Some more prefaces, from Pentecost and Ordinary Time

Ed. Note: Fr. Pádraig McCarthy, priest of the archdiocese of Dublin, has prepared the following chart comparing the text of prefaces from the current translation of the missal with the upcoming translation. He provides the following notes by way of introduction.

1.     Prefaces are structured in three sections:

a.     A statement that it is right to give thanks and praise.
b.     The body of the Preface: the reason for giving thanks on this occasion.
c.     A lead into Sanctus of praise with angels etc.

2.     The new translation reflects the Latin text more exactly, giving the English translation a more verbose and florid character, and at times more strained.

3.     Many Prefaces in the new translation begin the second section with “For …”, reflecting Latin syntax. This uses the word “For” as a conjunction with the same meaning as “Because”. In Latin this is normal. In English it is anomalous.

Some would say that one should never begin a sentence in English with a conjunction; in colloquial speech, however, it is not infrequent. Where “Because” is the first word of a sentence in English, what it logically refers to normally follows it in the same sentence; for example:

“Because it was raining, I took the umbrella.”

Unexpectedly, in the Prefaces, “For” logically refers, not to a following clause, but to the preceding sentence. So the equivalent in a short example would be:

I took the umbrella.
For it was raining …

In English, the logical unit would more usually be all one sentence. In the new translation it is artificially divided in two. Where possible, it would seem good simply to omit the word “For” in the Preface, and the sense is in no way impaired.

4.     There is some improvement in the use of inclusive language.

5.     A continuing problem is in the long sentences and artificial quasi-Latin syntax. Try this:

  • Prepare the new text of the Prefaces below as you would for clear and understandable reading aloud.
  • Then try reading aloud the first and second section of each of these Prefaces as some people listen carefully.
  • Alternatively, just try the last one above, Preface VIII for Sundays in Ordinary Time.
  • After each, ask the listeners to tell you what it is you have read. Estimate a success score.
  • What will it be like reading the new Prefaces to a crowd in a church?

Pentecost and Ordinary Time prefaces


  1. Fr McCarthy’s comments beg the question ‘What is a sentence?’ The common answer, which seems to be implied in what Fr McCarthy says, is that a sentence is everything enclosed between two full stops (which Americans call periods). But in liturgical texts it isn’t that simple, since their punctuation has to take into account the music to which they are sung. Look at pre-conciliar liturgical books of the Dominicans and Carthusians, for instance, and you find punctuation marks not seen in any modern vernacular books.
    Books of the Roman Rite printed in the 15th and later centuries used only the punctuation marks we know today, but adapted these for liturgical use. So a Collect will have a full stop before a conclusion that begins with ‘Per’, and a Preface will have the same before ‘Qui’, to indicate the end of one musical phrase and the beginning of another.
    Users of vernacular missals want a Preface to look like a Preface and a Collect like a Collect, so the 1973 missal followed the established Roman pattern. But it allowed punctuation to determine syntax, so that in Prefaces and Orations a new sentence would always follow a full stop. Hence ‘Grant this’ and ‘We ask this’ introducing conclusions. That was the tail wagging the dog.
    The new translation follows the Roman model both in syntax and in punctuation: this should enable users, once they have understood the convention, to recognise at a glance the structure of a text, including its musical structure.

  2. This structure makes perfect sense to me, and I think it’s only stodgy rules of academic English that are at odds with the punctuation.
    The “For” very clearly refers what follows back to what preceded it, especially if the presider speaks it clearly.

    1. “Stodgy rules of academic English…” ??? Sorry, this is 4th grade English. I can see the “For…” being dropped often. For you won’t hear any complaints from me when they do.

      1. 4th grade English IS stodgy academic English- that’s kind of my point. People who write prescriptive textbooks for elementary school grammar class have a very limited view of what is “proper.”
        (500 years of venerable examples of “everyone… their,” including a myriad of myriad examples from SHAKESPEARE, and yet everyone who writes a grammar textbook thinks THEY know that pronouns have to agree in number [because we all know that “everyone” refers to a single person of a specific gender]).

        Sentences! They are much more fluid than people usually give them credit for.

        And if you remove the “for,” how will you indicate that the second section refers back to the first in such a specific way?

    2. What I find interesting is the “For” is used in every case in the embolism of the Preface when this isn’t the case in Latin. Comparing the 2008 vs. 2010 editions, the 2008 edition followed the Latin more closely, often beginning a relative clause with “who.” In my view this more clearly refers to the antecedent clause of the protocol of the Preface than using “For” in every case. It seems the revision of the Prefaces tried to force the all to fit a specific English formula that isn’t warranted by the Latin. This is evident from the exclusive use of “acclaim” in the eschatocol of the Prefaces. There is much more variety in the Latin.

  3. Oh, also:

    “languages of man”
    “languages of the earth”

    OT Sundays II OLD:
    “sinful man”
    OT Sundays II NEW:
    “human waywardness”

    OT Sundays III OLD:
    “Man refused your friendship, but man himself was to restore it.”
    OT Sundays III NEW:
    “fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation.”

