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James Martin, S.J.August 27, 2010

Very strong words from a leading English Jesuit on the process that led to the new Mass translations, which were approved this week.  Philip Endean, a former editor of "The Way" who now teaches at Oxford, critiques the complicated wrangling over the translations in a hard-hitting article in this week's Tablet, which is available online. 

Bit by bit, the Catholic Church has been edging towards the moment when the new English translation of the Roman Missal will be in use in English-speaking countries around the globe. On 30 April 2010 the Holy See gave itsrecognitio to what was thought to be the final text, while on 20 August the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released an updated version of the Ordinary with confirmation that Americans will start using it in Advent 2011. Yet the text is apparently still being revised in Rome. Matters remain unclear.

There are problems here about what counts as good translation. There are also serious questions about how authority is being exercised. In some ways, there are overlaps with the clerical-abuse scandal. Of course, the objective damage done by bad liturgy is as nothing to the moral wrong of children being violated. But in both cases authority has dealt high-handedly and secretively with the sacred, the intimate, the vulnerable. High officialdom has been evasive; lesser authority has tacitly colluded. What the situation needed was salutary English plain speaking.

How the new translation came about is now well known: the rejection of a 1998 version by Rome (despite the overwhelming support of the anglophone bishops' conferences); the changing of the translation ground rules with the Congregation for Divine Worship's (CDW) 2001 instruction,Liturgiam Authenticam; and the sacking of the staff of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (Icel).

The published accounts of this process by Bishop Maurice Taylor, then the episcopal chairman of Icel, are all the more telling for their dignified and charitable understatement. But "abusive" would not be too strong a word to describe the exercise of authority here.

Read the rest of "Worship and Power" here.  And for even more background on the translations process, go to Endean's own webpage here.

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12 years 5 months ago
Its amazining how angry and nasty people can get over the translation of the LATIN rite.  This is a real sad post, Fr. Martin.  I suspect this man has done a lot of good in the past but he would have been better to be humbly silent.  Abuse?  Really?
Joe Garcia
12 years 5 months ago
Oy, gevalt. Those of used blessed to be bilingual-or-more and who get to hear Mass in more than one language have forever been puzzled by the disconnect between the weak-beer translation from Latin to English, and all other translations. Why the Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, etc., etc. translations are pretty faithful to Latin and the (current) English translation isn't is something I have yet seen addressed. Not even BADLY addressed.

That all said, I am rather disappointed in Fr. Endean's tone and I pray it only reflects a momentary lapse on his part.
Vince Killoran
12 years 5 months ago
My scholar friends who speciailize in translation tell me that the way this translation process has unfolded, and the result, will quickly become a case study of how NOT to translate Latin into English.
Thomas Farrelly
12 years 5 months ago
Not having seen any part of the new translation, I have no opinion on it regarding its colloquial suitability and its clarity.
But I do have an opinion on the absurdity of using "faithfulness to the Latin" as a criterion for those elements of the liturgy that were originally written in Greek.
David Nickol
12 years 5 months ago
The USCCB has published a document showing some of the changes in the new translation. From the little I know of the controversy, I don't believe the document shows any of the controversial passages. 

Here are some comparisons of the original Latin alongside old and new translations, with objections listed. 

Here are a few more comparisons. 

As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a translation is like a woman - it's either faithful but not beautiful, or beautiful but not faithful. (Okay, okay. I admit it's not in the Catechism.) 
12 years 5 months ago
It seems that if you celebrate the Mass in the Latin Rite that one should have a translation faithful to the Latin.
Livia Fiordelisi
12 years 5 months ago
I've been trying to understand why I'm so disheartened by the new translation. Good liturgy is essential and always evolving, as we strive to perfect our worship. Of course there will be set backs and detours as with any human endeavor. I could live with a clunky translation that was born of a spirit of humility, reverence, and love. I'm crushed, however, by the unloving and seemingly arrogant way the entire process has unfolded as well as the rhetoric surrounding it.
I've only known a post VII liturgy, which has nurtured me, filled me with reverence and awe, and opened me to God's abiding presence. Now  I'm told that it's practically invalid, barbecue talk, laughable, to be tossed away, inferior in some way. I expect more wisdom and sensitivity from those who are supposed to be my spiritual leaders.
It's the petty, divisive, mean spirited nature of the process (not the focus on Latin, which I enjoy, or any particular wording or gestures, however silly) that has soured me and will make it almost impossible for me to attend Mass with an open heart and spirit come Advent 2011.  
Jim McCrea
12 years 5 months ago
I keep forgetting that Latin was handed down as The Big Important Language on tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai.  (Oh, it wasn't?)  OK, Jesus spoke it.  (Oh, he didn't?)  The gospels were written in it.  (Oh, they weren't?)  Paul wrote his epistles in Latin (Oh, he didn't?)  The Holy Spirit speaks in Latin (Oh, She doesn't?).

