On December 6th, The Tablet carried this letter to the editor from Bishop Emeritus Crispian Hollis, who was bishop of Portsmouth, England, from 1989 to 2012.
I am grateful for the correspondence about the current translation of our liturgical texts and for Eamon Duffy’s cogent article, “Broken English” (2 December). It has given me an opportunity to look back and to regret deeply that I did not take the discussions in the Bishops’ Conference about the translations more seriously.
There were notable exceptions to the consensus among the bishops about the new translations but I think Eamon Duffy is right when he writes that most of us were content “to let sleeping dogs lie.” With the benefit of hindsight, I confess that I was wrong and am therefore partly responsible for the appalling texts with which we have now been saddled. I am sorry!
I am regularly engaged in supplying Masses in our local Clifton parishes and I now constantly have to adapt or change the texts with which we are presented because, as they stand, they are so often unintelligible or so clumsy as to be virtually unusable.
If, as I understand it, Magnum Principium gives the Bishops’ Conference the opportunity to think again, and revisit the 1998 Missal, then such a move would have my full support and encouragement. The matter is urgent; things will not get better and we need to think again.
But then, I am only a retired bishop!
Emeritus Bishop of Portsmouth
“Broken English” is a recent article in The Tablet by Eamon Duffy, Emeritus Professor of Christian History at the University of Cambridge. Duffy had sharply criticized the inaccurate translations of the 1973/1974 Sacramentary/Missal and raise his voice loudly to call for translations more accurate and more beautiful. Obviously, his judgment is that the 2011 Missal, inspired by the Roman document Liturgiam authenticam, fails at this. He writes that ” Liturgiam Authenticam was a crass and ill-informed document,” and that the withering critique of it by conservative liturgist Peter Jeffery “should be required reading in every seminary.” His conclusion is sharp: “The Missal we have suffered since 2011 was a disastrously misconceived project, imposed on a reluctant episcopate. By retaining it, the bishops are saddling us for the foreseeable future with an ugly and alienating version of what should be the Church’s most fundamental school of prayer.”
There is also a letter to The Tablet from Paul Smyth CMF, writing as President and on behalf of the Executive of the Conference of Religious of England and Wales, expressing “disappointment at the announcement by the Bishops of England and Wales that the current translation of the Roman Missal will be retained for use.”
Who will be next to throw his mitre into the ring I wonder?
Thanks for the alert – a post is now up here about this.
Anyone who thinks that bishops actually look at most of what comes their way should know that they do not. In the case of the Missal, they more or less gave up, faced with the huge piles of paperwork (which is why some conferences do not want to be bothered with revisiting the Missal). Typically, bishops’ conference votes are decided not by those who have an interest in translation but by the prelates who control the conference’s agenda.
Bishop Crispian appears to have forgotten the pastoral letter he wrote in May 2011, in which he said: “In the earlier translation not all the meaning of the original Latin text was fully expressed and a number of the terms that were used to convey the teachings of the faith were lost. This was readily acknowledged by the bishops of the Church, even back in the 1970s, and has become an increasing cause of concern since then.”
He then went on to state: “So what does this new translation offer us? First of all, there is a fuller expression of the content of the original texts. Then, there is a closer connection with the Sacred Scriptures which inspire so much of our liturgy. Also, there is a recovery of a vocabulary that enriches our understanding of the mystery we celebrate. All of this requires a unique style of language and expression, one that takes us out of ourselves and draws us into the sacred, the transcendent and the divine.”
He concluded his pastoral letter with the words: “Let us welcome the new translation of the Roman Missal as a sign of our unity and a powerful instrument of God’s grace in our lives.”
Thank you Bishop Crispian, for the inspiring words you wrote in 2011. I agree with everything you said and quote them here so that others, any maybe even yourself, will be inspired by them afresh.
I’m very confident that Bishop Hollis believes the words of apology he just said. I see no reason to believe otherwise. So your “gotcha” doesn’t work in my mind.
Perhaps he changed his mind, based on a few years of having to use the new texts which are rather ugly and awkward. Perhaps he felt, like all the bishops, pressured to promote the new texts Rome forced on them.
