Grading the Translations

Fr. O’Leary’s scholarly eval of liturgical translations is most interesting. Here he grades 1973, 1998, and 2009 for the collect of the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You might be surprised who flunks.


  1. All three versions for that particular Sunday are horrible in English! The only solution is to go back to Latin and let the missal companies make up their own translations as they did prior to Vatican II for congregational use. Then people will know the priest is praying to God and God in his infinite wisdom and intelligence will understand what mere humans cannot! These prayers are for God aren’t they? Doesn’t He know what we want to pray even before we make a sound?

  2. Fr. Allan, I’m not sure if you’re being serious or ironic, but your suggestion calls into question the teachings of Vatican II on the pastoral value of vernacular. Also, I wouldn’t separate too strictly the worship of God and the edification of the faithful – I think of the council’s statement that liturgy is primariliy worship of God but contains much instruction for the faithful.

    1. I was being ironic and cynical at the same time. I do think that not everyone is going to be pleased with any English translation and sure the people need to be edified. Our old pre-Vatican II English translation missals were very edifying to the laity. But, yes, I like celebrating Mass in English and will take whatever comes, if it stays the same, okay. If it is the 1998 version, okay, if it is the 2009 translation okay. Just get us a translation and then let us accept it with warts and all. We have to accept people too with warts and all, continually trying to make them over by continually pointing out all their short comings gets them mad!

  3. I LOVE Maria Boulding’s translation of this prayer (and I wish she were still here to help us with the ICEL translation):

    Almighty, everliving God,
    in your overflowing love for us who pray to you,
    you go further than we deserve,
    further even than we know how to desire.
    Pour out on us your mercy,
    forgiving those things our conscience dreads
    and heaping upon us what our prayer does not venture to ask.
    We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    (27th Sunday of the Year,
    tr. by Maria Boulding, OSB)

    1. Paul, I share your appreciation and wish.

      This is what liturgical English should sound like to us English-speakers: beautiful, moving, uplifting and memorable.

      Unfortunately, such a translation would seem to be forbidden by the myopic rules of Liturgiam Authenticam. To me L.A. is the pre-eminent obstacle to good beautiful translations and should be revised immediately.

      However, I fear the institutional Church has suffered a collective breakdown of intelligence, common sense and nerve in approving and giving in to the translation demands in L.A., and would appear to be in this age incapable of rising to the challenge of producing the kind of liturgical language that the Mass deserves and we English-speakers expect.

  4. In what way is this scholarly? Fr. O’Leary’s criticisms (generally) are very loud and mostly devoted to his personal taste in the use of language. This is “precious” that is “horrible in English”. And Fr. O’Leary’s general attitude towards “thinking with the Church” leaves quite a bit of doubt in my mind about his good will in seeking quality in the translation being more important than sinking it because he disagrees with the content of the original Roman collects and the liturgical path (and other paths) the Church has been set upon by the Holy Father.

    1. Samuel – May I suggest you critique his translation work on its merits and not make this a referendum on so many other issues? It becomes difficult to discuss anything in our church if everything circles back to these same concerns. You admit that you doubt his good will – I consider this a sign that something is going wrong in the discussion.

      1. Father, the problem is that he leaves little more than his aesthetic impressions “flat” “cliche” “too high” “rather precious” “jaded” “horrible in english”.

        The main bit of real language criticism he gives us is contradictory “LITERALLY EXACT… WHAT IS THE MEANING”.

        Well it can’t be both exact and unclear in meaning. (The meaning seems perfectly clear to me.)

        This is nothing like the criticism of say, Gilbert Ostdiek.

        Since (in this piece at least) he leaves us with little more than his taste as his method for judging the translations, our assesment of his judgment, must rely (if it is to be more than entirely circular) on our judgment of his taste and judgment in other situations. Many of us have been interacting with Fr. O’Leary (and his “Spirit of Vatican II” alter ego for many years.) We have little reason to trust his taste.

        Is that clearer?

  5. Any translation that comes to a full stop in the middle of a collect fails what I believe to be the most important criterion: grounding the petition (future benefits) in the saving mysteries (past, ongoing benefits).

    “You, who have exceeded our expectations, exceed our expectations.” We know you, God. You, who have this reputation with us–this history–renew it. Extend your salvation. We depend on you.

  6. The surprise is like being surprised Rush Limbaugh opposed health care reform. Fr O’Leary’s command of the English tongue is far from exemplary; his website text is virtually unreadable. His sense for what constitutes good usage is extraordinarily odd.

  7. Regarding his specific criticisms on the 1998 translation:


    Is “whose” really in the same class as “ineffable” and “gibbet”? “Whose” is “too high” language for us to use in the liturgy?


    He prefers “hopes and desires” to “deserve and desire”; I’m not sure why. What does he mean by “packed” and “precious”? (And he detests “merits”, apparently.)


