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Sacred Vs. Vernacular Language

Bishop Trautman of Erie, PA, former chair of the bishop's liturgy committee, has just delivered a lecture criticizing the current draft of the new translation of the Missal. An article about his talk can be found here. An excerpt from the article:

He said the "sacred language" used by translators "tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable" and could lead to a "pastoral disaster.""The vast majority of God's people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like 'ineffable,' 'consubstantial,' 'incarnate,' 'inviolate,' 'oblation,' 'ignominy,' 'precursor,' 'suffused' and 'unvanquished.' The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic," Trautman said."The [Second Vatican Council's] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated vernacular language, not sacred language," he added.

Liturgical matters are minefields -- I''m smart enough to know that. But may I just ask a few questions?Does anyone else out there feel a little uncomfortable with the good bishop's remarks about "the average Catholic"?I suppose Bishop Trautmann would also criticize the following words: "abolish," "forebears," "subversion," "sovereign," "eradicate," and "tribulation" -- but then the average American couldn't have been expected to understand President Kennedy's inaugural address, right?As someone who cares a great deal about the linguistic health of the Church and the culture, I confess that I don't find his list that terrifying. Some of the words are even suffused with a certain grace.There is a persistent strain of verbal iconoclasm in our culture that is not fundamentally different from the impulse that once led to the smashing of statues and looting of reliquaries.Also, can anyone explain to me what this distinction between "sacred" and "vernacular" language is? If he's talking about Latin vs. vernacular languages I think he's already on shaky ground, but let's not debate Sacrosanctum Concilium again. Rather, my fear is that he's saying something that's vaguer and more disturbing.Isn't the liturgy where we encounter the sacred?It seems a sad day to me when the sacred is equated with elitism.I can hear some of the counter-arguments being formulated -- a sacred language is the province of an elite that maintains a hegemony over the poor; I'm too young to remember the liturgy before Vatican II, etc.But I just don't believe in the opposition between the sacred and the common man, any more than I believe the medieval peasant secretly wanted to throw a rock through the rose window in Chartres.Anyway, since we're debating how the English language should be used, it is all vernacular. Capturing the sacred in liturgical language is not simply a matter of using big words; it includes syntax, metaphor, cadence, and more.Dante broke with literary tradition and wrote in his own vernacular, Italian. And butchers and bakers could be seen walking around Florence with the Divine Comedy in their hands, big words and all.By all means, let's debate liturgical changes, translations, etc. But let's do so without patronizing people or treating the sacred as if it is a problem to be avoided.


Commenting Guidelines

May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world. Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, the Order of Bishops, all the clergy, and the entire people you make your own. Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom you have summoned before you. In your compassion, O Merciful Father, gather to yourself all of your children scattered throughout the earth. PLEONASM AND REDUNDANCY ARE ACCEPTED HALLMARKS OF ROMAN LITURGICAL LANGUAGE SINCE PRE-CHRISTIAN TIMES. THEY SOUND DEAD IN ENGLISH.

A couple of added thoughts:a) in an earlier post, I cited three aspects of eucharistic theology - catholicism works best when it is both/and; versus either/or. The eucharist is a community meal - thus, cup versus chalice.b) in terms of E 2 - Rita, correct my notes, but I thought the Vatican II reform brought this prayer back as part of its ressourcement; that E2 is the closest thing we have to the earliest eucharistic prayer of the church - 2nd century? guess you can quibble over how the words were trarnslated but you miss the historical and ecclesial significance of restoring this prayer within our worship.

thanks, Fr. O'Leary. You've made your point.My big problem with the texts is that I often have to search for the antecedents of pronouns and other referential terms. For instance, one of the texts speaks of "the fruits", a plural, but its antecedent is the Holy Spirit, a singular. Worst of all, some antecedents are found four or five or more lines before. One continously has to go back to find the subject of the sentence or clause. Bad. Just bad. Even a 5th rate atheist poet could competently make these criticisms.

