Translations compared

With a hat tip to Shawn Tribe at NLM, there are some samples of collect prayers in various translations, including ICEL 2008, pulled together by Fr. Sean Finnegan, found here, here, and here. And here you have 1974, 1998, and 2008 translations laid out side by side for comparison. So some copies of the 2008 proposed prayers are leaking out. Keep in mind that what we get will be a further revision of 2008.


  1. Accept, I ask, O readers, my conjecture, that, pursuant to the approbate means of elucidation, the translators received a lagniappe for each comma interposed within each stanza, for each labyrinthine turn of phrase, and for each resplendent locution.

    1. Great Comment, very clever!

      Is the Catholic Church busy unconsciously inventing its own ecclesiastical Babu English where we little people use big words in worship to convey big ideas about big things to impress big God?

      Sir, gratified by your drollery, conveying profusely the superabundant grandiloquence apropos the words rank with grovelling bombast found amid the eqilatirous resemblifications exemplified, I laud your interlocution most devotedly.

      Babu English

  2. Wow, I had to read the Collect for the 17 Sunday in Ordinary time three times to make sense of it. I don’t know if the average person in the pew (along with a bad microphone system, or just bad proclamation) will understand it. Why don’t we just cancel mass and have the Priest say it on our behalf. I don’t believe this language is accessible to all God’s people. Plain and simple, the Mass is meant for everyone…just not the most educated.

    1. I don’t know you so this is a really a general response, so please do not take offense. Your comment seems to presuppose that you (or the hearers of the current translation) hear and understand every work of each collect upon the first hearing. The new ones are too complicated and one would have to hear them again. My first thought is that if I were to stop Mass after the first reading and walk up to you or someone else a few minutes after they have heard the “easy collect,” would you/they be able to tell me what it said or what it meant?

      1. But Fr. Christopher – he said he was READING it, and presumably concentrating as he did so, not that he just HEARD it once and then reacted.

  3. A book I recently purhased from Lit Press is entitled Psalms and Practice :Worship Virtue and Authority and gives some excellent insight on the translation of the psalms.There are a few excellent essays applying the responsorial psalm to the liturgy as a whole. One essay discussed cognitive dissonance(a psychological theory) in relation to the responsorial psalms.But I submit there is also cognitive dissonance in the liturgical prayers.We have to be used to feeling happy or positive, but the theme of the readings,psalm and liturgical prayer to be a lament or asking for reconciliation or mercy. The other thing is we have to be willing to read the scripture passages that some of the new texts are based on our selves and to draw parallels to those readings. As soon as people learn WHY the changes are being made,people will be more accepting of the changes.

  4. Perhaps a solution for all those who will be befuddled by an English that will be foreign to them (and I know foreign English, my mother’s and southerner’s), is to have missal publishing houses print missals with the official English text on one side and their own version on the other side and strive to cater to those who like a variety of styles in their English translations similar to the pre-Vatican missals that had non-official English texts and a variety of them for the Latin. Then everyone will be pleased because they’ll have their own version which will assist them in the Church’s worship of God.

    1. Am I understanding your proposal correctly- that we print the new English and, next to it, a translation of the English?
      Frankly I think this is giving the people two texts too many. Ideally they would listen to presidential prayers, not read along during them. Ideally, the English translation would be well suited to public proclamation for hearers.

      1. Fr. Allan – that’s good news! Being a literally-minded monk, I guess I have little sense for allegory, typology, metaphor…or jokes.

      2. You need to read Flannery O’Connor, she lived about 30 miles from Macon, GA in Milledgeville and would come to Mass here and give presentations. She also lived for a time across the square from the Cathedral in Savannah, so maybe her southern humor has rubbed off on me.

    2. In a parallel situation that might have some bearing upon the idea of a double english translation printing: some years back the American lectionary and Canadian lectionary were printed side by side in a liturgical prep. book. Parishes decided that they liked the Canadian english translation and just began to use it. The higher ups got in a tizzy and stopped the double english printing. I see a repeat performance on the horizon!

  5. Well done, Scott. I had to look up ‘lagniappe’. It’s sure as heck not used in California!

    Allan refers to those who will be befuddled by an English that will be foreign to them, without adverting to whether he thinks it is a good thing that they are befuddled. If the aim of liturgy is to confuse people, then we require a serious rethink of what we’re about. I’m sure SC didn’t tell us that was the aim of liturgy, though.

    And Tim says that he thinks once people know why changes are being made they will be more accepting. Excuse me if I am filled with cynical doubt.

    I think that if the answer given is “because it’s more faithful to the Latin”, the response may well be “Well, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. Why are we using these prayers at all?” And that’s the big question.

    If we are now exposed to what the texts actually say, what happens when folk turn round and say “Well, I don’t want to say those things” ? What happens when folk point to the ICEL alternate Opening Prayers, which in my opinion are little masterpieces of new creativity in the life of the Church, and tell us that they find those prayers far more nourishing of their spirituality than these new ones? Do we simply tell them “Too bad — you can’t use them any more!” ?

