The feast of Cyril and Methodius: a time to pray for translators

Though Jerome is usually considered the patron saint of translators, I think the feast of Ss. Cyril and Methodius is as good a time as any to pray for those who have the usually thankless task of translating. They had not only to translate the liturgy, but to invent a whole new script in which to do so.

Sometimes in arguing over the merits of this or that translation — arguments that are well worth having — we forget that the translators are neither gods whose worth is beyond reproach nor malicious demons who indulge in linguistic perversities simply to set our teeth on edge. More typically, they are people who seek to be servants of the liturgy and of the Church, who are certainly subject to the stubbornness, blindness and pride the the rest of us are subject to, but who also do the best they can, given the historical and ideological constraints under which they operate. This was true in 1970 and it is true in 2010.

So here is the the collect for this feast day, in the original Latin, the current translation, and what (I think) we will be praying next year. Pick your favorite version and use it as a way of praying for translators, and for the people of God who are sanctified by their labors, that we might become “a people of one accord in true faith and right confession” (or, if you prefer, “one in faith and praise”).

MR 2002
Deus, qui per beatos fratres Cyrillum et Methodium
Salvoniae gentes illuminasti,
da cordibus nostris tuae doctrinae verba percipere,
nosque perfice populum
in vera fide et recta confessione concordem.
Per Dominum. . .

ICEL 1970
Father, you brought the light of the gospel to the Slavic nations
through Saint Cyril and his brother Saint Methodius.
Open our hearts to understand your teaching
and help us to become one in faith and praise.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

ICEL 2010
O God, who enlightened the Slavic peoples
through the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius,
grant that our hearts may grasp the words of your teaching,
and perfect us as a people of one accord
in true faith and right confession. Through our Lord. . .


  1. From Holy Women, Holy Men (Episcopal Church, 2010):

    Almighty and everlasting God,
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
    you moved your servant Cyril and his brother Methodius
    to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people:
    Overcome all bitterness and strife among us by the love of Christ,
    and make us one united family
    under the banner of the Prince of Peace;
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    1. I like this prayer very much: it’s much richer and deeper than any of the Catholic English translations.

      (It also shows how the Latin can be improved).

    2. Thank you Cody for sharing this today. The line “bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people” is tugging at my heart. An excellent source for some theological reflection.

  2. and not forgetting…

    ICEL 1998

    Lord our God,
    through the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius
    you brought the light of the gospel to the Slavic peoples.
    Open our hearts to receive the words of your teaching
    and make us one people,
    united in holding and professing the true faith.

    We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns…

  3. And the 2008 Gray book text:

    O God, who enlightened the Slavic peoples
    through the brothers Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius,
    grant that we may receive the words of your teaching in our hearts,
    and make us a people of one heart
    in true faith and right confession.

    1. Jeffrey

      What does “right confession” mean? And more important: what does it mean to an average layperson? Confess your sins properly? Confess Jesus Christ is Lord? Confession of Faith? The Bohemian Confession? Written Confession?

      This for me is an example of the unfortunate dimming of meaning in the new translation mandated by the rules in Liturgiam Authenticam.

      I MUCH prefer “one heart” in ICEL 2008 to “one accord” in ICEL [Vox Clara] 2010. I know immediately what “one heart” means. “Accord” is a clinical word that isn’t immediately gripping – a small example of how Vox Clara has fumbled the translation by unnecessary tinkering. Why did they do this?

      1. You see that “right confession” is in the Latin though, right?When a priest says before the creed (as I’ve heard so many times), “Let us stand and confess our faith” do you start a Confiteor in your pew?

        It was the light of the Gospel that Ss. C. & M. brought to the Slavic peoples, but there’s no word “Gospel” there. Why does the metaphor need to be explained (and the prayer thereby dumbed down)?

        Some of the “problems” with this collect could be avoided by using the 1962 version. 😉

        Ominipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Slavoniae gentes per beatos Confessores tuos atque Pontifices Cyrillum et Methodium ad agnitionem tui nominis venire tribuisti praesta; ut, quorum festivitate gloriamur, eorum consortio copulemur.

