Lead Us Not Into Translation!

There has been a lot of commentary in the secular press on the slightly modified translation of the Our Father that is included in the new Italian Missal.

The change is to the translation of the line “lead us not into temptation,” which, in English, is a fairly exact translation of the traditional Latin version of the prayer which reads “ne nos inducas in tentationem.” The revised translations in French and Italian are more free and, following the current translation used in the Pope’s native Spanish, translate the phrase as “do not let us fall into temptation.” There are arguments to be made for either translation.

Most of the commentary presents it as an initiative of Pope Francis. However, while the Holy Father has made no secret of his positive opinion of this change, this is a translation change that has come from the CEI (Italian bishops’ conference). In accordance with Magnum Principium the Holy See has merely “recognized “ the Italian bishops modification of the translation.

This latest development is also far from surprising. Pope Francis did show his support for a similar change to the French translation in December 2017. On that occasion he even went so far as to suggest that the Italian bishops consider making a similar change.

Up until now I have personally believed that this is of any real relevance for English speakers as I simply cannot imagine Catholic bishops agreeing to change the translation. However today the Catholic Communications Office of the Irish Bishops’ Conference published this press release:

Statement by Bishop Francis Duffy on the reported change to the Lord’s Prayer

In consultation with bishops from other English-speaking countries, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference will give close attention to the reported change to the Lord’s Prayer.  The bishops will look at the implications for both the Irish and English translations of this much loved and universal prayer.

Bishop Francis Duffy is Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois and chairperson of the Council for Liturgy of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

This now means that English speakers need to start reflecting on whether we should advocate for a change in the translation.

I personally believe that we should leave well enough alone. Undoubtedly the Our Father is hard to understand and we will always need catechesis to understand it.  For the last two millennia Christians have been trying to “unpack” it’s meaning and no matter how we might tweak the translation there is little chance that we will fully exhaust the richness of the prayer before Christ returns in glory at the end of time.

But for ecumenical reasons, it is hard to imagine all Christians who use the current version agreeing to revise their translations. Likewise for evangelization purposes, it would be much easier for those who return to Catholicism after years of non-practice not to have to learn a new version. I also agree with those who believe that we shouldn’t have to dumb down the rich theological content of our Faith.

However, on the other hand, it is also true that at some stage English translation will have to be revised. The translation is archaic and not too many people use words like “art” and “thy” anymore. A local grade school teacher once told me that when she was teaching the prayer a little girl in her junior class came back the next day and repeated the prayer with “die ding dumb dumb,” which probably made just as much sense to her as “thy kingdom come!”

Th question is whether now is the moment to change, or whether we ought to wait another generation or two before. As I have said, I believe that we should wait a while, but one way or the other this now seems to be a question that we must deal with in the short term.

19 comments

  1. Not sure why people in English-speaking countries are getting so upset. The change, requested by Italian bishops, was only approved by the pope. He isn’t making the change. And it does not change our translation. This is for the Italian missal. If our bishops want to consider a change it will be a long process, I expect.
    As rich as the text is, we need to remember that Jesus and the early Church did not pray it in English, Italian or Latin.
    He spoke Aramaic primarily and the gospels were written in Greek. I guess he could have composed it in Hebrew, which was prayer language. But like our devotional prayers and hymns, it makes more sense to develop a text in the local vernacular for the people of the day. Just try to find Immaculate Mary in Latin!
    People should look to biblical commentaries to get close to what Jesus “said” or meant. Over the years people have come to associate “daily bread” with the Eucharist. But when Jesus gave them the prayer he hadn’t instituted it yet. And daily Mass was not part of the early Church’s practice. Plus the term has its own meaning in the Semitic world.
    And why do we call it the Lord’s Prayer when he said this is how YOU should pray? He never said it was how HE prayed. I think it is more properly the prayer of the disciples/church.

    1. Bruce
      I would have agreed with you (regarding the English translation of the Our Father) before yesterday. What the Italian or French bishops decide to do for their own languages is all well and good, but it doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on English speaking Catholics. But now that the Irish bishops have said that they will discuss if we should change it means that we now have to consider the issue of the English translation of the Our Father.

      1. I hope someone things about the reality that, unlike the rest of the Ordo, the Our Father is something that all but the youngest folks in the pews bring to the Mass, rather than the other way ’round (unlike in the pre-vernacular era, the vernacular Our Father was and is something already in the possession of the faithful at large – though I don’t believe a lot of liturgy folk are terribly aware of the shift in context).