    I repeat what I have said in other threads: when we discover that the spirituality, not to mention the often grovelling turn of phrase, is not where we are, many centuries later, what will we do? (ctd)

    1. (ctd) Or, as Bishop Michael Evans so deftly puts it, “What if the Latin is no good to start with?”

      I’m certainly going to seize the opportunity to do some much-needed catechesis — but rather more on the ars celebrandi and not so much on the texts. I don’t see any mileage in trying to defend the indefensible. The best you can do is explain to folk why it’s happening and leave them to draw their own conclusions as to its value.

    2. If we are now exposed to what the texts actually say, what happens when folk turn round and say “Well, I don’t want to say those things” ?

      Don’t you think that would be the sign of a serious problem, much more grave than one translation vs. another? I realize this comes back to the issue of just “how good” the Latin texts of the Missal are, but when a person says that they don’t agree with the doctrinal content of the Latin prayers, what is to be done?

      If the Latin is no good, is that meant in terms of their objective value, or their subjective value in their contemporary reception? If the former, then I feel terribly bad for the centuries of Catholics who have been praying and assenting to these prayers. If the latter, perhaps it is our contemporary reception (and perception) which needs, ahem, translation.

  6. I find it striking that the famous 1998 translation is not all that different in style from the new one: e.g., “grant in your mercy that, as we celebrate on earth the mystery of that light, we may also rejoice in its fullness in heaven” versus “grant, we pray, that we who have known the mysteries of his light on earth may also feast on his joys in heaven” . . . quick, no peeking, which one is which? Had the 1998 gone ahead, would their have been controversy over complex sentence structure, subordinate clauses, etc.? Perhaps not, because of the availability of alternate collects in that proposed translation. Still, I’m led to wonder to what degree grammar and syntax are really the issues in this heated debate.

    1. Often, samples from the 1998 translation are provided, followed by an unqualified statement that the whole translation was not approved, as if the example shown necessarily exhibits the flaws which resulted in the lack of approval. There are some truly elegant translations in the 1998 version, and some which are very good apart from a few flaws which deserve correction… and then there are parts (many of which are not a matter of translation at all) which were completely unacceptable.

  7. I polled an average Catholic Jane on the provided translation examples who was not up on the backstory, politics, etc, but is a weekly mass-goer, an EEM, is on various parish comittees, and watches EWTN. I read the various sets of prayers to her without giving the year. Without fail, she chose the current prayers or the rejected 1998 prayers as the most understandable and/or poetic (inspiring/ thoughtprovoking – as she put it). And I might add, those were categories of evaluation that she came up with without prompting. The oldest and 09/10 were generally charecterized as confusing or not very inspiring (again her categories), she suggested, and in light of the other translations, needlessly so, she said. “Why change it” she asked, “especially when its supposed to be the same prayer?” She thought generally that it was a waste of time. There was not much complaint regarding the 09/10 vocabulary. And as discussed here a few months ago, the most major problem was “O God who have”. This prayer, she felt, just wasn’t understandable.

  8. I think Jeffrey is getting there: —

    Don’t you think that would be the sign of a serious problem, much more grave than one translation vs. another? I realize this comes back to the issue of just “how good” the Latin texts of the Missal are, but when a person says that they don’t agree with the doctrinal content of the Latin prayers, what is to be done?

    I don’t think the texts have any doctrinal content as such. It’s very easy to use the word ‘doctrinal’ to frighten people. What the texts have is some spiritual content. The question is whether that content has any relevance for today’s spirituality.

    So, yes, it really is a serious problem. And it’s one that those who are using the Missal ‘urtext’ as a basis for argument need to grapple with. But it’s not a doctrinal problem. To adduce that is tantamount to saying that people who have problems with the text are not Catholic. But they are, and very much so.

    Let’s get away from trying to treat the prayer texts as dogma and start looking at the difference between the Church’s theology and the Church’s prayer life. And then let’s start realizing that the question of translation is one that has the potential for killing the Church’s prayer life — if we let it.

    1. Well, I think others might respond that the texts are allusive to doctrinal content, and that such allusions should be respected and faithfully passed down in vernacular as well as in the Latin.

      That said, it doesn’t mean the translation approach used here is necessarily the best one for the above purpose. I actually think that translation approach betrays a rationalism that is very much of the modern era, and gives short shrift to the musical and poetic dimension of the best ritual texts in any language. To put it more bluntly, if the people hear the words but don’t hear the music, then something has not been faithfully transmitted. The translation principles of 1969 and 2001 have both missed the boat in that regard, though for different reasons.

      There are dimensions of Latin that do not necessarily translate well “literally”: certain forms of syntax and rhetoric that convey gravitas and maiestas in Latin tend, in English, to come across as effete and geeky – the very opposite effect. That’s why translation is an art, not a formula.

      1. Paul. You are more than welcome. See, I don’t always disagree with you! Actually, we may agree on more than is revealed here, but I just tend to be a heat seeking missile for unnecessary over-argument, regardless of side.