        Unofficial translation:
        Almighty and everlasting God, Who by the ministry of Thy blessed Confessor and Bishops Cyril and Methodius didst vouchsafe to call the Slavonic peoples to knowledge of Thy name: grant that we who glory in their festival may be joined with them in fellowship.

      2. MUCH prefer “one heart” in ICEL 2008 to “one accord” in ICEL [Vox Clara] 2010. I know immediately what “one heart” means. “Accord” is a clinical word that isn’t immediately gripping – a small example of how Vox Clara has fumbled the translation by unnecessary tinkering. Why did they do this?

        I know immediately what “one accord” means.

        “one heart” substitutes a metaphor for an etymological allusion.

      3. nosque perfice populum in vera fide et recta confessione concordem

        An acceptably literal translation would be ” and perfect us as a untied people in true faith and right confession” — no need for heart or accord.

        That being said, one could also say “and perfect us as a people with heart in true faith and right confession.”

        Samuel, no metaphor here beyond what the Latin itself give us — and isn’t prayer necessarily metaphorical anyway? Given the choice between one heart and accord, I’ll take one heart as being the more literal and etymological parsing.

      4. I would hope people know that confess/confession has more than one meaning, and that some would be able to ascertain the right one from its context here. And if not, well, maybe a quick word in the homily would suffice?

        I recognize the word from Scripture, of course… quoting from the NAB:

        if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (Rom 10:9)

        you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor 9:13)

        every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:11)

        Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Tim 6:12)

        Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Heb 3:1)

        since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession (Heb 4:14)

        Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. (Heb 10:23)

        Through him (then) let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Heb 13:15)

        No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. (1 John 2:23)

        As for what I understand it to mean, it is one thing to hold the faith, and another to confess it.

        I too favor “of one heart” (cf. Acts 4:32) to the colder “of one accord”. To translate it simply as “united” is to miss the core of the word! 😉

      5. In all the NT quotes cited by Jeffrey except Phl 2:11we are translating the Greek word from which we get homology which means likeness of structure in biology. The Greek word in Phl 2:11 is the one from which we get exomologesis, the public confession of sin.

        Given the root word logos in both Greek words, the single best words to translation everything in the above scripture quotes in my opinion would be “acknowledge/ment” provided we understand that this is not simply cognitive but also behavioral, i.e. in my mind, on my lips and in my heart of the Gospel prayer. This is usually elaborated on by the surrounding words in the NT quotes.

      6. Fr. Cody you must have had a Freudian slip, “Perfect us as an “untied” people…hmm, shouldn’t that be “united” people?”

        Also “one accord” sounds like what I have and drive!

        Translations into English are always tricky!

  4. and isn’t prayer necessarily metaphorical anyway?

    Necessarily? No. Why would it be?

    no metaphor here beyond what the Latin itself give us

    “Heart” is under the word “concordem” etymologically, but it’s not a literal reference to the heart. To use a reference to the heart is to insert a metaphor, where, in English, we have a non-metaphorical ways of saying the same thing. I think it’s important that our prayers balance metaphor and literality and don’t always go for the metaphor, it makes them seem ungrounded.

    1. Yes, necessarily. Prayer addresses that which is unknown except by revelation. By juxtaposing one thing with another, metaphor discloses new levels of meaning within our frame of understanding.

      The role of metaphor in liturgical prayer has been popular topic in liturgical studies. Following on Ricoeur, Lakoff and Johnson, both Nathan Mitchell and Gail Ramshaw, among others, have explored this area extensively.

      I don’t believe we necessarily benefit from employing direct cognates where suitable metaphors suggest themselves. “Love” for both “gratia” and “caritas” pushes the envelope — as seems to be the case in the current (1970s) translation of the Missal. But in this case, there is ample ground for deploying the metaphor “heart”.

      Prayer is addressed to God: but if it is to be the authentic prayer of the Christian people, it should be well within their reach of understanding, so that (in the words of Augustine) their “Amen might be true.”

