dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

A Striking Contrast

Three additional thoughts in what is already a rich, although very depressing, discussion about the new English translation of the Roman missal.First, I have read, very carefully, the many examples quoted in MWO'Reilly's post below, of prayers from the new translation. I have declaimed them in my mind, extending the pauses as necessary and emphasizing words to make the meaning clear and even give some power and beauty to overall Latinate construction.I think it can be done. I think Bob Imbelli will be able to do it. So will any other presider with a very good voice, unusual reading and speaking talent, and perhaps a Shakespearean sense of rhythm. And how many of these are there in most of our parishes for most of our Masses? I am old enough to remember the way most priests handled the Latin of yore. It was atrocious.Second, I have read the Anthony Esolen's article about the new translation at the First Things website, which someone who likes the translation recommended in an earlier thread on this topic. Esolen's article is based on a simple premise: If the first post-Vatican II translation was bad, the new one must be good. But decades ago there was a very broad consensus that the first translation was seriously wanting. The bishops and ICEL were hard at work on a new translation that captured much of what the first one had lost and was motivated by at least many of the concerns Esolen reflects. The effort was suddenly ripped out of their hands. Any fair comparison has to compare examples of their effort to those of the new translation.Finally, what is very striking about Esolens article is the contrast between his own genuinely English prose and the Latinized English of the prayers. His prose: short sentences, varied rhythms, colorful and vernacular vocabulary. His explanations of the prayers are forcefull and accessible. The prayers themselves are at best ok; they certainly need those explanations. I am not proposing Esolens prose as a model for the Mass. But the contrast is telling.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Do cut the duplicate "from".

It might be useful to remind, if we are looking for great oratory and masterpieces in the Liturgy, that we are talking about ecclesiastical Latin here as opposed to classical Latin. As far as I know ecclesiastical Latin has always been inferior. Does that mean we need more Cicero?

"Indeed the formula , for all would undoubtabley correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lords intention expressed in the text." Cardinal Arinze to the conferences of bishops on the translation of pro multisThis is very telling. The priority in translation is not meaning, but "decoding" the Latin. The words take precedence over understanding, and that alienates us from participation. The Latin words are not our words. If they are the basis for liturgy, liturgy is hollow. OTOH if liturgy is based on our approach to God, which is facilitated by the words, our prayers signify our faith.

Kathy,I would go not with "God is Beauty" but rather with "God is Love." I dabble in theological aesthetics every now and then, and one of the things I find troubling about (some) of that field is the way in which it seems to assume that everyone can agree on what is beautiful. In fact, we can't and don't (across time and space; of course, specific groups of people often do agree.) Love -- well, I suppose we could disagree on certain details, but I think we all have a general shared sense of what we mean by *that*, at least within the Christian tradition.I admit to some pretty serious depression over the new translation, and yes, some of the feelings I feel *have* made me more sympathetic to the 'conservative' reaction to the post-VII changes in the liturgy. That's probably a good thing for my soul. But it's a bad thing for the church overall, I think. Because the new translation is going to be *very* hard for people to follow -- maybe not me (an English major and theologian who plays with words for a living) but for a *lot* of others. Assuming for the sake of argument that this is somehow "more beautiful" (says who? I love and think extremely beautiful the 'old' translation) I still think that the ornate complexity of the sentence structure will destroy the chance that 90% of the hearers will follow. And if I'm right, that will be a complete disaster. We always need to keep in mind with liturgical translations that this will have to be heard and interpreted on the fly; no time to go back and retrace our way through sentences, as we can on the page.What good is beauty if there's no love? And I don't see a lot of love in the way this has all been done -- no love for the dedication shown by the ICEL team, no love for the average parishioner, no love for the *virtues* of the Vatican II era or the modern world, no love for English *as* English. It's depressing.

Thanks to whoever it was that posted the link to the failed 1998 missal; I had no idea it was so lame.I can see why they tossed that one!

