Alan Griffiths on ‘etiam’

by Alan Griffiths

Blessing Holy Water after Vespers tonight (as one does) I was intrigued by the use of the word ‘even’ in the blessing prayer, and remembered that I had heard it before elsewhere in the new translation and that it sounded a little odd. The line in question reads:

Almighty and ever-living God,
who willed that through water,
the fountain of life and the source of purification,
even souls should be cleansed and receive the gift of eternal life …

Why ‘even’ souls?

It is ‘etiam’ in the Latin – etiam animae mundarentur…

If etiam is a reinforcing word – my Latin Dictionary has also, furthermore, too, likewise, besides, even, nay even, etc., then I can see that it has the sense of ‘well, if water cleans [sc. bodies], it must also clean souls ..’ But the text as it stands, without any such elucidation of the sense, makes no sense to me. It ought to translate something like ‘souls as well as bodies might be cleansed …’

A similar oddity occurs in the Paschaltide preface ending:

and even the heavenly powers .. sing together ..

Again, this is tantamount to saying that ‘not only the earthly congregations but also the heavenly powers ..’ but without that amplification ‘even’ seems to suggest that the heavenly powers are praising the resurrection begrudgingly. I got round this last year by saying ‘the heavenly powers also, …’

It’s a small example of the weirdness of some of the language in the new Missal.

So, to use line the line suggested by Fr. Anthony Ruff, IF we were thinking of further work on the text, how might we approach this?

Almighty and ever-living God,
who willed that through water,
the fountain of life and the source of purification,
souls might be cleansed and receive the gift of eternal life ..

would the simplest approach be to omit etiam altogether?


Fr. Alan Griffiths is a priest of of Portsmouth Diocese, UK. He was a translator for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) until he was removed for his criticism of the Holy See’s role in changing missal texts approved by bishops’ conference.


  1. Fr. Griffiths: A similar oddity occurs in the Paschaltide preface ending:
    … and even the heavenly powers .. sing together ..

    I believe you are referring to the Praefatio Paschalis II (MR 2002). The relevant excerpt is:

    […] Sed et supérnæ virtútes atque angélicæ potestátes hymnum glóriæ tuæ cóncinunt, sine fine dicéntes: […]

    Roman Missal 2010, in “Preface II for Easter”, interprets the Latin as

    “and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory, as they acclaim:”

    The translators’ treatment of sed et and atque is rather interesting. sed et and atque are basically intensified versions of sed (“but”) and –que (suffix form of “and”). In the Tridentine liturgy, prefaces often used the intensifier et ideo (“and therefore”). sed et in the reformed missal performs essentially the same function as et ideo.

    I would say that sed etatque, would probably best be translated by not translating sed et and translating atque as “and also” or similar. sed etatque sets up a valuable contrast in Latin that is not easily expressed in English. English doesn’t necessarily need to use a set phrase with the first item on a list to signify that the second item on a list is related to the first. Often a simple “and” between the two items is enough in English.

    I am completely baffled as to why the translators translated atque as “with”. atque is a conjunction, not a preposition like sine.

    I would revise the RM 2010 this way:

    […] “the heavenly Powers and the angelic hosts sing together the unending hymn of your glory, as they acclaim:” […]

    I don’t care much for the RM translation of sine fine, but that is not relevant to this exact question.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #1:

      Why is it “the heavenly powers and the angelic hosts”? Does the insertion of the change the meaning from some to all? Or does something else (et? atque?) justify a definite article?

      1. @Jim McKay – comment #3:

        […] Sed et supérnæ virtútes atque angélicæ potestátes […]

        […] “and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts” […]

        The addition of the definite article “the” in the English translation indeed suggests to me that all of the heavenly powers and all of the angelic hosts are called upon in the conclusion of the preface. Yet, the introduction to the Sanctus and the formula of the consecration of the wine are of quite different importance. As I have written earlier, the absence of a definite article for πολλῶν in the NT and the Byzantine analogue to the consecration of the wine makes me quite wary of inserting a definite article in an English translation of pro multis.