    OT Sundays V OLD:
    “you chose to create man in your own image, setting him over the whole world”
    OT Sundays V NEW:
    “formed man in your own image, and set humanity over the whole world”
    (not perfect, but an improvement)

    I know, I know- some other version that we don’t have was even better. I know, I know- there’s still sexism in the text, which is much to be lamented.
    But there is clear improvement here, which doesn’t get nearly enough play on this blog.

  4. I have to agree with Adam that much (most/all?) of the unnecessary exclusive language of the current translation has been changed in this new translation, and that is a blessing to many of us.

  5. Fr. Hunwicke recently started with a preface to explain why the preceding ICEL effort had to be junked.

    “For a while, there was some toying with the idea that it could be corrected. But it became clear that the new virus of feminist linguistics was too deeply embedded. In the end, Rome threw the whole lot out, hook, line, and sinker, and declared that Comme le prevoit, the document which prescribed the “Dynamic Equivalence” mode of translation, was no longer in force. The order went out that ICEL should be reformed and cleaned out. And a new Instruction about vernacular translations was, to the incandescent fury of Rome’s critics, put in the place of Comme le prevoit. The new Instruction is a very fine and scholarly document indeed, and I will write a few words about it next time.”

    1. Priests have been correcting the non-incluaisve language of the current translation for years.

      1. Lay people, too. I noticed, at my last Scripture reading meeting, that our parishioners automatically read “men and women” when the text said “men”, “brothers and sisters” for “brothers”, and “she” for references to the Holy Spirit, as a matter of course. No one even mentioned it (and we all had the text in front of us.) It’s a gymnastics at which people seem to have become quite proficient.

  6. This is one of the reasons accuracy to the Latin is important, and (for progressives) should be an imperative…

    In Catholic liturgy, God is male. He is Father, He is Lord, He is King. We use only male pronouns to address Him. Feminine equivalents (Lady, Queen, Mother) always refer only to the Virgin Mary.
    Some of us have a problem with this (I do). But we should not sweep it under the rug of translation. When we do that , we are essentially making apologies and “covering” for Rome and for our tradition. (I’m reminded of the co-dependent mom who makes excuses for bad daddy’s abusive behavior). Further, the “regular people” are essentially taught that something which isn’t official Catholic teaching actually is official Catholic teaching. This leaves them unprepared for anything like a discussion with a more conservative/orthodox (and likely, more informed) understanding of God’s identity. And that (as we can see by looking around) leads to a backlash of conservatism and traditionalism, for which the well-protected progressive-by-default PIPs are ill-equipped to stand against.

    If you want Catholic theology (official, party-line teaching and practice) to change or progress (which, no doubt, feminist revisers do) it makes sense to me to EXPOSE what is actually there in the OFFICIAL texts. In this case, an overwhelmingly male idea of God.

    At the same time, it’s more than worthwhile to point out what IS NOT sexist about Latin liturgical language- namely, that “homo” (and it’s derivatives) does NOT mean “man” and should not be translated as such.

    Clearly, NEW ICEL does not (in my view) get it “right” as often as I think it should (“us men?” really?!), but it is a heck of a lot closer than OLD ICEL. As good as some alternative version that almost made it? Couldn’t say.

    But we need to stop saying “Wait,” and start looking at What the Prayer Really Says- because only then can we decide if that’s what we, as a Church, want to be saying.

    1. I don’t think the use of “man” to mean “humanity” was as evil as you make it sound. We are engineerng an improvement in our language, but it is unfair to blame the past for not thinking of this improvement.

      1. I didn’t say it was evil, and I wasn’t attempting to blame the past about anything- that wasn’t at all the thrust of my comment.

  7. This relentless gobbledygook comes from people who know neither Latin nor English, and who lack spiritual sensitivity.

  8. Oh my God.

    Sexist language aside, praying these prayers out aloud, the current show up the new as oh so audibly obtuse and linguistically deficient. The new are unprayable in parts because their meaning disintegrates.

    What do we think we are doing? Obtuse language = mystery?

    These new prayers are quite ugly and truly cr@ppy in some of their parts, and unworthy of the liturgy.

    What advice for priests who have to proclaim these prayers in public? Use the old prefaces? Tinker with the new to make them better? Sing them so no-one notices how incoherent they are?

  9. One of the most comical examples of the “literary skill” of Monsignor Moroney’s “7,000 scholars of the English language” appears in the mess that is Preface VIII for Sundays in Ordinary Time in Vox Clara’s forthcoming Pell-Moroney-Ward Missal.

    Unless more changes have been made in yet another “final” version, the body of that Preface presented in Fr McCarthy’s chart is erroneous. The text given at the ICEL chant website reads:

    For when your children were scattered afar by sin,
    through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit
    you gathered them again to yourself,
    that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity,
    made the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit,
    might, to the praise of your manifold wisdom,
    be manifest as the Church.