Why, then, is a stilted adherence to an outdated language so very important?  Oh, because His Grand Poobahness thinks it should be?  Yes, I guess he doth.  Yeah, verily.
12 years 5 months ago
Maybe you should look into one of the other Liturgical Rites if you are unsatisfied with the Roman Rite.

From:  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09306a.htm


Pure in the ''Apostolic Constitutions'' (in Greek).

    Modified at Jerusalem in the Liturgy of St. James.
    The Greek St. James, used once a year by the Orthodox at Zacynthus and Jerusalem.
    The Syriac St. James, used by the Jacobites and Syrian Uniats.
    The Maronite Rite, used in Syriac.

The Chaldean Rite, used by Nestorians and Chaldean Uniats (in Syriac).

    The Malabar Rite, used by Uniats and Schismatics in India (in Syriac).
    The Byzantine Rite, used by the Orthodox and Byzantine Uniats in various languages.
    The Armenian Rite, used by Gregorians and Uniats (in Armenian).


The Greek Liturgy of St. Mark, no longer used.
The Coptic Liturgies, used by Uniat and schismaticalCopts.
The Ethiopic Liturgies, used by the Church of Abyssinia.


The original Roman Rite, not now used.
The African Rite, no longer used.
The Roman Rite with Gallican additions used (in Latin) by nearly all the Latin Church.
Various later modifications of this rite used in the Middle Ages, now (with a few exceptions) abolished.


Used once all over North-Western Europe and in Spain (in Latin).
The Ambrosian Rite at Milan.
The Mozarabic Rite, used at Toledo and Salamanca.
Joe Garcia
12 years 5 months ago
David, I will endeavor to find suitable passages for the sake of comparison. The current English translation's deviation from Latin - in sharp contradistinction from Spanish, French, etc. - is beyond glaring.
Linda, it's not "practically invalid, barbecue talk, laughable, to be tossed away, inferior in some way." But it IS inaccurate and at wide variance with the Novus Ordo as used by the rest of the billion or so of your fellow Catholics.

Jim, Jesus DID speak Latin.

Brendan McGrath
12 years 5 months ago
A few thoughts - from what I've seen, I like the fact that the new translations will be more poetic, elevated, beautiful, etc.  And I like a lot of the changes that make it more faithful to the Latin (e.g., "and with your spirit," etc.) - even though in many cases I actually wish we could go back to certain lines as they were in the 1962 missal (hello? those breathtaking offertory prayers?  The opening "I will go unto the altar of God"?  "And let my cry come unto Thee?").  But anyway, apart from all the things I like, some pet peeves:

1) Sometimes the new translations AREN'T any more poetic or beautiful - or rather, they're clunky when they could have been better.  For example, take this from Eucharistic Prayer II:

"Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."

I love the dewfall, but the sentence is clunky rather than poetic. Why not, "Make holy therefore these gifts, we pray, by sending Your Spirit down upon them like the dewfall..."  All I did was move the placement of "down" and eliminate the commas around "therefore," but I think it makes a difference - it removes some of the clunkiness near the beginning, and creates a smoother descent for the Spirit by "down upon them," etc.  Though actually, I'd prefer to switch it a bit more - maybe, "...we pray, and send Your Spirit down upon them like the dewfall," even though that subtly changes the literal meaning.  That's just one example where the poetry doesn't quite work.