The new texts will rise or fall on their merits. Which is to say, I’m confident they won’t last and will have to be replaced by texts that are more beautiful (and more accurate – note, Rome botched up the new texts so they are littered with errors). It may take time, but I have enough faith in Holy Church that I believe it will eventually happen that we have better texts – beautiful, accurate, pastorally effective.
I can only speak for myself but the new translation has brought spiritual depth and meaning to me that was not present before. Spiritual truths are made more visible and I have felt my soul respond at Mass with words of great spiritual depth that simply were not present in the previous missal….. it’s feeding my soul!
Unfortunately, I do not believe for one minute that an educated man such as Bishop Crispian was incapable of forming his own appreciation of the current Mass translation in 2011. If he did not believe the content of his own pastoral letter, why did he write it? He could have simply chosen to say nothing. As things stand, he, and only he, has created a situation in which he is now completely contradicting himself. And only he can provide us with an adequate explanation. Anyone who tries to put words into his mouth is simply not taking this debate seriously.
David Hayes, you obviously don’t want his most recent comment to reflect his mind, I assume because you like better what he said in 2011. I’m not putting words in his mouth, I’m noting what he now said. People do change their minds, obviously. Give him the right to do that. You can still disagree with him and hold your own opinion, but that shouldn’t prevent you from seeing the plain sense of what he just said.
I don’t see that Bp. Crispian said anything in the 2011 statement that he needs to retract. The 1970 was poor, almost everybody agreed about that, and replacing it was urgent. Given that there was only one option available in 2011, it made sense to give it a good try, although we knew that 1998 was better, it was not on the table.
We can now be sure that the 2011 is woefully defective, and that ‘something should be done’. The homily can and should be used to clarify the invariable parts of the Mass, but trying to explain the all variable orations and the readings at each Mass is impossible. So just concentrate on translating the collect, prayer over the gifts, etc so that they do not confuse, mostly easily done by permitting the 1998 translations of these prayers, as an alternative.
In answer to Antony Ruff, let me state my position more clearly. We can always improve any translation. I know this from my daily work since I am a professional translator. But any ‘improvement’ (that term is subjective) has to be based on a methodology. It goes without saying that the 2011 Missal does not replicate how people speak in everyday life. But according to the methodology upon which it was based, that is a deliberate choice. Bishop Hollis appeared to understand this in 2011 since he wrote : “…there is a recovery of a vocabulary that enriches our understanding of the mystery we celebrate. All of this requires a unique style of language and expression, one that takes us out of ourselves and draws us into the sacred, the transcendent and the divine.”
The apparent jarring with everyday words is deliberate since it invites us to ponder the meaning of the texts more deeply. Rather than flatter our expectations, the Missal proposes its own form of language for liturgical purposes. For example, replacing the word ‘cup’ by ‘chalice’ in the Eucharistic prayer. The same arguments are used by Anglicans who prefer the Book of Common Prayer.
Since you concede below that one of the Advent collects has become part of Catholic devotional life (in the form of the Angelus prayer), I suggest that the entire Missal could have this effect if prayed and lived deeply enough.
What I now want to know is whether Bishop Crispian has gone back on his commitment to the methodology upon which the 2011 Missal is based. He simply says he now needs to constantly change and adapt the texts to make them ‘intelligible’ (which does sound a little like a cleric patronising the laity). I want to know the methodology upon which his ‘improvements’ are based. Does he still agree with the methodology (which is not the same thing as the current results of this methodology) of the 2011 Missal?
Since I live in France (so rarely attend Mass in English), my interest in this matter is not motivated by particular words I enjoy hearing…
Quite right. Bishop Crispian, like many of us, wanted to give the new Missal some slack. However, six years of use have shown how much of the translation is poor quality stuff, faithful to the Latin only in the most superficial sense.
It is good to know that he feels able to modify the texts he is speaking. I know of a number of colleagues who do this, and while I am not in a position to assess the worth of what they do, I understand the spirit of it.
