Why we really, really do need a real translation of the Mass

As you can see from some of the posts this afternoon, I have been reading Fr Z.’s blog. Here is another good one: Reason #64675 for the new, corrected translation.

At mass lately, I have been using an iphone app (one day I will post a list of the apps I like to use regularly) to read the Latin original of the Novus Ordo as the priest is praying the current English translation. It is indeed an enlightening exercise. The prayer in English is often hardly even a bare-bones reflection of the original. The first thing you will notice with the new translation is that the priest’s prayers are longer than they currently are. That’s because the current translation leaves so much out.

In this post, Fr Z points to the Here is the Post Communion for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (today) in the Ordinary Form. Note that he points out that this is “a new composition for the 1970MR” – ie. it is post-Vatican II NOT pre-Vatican II. Now see how faithful the current ICEL translation is to the Second Vatican Council:

LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Sumentes pignus caelestis arcani,
et in terra positi iam superno pane satiati,
te, Domine, supplices deprecamur,
ut, quod in nobis mysterio geritur, opere impleatur.

WDTPRS SLAVISHLY LITERAL RENDERING:
Taking/eating the down payment of the sacred heavenly mystery,
and, placed on earth having been filled already with bread from on high,
we, kneeling in entreaty, beseech you, O Lord,
that, what is being accomplished in us by the sacramental mystery, may be brought to fulfillment by work.

NEW CORRECTED ICEL VERSION:
As we receive the pledge
of things yet hidden in heaven
and are nourished while still on earth
with the Bread that comes from on high,
we humbly entreat you, O Lord,
that what is being brought about in us in mystery
may come to true completion.

I had to double-check that I had the correct Sunday.

Here goes nothing…

LAME-DUCK ICEL STILL IN USE:
Lord,
in sharing this sacrament
may we receive your forgiveness
and be brought together in unity and peace.

That isn’t a translation. More than that, the English prayer hardly says anything of significance in the current form. It expresses a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t actually get down to what has just happened in the Eucharist we have received. It completely leaves out the phrase “superno pane”, thus impoverishing our understanding of the Eucharist.

I’m sorry, but the current “translation” just doesn’t cut it.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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25 Responses to Why we really, really do need a real translation of the Mass

  1. PM says:

    Exactly! It’s a pity the official explanations for the change aren’t as forthright as this. Is that because Rome really doesn’t like admitting it got something wrong in the first place?

  2. Tony says:

    Simplicity is much underrated, David.

    The final translation is better than the previous ones by a country mile — the duck’s are OK.

    • Schütz says:

      I know the KISS principle, Tony, and do not necessarily dismiss it.

      But would you not agree that, were I a Latin teacher, and were one of my students to offer the LD version as a “translation” of the Latin original in an exam, I would be obliged to fail him?

      • Tony says:

        I think you would, David.

        I just don’t think it’s a reasonable analogy.

        I think the idea is to convey the meaning to contemporary ears, not translate the Latin into a form of English from another age.

        So, while I agree with David that simplicity is not an absolute virtue, neither is complexity. I prefer the quote apparently attributed to Einstein: ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler’.

        If there is something essential that is missing from the LD version then, by all means, add it, but don’t turn it into language that has people scratching their heads and having to hear it over and over or read it over and over before they get it.

        • Schütz says:

          I think the idea is to convey the meaning to contemporary ears, not translate the Latin into a form of English from another age.

          The idea is, I believe, to translate the latin as accurately as possible into English. (Keep in mind my earlier injunction that the purpose of the liturgical rite is not to “convey meaning” but to express worship and petition to God.)