I am sympathetic to many of Studebaker's points but not sure about "His name" and "His holy church" -- it's been a long time since my high school latin, but I think it's the rule that the reflexive pronoun (sui, suae) follows the the same case and gender of the noun it modifies. Nomen is neuter in gender so sui is also neuter; ecclesiae is feminine so the pronoun suae is also feminine. It wouldn't be English if we said, "its name" or "her holy church."Of course, nomine refers back to Dominus, but still I wonder if the older translation -- "God's name" isn't trying to be more strictly accurate (at least in this instance) than "His name." It doesn't necessarily reflect an ideological choice.

-- his argument, were it to run forth thus in clauses miraculously accumulated and, with appositional phrases and nominative ablatives, repeatedly interrupted, no one, we deem, would have persevered willingly and freely much beyond the initial sentence, and grant it, we plead, that while his complaints, offered in his plain-spoken English, regarding the first translation, have, we humbly admit, some merit, directing our eyes and souls, as they do, toward certain lost connotations and allusions, his conclusions that the current translation, exemplified in passages not, he testifies, harvested like the fruit of the cherry tree, successfully resolves those unhappy faults and is, therefore, satisfactory and effective do not, our minds yearning for clarity and our hearts for understanding, emerge at the last convincing.Oh, yea verily!!See also: http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/mapping-liturgical-sentence

For once and for all, will someone PLEASE explain to me why slavish adherence to a literal translation of koine Latin (if you can take liberty with the term "koine") is critical to the prayer life of the church and the ultimate salvation of my soul?And don't inflate uniformity to unity: I don't buy it, particularly when said uniformity is Eurocentric as opposed to universal.

Thanks, Peter - wonderful synopsis; fair, even-handed, balanced and your thesis is, without doubt, very clear. Yes, if only the powers to be would recognize the effort and energy needed for our worship and pastoral activities.Your summary reads like a prayer. Wish you and your family (and your missing friends) God's blessing - that it may be upon you these days. And thank you for the gift of your book, A People Adrift.

I am sure that at my parish hardly anyone cares. Only the "for many" will tear at people; the rest will be chalked up to Vatican stupidity, and greeted with utmost indifference. People will continue automatically substituting inclusive words whenever there is a gender-exclusive wording, as they do already - no difference there. Compliance will be reluctant or dull, with the occasional pleasured reaction at childhood memories: "We used to say this phrase when I was a child!". But in the main, nobody cares.

Jimmy Mac - Thanks mucho for the diagraming sentence piece. I laughed so, because I am a KC and know how the priest sometimes must dread those types of dinners, or when one of us Knights presenst the priest with the annual check to help the mentally retarded. I sure the priest sometimes just wants to cringe.Oh well; just pray like old Moses did in Latin!Some wonder why some priests tend to think they know more that the laity. I always say they think that way, because they DO know more that we do.Ha, ha!Thanks for an interesting discussion and Happy Thanksging to everyone!

Jimmy Mac, I just read the humorous piece you linked to at NCR. I laughed until I cried.

John Page ==I wasn't thinking of asking the poets to initiate the translations. I was just thinking of submitting the drafts done by the translators to the poets for criticism and suggestion. Poets and fine prose writers (Lincoln and Updike spring to mind) are the ones who who are acutely aware of both how a given line of words works and how an individual line works within a whole text. After they and the translators have worked out their last draft, then the bishops could vet it for orthodoxy, which is indeed their responsibility. Not only should the words have been given to the poets for review, the whole plan of the Mass should have been submitted to fine playwrights and movie producer-directors before a word of translation was done. The old Latin Mass at its best was great theater even for non-believers, and the theatrical people might have a good bit to say about making the smaller structural parts confirm and clarify and even intensify the overall narrative. I"m particularly thinking about more meaningful gestures that would punctuate the narrative and show where the sub-actions are heading. The parts of the current English Mass -- the gestures and the larger movements -- are simply too few, too bland, and too much alike to be very interesting. But I daresay it will be a couple of centuries before we see a high-five on an altar.Wouldn't it be great if Lincoln had done a whole translation of an Easter Mass and, say, Coppola did the "choreography", with Sir Paul and Bob Dylan doing a couple of hymns? (Go ahead, Studebaker. Scream in agony :-)

How about this for the third responsorial at the Easter Vigil, Ann? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlpvbxmFm5g

Thanks, Kathy, but I can't use the Flash player, and even if I could, I couldn't hear the clip. Sigh.