On a personal level of appreciation, I find many texts in it are of good quality. Many others can be improved with not too much effort. However, as other observers and users have remarked, the orations are the weakest part of the whole collection. I hope someone is working on this.
While I understand the reluctance of the Bishops’ Conference to re-open this issue, I am sure that sooner or later it will be taken up again.
Bishop Hollis wrote warmly in 2011 in favour of ‘this new translation’ and now he criticises the Missal we are required to use. He is not being inconsistent. The translation our bishops saw and approved was the work of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. What we have now is the work of the Vox Clara Committee, an entirely different book.
Old argument, Bruce. It may be true that Vox Clara would have made many less than their estimated 10,000 “corrections” in the 2011 RM had they thought that the ICEL text presented to the bishops did not require so many. But they didn’t. They thought that the text that came from your ICEL was rife with mistranslations and syntactical issues, so they made what began as a poor text even worse.
But the outcome for the 2011 RM was predictable once ICEL had decided a number of years prior to translate every quaesumus in the text and in the same word order as the Latin. Had your ICEL permitted openness and discussion, as did the old ICEL, that may have been avoided, despite the supposed dictates of Liturgiam Authenticam.
Is there anyone from the old or new ICEL who will go on record and call for the 1998 text to be used (perhaps with additions to account for any changes since the last edition of the Latin one came out)?
To the faithful in the pews the old ICEL just like the new was something between a black box and a unstoppable, incorrigible force of nature, whatever the difference in its internal process.
Only the outcome changes. We had “one in being” , “Christ has died…” but no translation of “Mortem tuam annuntiamus Domine…”, and Dick-and-Jane paraphrases, we were going to have on top of that the elimination of all beseeching and supplication and the secular feminist program for remaking English, with “God’s” where there once was “his” in the Gloria, treating the Father’s fatherhood as a scandal, to top it off. Now we have “consubstantial” and a Latinate sentence structure only declaimable by priests with extra-ordinary skill and extra time on their hands to practice.
Younger priests and laity call when surveyed thought it to be progress and maybe it is but the process was and is just as broken. If there had been “openness and discussion” Cardinal George and co. wouldn’t have had any need to put the brakes on. If there were now “openness and discussion” there would be a clear way forward and reanimating the corpse of the 1998 Sacramentary would be a nonstarter.
What kind of openness and discussion do you have in mind, that could produce a more broadly acceptable translation?
My article on Translation, published in the Catholic Times UK on December 3rd and recently posted on Pray Tell, was written before Bishop Crispian’s welcome Tablet letter.
In my few words I offered this thought::
Words matter. In the Introduction to the re-printed Theology of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez writes “…all language is to some extent a groping for clarity.”
Whenever we use language it is always an approximation to intention. We try to get as near as possible to real understanding with the words we use-that ‘groping for clarity’ as Gutierrez aptly puts it.
It is a hard enough task in our daily conversation, let alone in translation. The task of translating poetry for example is a difficult and sensitive skill.
We can well do without the absurdities of distorted translation that have been our lot since 2011 when an alternative exists viz 1998
Our prayer life has been interrupted
Our prayer life was interrupted in 1970. The problem with 1998 is that many of the problems of the old ICEL were not addressed.
Prof Mahrt, my life was changed by attending the (new rite) Latin Masses at the Stanford Newman Centre, and singing (new rite) Sunday Latin Vespers with a group that you made possible. Though some bloggers and writers in the “traditionalist movement” that you have fostered write far too much and far too often, and lard their polemic with shoddy logic, I hold your work in great respect.
Can you elaborate on the problems of the old ICEL translation that were not addressed in the 1998? I can think of other objections to it, such as the addition of newly composed prayers. But what part of reforming the paraphrases and elisions of the 1970s version was left undone?
Many years ago my Daily Missal had side by side Latin and English on the same page. As a child before I learned Latin I had no problem whatsoever in understanding the English translation. Here is an example, the Angelus Prayer.
“Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection.
Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
Simple, intelligible, deferential and dignified language addressed to God.