          I don’t think the prayer as in the new translation has anything that can be said to be “from another age”, except perhaps the phrase “we humbly entreat you”, which is indeed a phrase “from another age”. But in “this day and age”, no-one ever “humbly entreats” anyone for anything. Yet it is precisely this attitude, which is indeed “from another age” that we should have before God when we ask him for any blessing. So I think the prayer – accurately translated from the Latin – has something to teach “this day and age” in that regard. Of course, not everyone is “teachable”…

          As for the Einstein quotation, I couldn’t agree more. However, surely you would agree that the current ICEL translation has attempted to make the Latin collect more simple than is indeed possible if it is still to be honestly called “a translation”.

          • Tony says:

            (Keep in mind my earlier injunction that the purpose of the liturgical rite is not to “convey meaning” but to express worship and petition to God.)

            I guess, on that basis, you may as well go back to the Latin. But that’s not on the table so, if it’s English, then let it be English that we understand readily.

            I think ‘may we receive your forgiveness’ is a reasonable replacement for ‘we humbly entreat you’. Humility seems to me to be strongly implied in asking for forgiveness and I can’t remember the last time just about anyone used the word ‘entreat’.

            It may be that compared to the others the current ICEL is too simple, but I think the language is far superior to the others and, I assume, that those who came up with it judged that it conveyed the essence of the meaning behind the original.

            • Clara says:

              I haven’t used the word ‘entreat’ in casual conversation, but I have used it in more formal written contexts.
              Liturgy is formal prayer not casual conversation and this reality should be reflected in the language.

            • Schütz says:

              I think I will have to admit that perhaps you are right after all, Tony, and this new translation really has been a complete waste of time.

              After all, if an educated person like you thinks that “we humbly entreat you” = “may we receive your forgiveness”, then the phrase really must be given up as totally failing to “communicate”.

              In fact, I am beginning to wonder if you might not be right in your other suggestion too. Since patently not even educated people understand English any more, we might as well save ourselves the bother and just “go back to the Latin”.

              I am glad we have been able to reach agreement on this.

            • Tony says:

              While I’m no less forthright than you in expressing my opinion, David, I’m not sure why my responses deserved your sarcasm.

              Nothing I’ve said suggests that I regard ‘this new translation really has been a complete waste of time’. I commented on the translations you provided, nothing else.

              You inserted and ‘equal’ sign were I said ‘reasonable replacement’. Do you think they are the same?

              I don’t want to go back to anything, David, I wan’t to go forward to a form of English that speaks to a wide cross-section.

              I think there is a difference between that and ‘dumbing down’ too. I think good, simple English that communicates its meaning well is not easy.

              When it succeeds in doing that I also think it also fulfills the requirement to ‘express worship and petition to God’.

    • David Kennedy says:

      I agree simplicity is a virtue, but not an absolute virtue. Over-simplification that leads to misrepresentation has a name: “dumbing-down”.

      I can’t help noting that you didn’t address David’s key point: that the current translation is a misrepresentation of the liturgy. No amount of simplification can justify that.

  3. An Liaig says:

    There are different forms of English which are used in different contexts. If I were to take the language of a technical report and publish it in a newspaper, it would be incomprehensible. Alternatively, if one of my students were to submit a technical report in the kind of English normally used in newspapers, I would fail them. I have tried to read poetry written by people trained in the KISS school of writing and found it impossible. It is banal drivel. The language of liturgy is the language of poetry not newpaper reports. Its purpose is to move the mind and heart to God not to convey information. Anyone who thinks the word ‘entreat’ is difficult or inaccesable really underestimates the intelligence of the people in the pews. This, I think, is where we got the current paraphrase – people who were trying to write simple English which the little people, who don’t have our education, could understand. Patronising nonsense. It really annoys me when people try to limit and restrict the most versitle and expressive language on the planet. KISS = dumbed down and is poor practice where ever it is used. In liturgy, as in poetry, it is vile.

