Translation Truths

Rob Mickens at The Tablet is telling the truth about the  translation saga, and his three-part Tablet series is fantastic:

  • “Unlocking the door of the vernacular” (June 18);
  • “How Rome moved the goal posts” (June 25);
  • “A war of words” (July 2).

With the kind permission of our Tablet friends, Pray Tell is happy to reprint part three,  “A War of Words.” The conclusion is a zinger:

The real shock came in November 2010 when a scathing report, written anonymously, produced extensive evidence that last-minute changes had been made to the English Missal without the knowledge or approval of the competent conferences and in violation of the Vatican’s own translation rules…

So it was a bitter irony that the officials of the revamped ICEL should also be fed a poison similar to the one they had dished out to the predecessors. They believed their Missal, which had been given the Vatican’s recognitio, was a done deal, only to discover that Vox Clara and/or the CDW had revised it. Some estimate that 10,000 changes were made.

Read all of part three here.

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The issue of The Tablet that went online yesterday reports on Cardinal Pell’s remarks at the Fota International Liturgy Conference in Cork City, Ireland, “Pell says Missal translation is model of collegiality” (subscription required). The cardinal said:

Don’t believe newspaper reports telling you that there was no consultation, that it was all imposed from Rome or the like. It’s total nonsense… This is a text prepared and then improved by virtually all the bishops sharing our common English language.

Cardinal Pell said that complaints are based on ideological or even sub-theological objections and that the criticisms are ignorant of translation and not based on linguistic arguments.

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St. John’s School of Theology•Seminary  is just wrapping up the huge “Lay Ecclesial Ministry” symposium, co-sponsored by offices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, universities, ministry organizations, and dioceses across the U.S. Hundreds of participants including several bishops. One bishop sought me out to tell me something. It was this: he wanted to acknowledge  that the missal translation process was flawed, that Roman was heavy-handed and made serious mistake in the final text. He’s grateful for the work all of us did, however it turned out.

*          *          *          *          *

Did you know that the medieval Averroïsts held a Theory of Two Truths? Anti-scholastics, they. “Dicunt enim ea esse vera secundum philosophiam, sed non secundum fidem catholicam, quasi sint due contrarie veritates.” Two  contradictory truth claims can at the same time both be true.

Not sure why that popped into my head just now.



  1. It is a good thing St. Thomas Aquinas came along to correct the situation then. Now it is Cardinal Pell and Vox Clara who carry the day.

    1. CC – I sort of suspect you didn’t really try to resist. That’s okay, I wouldn’t have either. I think. Maybe.

  2. As for Cardinal Pell’s remarks, the sexual abuse scandal has established the abundant use by bishops of “mental reservation.” i.e. that they rarely tell the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

  3. Earlier today I saw this video and, I must say, it annoyed me greatly — and not just because I have a thing against hip young priests with goatees. The official talking points are all there: there was wide consultation; “calix” means chalice; dynamic equivalence is a totally discredited theory of translation; until now no one ever made the connection between the Domine, non sum dignus and the words of the centurion; there never was a 1998 translation, etc. etc. in saecula saeculorum.

    By all means, implement. Try to be positive. Appreciate what is good. But this cheerleading makes me want to hurl.

    1. Strange that this video would come from Fr. John… not normally a mouthpiece for Roman authority! The Life Teen enthusiasts should actually have a pretty easy time with the new translation, as my experience has been that students in Middle/ High school have no real preconceived notions about the texts of the Mass and don’t really have an expectation of what they should or shouldn’t be (that’s a broad generalization, I know and I in no way mean to insult the intelligence of those students who do have a more in-depth knowledge of liturgy….such people do exist!) and so the “change” will have much less of an impact.

      And I somewhat share your irritation at “hip, young priests with goatees”. Nothing makes a priest more relevant to youth than to don the appearance of a 1950’s beatnick, no? All he needs now is a well-worn copy of The Myth of Sisyphus in one hand and he’s all set.

      1. I will happily cheer if the new texts draw my children back to regular Mass attendance. I currently plan to take my cue from them.

        If the new missal is a positive move towards renewed evangelization among the people who are wavering between continued attendance and leaving completely, then I will enthusiastically embrace it, regardless of its English. But if it pushes marginal Catholics out, then I will fight against it with all my will. That’s fair, isn’t it?

        It’s not over: on the contrary, it’s about to start. Pretty soon the real test will come, and the new missal’s impact will show us where the truth lies.

    2. Re: Fritz Bauerschmidt on August 5, 2011 – 3:19 pm

      Just watched the video Deacon Fritz linked to on vimeo. I am surprised that LifeTeen (LT) is pushing the new translation. If anything, I would expect LT to request an indult to use the Sacramentary. Will it be possible for LT to retool their “Christian rock” Mass settings for 1st Advent? Maybe LT has been working on new Mass settings. I’m surprised to see such a ultramontane response from an organization that has sometimes crossed the Vatican over unauthorized changes to the Mass, for example.