Yes, that prayer you cite is intelligible and dignified. But I don’t see the connection to the 2011 English Missal!
And what you and I had no problem understanding as youth – while important and legitimate – is something different from what all the other people had/have no trouble understanding. The liturgy isn’t only for bookworm types like me!
One obvious (and timely) connection springs to mind: the Collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent.
MR 2008: Grátiam tuam, quǽsumus, Dómine, méntibus nostris infúnde, ut qui, Angelo nuntiánte, Christi Fílii tui incarnatiónem cognóvimus, per passiónem eius et crucem ad resurrectiónis glóriam perducámur.
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Basically the same as the traditional rendering of the concluding Angelus prayer, with thee/thy replaced with you/your. As a lot of Catholics will know this prayer, it makes sense to use basically the same translation of it when it occurs in the Missal. It’s also an accurate rendering of the Latin text.
Pour forth, O Lord, your grace into our hearts:
once through the message of an angel
you revealed to us the incarnation of Christ your Son;
now lead us through his passion and cross
to the glory of the resurrection.
Critical observations: 1) Where has the once… now construction come from? 2) Like with so many of the translations of the Collects in RM 1998, quǽsumus has gone missing, and the ut clause characteristic of collects has been made implicit: why? Both features can (and ought to) be preserved in translation. 3) In any case, why reinvent the wheel here? There is a perfectly good translation of this prayer that a lot of Catholics know – why not (as RM 2011) just use that one?
Well yes, but this is the a rare case of a collect having become a part of people’s devotional life (in the Angelus). So any principle about how to handle this won’t have much purchase in the rest of the missal.
The quaesumus has not gone missing – it’s there in the “We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ…” I personally think this was a very clever and good solution in the 1973/74 text, a good way of dealing with what works best in English. But I know that not everyone shares my assessment on this point.
(The 2011 text is notoriously loose on this point, btw, adding in English texts where there is no corresponding quaesumus, or not translating it when it is there, in a whole list of cases.)
@Fr Ruff: I would point to the 2002 Observations on the English-Language Translation of the Roman Missal made by the CDWDS in this regard:
The rich language of supplication found in the Latin texts is radically reduced in the translation. Words and expressions such as quaesumus, exoramus, imploramus, praesta… ut, dona, concede, etc., have been collapsed more or less into the terms “ask” and “grant,” transferred almost always to the last line of the prayer, resulting in a corpus of prayers that is relatively monotonous and impoverished with respect to the Latin. (sec. IV, para. E)
With regard to how RM 2011 handles quaesumus and related words, yes, there are some prayers where the omission/insertion of “we pray” is an issue. But there are many more occasions where this is an issue in RM 1998!
[A]ny principle about how to handle this [particular collect] won’t have much purchase in the rest of the missal
However, it is symptomatic of the major problems with MR 1998, and just one more example of its obsession with novelty and constant variety. It is of a piece with (e.g.) the three-year cycle of originally-composed collects, with the rearrangement of the introductory rites, with the proposed translation of the Pater noster contained therein, etc.
The emeritus Bishop of Portsmouth is entitled to his opinion, just as (e.g.) Professor Duffy and Fr O’Collins are entitled to theirs. But there are serious, systemic issues with MR 1998 that cannot be fixed as easily as some imagine. I read Fr O’Collins recent book Lost in Translation this afternoon, and came away bitterly disappointed; MR 1998 is basically treated by O’Collins as an almost perfect translation, the book adds nothing new to the discussion, and O’Collins’s general tone is that anyone who prefers RM 2011 to RM 1998 is sub-normal at best. If that’s the level of “critical” engagement we have to look forward to over the next few years, then count me out.
Matthew, setting aside whether well-loved devotions like the Our Father or the Angelus prayer should be preserved in the Missal, both translations have ‘inaccuracies’.
Cognovimus means something like “we have become aware”, or “we have learned”. It’s active, with the praying Church as subject. “Was made known” (2011) is not ‘accurate’; nor is “you revealed to us” (1998).
