Two Prefaces for the Lenten Season

Two Lenten prefaces raise questions about the judgment of the translator/editor and her/his/their competence.

1. The Lenten Preface 2 reads:

‘.. For you have given your children a sacred time for the renewing and purifying of their hearts, that, freed from all disordered affections, they may so deal with the things of this passing world …’

‘Sacred’ presumably attempts to render the Latin praecipuum. But that’s a paraphrase and does not fit the context. The point about Lent is that it is special, a time set apart, and ‘sacred’ is too weak to convey that.

The Latin salubriter (salutary, for salvation or health or well-being) is not rendered in our English version, so far as I can see.

The expression ‘disordered affections’ (Latin is inordinatis affectibus) has a clinical ring to it, and is too redolent of the language used by the Holy See’s departments and some officials when referring to gay people. Whatever the intention of those who use such language, it is often heard as offensive. The judgment of the translator/editor is questionable here.

To translate as ‘inordinate affections’ would remove the dubious reference but still remain somewhat impenetrable. I’m not sure how much ‘inordinate’ might be construed as ‘excessive.’ To my ear (and I am not the OED!) it seems often to be used with that sense.

Also, isn’t ‘deal with’ (Latin is incumberent) too colloquial here? Wouldn’t ‘use’ or ‘make use of’ or even ‘attend to’ be better?

What about this as an alternative?

… because you have established for the well-being of your children
a special time to renew and purify their heart,
so that, freed in mind from wrongful desires,
they may so attend to the business of this passing world,
as to hold more strongly to the things that abide eternally.


2. The Preface for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord reads:

‘.. For the Virgin Mary heard with faith that the Christ was to be born …’

The Latin has: a caelesti nuntio Virgo fidenter audivit

So what’s happened to the ‘heavenly messenger’ (caelesti nuntio) in our English version? Here the competence of the translator/editor is clearly wanting. It should be:

‘.. For from the heavenly Messenger the Virgin Mary heard with faith
that the Christ was to be born among men and for their sake
by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.’

Or, with greater liberty:

‘For the Virgin Mary listened with faith
to the word of the heavenly Messenger,
that the Christ was to be born among men and for their sake,
by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit.’

It would be interesting to know what others make of these texts and how they might be improved.

Fr. Alan Griffiths is a priest of of Portsmouth Diocese, UK.


  1. Posting the Latin to make the discussion easier.

    Preface II for Lent:

    Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine, sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus: Qui filiis tuis ad reparandam mentium puritatem, tempus praecipuum salubriter statuisti, quo, mente ab inordinatis affectibus expedita, sic incumberent transituris ut rebus potius perpetuis inhaererent. Et ideo, cum Sanctis et Angelis universis, te collaudamus, sine fine dicentes:

    Preface for the Annunciation:

    Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine, sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus: per Christum Dominum nostrum. Quem inter homines et propter homines nasciturum, Spiritus Sancti obumbrante virtute, a caelesti nuntio Virgo fidenter audivit et immaculatis visceribus amanter portavit, ut et promissiones filiis Israel perficeret veritas, et gentium exspectatio pateret ineffabiliter adimplenda. Per quem maiestatem tuam adorat exercitus Angelorum, ante conspectum tuum in aeternitate laetantium. Cum quibus et nostras voces ut admitti iubeas, deprecamur, socia exsultatione dicentes:

    Thanks to Jeffrey Pinyan for his admirable database that makes these texts so easy to search and find! You can find it (after making the necessary substitutions) at:

    www DOT catholiccrossreference DOT com SLASH romanmissal SLASH propers DOT php


    (Note to Jonathan Day: you can include one URL in a post without it tripping auto-moderation. If you have clicked “Reply” or “Quote” to post a comment, then your comment already includes one URL (to the previous person’s comment), which is why including a URL in a Reply” comment puts it into the auto-moderation queue.)

    In a couple weeks’ time, I hope to revise the interface to the database to allow people to begin making comments on, and offering their own translations of, the Latin texts.

  3. What I find interesting in the analysis of the translation of the new missal is that when we compare the texts to the drafts there were produced by ICEL and then look at the recognitio text, we see that the problems were not in the ICEL texts but in the ones that were received from Rome. At least the most egregious examples are from the received texts. There is a discontinuity between the work of ICEL and the Episcopal Conferences and what was received. To me that is one of the places where the problem with the new translation is focused. I have never heard of an accurate account of who took the ICEL translations which were approved by the Episcopal Conferences and modified them into what was received. Clearly rejecting both LA and the Ratio translationis in the process.

    Looking to the drafts produced by ICEL, the problems highlighted by Fr. Griffiths are almost completely mitigated.

    Lent II

    For you have established for the well-being of your children
    a special season to renew and purify their minds,
    so that, freed from all inordinate desires,
    they may so use the things of this passing life
    as to hold more firmly to the things of eternity.