      If LT is truly enthusiastic about the new translation, good for them. However, if they (and other movements) would do better to continue with the Sacramentary, bishops should make some accommodations.

      1. I believe that Life Teen was completely re-constituted under Bishop Thomas Olmsted, assisted by directives from the CDWDS and the US BCDW, and now has some link to Franciscan University, Steubenville.

    3. Re: Fritz Bauerschmidt on August 5, 2011 – 3:19 pm
      I too followed your link, Deacon. The smiling, hip young priest reminds me of Carl Sagan, who once said, “We are, each of us, a multitude.” How many times does Fr. John Muir speak of the “many people” involved in the new translation? Plenty! “I will trust that God’s Holy Spirit moves through the countless people who prayerfully contributed to this translation,” he asks us to say in a spirit of obedience. I found myself asking, “Were not all the “people” who actually controlled the process (Vox Clara, the bishops, the CDWDS) males?” “Men” includes women, according to these expert linguists— no need to use an inclusive noun. But when it suits ecclesiastical public relations, “countless” males are suddenly just “people.” It’s nice to know there’s some flexibility somewhere in this translation project.

  4. Brimming with enthusiasm, but just at the right moments (CHALICE) the oh so hushed sacral voice. Fulton Sheen was a lot better at that.

    Script: Arthur J Serratelli and James P. Moroney. All rights reserved.

    Time to be “joyfully obedient.”

    1. I’m told Klingon is actually a pretty simple language, but a very bright man once pointed out that reading it is hard. Not sure I want to learn a new variant of Mass by starting with an alphabet.

  5. Here is an excellent example from Pell of the mental reservation and carefully placed modifier.

    “This is a text prepared and then improved by virtually all the bishops sharing our common English language.”

    It is true as it stands only if you understand the mental reservation and modifiers placement correctly.

    The text was prepared [or approved, at least] by virtually all the bishops sharing our common English language. It was “improved” by a small and secret group inside, or controlled by a few members of, the Roman Curia.

    That is to say, as printed, the statement is false.
    As spoken, commas can be mentally reserved, thus:

    “This is a text prepared, and then improved [later, by others], by virtually all the bishops sharing our common English language.”

    The oral commas being omitted by the reporters of the spoken text are, of course, not the moral responsibility of the speaker. The mentally reserved modifying phrase permits the speaker to comfort himself that he is speaking the truth, if he is rightly understood.

    This is rhetoric, using speech to win support for a position rather to to convey information. Rhetoric originally developed as a form of political argument, concerned with winning elections, moving the masses to do what the candidate desires. Rhetoric is highly polished by advertising copy writers selling the sizzle regardless of the quality of the steak. Rhetoric does not abjure deception, only getting caught in a deception.

    Obviously, the ancient Greek craft of rhetoric remains highly valued in the crafty Roman Curia.

    1. He could also be saying: “The text was prepared and then improved by virtually all the bishops sharing our common English language [but it was not improved by some other bishops].”

  6. “The text was prepared and then improved by VIRTUALLY (emphasis supplied) all the bishops sharing our common English language ….” He may well be saying that, but even with that hedge, it beggars belief.

    That two-thirds of the bishops in the individual conferences canonically approved the text (some would say under Roman pressure) is clear. That even a majority “prepared [?] and then improved” the text is harder to credit. Do we know how many bishops from the twenty-six conferences that participate in ICEL did in fact submit comments on the “Green Book” (draft) text? No. That is considered “sub secreto.”

    And who are the ” SOME OTHER” bishops who “improved” the text after the conferences” canonical votes? The small number of bishops who are members (chosen by the Congregation not the episcopal conferences) of Vox Clara? Or was it several of the consultants to Vox Clara? Evidence points to the latter. But, again, the matter is “sub secreto.”

    1. “sub secreto” indeed! It is amusing to hear some of those widely known to have been the most directly and personally involved distancing themselves from the inaccurate translations and clumsy (sometimes erroneous) English by hiding behind, first, the (was it 7,000?) experts, then the widely scattered consultants and, now, last but not least, a throng of bishops, “so many none could count”, like the vast assembly of souls gathered before the throne of the Lamb in the Apocalypse.

      As if …

  7. I’m amazed at how posters on this blog are stuck in the pre-modern era. If you were young, traditional Catholics you would understand what was going on here.

    What Cardinal Pell meant by “virtually” was that he had consulted with virtual bishops.

    Every virtual bishop was programmed to respond to any question by saying “Yes, Cardinal! I agree. Hermeneutic of continuity. Religious docility. Textual sacrality, your cardinality.”