These examples are compelling, but you convinced me with the following line which you posted in the second comment above:"for you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abide for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light;" (Eucharistic Prayer IV Preface)At very least, someone who knows grammar needs to check the text. If "abide" parallels "existing", it should be "abiding". Or is "abide" parallel "are"? Is there some other reading I am missing? Can anybody suggest a way to read this so that there is no glaring grammatic error?

Jim McK - yes, with blinders or seriously as my old english teacher said frequently: " you must read this with a willing suspension of disbelief!"

Bravo, Fr. O'Leary. One forgets just how many egregious examples there are when the texts are not in front of one. Agreeing with Ann, I must say you've made your point -- in spades! Has anything this thorough (not just taking a single example or two) been published where more people can see it? I know you have posted much of this on your own website, but I am thinking of NCR or another outlet that might reach more people. I am wondering what Gregory thinks of these concrete examples. More patronizing than anything Bishop Trautman has said is what Rome and the majority of bishops evidently think: gibberish like this will be acceptable to "the average Catholic."Some weeks ago, I read the line from EP 1 cited above, "we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them" with stupefaction. OR THEY OFFER IT FOR THEMSELVES? I looked it up in the Latin, and indeed it's a word-for-word translation. But what does it mean? We are going to need a decoder.

Obviously we are moving away from the DE translation method and towards LE translation, that seems clear enough. Style is one thing of course, and the parts the priest recites contain more changes than the parts for the congregation.As for the errors you note Fr. O-Leary, it is reasonable to assume that as a practical matter, the Bishops will correct any grammatical errors before wide implementation of this translation.In any case, the Bishops are quite straightforward about this; they new translation is posted for all to see - in side-by-side format with the existing - the USCCB website:

I found the previous discussion of I versus We very interesting.Last night for All Souls day, we attended Spanish mass. I noticed that for both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, the Spanish translation (of the Latin) uses I rather than We.I had thought that was the case, but as we have lately been attending mass in English, I had not taken time to review the Spanish part of the missalette. I did a quick review and found that otherwise - for the most part - the Spanish translation runs quite parallel to the English. I did note the Spanish translation uses and with your spirit and am not worthy that you should enter my house, and of course the Spanish translation uses Mea culpa mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I did not find any big differences between the English and Spanish translation for the parts that the priest recites.Bearing in mind that both the Spanish and English are translation of the same mass, I appreciate any thoughts you might have regarding why the Spanish translation uses I instead of We.

Ken --In a famous passage of Thomas Merton's "Seven Story Mountain" he describes his experience of attending Mass in a Cuban cathedreal. At the Credo the people shouted out loudly, "Credo! Credo!" He was so impressed with them that he says it was from that moment he knew he would convert to Catholicism. You might want to take a look at his account.

"As for the errors you note Fr. O-Leary, it is reasonable to assume that as a practical matter, the Bishops will correct any grammatical errors before wide implementation of this translation."Yes, it would be reasonable to assume that, if we were dealing with rational people. In fact the bishops DID correct some of the grammatical errors, but their non-English speaking bureaucratic masters in the Vatican reinstated them! And in stark contrast to Vatican II the bishops have no right to correct the Vatican text.

Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon)Te igitur We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church, watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world. We offer them for N. our Pope, for N. our bishop, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes from the apostles.NEW VERSION: To you, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition, UNIDIOMATIC through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. We ask you to accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, PLEONASTIC, FULSOME which we offer you first of all for your holy catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith. Commemoration of the Living Remember, Lord, your people, especially those for whom we now pray, N. and N. Remember all of us gathered here before you. You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. We offer you this sacrifice of praise for ourselves and those who are dear to us. We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well being and redemption.NEW VERSION Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them and all who are dear to them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves MEANINGLESS and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls FUSTIAN, in hope of health and well-being, FLAT, UNIDIOMATIC and fulfilling their vows to you, MEANINGLESS the eternal God, living and true. Communicantes In union with the whole Church, we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, and all the saints. May their merits and prayers grant usyour constant help and protection.NEW VERSION In communion with those whose memory we venerate, UNGRAMMATICAL COMMA especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, CLUMSY and of UNGRAMMATICAL (makes Mary the mother of Joseph) blessed Joseph, Spouse of the same Virgin (CLUMSY. UNIDIOMATIC), your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew and all your Saints:through their merits and prayers, grant that in all things we may be defended by your protecting help. PLEONASM 4. Hanc igitur Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen. NEW VERSIONTherefore, Lord, we pray:graciously accept this oblation of our service (UNIDIOMATIC, PLEONASTIC), that of your whole family (CLUMSY AND OBSCURE); order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen. (PLEONASTIC, GROVELLING)5. Quam oblationem Bless and approve our offering: make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son our Lord. NEW VERSION: Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect PLEONASM, FLAT; make it spiritual and acceptable (UNDIOMATIC), so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 6. Institution Narrative The day before he suffered he took bread in his sacred hands and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT IT: THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU. When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said: TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT: THIS IS THE CUP OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND EVERLASTING COVENANT. IT WILL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR ALL SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.NEW VERSION On the day before he was to suffer he took bread in his holy and venerable hands (PLEONASTIC, FUSTIAN), and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father (FUSTIAN), giving you thanks he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT: FOR THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU. In a similar way (UNIDIOMATIC), when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice MISTRANSLATION into his holy and venerable hands (CLUMSY REPETITION, FUSTIAN. PLEONASTIC), and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice MISTRANSLATION to his disciples, saying: TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT: FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE mistranslation OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT; WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME. 7. Anamnesis Father, we celebrate the memory of Christ, your Son. We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into glory; and from the many gifts you have given us we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedech.NEW VERSION Therefore, O Lord, we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty, from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, PLEONASM the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice MISTRANSLATION of everlasting salvation. Be pleased to look upon them with serene and kindly countenance, UNIDIOMATIC and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim. 8. Epiclesis Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.NEW VERSION In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, VERBOSE, FUSTIAN so that all of us who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing. 9. Intercessions Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray, N. and N. May these, and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness, and peace.For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs, with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, and all the saints. Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord. Through him you give us all these gifts. ou fill them with life and goodness, you bless them and make them holy.NEW VERSION Remember also, Lord, your servants N. and N., who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace. Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light, and peace.To us also your sinful servants who hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, and all your Saints, admit us, we beg you, into their company, not weighing our merits but granting us pardon, through Christ our Lord. Through whom you continue to create all these good things, O Lord, you make them holy, UNGRAMMATICAL fill them with life, bless them, and bestow them on us. FLAT, MEANINGLESS.10. Doxology Through him, with him, in him, in theunity of the Holy Spirit, all glory andhonor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.NEW VERSION Through him, and with him, and inhim, to you, O God, almighty Father,in the unity of the Holy Spirit, is allhonor and glory, for ever and ever

Fr. O'Leary: I respectfully disagree with much of your posts. You did detect a few genuine syntactical howlers or confusing passages - What on Earth does that business about "or they offer it for themselves" mean? Do you or does anyone else know? What, however, do you find wrong with such phrases as "give kind admittance," "holy and unblemished sacrifices," "holy and venerable hands," "in humble prayer we ask you," "graciously grant," etc.? These and others do not sound "pleonastic" to me. Good English style does not have to be bare-bones and completely unadorned.