Just kidding--but it rocks.Regarding some of the "points" being made on this thread, are they anything besides flippancy? Is this what thinking Catholics do, make a Monty Python sketch out of things they don't like?And what about some of the real questions that have gone unanswered? Does good English writing really avoid adjectives? Really? And even if it did, is that a good enough reason for eliminating the word "holy" from a prayer?

Ann, it's Springsteen singing a spiritual, Oh Mary Don't You Weep. Do you know it? (It does rock. Joe and Eddie did it too. Rock. Rock.)

Kathy -- I barely know any rockers beyond Elvis. Fortunately, I started to become deaf in the 70s, though i love the Beatles and think they're fine musicians. Maybe God saw that old people would rarely like the music of the young so He planned on us losing our hearing in our old age. That way the young people could have their turn making the music for Mass. I just think that being the Catholic Church we ought to have all sorts of Masses, including stuff I don't like. There should also be room for vastly different styles. If Leonard Bernstein or Menotti had wanted to write a whole real Mass, then I'd say, Fine. And Springsteen and Dylan too.I agree with you about avoiding adjectives in English. As with all things artful, it all depends. Consider these lines, among the greatest and most favorite in the whole language:. . . . . .All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

Kathy - If you are asking about "good English writing", time-tested answers are detailed by Strunk and White in The Elements of Style (1999), available at Amazon (Kindle in 2011). For example, #II-17: "Omit needless words." #V-16 "Be clear". They believe writing is communication and explain ways to do it well and to fail. Your adjective question is answered, among others. What is the new translation meant to communicate, from whom and to whom? As Bernard D. gently pointed out in a nearby blog, God can understand whatever language comes by.

Jack B. ==Check out the criticisms of S&T at Wikipedia. E. g., Geoffrey Pullam, a prof of linguistics at Edinburgh, called it "the book that ate America's brain". Sure, there are some writing "rules" that make sense for ordinary purposes, but obeying rules can in some cases kill artistic creativity faster than anything. On the other hand, Stravinsky, the composer, said, "There must be rules. It doesn't make any difference what the rules are, but there must be rules". And he then wrote some counter-cultural, great stuff. I think you'll find in the arts that there are certain *sets* of rules that seem to work well when you want to produce a work of certain type. The rules seem to define the type, so it's good to generally stick to them. For instance, there are Bach's rules of counter-point. But he broke them all the time when the internal necessities of a piece required him to.

Ann -- No argument. Consider how the rules of communication were carefully mastered and bent and sometimes re-invented by the handful of outstanding people you just mentioned above - Lincoln, Bernstein, et al. First, the basics. Little local discussion seems to have been concerned about the level of inspiring artistic creativity demonstrated by the new translation. That is why your fantasy was interesting, about who might do what to make the celebration of Mass focus pewsitters more strongly and deeply on their purpose in being there.

120 Posts. Liturgy and abortion. Happens all the time. As I see it the trigger on liturgy is the sacralizing of Latin. (Cicero would have been a Roman Catholic) The trigger on abortion is the fact that it is an escaped for those who neglect the downtrodden and is driven by celibates. Why else would the downtrodden be forgotten while zygotes are given more attention? At any rate there is this slogan; Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. As we Worship, So we Believe, So we Live.The so we live part usually gets short shrift. On HBO there is a current documentary "Sing your Song" which is an account of the substantial work done by Harry Belafonte in civil rights, particularly rights for blacks. It is a reminder of a glorious era when Catholic clergy and bishops were in the midst of this historic intervention. Sadly, people like Law, Neuhaus, Novak and others could not stay with it and longed for a pre-Vatican II Church. Basically, the new translation is driven by that mentality and a few restorationists pushed it through. Belafonte agonizes over the continued brutality and wars that continue while Rome triumphs on the Tridentine approach. Hopefully, this new translation will not be followed by a mentality that neglects the downtrodden while the First Estate remains in comfort and luxury.http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/sing-your-song/index.html

Bill, the obvious one is "and with your Spirit." The confiteor in the St. Joseph missal "through my fault..... The Gloria is exactly as the St Joseph's Missal. The Sanctus is exactly the one in the St. Joseph Missal. the preface of the Canon "It is right and just" is exactly the same as the St Joseph Missal. The Sanctus is the exact one from the St Joseph Missal. "Lord I am not worthy.... is the same as the St Joeseph Missal. It just seems to be a bit retro.

