassion:
    fill us constantly with your grace
    as we hasten to share the joys you have promised us in heaven.

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