        I was a child of the Interim Missal and remember the switch to the Missal in 1970. I also remember the exercise of having to re-learn (for Confirmation) in the early 1970s in new form a slew of prayers (the lived life, as it were, of which was entirely or mostly outside of liturgy) my peers and I had learned for First Communion in 1969. I remember the giggles and eye rolls. Things were duly re-learned and parroted. And promptly left aside after the need was over.

    2. I don’t know why it is so frequently asserted that Christ only spoke Aramaic and that the only other language he would have been familiar with was Hebrew.

      In fact, in quoting the Old Testament, Christ somes quoted the Greek Septuagint, which implies he was speaking Greek to his audience at the time.

      His many exchanges with Gentiles, including his famous discussion with Pontius Pilate, are very unlikely to have been in anything other than Greek, except possibly Latin.

      Furthermore it is stretching credulity to suppose that Christ was less fluent in Greek than his relative James or his diciples Peter, Matthew and John, all of whom have left us written works in Greek.

  2. ICEL did a revised translation of the Lord’s Prayer. I believe it’s used officially in the Philippines. I’m not sure about anywhere else. How sure are we that a mandated change in the English translation is going to work out so well?

    1. And they approved a changed text for NABRE.
      Mt 6:9-13
      What is the text they use in the Philippines?
      Aren’t there different missals in the various English-speaking countries? If the Irish bishops want to change it, can they do it on their own or does it have to be a joint ICEL decision?

  3. Some Anglicans use a modernised version but it jars. Resist the change: look what happened with the response “and also with you”

    1. Fr.

      You raise good questions, but I think the answer is found in your sentiment, ‘I personally believe we should leave well enough alone.’ However, it is more than just well enough, it is good and perhaps the best. If we have translated St. Thomas Aquinas correctly, then we realise that praying that we not be led into temptation is something we need to head, that we not consent to the temptation that will most certainly come. And, as to the language, everything we recite, need not be in modern language, but we should be able to enjoy the richness of English as it was in that age when English was richer than it seems today at times. Modern versions to me are banal. Leave it alone indeed.

      1. John

        Thanks for the comment. Just to clarify, my intention with the post was to draw attention to the fact that the Roman Catholic bishops of Ireland have decided that we should have a discussion on the merits of changing the translation of the Our Father. I am not proposing that we have this debate, I am simply spreading the word that the bishops have decided to have it, so that as many interested parties as possible can have their say. What happens in Ireland (at least in our English translation) will necessarily have some influence on the debate in other countries. Also the debate ought to keep in mind that the current structure of the Roman Catholic Church has given the role of liturgical translation to the bishops’ conferences (with the Holy See confirming their translations).

        I personally believe, for many reasons, that we should continue using our current translation of the Our Father. However I also believe that the day will come when general English usage will have evolved to such a degree that the current traditional English translation will no longer be understood and will have to be changed. In other words, I believe that it will have to be changed, but that I think that the change would be put off for another 50 or 100 years.

  4. There is one very good reason for changing the text of the Lord’s Prayer, and that is that since the early 1970s nearly every other English-speaking Christian Church has used a modern-language translation. (I except those in the Anglican Communion who cling to the Book of Common Prayer and “Our Father, which art in heaven…”, and a few others.) The translation that all these other Churches use is the ICET (now ELLC) version from 1970, which ran:

    Our Father in heaven,
    holy be your name,

    (subsequently modified to “hallowed be your name”)
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as in heaven.
    Give us today our daily bread.
    Forgive us our sins
    as we forgive those
    who sin against us.
    Do not put us to the test

    (subsequently modified to “Do not bring us to the time of trial”, and later to “Save us from the time of trial”)
    and deliver us from evil.

    For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
    now and for ever. Amen.

    (these two lines, without the Amen, identical to the Order of Mass since 1969)

    The use of “your” rather than “thy”, “sins” rather than “trespasses” (and many are unaware that the latter word is pronounced differently in different countries), plus the removal of being led into temptation, all give a much “cleaner” feel to the text. It was included as an option in the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary.

    Though of course I still use the traditional archaic-language form at Mass, in my personal prayer I have been used to the modern-language version for almost fifty years, and published a very simple chant setting of it as long ago as 1984.