Jack,I'm really not talking about "good English writing" so much as about rules.I've had it up to my eyebrows, nay, beyond my eyebrows, with liturgists and their rules. No pleonasms! Use adjectives sparingly! No. More. Latin! The Sanctus must be congregational! Sing all the verses of a hymn! No, end the hymn at the end of the procession! No adoration during Communion! Bow the head slightly, don't genuflect, don't kneel! Remember paragraph 75 of the RCIA--no catechesis! I could go on and on.

About how much will it cost for parishs to make this switch? In honor of our pastor's 25th year as a priest, the schoolchildren passed the hat around to buy a couple of new missals. I was shocked at the price- the new massbooks were running @$250 each. Does that price sound right? It seems shockingly expaesive. (Doesn't seem like a very exciting gift either; I would have bought him an ipad).But is there a financial aspect to these changes?

Despite much of value here, as I look at this thread I must say;What Bill M. said!

Among things for which to be thankful, beyond Bernard Dauenhauer's reminder that it doesn't matter to God what dialect you use, we have the discovery that the Vatican has a sense of humor. How else to explain the title of the committee that looms above worldwide discussion like the above? Vox Clara! (Lat.)

127 comments and still running. Liturgical mistranslation seems to have become the defining issue for port-side American Catholics. I've read nothing here, though, about how horrible the new music is. Is that because it wasn't mandated by Rome?

"A Shakespearian sense of rhythm" is not an asset for those reading the new prayers. Shakespeare is the most rhythmical of writers, and his verse lifts the speaker. Reciting the new clunky and unrhythmical translations is more like trying to breathe life into a corpse.

Kathy, you have it up to your eyebrows with some alleged rules but most Catholics have it up to their eyebrows with impositions of dead texts and with a temple police who spy to see that the texts are recited exactly as written.

Fr. O'Leary,I don't think "most Catholics" can be invoked by one side or the other of these discussions. Not yet, anyway. I'll be interested in seeing what happens in a few years, when folks have become fully aware of what our religion is all about.

" ... in a few years, when folks have become fully aware of what our religion is all about." The Parousia?

Lol, fair point, John.S/b In a few years, when folks have become much more aware of what our religion is all about, and begin to wonder why they've been denied their rightful theologoumena all these years.

I think Kathy's point is the central question I've been trying to answer for myself (in vain) in reading these discussions: Will the new liturgy bring more people to Christ? Is it good catechesis? Will it make me a better Catholic?Given that the average kid in catechism has no freaking idea why there are three purple and one pink candles in the Advent wreath (I had to explain this to my kid's girlfriend who was received a similarly abysmal Catholic education through CCD in a nearby rural parish), much less knows what the "parousia" is or what "theologoumena" means, I'm skeptical. My kid finds Mass so boring now that I doubt he'll even notice the words have changed.Yeah, 130+ posts. Only the Big Three--homosexuality, abortion, and liturgy--attract these kinds of numbers. Interesting commentary on where the priorities of the Body of Christ lie ...

