Give me a literary, not a literal translation

From U.S. Catholic, by Bernard Lee, SM:

Give me a literary, not a literal translation


  1. I can only add, “Amen and Amen” His well balanced point is true on many levels and he managed to convey it in an informed and literate manner.

  2. As Ronald Knox said, “You can have a literate translation or a literal translation, but you can’t have both” and the result of the Pell-Moroney-Ward Missal is that we got neither.

  3. And once again, a San Antonio Marianist brings us a balance… seriously, I have been having meetings with “First Responders” – secretaries and receptionists who will bear the brunt of any feedback… I have discovered that those who are bilingual have very little problem with this, although they admit that it will take rehearsal on the part of the priest to do this adequate justice. But in some ways, our current translation is “flat”… oh that we had the translation that the Vatican wouldn’t allow…

  4. I found his comments on Et cum spiritu tuo especially interesting, and wished he had said more. Cognates don’t automatically serve as the best translation, although occasionally they might. For example, I recall an instance in the Rite of Election where the initial translation of “gratia” was love or something. This could have been very fine in another context. But given the long and important history of the doctrine of grace in the theology of divine election, and the fact that the prayer was evidently speaking about such concepts (contrasting nature with grace), how else would they say it except by using the word gratia? (I was happy to see it later retranslated as “grace.”)

    A word such as spirit does of course admit to many different meanings depending on the context, and one only has to look at the venerable translation of spiritus as ghost to realize it’s not as simple as some would make out. Even those who are adamant about the need to translate Et cum spiritu tuo as And with your spirit are not agreed about what spirit means here. The grace of holy orders? The Pauline use of pneuma? Merely the “otherness” of liturgical language causing us to ponder…? Cognates providing a remedy for the presumed divisions between Catholics who speak several different modern languages? I’ve read all these things and find that I am more confused than ever about the object and intention of this text in the new translation.

    1. I’m adamant about translating “Et cum spiritu tuo” as “And with your spirit” exactly for the reason you list above. Whereas “And also with you” is nothing but a polite reply to the priest, “And with your spirit” brings about all the possibilities you raise, and demands a bit more from the speaker. Is there anything wrong with allowing it to have different meanings to different people? As is frequently proclaimed here by someone, unity does not necessarily mean uniformity.

      1. Jeff: I’m more of a “And with thy ghost” man myself.

        You free-thinking modernists using “your spirit” instead of “thy ghost” 40-50 years ago opened the floodgates for all this modern rubbish.

        Let’s get REAL serious about “tradition” here.

      2. Chris: Forgive me, but aren’t we confusing “spirit” with “Spirit” or “Ghost”. I don’t know of a translation of “Et cum spiritu tuo” as “And with thy Ghost”. My point has nothing to do with tradition. I would argue that the word “spirit” is the best choice precisely because it is a bit open ended.

      3. The reason why we’ll have to say “And with your spirit” is not because it means anything in particular, but simply because it’s the traditional response.

        LA 56. Certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become part of the general human patrimony, are to be respected by a translation that is as literal as possible, as for example the words of the people’s response Et cum spiritu tuo […].

      4. Is there anything wrong with allowing it to have different meanings to different people?

        I just read a comment by Peter Haydon on the Ecumenism thread, that is a possible response : “Where there are real differences in theology is it helpful and honest to disguise these by using texts that seem to be the same?

        From your openness towards prayers that might mean different things to different people, I infer that you are probably also favorable to ecumenical prayers. Is that right?

    2. Rita:

      Unless I’m mistaken, you’re

      . not one of Vox Clara’s (according to Monsignor Moroney) “7,000 advisors”

      . lay (rhymes with pray, pay and obey), and

      . female

      so, really, dear lady, your confusion doesn’t matter.

      Vox Clara, along with the capitulating bishops and clergy are not confused (at least until they try to proclaim the unproclaimable texts, and explain why they’ll say “for many” when they mean and teach “for all”) and in the Church of Benedict XVI (telling the English Bishops this translation is a great example of collegiality, and giving a better hearing to the Temple Police than to his own bishops) they’re all that matters.

  5. Jeff Rice :
    Chris: Forgive me, but aren’t we confusing “spirit” with “Spirit” or “Ghost”. I don’t know of a translation of “Et cum spiritu tuo” as “And with thy Ghost”. My point has nothing to do with tradition. I would argue that the word “spirit” is the best choice precisely because it is a bit open ended.

    Commenters, please continue to check your sense of humo(u)r before commenting.