    • Tony says:

      I agree with the first part An, but I’ll express my view of what follows using your technique:

      I have tried to read poetry written by people trained in the PRECOCIOUS school of writing and found it impossible. It is pompous nonsense. The language of liturgy is the language of communication not old English studies. Its purpose is to be understood and to move the mind and heart to God. Anyone who thinks the word ‘entreat’ is easy or accessible really underestimates the value of simplicty. This, I think, is where we got the current verbosity – people who were trying to write complex English which the made them feel important, and who equate education with obscurity. It really annoys me when people try to overstate and embellish the most versitle and expressive language on the planet and lump it all together with the phrase ‘dumbed down’. In liturgy, as in poetry, it is vile.

      I don’t think either version adds much weight to the discussion.

      I think we can have simple English that reads well to a wide cross-section of the community and conveys liturgy with clarity and beauty and reverence and dignity.

      I agree that simplicity can be dumbing down if not done well, but I also think that’s not solved by using a more obscure, verbose, more complex language style.

  4. Tony Bartel says:

    I am afraid I come down in the middle on this one.

    The outgoing translation isn’t a translation.

    The new translation isn’t English. It is Latinglish. This is not a matter only of words but of syntax and style as well. It looks like English speaking Roman Catholics will have to wait for a translation which is elegant and faithful to the original.

    (I write this as somebody who has endured plenty of Greeklish and Slavonglish in recent years).

    • Tony says:

      It is Latinglish.

      That would be it in a nutshell for me too. Great term!

    • Schütz says:

      Well, it looks like half way is a good place to meet.

      I too will concede that the new translation is a kind of “Latinglish”. As I have said before, I wish we could have had something closer to the style of Cranmar than what we have ended up with (which, btw, also seems to have a good amount of “Yanklish” in it).

      So, Tony (Tony/Faz, that is, not Tony B), I openly concede this point.

      But, Tony/Faz, Do you then equally concede Tony B’s point above: that the “outgoing translation isn’t a translation”? Come, this is a time for honesty, now. I’ve been honest with you. You be honest with me.

      If we can agree on this, then I guess we can disagree on the point that follows, viz, what is more beneficial for the Church at this point: the mass in contemporary style English which ISN’T a translation of the Roman Rite, or the mass in Latinglish which IS?

      On that, I guess we will not agree, but once again, I hope that we can agree on hoping that one day, down the track a bit, perhaps after you’re gone and I’m in a home for the bewildered, we might get a form of the Roman Rite which IS a translation and which abandons the “Latinglish” style. I think the likelihood of that outcome is far greater if we actually have a true translation now than if we were to stick with the current approximation.

      • Gareth says:

        The issue so many people have is simply due to the fact that is next to practically impossible to faithfully interpret Latin to any languange – hence, whether we like it or not, there was or is always sense in having Mass in Latin – it simply never discriminates and can never be ‘re-translated’ incorrectly.

      • Tony says:

        But, Tony/Faz, Do you then equally concede Tony B’s point above: that the “outgoing translation isn’t a translation”? Come, this is a time for honesty, now. I’ve been honest with you. You be honest with me.

        Being honest is not about bargaining, David, and I always try to be honest.

        So if, by ‘translation’, you mean a process which maps each word of the original to an English word then rearranges them minimally for sense then, yes, it isn’t a translation.

        If we can agree on this, then I guess we can disagree on the point that follows, viz, what is more beneficial for the Church at this point: the mass in contemporary style English which ISN’T a translation of the Roman Rite, or the mass in Latinglish which IS?

        What I’ve tried to clear about all along is that I’m not obsessed with ‘translation’; I’m more concerned with meaning and communication. This, I gather, is at the heart of our differing POV.

        So in this example:

        As we receive the pledge
        of things yet hidden in heaven
        and are nourished while still on earth
        with the Bread that comes from on high,
        we humbly entreat you, O Lord,
        that what is being brought about in us in mystery
        may come to true completion.

        I think most people will have to ‘translate’ (for meaning) that because it is a form of expression that is uncommon. On that basis I’d opt for the LD version in terms of style even if it needs a bit more work on content.