I do think one thing needs to be clarified for the benefit of Bernard, David G., etc. Wanting a correct translation isn't "cultural solipsism" or "idiosyncratic idolatry," nor is it based on a belief that Latin is an inherently holy language. It's more like this, at least for me. In the Suscipiat, the old Novus Ordo translation and the 1998 translation that was rejected both translated "Ecclesiae suae sanctae" as "Church." It's not that they translated "sancte" and then someone raised a minor quibble over which word to choose to represent "sancte" ("holy" or "sanctified", for example), or over which English translation of the prayer flows most trippingly off the tongue. Instead, they just completely left out the word "holy." As I point out above, there is no conceivable good reason for this. To me, what they did was willful vandalism, the equivalent of a dimwitted teenager who takes a hammer and chisel and chips away at the big toe of Christ on the crucifix at the front of the sanctuary. If I object to such vandalism, it's not that I'm making an idol out of crucifixes, or that I think the holiness of the mass depends on the big toe being there, or even that I think God cares whether a crucifix has a big toe or not. It's that I don't like vandalism or vandals. What they do is offensive to any person of good faith, and if they chop off a big toe, there's no telling what else they might do. The same is true here. If people are asked to translate the word "holy," and their response is, "Nah, we'd rather leave it out," they are vandals, willfully destroying a piece of the liturgy. If I object to what they do, it's not that I really care whether the word "holy" is in there -- I'd be fine if someone with the appropriate authority made an official decision to strike that word from the Roman Missal. It's not that I make a fetish or idol out of the Latin. It's not that Latin is a holy language. It's not that I think the efficacy of the Mass is altered one whit. Rather, it's that I don't like vandalism. If someone is willing to chip a big toe off the crucifix in front of the congregation, I am not going to bet that he otherwise lives a completely blameless life -- if he's willing to be a vandal so openly, he's probably been up to untold mischief when he thought people weren't looking. Similarly, if people are willing to revise the liturgy under the guise of "translation" even in the most obvious and glaring of ways, I cannot trust that anything else they did was honest.

Typo: "sanctae," not "sancte."

Sorry but "sanctae" in context is an ornament that adds nothing to the sense. Think about it. Does Christ have more than one church so that we need to specify that we are referring to the "holy" one? What suits the ecclesiastical Latin of the Missal does not suit the spareness of English style.

To me, what they did was willful vandalism, the equivalent of a dimwitted teenager who takes a hammer and chisel and chips away at the big toe of Christ on the crucifix at the front of the sanctuary.Fwiw, I'd just like to distance myself from any assertion, such as Studebaker's, that attributes malicious intent to translators.

Well, I don't see how anyone could accidentally ignore the word "sanctae." It's pretty hard to miss. But call it unwitting vandalism if that seems more suitable. Joseph -- you're rather spectacularly missing the point. First, the word "sanctae" isn't there to demarcate the "holy Church" as opposed to some other "non-holy Church." It's just a descriptive adjective. (If I say "the argumentative Joseph Gannon says that . . . ," I'm just attaching an adjective to your name, not trying to imply that there's a second Joseph Gannon from whom you need to be distinguished.)Second, if you'd rather that the Roman Missal didn't say "sanctae" there, fine. As I already said, I have no attachment to that particular word. All I have an attachment to is not randomly leaving things out for no reason.

Fwiw, Id just like to distance myself from any assertion, such as Studebakers, that attributes malicious intent to translators.Kathy,Thank you for saying that! I have read this thread with interest but haven't felt I had anything to contribute. The new translation looks a lot to me like what appeared as the English translation in missals back when the mass was in Latin. (Where did that translation come from, by the way? Or was there more than one?) But the idea that the translation currently being replaced was the result of some conspiracy to destroy the Church is just nonsense."Correct" is probably not a good word to apply to a translation.

"What suits the ecclesiastical Latin of the Missal does not suit the spareness of English style." I think you're talking about "Hemingway style," as opposed to "English style," but in any event, rewriting the Suscipiat in that way is akin to rewriting the Lord's Prayer so as to say "Cool be your name," on the grounds that "hallowed" isn't spare enough.

So, which is it, Stuart? Do you ascribe dark intentions to the bishops of the English-speaking church who oversaw the '73 translation, along with the Vatican, which approved that translation? (Those would be the people with the "appropriate authority," by the way.) Or do you think Rome and the bishops accidentally vandalized the Latin liturgy? You've gone pretty far out on the malicious intent limb, basically calling those responsible for omitting certain words that repeatedly appear in the Latin "under the guise of 'translation'" liars. Do you include the bishops of the English-speaking church and the Vatican in that assessment?