  6. Is no one else concerned with the VC2010 translation simply dismissing efforts at Christian Unity, ecumenical prayer, and all the work which went into creating common texts?

    It is such a blessing to attend a baptism, wedding, or funeral with another Christan denominational community and share the same words, be able to automatically participate in the prayers, if not in the Eucharist, which is not always offered anyway. It is so much easier planning ecumenical prayer when we share the same dialogues.

    I have suspected since the last revision of the IGMR that there is a deliberate effort to differentiate Catholicism from other forms of Christianity as much as possible and to reverse any sense of coming together since V2. Does any one else feel this way?

    Since there is no doctrinal reason to use spirit in the response, not even a clear understanding of what spirit means here, why throw out the common English text among Christian churches unilaterally?

    1. Tom, LA gives you the reason to avoid common texts: avoid confusion between Catholics and other ecclesial communities.

      LA 40. […] On the other hand, great caution is to be taken to avoid a wording or style that the Catholic faithful would confuse with the manner of speech of non-Catholic ecclesial communities or of other religions, so that such a factor will not cause them confusion or discomfort.

    2. Tom, I very much share your concern. Thanks for raising this point.

      Claire, I see you are focusing us on the source of this, but do you agree with LA on this point?

      I know, as Chris so well pointed out above (!), that our opinions (and confusion) don’t matter, but I’m persisting in foolishly thinking, for the purpose of this discussion, that they do. 😉

      1. Rita: no, I absolutely do not agree with LA on this point. How could I start discussing it rationally? Just reading that paragraph raises my blood pressure. I’m happier to let others lead the charge.

    3. Since there is no doctrinal reason to use spirit in the response, not even a clear understanding of what spirit means here, why throw out the common English text among Christian churches unilaterally?

      False premise. It’s not the common English text. Take a look at the the Episcopal Church’s Rite One.

      1. Samuel, one example does not mean anything.

        The CCT and its variants have long agreed on common translations for the Mass dialogs, including and also with you, see Rite Two

      2. The “common English text” refers to a specific set of texts which were worked out in common. Rite One of the Book of Common Prayer doesn’t use the common English text.

        You’ll note that it’s “thy” spirit as well.

      3. O.K. even if we’re talking about the CCT text, it’s still not the case that the Catholic Church is alone among English speaking liturgical Churches in throwing it over, since the Anglicans and Episcopalians never universally adopted it in the first place.

      4. Don’t worry! Once the Anglicans hear us offering praise “to the immensity of your majesty” and asking God “constain them mercifully to convert toward you” and be “bound by a bond of love so tight” that our “disordered affections” learn to “so deal with this passing world” – they’ll be so jealous of our new and beautiful missal that they’ll be right back on board!

      5. Lack of universal adoption does not necessarily imply lack of commonality.

        In the Anglican/Episcopal milieu, it’s a both-and situation, but most of us can move freely between Rite I and Rite II without any difficulty, and often the responses of one of the rites is used with the other — eg., weddings and funerals, where Rite II responses and acclamations are used with the Rite I presidential texts, precisely because the Rite II materials are common, both to the majority of Episcopalians and to guests. (Rite II is far more common, and much better known than Rite I, even in TEC.)

        Once the new missal goes into effect, that commonality will be lost with Roman Catholics — except of course, those Roman Catholics who enjoy the Pastoral Provision (the so-called “Anglican Use”) in the U.S., who will continue to use the Book of Divine Worship until it is either updated to reflect that change (which doesn’t seem likely), or until a new liturgy is produced for the Anglican Use Ordinariate.

        But all of this goes far beyond Episcopal/Anglican concerns. Consider, just with regard to the greeting: two series of reformed liturgical books (LBW and ELW) in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Service Book of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the United Methodist Book of Worship, the Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church, USA, the service books of the United Church of Christ, the Moravian Book of Worship (which rarely uses a liturgical greeting), the Book of Worship of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Book of Ritual of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Chalice Worship the service book of the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ, all use “And also with you.”

        Most of these books (which are the ones I have immediately on-hand to check), insofar as their liturgies use a form of Gloria, Credo, Sanctus or Agnus Dei, use the common ICEL/ICET texts. Where they do not, they use a modern language version of the older BCP texts — i.e., Rite I — which look remarkably like those forthcoming in the new missal. Perhaps it’s the case that Vox Clara has borrowed from the Protestants?

        No, not universal, but certainly common — and, for many, treasured on account of it.

    4. Well said, Tom – see new blog post. Agree completely – it actually turns the clock backwards across shared lectionary, liturgical language, sacramental language, etc.