    As a result, the cardinal and Vox Clara achieved 100% agreement with the Vox-Clarified text. What’s more, virtual bishops can agree with an action before the action is taken. So they all, each and every one, agreed with the text that we have now received.

    Res ipsa loquitur. Causa finita est.

  8. “Ideological” “Total nonsense” – Cardinal Pell of the new translation’s critics.

    It is astonishing that a man of Cardinal Pell’s storied erudition should consider the “Areas of Difficulty” an exercise in ideological pique, for so he seems to be saying in his remarks. On the other hand, his petulant, dismissive tone may help explain why that document’s detailed analysis of mistranslations from the Latin, violations of Liturgiam authenticam and the Ratio translationis, and disregard for (or more likely, given the characters we now know to be involved, ignorance of) basic English grammar and syntax went ignored before the texts went to the publishers. Though one would think a Cardinal might be concerned about the near-heretical formulations some mistranslations led to …

    But does Cardinal Pell really want us to believe that changes like “to your infinite majesty” (2008) to “to the immensity of your majesty” (Vox Clara) in the Preface of Christ the King, or “when the Communion of the faithful is completed” to “when the Communion of the faithful is over” (change of the concluding rubric on Corpus Christi) are the result of worldwide episcopal and expert consultation?

    Now THAT’S “total nonsense,” Your Eminence!

    And I do wish he’d have explained how the change from “STAND” to “BE” for “adstare” in Eucharistic Prayer II is an example of translating the Latin “in the most exact manner” (LA, 51).

  9. I was not able to play Fr John Muir’s video at first. Now that I have watched the first couple of minutes (only), I was interested to find that his opening three statements are all inaccurate.

    (1) He says that the decision to produce a third edition of the MR dates back to the 1970s. Why this should make things any better is not clear, but evidently he thinks it does. He is confusing the fact that a revised English translation was envisaged as far back as the 1970s, immediately after the present one appeared, with the prospect of a third edition of the Missal itself, which was only seriously thought about in the 1990s as a political manoeuvre to enable Rome to sideline the 1998 translation of the 2nd edition.

    (2) He says that the translation process for the text we are going to be using stretches back over 25 years. It doesn’t. It goes back a maximum of 11, if you include GIRM, less than 10 if you don’t. (Liturgiam Authenticam is only 10 years old.) The translation process for the 1998 version did take the best part of 25 years.

    (3) He says that literally thousands of people had input into it. Well, yes, they did, but that is not the same thing as saying that thousands of people were involved in producing the translation, which is what he is trying to imply. We all have input into a democratic process, but that does not mean that we are all involved in government. Leaving aside bishops and their consultors, the actual number working on the forthcoming translation did not even reach three digits, and the number involved with the myriad modifications since 2008 can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    This is the sort of misconception/misinformation which is feeding Cardinal Pell’s remarks.

  10. That video was grim, and it’s hard to view it as anything other than dishonest about what actually happened. Nor can they claim that they were describing the process at a high level, because it trotted dutifully through the green book, grey book, ICEL, CDW, Vox Clara, etc.

    I transcribed one section that seemed particularly revealing:

    Our current English translation is made up of what is called a dynamic equivalent of the original Latin. The dynamic equivalent represents the sentiments of the Latin but often times stops short of a truly exact translation of the Latin text.

    The new translation of the Roman Missal will instead be a direct translation of the Latin … that means, word for word.


    1. “The new translation of the Roman Missal will instead be a direct translation of the Latin … that means, word for word. ”

      And a significant part of the problem. To call this ‘idiocy’ is too kind.

      Has anyone, ever, taken a critical look at the Latin texts to see if they are well written? I mean linguistically, not theologically. For the sake of discussion [only] I’ll happily stipulate that the theology of the Latin is good.

  11. Depending on the era, some of the Latin prayers are semi-Pelagian, if not occasionally Pelagian.

    As gems of Latin prosody, again it depends on the particular century. Most are models of their kind; but others are a hopeless jumble syntactically. As well, the content of some of the orations is thin, if not banal. One finds this lack particularly in some of the prayers over the gifts (offerings) and prayers after communion. They can be quite abrupt, and repetitive in their inspiration.

    The opposite is also true: prayers that run on interminably. These are more likely to be modern, such as the opening prayer for Saint Maximillian Kolbe. It is reminiscent of some of the old second nocturn readings from Matins for saints’ days.

    A few of the earliest opening prayers for Ordinary Time, especially, are so wedded to classical Latin rhetoric that they tend towards the deistic. Of course, the ancient Trinitarian formulary for the conclusion helps to overcome this.

    In the early 1990s, the CDWDS was considering the addition of Latin alternative opening prayers for Sundays that would be more Christological in focus, and specifically with Resurrection themes. Alas, the project died aborning.

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