    For with faith the Virgin Mary heard
    from the heavenly messenger
    that, by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit,
    the Christ was to be born
    among human beings and for their sake.
    In her immaculate womb she lovingly bore him,
    that the promises to the children of Israel might be fulfilled
    and the hope of nations be realized beyond all telling.

  4. Allow me to interrupt this much appreciated scholarly study to state what should be obvious: if mistakes of this magnitude were to occur in most reputable organizations, there would be investigations conducted to find the responsible parties and to correct the errors. And some wonder why some priests would be bold enough to alter a misleading or simply poor construction to improve intelligibility? Certainly those responsible have done far worse. But, of course, no such investigation or corrective process is likely to occur because the well established pattern is to coverup, obfuscate, and label the critics as disloyal dissenters. Lord, have mercy on us all.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #5:
      Agree, Fr. Jack…it gets to the other post on PTB when JP & Allan decided that my statement about the council: *Pray the mass; not pray AT the mass* meant that folks bringing their own individual missals ( of whatever kind) would aid full, complete, and active participation…..they countered by stating that presiders basically *bring their own missals* implying that presiders (everywhere?) change, alter, modify, revise justifying or necessitating that folks bring their individual missals. Their logical conclusion – these situations are equivalent and the same.
      This, of course, ignores what you have just stated; it ignores SC priniciples that placed full, complete, and active participation as a *moral* (IMO, my choice of words) directive – meaning that the ministry of presider includes prreparation, study, education, teaching, etc. (IMO, this includes the task of interpreting the church’s liturgy so that there is full, active, and complete participation in the communal eucharist. This assumes that a presider or ministry team is doing the study and making these decisions for the common good of the community based upon serious and significant experience, research, and deliberations)
      Of course, they see this same responsibility in each individual (thus, if the temple police catch a presider changing a word, etc. it justifies folks to *individualize* the communal liturgy – which I admit is there but not to the degree, responsibility, or accountability of the ministries involved in planning and leading the liturgy of a community. It is not all relative…It does not justify each person (including the presider) to make personal, subjective rationalizations based purely upon like/dislikes. Whether we like it or not, communal liturgy is hierarchical (using Allan’s term, *properly understood) and there are offices of ministry that exercise leadership roles – it is not a *free for all* in which legalism, rigidity, or personal whim rules.
      Okay – the role of the presider in this comment is crucial – but taking the example of Fr. Ruff’s own personal decision making process, it is an on-going tension today.

  5. I don’t think we needed any more evidence proving the incompetence of the “translators”.

    But I appreciated this article anyway.

    1. @Jim Blue – comment #7:

      My thanks are due to Jim Blue for his appreciation.

      However, my interest is not merely to demonstrate the poor judgement or incompetence of the translators (or CDW editors, whichever it may be). I have the much more urgent issue in mind, namely, what are we going to do about it?

      It seems clear to me that this translation needs lots of further work. I would want to approach this cautiously. I don’t want to abandon the whole project.

      My interest focuses on two issues:

      (a) what in detail we are going to do about the mistakes and the awkward language sometimes employed, and

      (b) how can this be done? I don’t want to encourage priestly disobedience, but some of my colleagues do in fact alter the texts. I have even been asked – with specific reference to Eucharistic Prayer 4 – how they might best do this.


  6. With regard to the Annunciation Preface,

    […]a caelesti nuntio Virgo fidenter audivit et immaculatis visceribus amanter portavit[…] [my ellipsis]

    er class adverbs in Latin are very difficult to translate into English. The “preposition switch” Fr. Alan Griffiths proposes, (i.e fidenter as “with faith”) is a fine solution for the translation of Latin adverbs.

    If I were to translate the aforementioned Latin excerpt quite literally,

    […] “The Virgin heard faithfully from a heavenly messenger and carried [Jesus] lovingly in her immaculate womb” […] [my addition, ellipsis]

    (immaculatis visceribus is ablative plural. However “immaculate entrails” is not an appropriate translation into English.)

    As seen above, the direct translation of Latin adverbs as English adverbs creates confusing English sentences.

    The new missal translation for this excerpt:

    […]”by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit, lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb” […] [my ellipsis]

    Fr. Griffiths has already covered the several inconsistencies in the first phrase. Note that while fidenter is omitted, amanter is translated “lovingly”, creating an English adverb which could be clarified by translating the Latin adverb as an English preposition. The new Annunciation preface is the worst of both worlds: a complete disregard for fidenter and an inadvisable direct adverbial translation for amanter.

    I don’t understand how these inconsistencies have arisen, especially since the balance between the Latin adverbs should be mirrored in consistent English constructions even if not adverbial constructions. Unfortunately, the missal offers only one preface option for the Annunciation. If I were on the translation revision team, I would place this preface in the “highest priority” bin.

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