“Once … now” in the 1998 is a very good rendering of the sequence of tenses of the Latin verbs and participles: angelo nuntiante (present participle) takes place at the same time – the completed past – as cognovimus, hence “once”. Perducamur is asked in the present, hence “now”.
The purpose clause introduced by ut is implicit in the 1998. But the “that” in the 2011 gets lost in the thicket of subordinated clauses, and is an eccentric way to introduce purpose in modern English. I would argue that purpose is hardly more explicit in the 2011 than in the 1998.
The 2011 does render perducamur as a passive subjunctive, as in the Latin; the 1998 turns it into an imperative. I think the latter translation is more readable and understandable, but perhaps the 2011 sounds “churchier” to some ears.
And then there’s per passionem eius et crucem ad resurrectionis gloriam, which could mean “by his passion and cross to the glory of his resurrection” (2011); but a “his” has appeared out of nowhere to qualify “resurrection”. And the plain sense of per and ad with those accusatives is “through X to Y” — per aspera ad astra.
But – though I agree with Anthony that it is implicit in the conclusion of the prayer – a literal rendering of the quaesumus is definitely missing in the 1998. I give you the quaesumus.
I thank Jonathan for mentioning the issue of the “his” in the current English version of Collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent (i.e., “his resurrection”), which is not really justified by the Latin. The “his” had been in the pre-Vatican II translations of this collect (which also is the prayer that ends the Angelus). Yet, one can wonder whether the Latin text “ad resurrectionis gloriam” really refers to a broader reality (cf. 1 Cor 15 ) than “the glory of his [Christ’s] resurrection.” If it does, the current translation may be, in fact, a (mis-leading) mis-translation. Are we “brought to the glory of Christ’s resurrection” or are we “brought to the glory of [the] resurrection”? I have no answer, but merely a question. But I don’t think the question is insignificant, since lex orandi, lex credendi! Hence the need for English texts that convey our faith correctly and understandably!
Nobody has mentioned Cranmer’s translation of the oration “Gratiam tuam”, which in medieval missals was the postcommunion for the Annunciation, which is how it was used in the Gregorian (= papal) Sacramentary; the Gelasian (= Roman presbyteral) Sacramentary Mass formulary for 25 March is completely different from the Gregorian and later medieval one. Cranmer found it used thus in the Sarum Missal, and put it in place of the Sarum collect for the feast. Here it is:
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts, that as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection.
Leaving aside the vexed question of the verb “beseech”, as well as that of the archaic second person singular (which can easily be changed), I think this version is much better than the “traditional” Roman Catholic one, which is also, slightly modified, in RM 2011. The syntax is straightforward and English, whereas in “Pour out we beseech thee/you O Lord thy/your grace…” it is convoluted and Latinate.
I should perhaps point out that I have nothing against Latin; I spend rather a lot of my time praying in Latin every day. But the sort of Latinised English that has been inflicted on English-speaking Catholics over the past few years makes me think of Mrs Malaprop, a character in Sheridan’s 1775 play “The Rivals”, who decks her dull speech with words she doesn’t understand (she would probably have said “apprehend”). Her descendants are alive and well, working for ICEL and Vox Obscura, churning out the sort of imitations Fr. Griffiths so rightly deplores in his comment.
We’ve said this so many times before, but repetition of the 2011 text over the last few years has simply pushed this matter home to me with greater force.
Much of the best liturgical Latin does indeed offer a rich language of supplication, carefully articulated and very dignified. You can hear in it some of the elegant sub-classical prosody of the greatest Latin Preachers.
However, transliterated into the 21st century and into English, much of it sounds to my ear rather ‘camp.’
With my C of E background, I find it mock-Tudor English, like some 1930’s houses in the UK which are rendered exteriorly white with planks of wood stained black stuck onto them to imitate timber framing. Beware of imitations, we used to say!
It would be strange to assume that any bishop had closely scrutinised the text before doing what the job demanded by recommending it to his diocese.
What were they expected to say …. “Those people in Rome have foisted this thing on us, so we had better all just grit our teeth and get on with it.”