        I see no objective value in using language that is harder to understand because it meets some standard that satisfies a few people that it’s not LCD (lowest common denominator) or ‘dumbing down’.

        On that, I guess we will not agree, but once again, I hope that we can agree on hoping that one day, down the track a bit, perhaps after you’re gone and I’m in a home for the bewildered, we might get a form of the Roman Rite which IS a translation and which abandons the “Latinglish” style. I think the likelihood of that outcome is far greater if we actually have a true translation now than if we were to stick with the current approximation.

        And I guess that’s the other criticism I have of the new translation: It doesn’t seem to me to have a driving philosophy that explains the now, let alone where it might head in the future.

        The classic illustration of this is the ‘And with your Spirit’ change.

        When I originally asked about this change I was assured, from many sources, that the change reflected the Latin more accurately — ie, translation in the sense that you use the word.

        Later, the change was justified because it better reflected the relationship of the priest with the congregation at the beginning of the Mass (or words to that effect).

        I never could really figure which it was and, reading other changes, I don’t get a sense of ‘I can see where they’re coming from’.

        • Schütz says:

          I never could really figure which it was and, reading other changes, I don’t get a sense of ‘I can see where they’re coming from’.

          The answer, Tony, (as it is so often in Catholic doctrine) is “both/and”. Yes, the original latin (and the Greek original behind even that, btw) is precisely “et cum spirito tuo”, “and with your spirit.” That is the translation. The theological meaning is as it has been suggested to you. The fact is, that if you don’t translate it accurately, you also miss out on the theological meaning. That should be obvious enough.

          If you like, the driving philosophy is that by translating more or less “word for word” you have a better chance of reflecting the true theology of the Mass.

  5. John Nolan says:

    Consider the following; “Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy; hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve…” I’m sure you know the rest. This prayer was recited by everyone after every low Mass until the 1960s. It is of course the Salve Regina, and people had no difficulty in singing it in Latin (in cantu simplici) if called upon to do so, usually at Benediction. But prayers outside the liturgy were in the vernacular, and it is noteworthy that there has been no serious attempt to modernize them. This is not the vernacular of the street, or of a technical manual, or of an academic paper. It is the vernacular of common prayer and since it was learned in childhood did not seem strange or archaic, only special and memorable. To have recited the Rosary or the Angelus in Latin would indeed have seemed strange, notwithstanding that Latin was the familiar language of the liturgy.

    Going back to the Salve Regina it can be seen that the translation is faithful to the Latin not just in meaning but also in style. In the two sentences I quoted the translator has added two words – “holy” and “poor”; they in no way alter the meaning, but enhance the natural declamatory rhythm of the English. In short, a perfect translation; accurate, poetic and memorable. How would ICEL 1973 have rendered this text? It would make an interesting subject for a competition (first prize – a 3-CD compilation of Haugen, Haas, Inwood and Schutte …)

    • An Liaig says:

      Hello Mary,
      Mother of our hope of salvation,
      Consider our current difficulties
      And show us your Son,
      Mother of God.

    • Schütz says:

      The addition of words for the sake of “natural declamatory rhythm of the English” was something Cranmar did too, but the translators of the new text appear to have declined the offer of this option. I think it would greatly have enhanced the beauty of the new texts (I mean especially the priest’s prayers, as the people’s prayers are not objectionable in this regard, and I think the Gloria and Creed work very well) if they have allowed themselves just a little more leeway in this.

      Re singing the Salve Regina in Latin, I said to the girls at prayers last night (Mum was out at a meeting), “I want to teach you to sing a new prayer in Latin”, and got out their homemade prayer books with the Salva Regina in them. “We already know this,” said Mia, and she proceeded to lead us off in beautiful tones. They had no problems and greatly enjoyed it. If you had said to them, “But you can’t understand it”, they would have looked at you as if you had missed the point.

  6. An Liaig says:

    If I am lucky enough to win, there is no need to send the CD. I heard them all.

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