    What he calls “precious” I guess I call “deliberate”.


    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand him. Does he mean the phrase “pour out…” is a worn-out phrase, or that it is a manifestation of our jaded dispositions? And WHY exactly is it jaded?

  8. Everyone pray the 2009 version outloud. I’m just convinced surpass should be surpasses to even sound right to the ear. With the little attention that’s given to the collects in presiding the last phrase will disapear before hearers even have a chance to begin to digest it I fear.

    Chauvet warns that the language of celebrations must sufficiently speak to the “brain” in order to speak to the “heart.” Any attempt to speak to the “heart” with enigmatic phrases, if that adequately describes what the current exercise of Missal translation intends, will collapse in the inability to “process the message” of a prayer in a timely manner.

    1. Thomas: it’s “surpass” here because it is in the imperative; “surpasses” would be indicative and incorrect here. God is being spoken to directly (direct address followed by a comma). We are politely urging God to “surpass,” pour,” etc.

      1. Sorry, J and Wiliam. Surpsass is corect not because it is imperative (which would be Latin “excede”) but because the antecedent of qui is a vocative. It’s functionally equivalent to “you who surpass.” We don’t say, “Our Father, who IS in heaven…” We use the 2nd sing. “art”. Here too, we’re using the 2nd sing. “surpass” rather than the 3rd sing. “surpasses”. Quibus rebus scriptis, it would have been legit in my mind to translate, “All-powerful Everlasting God, you surpass…” to make it more intelligible.

        Most of my comments can be found at Joseph O’Leary’s site.

      2. I wasn’t questioning the gramatical correctness of the English-Latin rendering – only that it ‘sounds’ downright poor, odd, even dare I say, gramatically amiss, to the English ear. I’m not sure I can think of a case in contemporary English when one would naturally employ ‘who’ with direct adress.

        Barbara Manitee who is so beautiful would you go on a date with me?

        The English ear hears “who” and wants to turn what follows into a modifying clause and expects to hear “surpasses” in the case of our prayer. The ear lingers for the fix and I fear that in prayers with long clauses that most of the words will get dumped as the ear waits for the fix. Thus ultimately short-circuiting the very act of prayer.

        Avoiding “you who” – simple “you” is just better I think.

      3. Yes, J. Thomas, I have been telling people for years to avoid “You who” which in the south and I presume other places is what we yell out to someone whose attention we want but can’t quite remember their name. But in the case of avoiding the “you who” words, I usually mean the “You Who” hymn, “On Eagles Wings” which every bereaved parishioner in my parish wants for a funeral Mass. I simply can’t stand the song, the beginning “you who” and the melody, but so many just love the sappy thing! 🙂

      4. J Thomas, “you who are…” does not sound odd to my ear at all. It sounds like proper English to me. I’ve heard the construct used inside and outside of religious contexts:

        “Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?”

  9. Same prayer two more choices From the Catholic Book of Divine Worship (Anglican use)
    I. Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
    II. Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
    How about them apples? 🙂

    1. not enough room to finish my comments, but where is Fr. Cody and his comments, he should love these Anglican Use Catholic Collects!!!!!! The second one in particular, I don’t think I can take the old English one that is numero uno. And now I have to go and check what the Anglican Use Catholics use for cup! I’ll be back!

    2. These are wholesale adoptions from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer 1979, which forms the backbone of the BDW. Although not wholly without problems from a Roman Perspective (at least, according to Bishop Elliot), the texts of the BCP/BDW have the benefit of 450+ years of the Anglican experience of praying in the vernacular.

      That being said, I would have rendered the modern version as “Almighty and everlasting God, who are always more ready to hear than we to pray, etc.” I have no problem translating “qui” as who.

  10. The Roman Canon in the Catholic Book of Divine Worship is marvelous too, better than the 2009! But CHALICE is there! and much to Fr. Cody’s relief CUP too! :
    Likewise, after supper,
    He takes the chalice, and, raising it a little above the altar, continues:
    taking also this goodly chalice into his holy and venerable hands,
    again giving thanks to thee, he blessed, and gave it to his
    disciples, saying:
    He bows slightly.
    Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my
    blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will
    be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do
    this in memory of me.
    He genuflects, shows the Chalice to the People, places it on the corporal, and again
    genuflects in adoration.

  11. Jeffrey Pinyan, odd sounding referred to “who” clauses. “you who are” is better in that one hears the complementary noun verb – you are . But that seems to be the point. The prayer reads: “Almighty everlasting God, who in your overflowing compassion surpass the merits…” There is no “you are” (you surpass) only “who”.

    In the structure of the collect it still seems to me that “you who” is needlessly sing-songy. “Who” renders the vocative but I think that is clear enough in the address “God”. Reiteration of “you” just sounds clearer in contemporary English.