2) I'd prefer using the archaic "Thou/Thy/Thee," "didst," etc., and all the other renderings often found in pre-Vatican II missals with translations.  I know this is a personal thing, but they just sound more beautiful, and often more intimate - this is particularly the case with the word "Thee."  I don't much care for "Thou," and "Thy," while nice, isn't too important, but having "Thee" is worth it all.  "Thee" has such a breathlike, intimate quality, like a hushed whisper from a lover (think Song of Songs).  My favorite use of it is in the following line found in the Extraordinary Form, and also in the Rite of Exorcism (which is where I first encountered it, in the film and novel of "The Exorcist") - "And let my cry come unto Thee..."  That line is one of many that I wish were still in the ordinary form of the Mass, and it drives me crazy when I see it translated as, "And let my cry come unto You" or "And let my cry be heard by You" or anything else.   

3) I don't like the change from "for you and for all" to "for you and for many."  In fact, that's the absolute worst change, and I hope priests in saying Mass just stick with the current form of it.  Yes, I know that's the Latin, and I've heard it's the New Testament too (I'm too lazy to check), but "for you and for all" is also theologically correct in the sense of objective redemption (as opposed to subjective redemption).  It is defined as "de fide" that Christ did indeed die for all (I'm too lazy to check Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma right now, but I know it's there, because I did a year or too ago).  Also, maybe the Latin is the way it is just because "pro vobis et pro multis" rhymes and sounds better than "pro vobis et pro omnibus."  (Unless I've messed up the Latin endings.)

4) Did they have to make us re-learn the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed?  I don't mind "consubstantial," etc., but all the little grammar changes, I mean, was that necessary?
Brendan McGrath
12 years 5 months ago
By the way, in support of my contention that "thee" is more breathlike and intimate, consider the following:

"Suffer me not to be separated from Thee" vs. "Suffer me not to be separated from You" (or, "Never let me be parted from Thee" vs. "Never let me be parted from You").  Hear it?

Here's some from the Stabat Mater:

"Let me share with thee His pain, / who for all my sins was slain, / who for me in torments died."  vs. "Let me share with you His pain..."

"Let me mingle tears with thee, / mourning Him who mourned for me, / all the days that I may live."  vs. "Let me mingle tears with you..."  (even apart from the rhyme issue, it's awful)

"By the Cross with thee to stay, / there with thee to weep and pray, / is all I ask of thee to give."  vs. "By the Cross with you to stay, / there with you to weep and pray, / is all I ask of you to give."   THUD!
Joe Garcia
12 years 5 months ago
Brendan, I HALF agree w. you on the "for you and for many" thing. The correct translation is "...for the many" and pretty clearly *not* correctly translated as "for all."

David, here are a few examples of the relative mistranslation of the current English contrasted with Latin, Spanish and German (so that nobody can claim "it's a Romance language thing"). The jarring nature of the underwhelming English translation will be self-evident.

Latin: Et cum tuo spirito.
Spanish: Y con tu espíritu
German: Und mit deinem Geiste
English: And also with you

Latin: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa
Spanish: Por mi culpa, mi culpa, mi gran culpa
German: Durch meine Schuld, durch meine Schuld, durch meine grosse Schuld
English: Through my own fault

Latin: Dignum et iustum est
Spanish: Es justo y necesario
German: Das ist würdig und recht
English: It is right to give Him thanks and praise

Latin: Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum
Spanish: Señor, no soy digno que entres en mi casa
German: Herr, ich bin nicht würdig, dass du eingehst unter mein Dach
English: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you

Joe Garcia
12 years 5 months ago
You're completely welcome.

At the 9am Mass, Father already started catechizing on the new translation and, seeing as how a good 40% of the congregation is fluidly bilingual, he noted approvingly on how the new translation will conform more closely to what "we are accustomed to seeing and hearing in the Spanish translation."


PS No idea what happened with the font in my previous comment...
Ruth Henderson
12 years 5 months ago
Brendan, 'thou' and 'thee' are so far out of date that they feel less intimate, not more so, to most people (and indeed have been defended for precisely that reason!).
I don't want here to go into enormous detail, but by what possible logic is the syntax and word order of Latin regarded as applicable to English? and what are we to make of phrases like ''Joseph, spouse of the same virgin''? What on earth is wrong with ''husband'', and are we really in danger of thinking that the reference is to some other young woman?

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