  7. Tom Poelker :
    Angus O’Day, the Scots Irish composer?

    Tom, you need to understand that Rita is older than God. She’s old enough, in fact to remember when the Deity had a name beginning with Y . . . .

    1. There goes Chris expecting us all to recognize his sense of humor again!

      From her blog photo, I’d guess that Rita is not even older than me, and I am not yet older than the hills.

  8. Jeff, thank you for your views. I can’t help but notice however that you’ve attached a certain denigratory interpretation into the words “And also with you” (saying it’s “nothing but a polite reply”). Nothing but?

    Yet at the same time I don’t hear you saying that the priest’s words to the people are “Nothing but a polite greeting.” In reality, it would seem that both of these are more than polite greetings / responses.

    In general, I think it’s important to avoid projecting onto people’s spiritual condition our worst view of their intentions when they make any response in the liturgy. The response “And also with you” can be very reverent indeed, just as reverent as what is being proposed to replace it. It’s not as if this is a form of polite address in any setting which is not liturgical.

    Whenever someone says about responses in liturgy “But the average person doesn’t realize what they are saying!” I can’t help but offer back the ever-popular refrain — But that’s what CATECHESIS is supposed to address!

    Second, you point to the value of ambiguity in language as part of the multivalent quality of liturgy and symbol. Fair enough. But I say “The Lord be with you / And also with you” is already ambiguous and multivalent. The way in which “And with your spirit” differs is not that it is ambiguous and multivalent, but rather that it is obscure. Consequently, the explanations offered for the text are an attempt to generate a plain sense which isn’t there, rather than to enlarge upon something already there the meaning of which is known (i.e. to do mystagogy upon the text).

    What Pope John Paul II famously called for — a rediscovery of the art of mystagogic catechesis — isn’t being done. Instead, we are introducing puzzles, and offering catechesis to “explain” them.

  9. I first posted this for the Goodness gracious Athanasius piece.
    It would seem more appropriate here.

    Ah but now the time for change has nearly come
    for words to mean what words become
    Translated from the dim and very distant past,
    their new found old form must surely last
    till day is done
    and we can all behave ourselves again.
    Sic transit gloria mundi.
    Chris McDonnell UK

  10. And by the way, does anyone know why we don’t say Holy Ghost? It would bring us closer to the German translation. Or are the Germans going to have to change theirs to be closer to ours?

    This whole notion that English needs to be like other language groups seems very selective.

    1. In Japan, when the priest says the Lord Be With You, the assembly responds “And With The Priest”. Culturally they do not address officials in the second person. Is that not kind of a form of “and also with you”?

      1. Excellent example, Mike. What are the Japanese going to do in a situation of this kind?

      2. Maybe in Japan we will now have to say, “and also with the priest’s spirit” (mata shisai no seishin to tomo ni, instead of mata shisai to tomo ni) which will give a really clericalist twist to it. There are new translations of the Japanese in the works that are causing disarray, but I have not seen them.

  11. What is the best “literary” translation of Dominus vobiscum?

    Dominus vobiscum, (ädönäy) `immäkem, is the greeting of Boas to the workers gathering the grain harvest (Ruth 2:4). Their response was “The LORD bless you!” (NAB).

    (´ädönäy) `immäkem occurs six times in the Torah. Its fundamental reference is to the covenant.

    And Pharao answered: So be the Lord with you, as I shall let you and your children go: who can doubt but that you intend some great evil? (Exo 10:10 DRA)

    This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words. (Exo 24:8 DRA)

    because you would not consent to the Lord, neither will the Lord be with you. (Num 14:43 DRA)

    the LORD spoke with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. (Deu 5:4 NAB)

    When I went up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, the tables of the covenant which the Lord made with you: (Deu 9:9 DRA)

    And the Lord gave me two tables of stone written with the finger of God, and containing all the words that he spoke to you in the mount from the midst of the Are, when the people were assembled together. (Deu 9:10 DRA)

    Even before Boas greets the covenant community harvesting the wheat, Naomi uses the same words to Ruth “The Lord be with you mercifully (hesed) as you dealt with the dead, and with me.” (A composite literal translation of Ruth 1:8) )

    This is Naomi’s recognition that a reflection of God’s love can be found even among the Moabites, and therefore that Ruth is implicitly a member of the covenant community. To which Ruth gives her famous response.

    Whatever the historical origins of Dominus vobiscum, it seems to me it would be very meaningful to interpret it in the light of these scriptural references, and therefore the “literary” meaning would be more like

    “You are God’s people!”