    Little Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two. She stared at the Grinch and said…

    why have you taken my “you” away?

    1. The essential form of a collect is “O God, who once did great things for us: do them again, so that we may attain the end you desire for us, through Jesus Christ, etc.”

      No need, IMHO, to render “Deus, qui” as anything other than “O God (Almighty Father, etc.), who . . . ” YES, it’s formal English — but it’s good English, too. Isn’t that what everybody wanted? Formal and good?

      1. YES, it’s formal English — but it’s good English, too. Isn’t that what everybody wanted? Formal and good?

        I hate to break this to you, Cody ..

        [ … actually, I know I don’t have to! ]

  12. And the 2nd person singular can work, both as in “who art in heaven” and in the past tense example that Cody quotes. Where it doesn’t work is in the present tense, in an example such as “Lamb of God, who take away the sin of the world…” (Yes, I know the upcoming Missal doesn’t have this, but at one point the drafts did contain it. Thank goodness they compromised their principles and reverted to “you” instead of “who” !) Modern English would feel more comfortable with “takes” here. The rationale given for using “take” was that “who” is short for “you who” and therefore needs a 2nd person singular.

    This will be one of the major problems with the new collects. Some examples —

    From Ash Wed:
    O God, who are swayed by acts of humility
    and appeased by works of penance,
    O God, who desire not the death of sinners
    but their conversion,

    From Good Fri:
    Almighty everlasting God,
    who have restored us to life
    by the blessed Death and Resurrection of…

  13. Well, I DO consistently say “Our Father, who IS in heaven”…I skip the “art” the “thy” and use good normal English…

    Our Father, who IS in heaven, hallowed be YOUR name; YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done….etc…

    We just don’t use Thy or Art in even formal English…at least not in the U.S.!

    1. If you don’t use “art”, “are” rather than “is” would be correct grammar, otherwise “Our Father” would be thought of as the subject of a main clause rather than the addressee. I have no problem with using you and your, but is is not standard here.

      1. Our Father who ARE??? There is no agreement between a single subject and a plural verb…ungrammatical! “Who is in heaven” is a clause modifying “Our Father”, which remains the addressee…

  14. Yes indeed… I’m totally surprised that Pray Tell would focus on an analysis that finds the 1973 translation superior to the 2009…what a big surprise!

    How is this person’s “analysis” distinct from an opinion? What is the support for saying “Whose” is too “high” or that a particular phrase is too “precious” (a term that is usually reserved for indeterminate criticism of something that you simply don’t like)?

    Lynne…do you REALLY say “Our Father who is in heaven”? Why not just complete the idea and say “Our Father who’s in heaven…” When you say “We” don’t use Thy or Art in formal English in the US, please speak only for yourself…there are many, many, many, many who still use these words when addressing God, The Blessed Mother and Christ. I think they’re worth the extra consideration!

  15. The ecumenical translation runs:
    Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done
    on earth as in heaven. . .
    — more straightforward and simpler, as well as avoiding the “art” problem.

    1. In the south, the Bible Belt, it would be very unecumenical indeed, to pray this “ecumenical” version of the Lord’s Prayer as our separated brethren refer to it. For us in the south, we pray the same version with quite a bit of “artistry” and most Catholics in an ecumenical setting are quite willing to pray the “Protestant” conclusion with them, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Also interesting to note is that our current lectionary has “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy…..thy….” when we read Jesus teaching the apostles how to pray. Interesting, no?

    2. I’ve never been keen on the ecumenical version for mass, even though it’s the “preferred” option in the Rite II BCP liturgy.

      I do like it for the daily office, though… and where an intentional community gathers for that (even if it’s just a few folks devoted to daily prayer) it seems to work well in a contemporary language setting.

  16. I think it needs to be “Our Father who are in Heaven” or “Our Father who art in Heaven”. Both work but “Our Father who is in Heaven” does not work because the phrase is followed by “Hallowed be Your Name” or “Hallowed be Thy Name”, not “Hallowed be His Name”. It is thus addressed directly to the Father.

    1. Is “Our Father” a plural noun? No…then you need to use a singular verb form…”is”…

      “Are” is used with plural subjects…”we are” “they are” “Americans are”…

      1. It’s all moot anyway, because the bishops of the English-speaking world decided long ago not to mess with the words of the Our Father in Catholic liturgy – they decided the customary usage was so deeply ingrained in the daily prayer habits of the people for untold generations (we’re not talking a mere 40 years here) that there was no point trying to update the translation for its use in liturgy. The debate is thus rather pointless.

      2. I am; you ARE, he, she, it is; we are, you are, they are. “Our Father” is not plural, nor is “who”. “Are,” like “art,” is not plural but 2nd sing. “Who” is not always conceived of as a 3rd person pronoun. You wouldn’t say, “I who is your father love you.”

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