I was curious how various translations of prayers might be received, so I decided to use the choristers of the National Catholic Youth Choir (here now for summer camp) for an unscientific experiment. I read aloud three translations of the Collect and the Prayer Over the Offerings from last Sunday, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I did not tell them where the prayers are from. I asked only this question: “As you listen to these prayers, which do you prefer as the best wording which helps you to pray?” I then read the 1974 (current) translation, the 1997 (approved by the bishops, rejected by Rome) translation, and the 2010 (forthcoming) translation. Then I read each series a second and a third time.
1973 came in first 67% of the time and last 18% of the time.
1997 came in first 22% of the time and last 30% of the time.
2010 came in first 11% of the time and last 52% of the time.
The choristers, all Catholic, are going into grades 10, 11, and 12 this fall. They are a unique group of young people: 48% attend Catholic (or Christian in one case) school, 15% are home schooled, and 37% attend public schools. Virtually all of them come from families of practicing Catholics. Homeschoolers, by the way, do not differ from the others in their preferences, and they were no more likely to prefer the forthcoming translation.
Here are the choristers’ comments about the current translation:
Simple but pretty. Easy to understand. To the point. Too bland. Easy to understand. Short and sweet. Repetitive. Simple but peaceful. Refreshing. Great message. Do this, do that, too much like a list. Not too much being said. I like the simplicity – it gets to the point. The words are easily understood, so prayer comes more easily. Short words. Very well worded – kind of original but still the best. Sounds more heartfelt. Most prayerful. To the point, and gives due respect to God.
Here are their comments about the 1997 translation:
Not too bad, but has some awkward structures. More flourish, but easy to understand. A little too wordy. Nice language, reflective. Right in the middle between the other two options. I kind of got lost because of the wording. You can comprehend it. Easy to get into. I think that the wording is the best. I get lost. Empowering and deep. Less confusing [than the third example]. More poetic, makes the prayer personal. Very descriptive and poetic. I don’t like the sentence structure – too complicated – but I like the word choice, though. Uses the politically correct “humankind,” but I prefer “mankind” (from a female). It’s beautiful without being pompous. Seems too wordy, hard to follow, confusing. A little bit confusing, but after you listen and reflect you can understand it. Could be better but good enough. Too wordy. I got it after I heard it twice; I have to analyze it first. Makes me feel energized and strong.
Here are their comments about the forthcoming translation:
Too complicated. Too wordy. The language flows nicely. Too many words that are not absolutely necessary. Words get confusing. Got bored – sounds too much like a huge compound sentence. Too long and really big words. Too difficult to relax and pray. Hard! The way it is worded sounds weird. More feeling. Too many big words. Easy to follow. I don’t know what some words mean. Thoughtful. Confusing. “Grant, we pray…” gets confusing. More imagery, very poetic. It is real, people can relate to it. Has words I would never use. It beats around the bush. Way too complicated and wordy. I stopped listening half way through. A bit wordy, but still understandable. Just too long. Very confusing. Does not sound like it is from the heart. A little too hard to follow. I don’t think everybody can connect to these words. Seems kind of scholarly.
Finally, one chorister wrote this: “The simpler a prayer is, the easier it is to pay attention to. At the same time, some flourish makes it more interesting and different from everyday conversation, which can be a good thing.”