    I like the response to the greeting of Boas

    “The Lord bless you”

    Maybe we could sing the whole priestly blessing!

  12. The Portugese translation currently runs
    “The Lord be with you.
    He is in our midst.”

    That is very reminiscent of one Anglican version which runs
    “The Lord is here.
    His spirit is with us.”

    It reminds me of what John Chrysostom said in his first Pentecost homily about et cum spiritu tuo, to the effect that this response reminds us that it is the Spirit who is at work in what takes place, and that the action of the Spirit is beyond any one person (including the presider) in the assembly. In other words, trying to use this response to mean that the priest is in some way special through the grace of holy orders is not a valid justification. These are his words:

    reminding yourselves by this reply that he who is here does nothing of his own power, nor are the offered gifts the work of human nature, but it is the grace of the Spirit present and hovering over all things which prepared that mystic sacrifice.

    1. So, Paul, you’re telling us that in addition to ENTIRELY different (and in some cases conflicting) opinions as to what “and with your spirit” means coming from the likes of Cardinals Francis George and George Pell, Bishop Arthur Roche and Monsignors Ronald Knox and Bruce Harbert, we also have Saint John Chrysostom weighing in with something entirely different from all of them!

      Together they provide an excellent argument for retaining “and also with you!”

    2. Was privileged to attend Paul Inwood’s presentation the other night for the diocese of Dallas and their parish liturgy and music directors.

      His focus on supporting the people of God through better liturgy; his focus on using music/chant to help us manage word/response changes; and his way of inserting church history (example above) was energizing and insightful whatever your stance on the translation project is.

      He deftly presented the issues, problems, challenges while at the same time remaining positive.

      Appreciated being there.

  13. Samuel J. Howard :

    I’m sorry, Tom, but yes, it does. It means that “and also with you” is not “the common English text among Christian churches”.

    Deliberately obtuse, Samuel? It is the text which is in common which has been changed. Nobody said it was the only text. Two different applications of the article “the”.

  14. Joe O’Leary :
    There are new translations of the Japanese in the works that are causing disarray, but I have not seen them.

    This is fascinating, as Japanese is supposedly one of the languages for which the Pell-Moroney-Ward Missal will be used as a basis.

    1. If I remember correctly, the Japanese cannot translate spiritu[s] as “spirit” because in the Japanese language this word only has the connnotation of spook, spectre, phantom, ghost, etc —as in the spirits of the ancestors, etc. It will be interesting to see what solution is reached.

      1. I surmised “seishin” — a somewhat abstract, philosophical word meaning pretty much the same as German “Geist”. The Holy Spirit is “seirei” (a different “sei” meaning holy). “rei” pon its own can be ghost, manes, or spirit.

  15. In my opinion the translation of Dominus vobiscum is of greater concern than the translation of Et cum spiritu tuo. “The Lord BE with you” seems wimpy to me. Since there is no verb why not go with “The Lord IS with you” as we do when translating it in Luke 1: 28 and the Hail Mary? “The Lord IS with you” is a solemn affirmation of our faith in Christ’s promise to be with us always, Matthew 28:20. It is a declaration that I need to hear. Christ is with me in my pain and in my joy, in my sinning and in my loving. Christ is not just with me but I am to find him in my wife, my children, in the neighbor who annoys me, in the poor, the sick, the outcast and the abused. I think we all need to hear over and over again that we have not been left orphans. Let the phrase, “The Lord IS with you” prompt us to seek and find Christ’s myriad presence in our world.

    1. Count me a strong no on the declarative, and give me the subjunctive, thank you very much. The lack of a explicit verb in the Latin doesn’t mean it’s not there. The phrase has been used and understood in the Latin for centuries as subjunctive; it would be an anachronism to suddenly erase that history, for whatever noble reasons.

  16. Back to ‘give me a literary, not a literal translation’. We needed professional translators – ideally poets too. What we got was professional bishops. But then the writers of LA were not professional translators, either, and might even have been puzzled over the difference between ‘literary’ and ‘literal’…

    Canon Law has at last realised that financial management is not a charism given at priestly ordination. So too with many other skills needed in the service of the Church…

  17. Samuel J. Howard :
    O.K. even if we’re talking about the CCT text, it’s still not the case that the Catholic Church is alone among English speaking liturgical Churches in throwing it over, since the Anglicans and Episcopalians never universally adopted it in the first place.

    Still dragging red herrings, as no one claimed that the RCC was alone.
    The original question why do whatever harm it causes? Why not keep EP2, for example as a common text option, or keep the congregational responses, at least?
    You brought up the irrelevancy of some BCP options.

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