        Latin lacks articles at least in a classical or liturgical sense (in later and medieval Latin hic and ille often act as stand-ins.) The use of the direct article in this preface suggests that there is no one translation strategy for the use of definite articles in English translation. I would suggest that whenever possible it would be best to refer to other apostolic liturgies in languages with articles to determine whether or not an article should be used when interpreting the Latin. Cross-referencing with other liturgies carries its own perils, but at least clarifies the Roman liturgy against other Christian worship.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #5:

        Thanks for your response. I was sincerely wondering if the ‘little words” justified the expansion from “heavenly powers and angelic hosts” to “the heavenly powers and the angelic hosts.” I can see the possibility, but do not know if it worked that way. I think it matters in the use of “even.”

        It is similar to “the many”, but different enough not to be relevant to that case.

    2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #1:
      I don’t believe that ‘sed et’ is an intensified version of ‘sed’, which is an adversative conjunction, setting one thing in contrast with another. When the new translation was in preparation, plenty of work was done on this, with the help of the Brepols corpus of Latin texts, because some correspondents were claiming that ‘sed et’ had adversative force. No justification was found for interpreting ‘sed et’ in that way.
      When St Joseph’s name was put into the Roman Canon under John XXIII, it was introduced with ‘sed et’ – ‘sed et beati Joseph, eiusdem Virginis sponsi’ – but this did not indicate an intention to contrast Joseph with Mary.

      1. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #4:

        Thank you Msgr. Harbert. I now see your point that sed et is not an intensified sed. Lewis & Short sv. sed II.B.2 [Perseus] notes that sed in combination with et, etiam, or quoque changes the meaning of sed from adversative to affirmative (“and even”, “and also”, etc.) This is consonant with your example of John XXIII’s insertion of St. Joseph into the Canon.

        This is off topic, but I don’t understand why the prefaces of the reformed missal sometimes introduce the second part of the preface with sed et rather than the et ideo found in many of the Tridentine prefaces. et ideo is an easier construction in my view, since there is no doubt that this phrase is not adversative. Is sed et found in prefaces which are older than the prefaces used in MR 1570 and related missals? Perhaps the redactors of the Tridentine missal preferred et ideo for some reason which you, Msgr. Harbert, might know.

  2. “Almighty and ever-living God,
    who willed that through water,
    the fountain of life and the source of purification,
    souls might be cleansed and receive the gift of eternal life ..”

    But now that sense added by “even” is lost in the above. Isn’t the sense given by “even” that God desires the purification of something more than just souls (perhaps all creation?), and perhaps that water has some presence, purpose or sacral reality of its very own that stands apart from its application to humans?

    1. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #2:
      This is an ingenious interpretation, but more ‘reading into’ than ‘reading out of,’ as far as I can see.

      My point was that the use of ‘etiam’ implies something with which ‘also’ should be in parallel. That ‘something’ is not evident.


      1. @Alan Griffiths – comment #8:
        Jordan’s comment makes sense to me.

        “Almighty and ever-living God,
        who willed that through water,
        the fountain of life and the source of purification,
        souls might be cleansed and receive the gift of eternal life ..”

        Water is naturally the “fountain of life” and the “source of purification”; that is, water is a fountain of natural life and a source of natural purification.

        But God has willed that water be a supernatural fountain of life and source of purification, such that water can even give spiritual/supernatural life and effect spiritual/supernatural purification. Without God’s so willing it, how could water, which is material, effect any change in the soul, which is immaterial?

        I think that’s the sense of the prayer.

        So, to your point (in #8), the “even” is problematic because the prayer does not make it plain that it is comparing the natural role of water in vivifying and purifying material things with the supernatural role of water in vivifying and purifying the soul.

  3. I don’t see what the problem is.

    OED under “even”:

    9. Intimating that the sentence expresses an extreme case of a more general proposition implied (= French même). Prefixed (in later use often parenthetically postfixed) to the particular word, phrase, or clause, on which the extreme character of the statement or supposition depends.