    – lines 2 and 3 should be inverted: as the text stands now, it will sound to the hearer as if God’s people had been scattered afar by sin through the Blood of his Son and by the power of the Spirit. Putting line 3 before line 2 would solve that problem. Also, in line 3, the Latin’s “voluisti” – an important word in traditional euchology – simply disappears.

    – the splitting up of “might be made manifest” with a seven-word clause is a gaffe no high school English teacher would tolerate – and it is just altogether unnecessary.

    In fact, when you read the 2008 ICEL translation approved by all the conferences of bishops, you really have to wonder what, if anything besides their own power, Monsignor Moroney’s 7,000 scholars had in mind.

    For, when sin had scattered your children afar,
    you chose to gather them again to yourself
    through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit,
    so that a people made one from the unity of the Trinity
    might be revealed as your Church,
    the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Spirit,
    to the praise of your manifold wisdom.

    Accurate translation of the Latin. Literary English.
    In every way superior to Vox Clara’s Pell-Moroney-Ward trainwreck.

  10. Another piece by Fr. Hunwicke that might be good fodder for analysis by PrayTell folks who consider themselves to be committed Vatican II Catholics:

    [Some] “have been suggesting that the new translation which we shall begin to use in September represents some sort of retreat from the agenda of Vatican II. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. September’s new translation means Onward To Vatican II.

    “Quite apart from the different questions surrounding the elimination of the Tridentine Rite, it is the post-conciliar Missal, the Missal authorised by Pope Paul VI ‘by the mandate of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council’, that was kept hidden, by faulty translation, from the ears of the faithful for four decades. It is, substantially, the Missal of Paul VI that the new translation will now begin to make accessible to the People of God. Enthusiasts for Vatican II, and its aftermath, and for Paul VI, should be applauding the new translation.

    1. No. That’s for the peanut gallery. Enthusiasts for Vatican II would, however, welcome a good, idiomatic re-translation. The substance includes being idiomatically beautiful; without that, you’ve lost part of the substance (I know this comes as news to the Babblefish school of translation crowd, but there you have it). We’ve debated long and hard what that would look like, with the 1998 translation of the propers being closer than the 2010 translation (some of us have less issue with the congregational parts of the Ordo), but with room for improvement. Et cet.

      1. Even if the 1998 translation is better than the 2010 translation, that’s water under the bridge now, and no longer subject to debate for practical effect, since the Church has adopted the 2010 translation.

        It seems to me that what’s relevant for discussion now–with the text of the Mass of Paul VI finally being exposed to the view of the people in the views, in reasonably accurate translation rather than in grossly inaccurate paraphrase–is how we move on to a faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the the gloriously renewed liturgy the Council Fathers surely anticipated, rather than the disintegration that has occurred during the past forty years.

      2. Well, that’s a nifty elision of the problem….if it’s not idiomatic*, it’s likewise lacking in accuracy.

        * And by this, I am not referring to specific word choices but specifically to the fetishizing of Latinate syntax in a way that is foreign to modern English idiomatic usage.

  11. –with the text of the Mass of Paul VI finally being exposed to the view of the people in the views, in reasonably accurate translation rather than in grossly inaccurate paraphrase–is how we move on to a faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the the gloriously renewed liturgy the Council Fathers surely anticipated, rather than the disintegration that has occurred during the past forty years.

    Oh please.

    1. “how we move on to a faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium”

      Which organic reform is the evident objective of Summorum Pontificum and the process of mutual enrichment of the ordinary and extraordinary forms that Pope Benedict has initiated. (Rather than the restoration of the ancient usage that some traditionalists erroneously anticipate and some liberals needlessly fear.)

    2. For a beautiful and prayable literal translation of the Roman Canon look no further than the text distributed in Ireland in 1966. I intend to use it.

    The Canon of the Mass (1956)
    Dom Placid Murray OSB

    From the Introduction:

    “Our Mass of the Roman rite is a mixed rite. Parts of it go back to the ancient local usage of Rome; other parts are relatively more recent and took their origin on this side of the Alps, and were transplanted thence back to Rome. There they grew into the complex rite which we use today.”

    “The ancient Roman parts are the venerable old trees… the Frankish uses are the newer trees and the brushwood, profusely added in medieval times and often pruned, but now inextricably mixed with the older growth. Among the ancient trees let us imagine one sacred tree towering above its fellows at the heart and centre of the whole plantation. This would be our Canon of the Mass. …the Canon is not only the centre of our mixed rite of today, but also the core of the old unmixed rite…”

    Of course, this heart of the Mass, the part going back to the ancient local usage of Rome, is optional (and infrequently used?) in the Mass of Paul VI.

  13. Would everyone agree that Dom Placid Murray’s translation more resembles that found in a typical 1962 (or earlier) Latin-English hand missal than it resembles any 1970 (or later) English translation of the Roman Canon (EP I)?

    Thus this beautiful old (1955 or earlier) translation closely resembles the silent canon as followed by a TLM worshipper who uses the English rather than the Latin pages in his hand missal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *