Observations on the Language of the Revised Missal

Carl P. Daw, Jr., former Executive Director of the Hymn Society, priest of the Episcopal Church, is a widely recognized expert on the English language in worship, and himself an author of numerous very fine hymn texts. Pray Tell asked him to comment on the English of the revised Missal translation – not from the standpoint of how to translate from Latin, but from the standpoint of the quality of the final text. His thoughtful and perceptive reflections:

Observations on the Language of the Revised Missal


  1. In his very first example, Carl P. Daw, Jr. criticises the Vox Clara version of the Collect for Ss Basil and Gregory for the unwieldy structure of the petition that obscures the contrast “in humility” / “in charity.”

    Vox Clara’s Pell-Moroney-Ward Missal renders it thus:
    O God, who were pleased to give light to your Church
    by the example and teaching of the Bishops Saints Basil and Gregory, grant, we pray,
    that in humility we may learn your truth
    and practice it faithfully in charity.

    Something about Daw’s “correction” rang a bell, so I went back to the 2008 Gray Book, which the bishops approved. Guess what the 2008 ICEL people proposed and the bishops approved:

    O God, who were pleased to enlighten your Church
    with the example and teaching of the Bishops
    Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen,
    grant, we pray, that we may learn your truth in humility
    and practice it faithfully in charity.

    It is heartening to know that some of the bishops appear to be waking up to the fact that, despite Bishop Serratelli’s assurances that Vox Clara’s hatchet job was really only about “minor questions of consistency, typographical errors, and layout” (who wrote that statement for him?), beautifully bound volumes full of mistranslations, violations of the Holy See’s translation guidelines, and “infelicities” (if not outright errors) in English grammar and syntax, are even now, as we speak, being crafted for use this Advent.

    Better late than never, Your Excellencies, Lordships, Eminences.

    Any suggestions on what we do now?

    That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. At this stage of the game (which is precisely what it is), does anyone expect an answer from that quarter?

  2. It seems to me now that the 2008 translation was more succinct than this one in part because, by eliminating some words of the Latin original, it eliminated the problems of ascription that Father Daw points out. As I read through his article, I wondered whether he is Cranmer reincarnated! His suggestions would add not only much-needed clarity but also eloquence to the passages he reworked.

    There are a few points on which I would be more fastidious than he is:

    “Prayer after Communion, ‘that we may be inflamed with a burning desire for the heavenly table, / and by its power consecrate our life faithfully to you.” — antecedent of ‘its’ is ambiguous (‘desire’ or ‘heavenly table’?).” Yes, and furthermore, I find the shift of number, from plural “we” to singular “life,” distracting. Also, the connotation of “inflamed,” as in “inflamed pancreas” or “inflamed with anger,” is often negative in American English, and “inflamed” seems redundant with “burning desire.” I’d be tempted to simplify and to eliminate the wordy passive construction entirely: “that we may burn with desire for the heavenly table / and by the power of the Eucharist consecrate our lives faithfully to you.”

    “May 2 Communion Antiphon— ‘No one can lay a foundation / other than the one that is there.’ Although this is verbatim NAB, the repetition of ‘one’ is confusing; better to replace the opening ‘no one’ with NJB’s ‘nobody.'” I agree again, and as I re-read this passage, I realized that I was associating the repeated “one” with “foundation” as an antecedent simply because of the placement of the contrast clause. Do the lines mean “None but the person who is there can lay a foundation”? Or do they refer to laying some “foundation other than the one that is there”?

  3. “Jun 5 Collect—lacks a proper ascription [see note on Apr 23]: ‘May the Martyr Saint Boniface be our advocate, O Lord, / that we may firmly hold the faith / he taught with his lips and sealed in his blood / and confidently profess it by our deeds.’” I agree and also find it confusing that this passage places the second of compound verbs after an intervening elliptical clause that also has compound verbs: “we may firmly hold the faith [that] he taught … and sealed … and confidently profess….” It would be better to keep the first-clause set of compound verbs together or to begin a new clause after the elliptical clause. Again, I’d take the simpler route: May the Martyr Saint Boniface be for us a model of faith, O Lord. / May we firmly hold and confidently profess the faith he taught with his lips and sealed with his blood.” I’d eliminate “by our deeds” because I don’t think professing by deeds is clear in colloquial English. We might manifest faith through our deeds, but generally we profess by speaking, proclaiming, affirming, vowing, etc.

    Now, to avoid the Humpty-Dumpty rhythm of this sentence in English, I’d need to simplify further: “May the Martyr Saint Boniface be for us a model of faith, O Lord. May we embrace the creed he taught with his lips and sealed with his blood. And may our deeds too show forth the strength of our faith.” No doubt, this is way too far from the Latin original to please the LA enthusiasts!

    I leave ascription problems to others. Does the prayer ask God to ask Boniface to be our “advocate,” and if so, our advocate to whom–to God? Or does it ask God to help us persevere, like Boniface, in faith? I hope such questions have simple answers.

  4. I have now had the time to compare each of Father Daw’s critiqued passages of the Vox Clara Pell-Moroney-Ward Missal with the 2008 version approved by the bishops.

    In almost every instance, the problem is non-existent in 2008; i.e., the problems are clearly the fault of the very commission established by the Holy See to monitor problems, confirmed by a Congregation that was too incompetent, lazy, or arrogant to heed the warnings detailed in the “Areas of Difficulty” brief presented to that Congregation months before this gaffe and error rich Missal went to the printers.

    At some point the Pope, scholar that he is, is going to have to become aware of the scope of this debacle. Oh to be a fly on the wall of the place the Vox Clara luncheon is held following THAT papal realization!

    1. At times, to my surprise, I thought that Father Daw showed a tin ear in judging 2008.

      But the continued hosannas for 2008 over 2010 leave me stupefied.

      2010 is indeed execrable; 2008, largely disastrous. As my old ethics professor used to say: “You pay your money and take your pick.”

      Oh the bishops (some) may have noticed or may yet notice, and in time there may be a revision. 2025? 2030?

      If the US bishops’ movement (after solemn promises) on our present flawed Lectionary for Mass is any guide, fifteen years seems about right. Indeed, somewhat generous.

      Meanwhile, in two/three months’ time, FedEx, DHL, UPS, and their equivalents will be speeding deluxe, semi-deluxe, economy editions of the Roman Missal to parish houses worldwide.

      The time for whistling in the dark is, I think, past. (Rita Ferrone’s superb article in COMMONWEAL has so far garnered, last I looked, only twelve comments, several suggesting that the Roman Canon should remain in Latin. There is a great weariness abroad in the land.)

    2. John Robert, thank you for the kind word concerning my article at Commonweal. Now that a link has been inserted in the dotCommonweal blog (see the post entitled “Bad Language”), there are 75 comments and counting. I was pleased to see that some familiar voices from Pray Tell had commented on the article, and those comments were transferred over to the blog site when the thread opened.

      It’s true that many Catholics who are concerned about the missal feel helpless and/or resigned. The process has been set up to render us impotent, so this is not surprising. Nevertheless, despite so many reiterations of the familiar mantras “done deal” “train left the station” etc, repeated to reinforce our feelings of resignation, the game isn’t over until it’s over. And, on the parish level at least, it hasn’t even begun.

  5. As I read the list of detailed observations line after line, all delivered in a perfectly serious, deadpan style, the whole thing becomes frankly comical in an absurd way (twenty years of preparation for this!). I can’t help but smile, then laugh in spite of myself. This is the point at which I cracked up. It’s too much!

    Jul 26 Entrance Antiphon, “Let us praise Joachim and Anne, to whom, in their generation, / the Lord gave him who was a blessing for all the nations.” —there seems to be an error in line 2; their child was Mary, so the pronoun should be “her”

    It may fill people with sadness or anger, but it’s also funny at times, one has to admit. (Are Roman Catholics going to be the laughing stock of Christianity?)

  6. A few quick observations:

    1. This report was less alarming than I expected. Many of the comments pertain to misprints or belong to the ‘I could have done it better’ variety. Couldn’t we all?

    2. Fr. Daw does not appear to have consulted the Latin text at all. This is a reasonable thing to have done before offering alternative translations. He is right to suspect ‘every threat of harm’, but ‘every evil’ is hardly more adequate for cunctis malis imminentibus.

    3. ‘Merciful love’ for ‘hesed’ (but he means ‘misericordia’, right?) is a familiar expression to Catholics, and it has the virtue of combining Anglican ‘lovingkindness’ with Recusant ‘mercy’. When he restricts the ‘merciful’ part to ’emotion’, Fr. Daw is surely missing the point, no?

  7. By the way, are we sure that the translation of the Introit for the Feast of Ss Joachim and Anne is a mistake? The ‘blessing’ may be an allusion to Christ, not our Lady. Cf. the ‘blessing’ indicated in the prayer ‘super oblata’ for the same feast, and the relevant Scriptural verses (Ecclesiasticus 44:1 ff.)

    1. Ant. ad introitum Cf. Qo 44,1 Qo 25
      Laudémus Ióachim et Annam in generatióne sua,
      quia benedictiónem ómnium géntium dedit illis Dóminus.

      Why not 2008’s solution?

      Among their generation,
      let us praise Joachim and Anne,
      for the Lord gave them one
      who was a blessing for all nations.

      1. Is the point of the prayer that Joachim and Anne had a child (Mary) or that they had a grandchild (Jesus)? That would determine whether “gave them a child” or “gave them a descendent” (etc.) would be appropriate.

        “Gave them one” makes me wonder, “gave them one what?”

      2. Not specific enough for me, I guess. 🙂

        By the way, what is “Qo”? I thought that was Qoheleth, but I don’t know of a 44th chapter to that book. The “Qo 44,1 Qo 25” annotation makes no sense to me.

      3. How specific is the Latin?

        In other words, what you are saying is: “it does not matter who “the one” refers to; since the Latin is obscure, let’s make sure to keep the English equally obscure. It doesn’t matter if a phrase is meaningless: what matters is that it is an accurate reflection of the Latin.”

        That’s making a fetish of the Latin missal.

      4. What does “among their generation” mean? Praise them with those of their time? Among those ‘generated’ by them? Compared to their contemporaries?

        I seriously do not know.

        There aren’t a lot of books with 44+ chapters. If it means those generated by J&A, Sirach 44 is the source. (if so, 2010 is better here than 2008, except that it sounds like Jesus was the same age as his grandparents, a part of their generation.)

      5. Ah, I thought Qoheleth was Ecclesiastes, not Ecclesiasticus. In fact, I’m very sure of that. So… typo in the Latin annotation?

        And “among their generation” means “among those of their time”; in other words, we’re singling out Joachim and Anne from their contemporaries.

      6. I think the citation is supposed to be Sir 44: 12-15:
        Through God’s covenant with them their family endures, their posterity, for their sake.
        And for all time their progeny will endure, their glory will never be blotted out;
        Their bodies are peacefully laid away, but their name lives on and on.
        At gatherings their wisdom is retold, and the assembly proclaims their praise.

        Someone probably confused Ecclesiastes with Ecclesiasticus, not a difficult thing to do esp when they are abbreviated. That is why we use Qoholeth and Sirach, but it did not help here.

      7. Claire:

        That’s not at all what I’m saying. Have you read many of my posts championing the obscure and the meaningless? Or have I been a voice AGAINST those very flaws in the 2010 text?

        What you are labeling “obscure,” I’m calling “ambiguous.”

        Obscure = meaningless. Ambiguous = multivalent.

        Maybe the Latin is ambiguous precisely so that either Our Lord, or his Mother, or both, could be considered the blessing bestowed on the nations through Joachim and Anne. I really don’t know. I don’t think you do either.

        Thanks, though, for putting the worst possible interpretation on my posting. I hope your day, and mood, improve.

      8. I woud not have expressed myself so vigorously face-to-face, and my argument was unfortunately weakened by my aggressiveness. It’s a challenge for me to stay measured and courteous on blogs. Sorry about that.

        To clarify who “the one” refers to, one may check the 1973 version: “Praised be Joachim and Anne for the child they bore. The Lord gave them the blessing of all the nations. ” I could not find the annotations, but assume that they explain how they determined that to be the correct interpretation.

  8. I only wish that Professor Daw had been consulted by ICEL, rather than by Pray Tell. His comments show not only a sharp eye for errors and infelicities of expression, but also a fine sense of how to remedy them.

    Thanks for this perceptive review.

    1. Rita: if I’m reading the process correctly, even if Professor Daw HAD been consulted by ICEL, his expertise most likely would have been undone at the hands of the grammar-challenged, syntax-ignorant “experts” of Vox Clara (although, more and more, I and other suspect there were few experts and ONE hack in charge of the final “improvements”.

      Almost every issue Father Daw documented did NOT exist in the 2008 version.

      And, again, the responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of the CDW, and the question remains: were they incompetent, lazy, arrogant – or all of the above in failing the Holy Father’s trust?

  9. I have been meaning to ask: Do Pray Tell Readers agree with Fr. Daw that the formula ‘through Our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son’ is a ‘lapse of basic courtesy’? The new translation reflects the Latin order: ‘per Dominum nostrum, Iesum Christum, Filium tuum’. It hardly strikes me as discourteous.

  10. The well-founded objections to the new translation’s shortcomings are so begrudging and merciless that one wonders why, in spite of them, there is not general rejoicing that the inept and artless translation with which we are currently burdened is just a few months from fully deserved oblivion. Even with its faults, the new translation has a pace, dignity, ecclesiastical penumbra, and substance of style and content which we have been cruelly robbed of for all these many years. I, personally, am singing a Te Deum! It is a miracle that, considering the vociferous objections of the street-language crowd, we are so blessed.

    (Having said this, I do agree substantially with Fr Daw’s critique: as an Anglican Use Catholic, I wonder, and have wondered since the sixties, why the Catholic Church went out of its way to avoid the slightest tinge of familiarity with the only tradition which knew instinctively how to fashion liturgy in the English language.)

    1. Well, there is also some good Recusant literature out there. And as an Irish-American Catholic, I’m probably less excited than I should be about the ‘Anglican Patrimony’. 😉

  11. I’m surprised that, among the many excellent points that he makes, Dr Daw doesn’t question the application of the title ‘one God’ to Christ.

  12. Strange indeed! Evidence that all of us, while living on the same planet, actually live on different planets. I read the opinions stated in Fr Hobans’ contribution here. How strange. Everything he and his co-opinionists seem to think is a fault, seems to me to be a virtue. I have not understood for decades how people could stand there and say ‘and also with you’ with a perfectly straight face, as if nothing were wrong. Ditto all the other obvious ‘dynamic equivalencies’ and inept locutions of trendy sixties and seventies chic liturgical linguistics – not to mention the collects and other texts which were systematically gutted of the content of their Latin originals. We are so very blessed finally to be delivered from this every-day American lingo, couched, seemingly with deliberate purpose, in an almost studied eighth grade vocabulary. The errors in the new translation are obvious and disappionting. But, placed beside the wretched pablum we have had all these decades, the new translation vs. the current one is as Shakespeare compared to Cliff’s Notes. We have taken a large step in the right direction. It is those of us who are glad to have this great improvement who are the ones being delivered from a grievous imposition.

    1. Shakespeare wrote contemporary English for a low brow audience.
      He happened to be very creative about it and very innovative in his use of words, coining many neologisms. Shakespeare reborn would be cranking out TV shows, if he were to write at the equivalent level of what he wrote originally.

      Vox Clara would not have anything to do with such a great mind.

      Shakespeare would refuse to work under such anti-creative conditions.
      Shakespeare would be willing to do re-writes until the texts were fit for public performance.
      We have inherited the product of his creativity so deeply, that you have forgotten, or never known, the nature of the language in its own time.

      Just because language is old does not make it better. You have to understand language in context.

      Rickety English transliterations and interlinear first draft translations of Latin would appall anyone with a care for good English, particularly Shakespeare. Be more informed and careful when you throw about the name of that great man.

    2. What is so wonderful about “and with your spirit” — it is spiritless literalism. Why not reply, “His Spirit be with us” or ” Great is His Name”? O you want the ring of “et cum spiritu tuo”? Well you can only have that in Latin, sorry.

  13. I am well aware of the substance within your Shakespearean assessment. This does not lead me to alter anything of my above remarks. Be more careful when you disregard the substance of my objections and intent. Shakespeare was a genius. The crafters of dynamic equivalency lingo were/are not. Shakespeare, in his time or ours, had/has style, artistry, pace, drama, rich imagery, vocabulary and any other mark of literary excellence one might add, all of which are absent in the current artless, insulting, and boring English version of the Roman mass. Nor do I agree with your intimation that English transliterations are either ‘rickety’ nor inherently bad. They may, in fact, be quite rich and inspiring… if not downright heiratic – which is what we should be after.

    Finally, you should note what I actually said and meant, i.e. ‘…the new translation vs. the current one IS AS Shakespeare COMPARED TO Cliff’s Notes.

    1. MJO: I don’t know if you’ve been following this blog, and the thousands of errors, mistranslations, ignoring of Liturgiam Authenticam’s rules (which BY PAPAL MANDAE replaced the “dynamic equivalency lingo” you so detest) and the like in the new translation that have been exposed here, but taking all that into account, there is NOTHING Shakesperian (or indeed Cranmerian) about the new translation in the coming Pell-Moroney-Ward-Johnson Missal.

      And your membership of the team that says “It doesn’t matter that it’s fraught with errors etc, at least it’s not what we had” – the team, that is, that is satisfied that we have not, as Sister used to say “given our very best to Almighty God” is noted.

      1. The new translation is as a student’s crib compared to an average Penguin Classics translation. 1998 was the way forward.

    2. We should not confuse our own preference for linguistic complexity with the requirements of the CSL for language that is comprehensible to the people.I would also assert that the crafters of formal equivalency are in no way the bearers of your idea of Shakespearean genius. The problem is that the translation you claim is Shakespearean compared to Cliff Notes may need its own version of Cliff Notes.

  14. Chris Grady – This matter is beginning to exhibit a need for delicacy and diplomacy. So, were DO I stand? I should hope where all of us who can see the real faults of the new translation (as opposed to the catastrophy as percieved by those who believe that what we have currently is the measure of what ought to be) are standing, not without considerable ‘in house’ disagreement. No, there are none who would ever have known me to be satisfied with but the best for the All Holy. Out current translation is FAR, VERY FAR from the best: it is a highly inferior offering to God, and a highly insulting if not outright demeaning vehicle for his people. As you point out, the new translation is neither Shakespeare nor Cranmer; but, so it seems to me, it is a far cry closer, and a far more apt vehicle and offering than what we now have. We should be able to discuss its many faults and work toward a more perfect opfer for the next round. We should also be aware that the faults which we find with the new are things we wish to correct and improve. Our adversaries will note our infighting and take heart to foist another eighth grade horror on us. They made so much noise this time that it is a wonder that we prevailed. It is no mean feat that our current translation is about to meet a very, very well deserved finish.
    So, this leaves me on the team that wishes to correct the blemishes of the new, improve inept locutions, and produce and liturgy which will be the XXI century equivalent of Cranmer, worthy to follow the BCP and the Anglican Missal as a gift to the world.
    We have gotten rid of the loathsome dynamic equivalency patois; and I regret deeply that we were handed a work less than perfect. At least we are in a better starting position for the next round.
    (And: just so you’ll know – I like Latin syntax ‘imposed’ upon English – I like transliterations – & cet, & cet, there is power in both.
    Best regards from your Anglican Use Friend

    1. Anglican Use?

      Funny you should mention it!

      As it happens, the fabled Book of Divine Worship bears the Concordat cum originali of Monsignor James P Moroney (of Vox Clara) and the Imprimatur of Bernard Cardinal Law (of anywhere but Boston) – NOT an auspicious beginning – and was published by Rev Peter Stravinskas’ (formerly of – inter alia – Omaha NE http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1385337/posts and Pocono PA, http://carrietomko.blogspot.com/2005/04/email-from-dr.html now of Tom’s River NJ) Newman House – OH MY!

      And it will SOON be the ONLY officially approved Roman Catholic liturgical book that contains the DYNAMIC EQUIVALENCE ECUMENICAL texts of the Ordinary of the Mass (Rite II) along with an INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE Psalter – the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer 1979 Psalter!

  15. “I regret deeply that we were handed a work less than perfect.” MJO

    Welcome to the club! There is a solution which does not require intellectual dishonesty, or the compromising of one’s integrity: scrap the interlinear translation and restore the 1998 translation.

  16. CG –
    Yes, most of us in the Anglican Use do not and will not use rite II and its psalter. With, I think, one exception, rite I is in use by all our people. And, you should not sneer because rite II is in the BDW. It was Rome that insisted it be there – so that the book would ‘reflect current Epsicopalian usage’. Most of us find it an embarrasment. LIke as in The Hymnal 1940, we know what to avoid, and rejoice in the good.
    Furthermore, the BDW is looked upon as a transitional book, and will likely be replaced by a Use common to the Anglican Ordinariate worldwide – many, I among them, hope for a restored Sarum Use. Our English cousins have already stated that the BDW with its American 1928 rite one would not resonate with them.
    We do expect the Anglican Ordinariate to be realised in the US this fall.
    Try not to rub salt when taking note about the faults of the BDW – most of them are there at Romes’s insistence. And yes, I always resented that in providing rite II, the Episcopal establishment foisted off on us the ‘dynamic equivalency’ of Rome’s trendy bandwagon rather than create a XX century gem worthy to stand along side Cranmer.

    1. M. JO:

      I’ve neither sneered nor rubbed salt: just told it like it is.

      What a shame “Rome” (about which you appear to have nothing good to say!!!) put up so many obstacles for you. (HINT – it wasn’t Rome – check the Concordat cum originali if you want the name of the person who stuffed up both the BDW and the coming (mis)translation of MR3.

  17. There is a meeting of the Vox Clara committee later this week. If anyone has anything they would like to tell them, this is their chance to comment, with the hope that at least one member of the committee would read their comment.

  18. The Irish Prime Minister speaking about the horrors of child abuse and church cover up may have put his finger on the underlying problem with decision making in the church. The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Mr. Kenny is a committed practising Catholic.
    Quote from the Dail, the Irish Parliament.
    “Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s “ear of the heart” . . . the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. . . . This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.”

    “The revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture,” the Taoiseach said.

    “It’s fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order.

    “Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic . . . as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism . . . that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

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