    This use, now the prevailing one in Eng., is foreign to the other Germanic langs. It is rare in purely dialectal speech, and (though a natural development of 8 ) seems not to have arisen before the 16th c. …

    a. Attached to the subj., agent, or object.

    a1616 Shakespeare Timon of Athens (1623) i. i. 83 Make sacred euen his styrrop.
    1641 J. Jackson True Evangelical Temper iii. 209 In Warre, even the Conqueror is commonly a loser.
    1697 Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics iii, in tr. Virgil Wks. 108 Ev’n the fearful Stag dares for his Hind engage.
    1747 J. Wesley Primitive Physic (1762) 117 This quickly heals even cut veins and Sinews.
    1801 M. Edgeworth Forester in Moral Tales I. 100 Even this stupid as useful to society as I am.
    1820 Keats Lamia i, in Lamia & Other Poems 5 Jealousies Of the Wood-Gods, and even the very trees.
    1854 J. Doran Habits & Men 176 He was in debt to no man, not even to his tailor.
    1863 F. A. Kemble Jrnl. Resid. Georgian Plantation 11 The tone of insolent superiority assumed by even the gutter urchins.
    1884 W. C. Smith Kildrostan 88 A harp, even, blunts the finger-tips.

    “Why ‘even’ souls?”

    Because it’s “an extreme case of a more general proposition implied.”

    This prayer notes that water is “the fountain of life and the source of purification” and the introduction to the prayer (which is the prayer for blessing holy water at mass): “super nos aspergendam in nostri memoriam baptismi” makes that connection explicit.

  4. 1. The viewpoint Alan Griffiths takes regarding the “The angels rejoice at the Resurrection—who woulda thunk it” issue appears also in an ICEL submission from some years ago, available in a couple of versions at and
    ICEL did resort to mockery there, but I think it was their duty to do so, since they were up against an English wording that was (and still is) genuinely ridiculous.
    (Jordan, I believe the “sed et angeli” problem comes up at the end of all the Easter prefaces, not just Easter Preface 2. So an officiant can’t dodge the problem by using another preface.)
    2. While we’re at it, what’s the deal with translating “virtutes” and “potestates” as if they weren’t names of specific choirs of angels (like “dominations” and “cherubim”)? The result seems redundant. What could be the difference between “heavenly powers” and “angelic hosts”?

  5. Although Liturgiam authenticam 50 encourages translators to translate technical theological terms in conformity with the vocabulary of the Catechism, there is, rather surprisingly, nowhere where the Catechism enumerates and names the nine orders of angels. So what nine names is the poor translator to choose?
    Both “virtutes” and “potestates” mean “powers”, but the same name can’t be used twice. “Virtues” has a different meaning in English and, if used now as the name of an order of angels, would probably cause some confusion.
    Anybody who wishes to criticise the naming of angelic orders in the Missal is invited to offer his / her own list of nine names suitable for liturgical use!

  6. Mgr Harbert, if we follow the hierarchy given in St Thomas Aquinas and Dante, then eight of the nine names generally used seem suitable for liturgical use:

    Choir 1. Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
    Choir 2. Dominations, [Virtues], Powers
    Choir 3. Principalities, Archangels, Angels

    Since the ‘Virtues’ connect with might or power (Greek δύναμις, Eph 1.21) and are supposed to keep the planets in their orbits, what about ‘Forces’? Or ‘Heavenly forces’?

    Or does that sound too much like “Star Wars”?

  7. That was illuminating, Monsignor Harbert. I now see more clearly what a pickle our translators are in. What I was complaining that they hadn’t done evidently can’t be done.
    “Supernae virtutes atque angelicae potestates” MEANS two choirs of angels, namely the virtues and the powers. But no translation can easily convey that meaning to an English-speaking worshipper unless the worshipper is versed in the minutiae of the Faith beyond what the Catechism contains. Following the command of Cardinal Medina to translate “integrally,” the translators came up with individual English words that correspond to the individual Latin words—never mind that when viewed more broadly, they introduce an outright inaccuracy. (An “angelica potestas” is an individual angel of the choir or order of powers. He/she isn’t an “angelic host” at all.)
    So what could have been done with “Sed et supernae virtutes atque angelicae potestates hymnum gloriae tuae concinunt, sine fine dicentes”? One very appealing alternative is “while the choirs of heaven sing forever to your glory”—which eschews, because of impossibility, any more meticulous correspondences than that “supernae virtues atque angelicae potestates” = “the choirs of heaven.” I suppose that isn’t an option. Well, maybe someday.

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