    1. Paul, while many protestant churches have authorized a modern language version of the Lord’s Prayer, that’s not the same as actually using it. In my experience, their use is rare indeed.

      1. A priest in my current community likes to talk a variation on that version over (with his microphone) while the congregation prays the usual. (I’d mind much less if he’d just turn his microphone off for that; amplified, it comes across more as showboating.)

      2. While travelling for a few months in New Zealand in 2005-2006, I encountered the unfamiliar and completely unknown to me ICET Our Father (with the two modifications, pointed out by Paul Inwood) being used in that country’s dioceses during the Eucharistic celebration. Jarring at first, I grew to appreciate it. As an aside, I just had another jarring experience with the Our Father when attending a funeral Mass in my home province of Québec, where the modified version of the Notre Père was used (see Pray Tell’s editor’s post of November 28th, 2017). I knew of the change but still…

        In December 2011, I received a reply (to an email I had sent to the diocese of Dunedin) directly from the then bishop of the diocese, Colin Campbell. Given the public concerns he raised about the “new” English translation in The Tablet (“Did the ‘first cab off the rank’ go into top gear” published 17 September 2011), I expect he would have no objections if I quoted from his reply:

        “With regard to your enquiries re; the Revised Translation, I am glad that you liked the NZ version of the Our Father. This was the ICET edition that came out in 1976 and was intended for use in the Church as well as ecumenically. We have now been asked to return, sadly, to the old Our Father. My thought on that is that I would like to keep that. I agree with you, Pierre, that the ICET one is a better version and people have liked it.”

        Leaving aside a discussion as to whether it is a better version, it is clear that a change in the Our Father prayed during the Eucharistic celebration can and will take hold within an English-speaking liturgical context. I expect a lot would depend on the pastoral and catechetical approach used to introduce such a change.

    2. I’m curious who actually uses that translation; in almost 20 years as a non-Catholic, I do not think I ever heard it. (The KJV-based version si so well known that it sticks, even in churches that use modern language elsewhere.)

  5. Shall we change the translation of the Our Father? With these changes we are putting other words in Jesus’ mouth.

    Let’s take the words of the consecration. In the original text we read in Greek: ”this is the blood that will be shed for many”. Today in the Mass every priest says: ”This is the blood that will be shed for all people”. OK for pastoral reason the change is beneficial but it’s not as Jesus wanted it to be.

    Regarding the Our Father, in Greek (St Matthew wrote in Hebrew but we have only the Greek text) we read: “Do not lead us into temptation”. If we are going to use other words, the translation would not agree with the original Greek text.

    So, little by little, we are changing words and phrases for pastoral reasons that in point of fact will not be in agreement with the original Greek text.

    And then I ask: after 2000 years we are discovering the need of these changes?

  6. The discussion involves the perennial question of God and Evil. Semitic thought referred all to God, including inflicting disasters, but also included the sense of what a Greek or western mind might call “God’s permissive will”. We see this in the Book of Job – Satan is permitted by God to put Job to the test. There is vast literature on this, and is an opportunity for catechesis.
    In the Irish language we have “Ná lig sinn in gcathú” – “do not let us (or leave us) into trial/temptation.” This translation goes back at least 400 years.
    Compare a variety of English translations at https://biblehub.com/matthew/6-13.htm.

    It is important to be clear that the proposed change is not to the Lord’s Prayer, but to translations of the Lord’s Prayer. We are familiar with the challenges that translation poses. The Greek translator’s foreword to the Book of Sirach asks: “You are asked to read this book with good will and attention, and to show indulgence in those places where … we may seem to have failed to give an adequate rendering of this or that expression” (NJB).
    Jesus prayed that the cup be taken from him; and still the mystery of God’s providence is that wonderful new life can be drawn from great injustice and evil. We face the reality of evil, and yet we are delivered from its power by the reality of divine love.

    1. To add to those comparisons for the sake of amplification on the variety of translations, I’ll add one that doesn’t exist online unless you subscribe to get it, the Revised English Bible (CUP-OUP, 1989):

      “And do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one” [or: “from evil”].

  7. Re: Mary Beard. Perhaps this: God is the source of our being. In the course of our existence we may be brought into temptation (but please not!) by the evil one.

    I should know better than to dabble in theology.

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