    2. The texts do have doctrinal content. They make reference to various doctrines — the Incarnation, the Ascension, grace, the resurrection, etc. Are people uncomfortable speaking about (or hearing about) God coming in the flesh? About the reality of sin and damnation and the necessity for grace and forgiveness?

      Plus, there was a big to-do on this blog a week or so ago about the use of the word “merit” in one of the Collects. That’s doctrinal, is it not?

      Now, I will admit that the current Latin texts are, in some cases, less than desirable. Take the proper prayers for November 2. In the E.F., we pray (explicitly) for the souls of the faithful departed; in the O.F., the word “soul” is never mentioned. Yes, we pray for God’s “deceased servants”, but why was the word “soul” excised from the vocabulary of the propers? (And in one of the Collects for that day, we pray for our hope rather than for the deceased.)

  9. I am surprised that no one has even mentioned the new front that has opened up recently, the changes from 2008 to 2010.
    For example, from the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
    may we so use the good things that pass away, that we may even now hold fast to those that endure. has changed to
    we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure.

    Surely there is someone else who thinks these changes do not improve the text. so use… that to use … in such a way as to ? They unsplit the verb, but put ‘even now’ on the wrong side. (‘even now to hold fast ‘ ) And that just adds to the problems of ‘ever’ in even now…ever endure ??

    3 questionable changes in so brief a passage? And none of the translations make much of an effort to connect God, who alone makes things valuable and holy, with the goods that pass and endure. I am not sure I can make that connection either, but I feel like we should come away from this prayer feeling that things that pass are made worthy by God, as are things that endure.

  10. The 1998 prayers cover ut well. As in 1974, he 1998 collects lamentably exclude quaesumus. Why does ICEL have a chronic phobia about supplication? Also, the 1998 translation, as with the 1974, still inserts words not found in the Latin.

    For example, from the collect of 17th Sunday in OT:multĂ­plica super nos misericĂłrdiam tuam. The 1998 has “enfold us in your gracious care and mercy”, while the 2010 has “bestow in abundance your mercy upon us”. Aside from the free translation ofmultĂ­plica super nos as “enfold us” (?), the 1998 stretches misericĂłrdiam to “gracious care and mercy.” Why the needless elaboration? The 2010 translates misericĂłrdiam as “mercy”, which is much simpler and cleaner.

    The collect for Advent I, ut, Christo tuo veniĂ©nti iustis opĂ©ribus occurrĂ©ntes reads in the 1998 as “to prepare for the coming of your Christ by works of justice and mercy” . Why the insertion of “mercy” and why the roundabout translation of the participle occurrentes? The 2010 text again avoids random embellishments and contortions.

    Is the 2010 Missal perfect? Certainly not. Yet unlike 1998 the “stilted” nature of the translation uncovers the mechanics of the Latin better. Better that we start anew with a literal and austere translation than plaster over the Latin archetype with more and more elaborations. Otherwise, we will have created a new non-Roman Rite.

    1. Uncovering the mechanics of Latin strikes me as a low priority in truly faithful translation. And your implied definition of what constitutes a Roman vs non-Roman rite is even narrower than Rome’s.

      But I do find the complaint about pleonasms in the 1998 translation interesting, shall we say. Just don’t tell Fr Joseph O’Leary about that.

      1. I disagree that the mechanics (grammar and syntax) of Latin are are of low priority in a vernacular translation of the Mass. The Latin Missal unfolds according to its own linguistic logic. Any translation of the Missale into a vernacular language inevitably loses the subtle cues in the Latin text. Vernacular paraphrases often gloss over difficult Latin expressions without even a nod to their existence. The 2010 translation has imparted a flavor of the typical edition’s syntactical beauty and theological profundity. The new translators have made a tentative step towards the rhythm and nuance of the Latin.

        My support of the Latin is not meant to belittle or chide. The vernacular must communicate the worship of the Universal Church, the Missale Romanum, and not the aspirations of a particular linguistic group. Those Anglophone Catholics that wish to craft a native English liturgy free from the Latin archetype should openly advocate that course rather than criticize a honest attempt to convey the essence of the Latin Missal through the vernacular.

  11. Jordan Zarembo wrote:
    The vernacular must communicate the worship of the Universal Church, the Missale Romanum, and not the aspirations of a particular linguistic group.

    Could somebody explain this to me? Isn’t the Missale Romanum an act of a particular linguistic group? How did it come to be “the worship of the Universal Church”?

    As I understand it, there is no worship of the Universal Church that is not also the worship of a particular church. Just like there is no universal human who does not have a particular origin or nationality. The worship of the Universal Church is communicated always, and only, through the worship of particular communities, whether it is the Roman rite, the Greek Our Father, or Syrian hymns. But these are always outward forms of our spiritual worship, and are not the worship itself.

    1. Precisely true. I apologize for not making this more clear. The Roman, Byzantine, Syriac et. al. liturgies are all expressions of the worship of the Universal Church. All are the Holy Sacrifice even though their forms differ.

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