Tpp many Stu posts spoil the broth.You wil never convince someone with his mind made up, bur such is blogdom.Our country and our Church are in deep problems and we get words, words, words on the wonders of Latin.Pooey!

Words matter, Bob. The Bible says "Faith comes through hearing." Hearing "Church" instead of "holy Church" is a loss of one datum of our shared wisdom.Aren't we entitled to all of our data?

"Sorry but sanctae in context is an ornament that adds nothing to the sense. Think about it. Does Christ have more than one church so that we need to specify that we are referring to the holy one?"Professor Gannon --Yes, Christ *does* have more than one "the Church". He has the ideal Church which is in fact holy, and He has this sinful mess which includes all of us sinners as such. In the ordinary sense of the term "holy", the Church (the one that, say, the NYT always refers to) is not holy. It is only in the specialized, ideal sense of "the Church" that it is holy. By repeating the term "holy" before "Church" we are referred to that ideal one, not that entity which makes headlines when another bishop gets in trouble.

Given the fact that the average English-speaking person can go through his or her life without saying hallowed once other than when reciting the Lord's Prayer, it might not be a bad idea to retranslate it, although not to cool. N. T. Wright's translation in The Kingdom New Testament isOur father in heaven,May your name be honored,May your kingdom come,May your will be doneAs in heaven, so on earth.Give us today the bread we need now;And forgive us the things we owe,As we too have forgiven what was owed to us.Don't bring us into the great trial, But rescue us from evil.On "church" versus "holy church," I think of the people who write blog posts referring to "Almighty God" or "the Triune God" when everyone who is reading knows which God is under discussion. Sometimes the extra adjectives are warranted, but often it seems just to be an affectation on the part of the poster.

Grant -- I find it utterly mystifying, Grant. You don't seem to disagree with me that there is not, and never was, any good reason to leave out "sanctae." Again, the omission of "sanctae" in the Suscipiat is not a matter of quibbling over which word captures the nuance more correctly, or which phrasing flows more smoothly. Nor is it a matter of repetitive adjectives that can be made a bit more succinct without doing violence to the original text -- "sanctae" is the only adjective in the prayer. What happened there was a clear and indisputable error, one that wouldn't have been made by a first-year student of Latin. So perhaps the bishops weren't paying close attention, perhaps they were too caught up in the "being vaguely in the vicinity is good enough" norm at the time. I don't know. What do you think explains it?

A question: Does the new translation for Greek Catholics use the term "hoi polloi" for "the many"?Comment: I think those who find the new translation of the Mass intolerable should return to earlier ways. E.g., say the rosary during Mass or use a prayerbook. Father Lasance's Prayerbook for Religious has several methods of hearing Mass. Free online. http://www.archive.org/stream/prayerbookreligi00lasauoft#page/196/mode/2... what about those who would like to return to the practices of the early Church, when the presbyter and the guests reclining at her table read a portion of the gospels, shared a meal, sang and prayed without a script imposed on them by others? (Superior beings endowed with rightful theologoumena.) Why can't there be different services at different hours to accomodate all tastes? And what about Jesus? At which service would he feel most comfortable? He contrasted those who wear long robes with the widow who gave her mites.

David N. --About using the adjectives before "God" -- They are useful when we want to call attention to a particular attribute of God which is particularly relevant in a particular context. If we're praying to ask God to tilt a hurricane into the mid-Atlantic Ocean rather than the Carribbean, we might ask "Almighty God" or "Compassionte God" to do so, not "Just God" nor "Omniscient God". Some of His attributes are useful more often than others. For example, since we're constantly asking God to do things for us, "Almighty God" relevant more often than other descriptions. Sure, "God" means all the various perfections He is. But, due to our own limitations, It would be a poor Mass which did not mention God's specific attributes often.

"Why cant there be different services at different hours to accomodate all tastes?"Gerelyn --In an ideal world maybe there could be. But lots of parishes these days are lucky to have even one Mass. So the question becomes: how do you invent a one-size-fits-all liturgy? By leaving stuff out and ending with a generic sort of service? Or by having the most competent artists fit as much as possible into the a very small space-time? Oh, well. It's too late now.

Pages

Share

About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.