      1. I’m not really interested in a long discussion on this, but this brings in all of Aquinas’s and Scotus’s discussion about analogy and naming God etc. Both the Thomistic and Scotian positions deny that metaphor is neccesary to talk about God (analogy is not metaphor) and I don’t see why talking to God would be different in this respect. Since these views (incorporating by reference the arguments for them) are both well within the bounds of orthodoxy (and not just Roman Catholic orthodoxy), I think it would be a mistake to state definitively or popularly that prayer neccesarily requires metaphor or to take action for the universal Church (e.g. in translation) on that basis.

        Even if I stipulate that metaphor discloses new levels of meaning, the whole point of revelation is that it reveals something and we then have direct access to that content, not metaphorical access. Leaving a level on which we can prayer non-metaphorically.

      1. Sadly in the 2010 postcommunion prayer for this past Sunday which gives thanks for our having just shared in “heavenly delights,” such a beautiful image for the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Angels and the Chalice of Salvation, the 2010 Vox Clara rewrite asks (oh and with a grammatical mistake “We pray, O Lord, SO that we may always long for. Shouldn’t have that SO there) that we may always LONG FOR. A couple posters on other topics here pointed out (and I wrote it down to save it) that APPETAMUS first meaning is HUNGER FOR, where appetite comes from. It was HUNGER in 1975, 1998, 2008.

        Why the change? And a bad change I think we could all agree.

      2. Jeremy, I can’t comment on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary time Postcommunion prayer based on the information you’ve provided. If you want to post the new, current, and Latin, I’ll take a look though.

      3. Caelestibus, Domine, pasti deliciis,
        quaesumus, ut semper eadem,
        per quae veraciter vivimus, appetamus,
        and so also in 1973 (the current “lame-duck” translation) and in:
        Having feasted on heaven’s delights,
        we pray, O Lord,
        that we may always hunger
        for the food by which we truly live.
        Through Christ our Lord.
        as well as 1998:
        Having feasted with delight at your heavenly table,
        we beg you, Lord,
        that we may always hunger for that food
        by which we truly live.
        Grant this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

      4. 2010 at least according to Chant Cafe

        Having fed upon these heavenly delights,
        we pray, O Lord,
        so that we may always long
        for that food by which we truly live.
        Through Christ our Lord.

        The “so” is grammatically incorrect. It’s for a purpose clause “we eat so that we may live” Petition is just “that” We pray, O lord, that we may always.

        And long for is one of those “emotional” terms LA says should not replace biblical images. appetamus appetite hunger.

        Remember I’m ALL FOR a new translation. Just keep thinking 2010 was no improvement over 2008.

      5. Grace Episcopal Church, Newark, NJ, makes use of the Roman proper post-Communion prayers, rather than the fixed post-Communions — choice of two — in the Book of Common Prayer. (This is not, btw, uncommon for high-end Anglo-Catholics to do).

        The translation they use is their own: it may be found here.

        Just for comparison, yesterday’s post-Communion in their translation (pointed for chanting) reads:

        Give ear tô our práyers, O Lord: and grant that we, who have received these heavenly mysterìes, may never cease to hunger for the true bread of life; through Jêsus Chríst our Lord. Amen.

        Not particularly accurate in comparison with the Latin, but certainly within the scope of BCP-esque language.

      6. Thank you for posting the Episcopal version. Note that although they amplified the beginning a bit, they got the grammar correct: it’s “that we may never” not “so that” which is simply incorrect grammar on the part of Vox Clara. And it’s “to hunger” (appetamus) not “to long for.”

        Cardinal Pell says we’re getting a translation that follows LA’s rule to translate the Latin “most exactly.” but we’re obviously NOT.

      7. I lost my reply, so here’s a shorter version.

        Regarding “so that” see the OED “so” definition 40d: With that, denoting result or consequence.

        Regarding appetamus, a form of the verb “appeto”, it’s not clear to me that “first meaning is HUNGER FOR, where appetite comes from.”

        Appetite comes from this, but figuratively. In dictionaries, e.g. here, “hunger” is not listed as a meaning for the verb.

  5. I’d think “cor” is at the heart [har har] of both “concordem” and “accord” – so “one heart” seems capable of serving both as metaphor AND cognate! (Actually, “concord” would be the cognate, wouldn’t it?)
    Interesting to have a discussion over “heart” language on Valentine’s Day! (That Wacky Paraclete – where WILL She zoom next?)

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