The fact that howlers occur in a text of such importance is of very grave import. And did you notice the theological howler, where the Blessed Virgin become the mother of her husband, like Jocasta? You may ask how bishops can make such howlers. The reason is that they inspect these texts at hurried and confusing meetings, not in the quiet of their studies. The theological howler was introduced when they changed an earlier draft without noticing how it affected the context."Or they offer it for themselves" -- some scholars claim that this was a marginal note to the Canon, offering an alternative reading, and that it got inserted into the main text by mistake.Pleonasm is a hallmark of Latin liturgical style, since pre-Christian times. It is not experienced as an enrichment or adornment in English, however, perhaps because we have been so influenced by Shakespeare and Milton, who loaded every rift with ore, avoiding the pleonasm that can sound so grand in Latin languages. That is why much of French verse is untranslatable into English. The pleonasms of Racine are sublime: Oublions-les, Madame, et qu'a tout l'avenir/Un silence eternel cache ce souvenir, becomes in English: Let us forget them, Madam, and for all the future/Let an eternal silence hide that memory. Nothing sublime about that! The same problem dogs the new translation of the Roman Canon.

How did Mary become the mother of Jesus and Joseph in the new translation? The earlier draft read:In communion with the whole Church,they venerate above all others the memoryof the glorious ever-virgin Mary,Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ,then of blessed Joseph, husband of the VirginBut in the new version the first "of" disappeared and NOBODY NOTICED that the text then takes on a new meaning -- Mary as the mother of Jesus and of Joseph!

correction, the comma I described as ungrammatical is OK.

There must be something wrong with me - I don't see anything wrong with that Racine sentence either! Yes, I see there is a slight redundancy, as the sentence says both "for all the future" and "eternal" when only one or the other was strictly necessary - but the sentence has a nice rhythm that makes this hard to notice unless someone calls my attention to it.I also think that you misunderstand my earlier statement. I see the problem with a few of the problematic howlers you spotted and endorse fixing them, but I don't consider that list of examples I quoted to be howlers at all. Again, what is wrong with "holy and unblemished sacrifice" - does the mere presence of two adjectives, which are not synonymous, make a phrase pleonastic? What is wrong with "in humble prayer we ask you?" I don't see the examples you cite as grovelling to be so either, except maybe the use of "beg" - I would prefer the old-fashioned "beseech," but that would surely fall under Bishop Trautman's ban if basic words like "inviolate" and "precursor" do.

"I see the problem with a few of the problematic howlers you spotted and endorse fixing them"Sorry, a better way to phrase that would be "I agree a few of the things you noted were problematic howlers and endorse fixing them."

Of course there is nothing wrong with my English translation of Racine. The point I am making is that the Racine quote is the highest perfection of language (do you read French?) whereas the English translation is dull and flat. The same holds for the Roman Canon, which is beautiful in Latin but not in a literalistic English translation. However, I admit that pleonasm can be effective in English sometimes: 'Let Observation with extensive view, Survey the world from China to Peru'! Bishops have as one of their primary duties the guardianship of the liturgy celebrated in their churches. They have failed miserably here. The howlers you recognize have already been approved by the bishops, and will become the text used at Mass next year unless Bishop Trautman's last minute stalling tactic is adopted.

"beg" probably translates Latin "quaesumus" which does not have a groveling feel to it at all. The best English translation would simply be: "we ask you to".

I have rewritten my critique of the Roman Canon translation at my weblog. See"Holy and unblemished" is not a set of two synonyms but it is very much in line with the pleonastic character of Latin liturgical language, that is, the tendency to multiply expressions close in meaning to create an effect of impressive redundancy or abundance. Trouble is, it does not normally work in English.

Btw, the Racine quote is a fine example of how pleonasm works -- it intensifies by repeating the same thing: forget, silence, hide that memory -- for all the future, eternally -- but this has never been a form of eloquence common in English.

We seem to be talking past each other. I didn't mean there was any chance that your translation was wrong; I meant it doesn't sound dull and flat! I guess tastes differ.Thank you for the link (although I could have done without the attention-grabbing headline). As I said, many of your concerns do strike me as valid.Of course, modern priests hardly ever use the Roman Canon/Prayer I anyway. Sometimes two wrongs do make a right!