I hope bishops do not really exercise their ministry in such a cold, cynical fashion. Since he was very close to retirement in 2011, Bishop Crispian was hardly likely to earn Brownie points by playing at being a church politician (and, similarly, he was unlikely to have been sacked for simply saying nothing). I want to believe that his 2011 pastoral letter was sincere when he wrote it. Perhaps I am wrong.
Well, that would certainly be more truthful!
With Pope Benedict visiting UK in September 2010 and apparently telling our bishops to accept the “new translation” there was really no alternative to bishops issuing Pastoral Letters supporting in. Crispin Hollis was not alone. One excellent devoted priest I know was distressed after saying his last Mass the day before he had to use the new one; it was the only one he had known. He said he had to use the new one or resign. That would have been a disaster for all to whom he ministers and well as himself.
More from Crispian Hollis at The Tablet‘s online letters page:
Our experience had been that when suggestions had been made, they were not really taken terribly seriously by those who were in charge of the process. This is precisely why the present translating mechanism, i.e. ICEL, needs a complete overhaul.
There is also the ‘mountains of stuff’ problem. If CDWDS is actually able to insist on only a complete (re-)translation being admissable, then we will never get anywhere. The variable orations, which are only needed by the celebrant, are much the most important thing to tackle, and could be published as optional alternatives, in a supplement which parishes would be free to ignore.
Do any bishops read this blog or will these posts change anyone minds in a major way? I realize part of the mission here is to inform people of liturgical and worship happenings but a good portion of the recent posts seem to be just venting about the translation process (however justified those complaints may be). I know that Fr. Ruff has spoken about slightly editing the 1998 collects and prefaces (such as using masculine pronouns for God and feminine pronouns for the Church) and offering them as an alternative. May I suggest that you find someone or some people to actually do that and submit it to a few of the major bishop conferences along with a proposal for their use?
A diplomatic letter showing that this portion of missal is at times hard to proclaim by presiders and hard to receive by congregation along with acknowledgment of some of the issues with the 1998 prayers that have been addressed may be more productive and better received. I can’t imagine how much work it would take to edit the prayers and make them presentable to the conferences especially when there is a significant chance that all that work may come to naught. But judging by the emotion espoused on this blog, there may be people willing to try.
Would there be copyright issues?
One important process reform that ought be considered for a new Missal translation process: undertake a shift to a Creative Commons approach in copyright culture.
The revised prayers would be classified as derivative work and the original copyright would apply. I believe you can make edits so long is not distributed to anyone else other than the copyright holder. So correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that ICEL is still the copyright holder, but since the organization answers to the Conferences and the Vatican ( and is composed of Bishops ), I can’t imagine there being an issue.
But that might create obstacles to crowdsourcing among proposers, shall we say, without a permissive wheel to connect the around the spokes to ICEL’s axle, as it were. This is precisely where commercially-oriented copyright culture becomes more of a hurdle than it ideally should be in this context.
I asked who would be next back on 9th December… Well, yesterday’s blog on the Tablet says: “Watch out for another letter from a different retired bishop next week!”
There’s an apology now in this week’s Tablet from Thomas McMahon, Emeritus Bishop of Brentwood.
Who will be next?
A little late into this discussion.
In the past week I’ve had conversations on with two prelates from Africa. Both did graduate studies in Rome, one of them at San Anselmo. In their home country almost every tribal group has its own language, as a result in some areas the Eucharist is celebrated in English and then a catechist or someone with a facility in English and the local language interprets. Given the English of the present translation the interpreter often struggles with the unfamiliar, literary, archaic language raising the occasional smile or chuckle. One of the prelates said that even now after having used the present Missal for five years he occasionally asks himself at the end of a prayer, “What do the words I’ve just prayed mean?”
Over the past five or six years I’ve heard similar stories and comments from fellow SVD’s across the world where the English that is spoken among the faithful in the pews is very different from that found in the current Missal. Both the reconstitued ICEL, and even more so Vox Clara, probably didn’t give the liturgical needs of such communities a moments thought.