James Martin, S.J.November 12, 2010

Robert Mickens sent us this tip about a new report that he says has "produced extensive evidence that last-minute changes were made to the English translation of the Roman Missal without the knowledge or approval of the competent bishops’ conferences and in violation of the Vatican’s own translation rules.  The anonymous report, circulated to all the English speaking Bishops’ Conferences, highlights that changes were made to the new English translation of the Missal, just before it was approved and presented to Pope Benedict XVI."  Mickens, the Tablet's Rome correspondent, was referring to a link on the liturgical website "PrayTell," posted by Anthony Ruff, OSB.  (Btw, it is rather shocking to see a Vatican document ending up on Wikileaks, better known for sharing leaked documents about the Iraq War).  Ruff writes:

The bombshell fell October 31, 2010, 8:31 am (Collegeville time). I suppose some might make the connection to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on October 31, but in all honesty I didn’t have that in mind. I said a brief prayer, made the Sign of the Cross, and hit PUBLISH. Then my heart started pounding, and I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary. I had in mind serving the Church by bringing the truth to light. More truth and light were to follow – NCR published reports here and here on the “missal mess” and the internal report “Areas of Difficulty in the Received Text of the Missal.” 

Ruff moves beyond the question of "Who leaked it?" to what he sees as the more important issue: "The Roman Missal, English edition, got hijacked in a case of bad judgment, abuse of power, and incompetence." 

Here is the main part of the document, entitled "Areas of Difficulty in the Received Text of the Missal," which appears to be a presentation of ICEL (International Committee on English in the Liturgy) to the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship.  

There are thirteen areas of difficulty which have been identified in the light of Liturgiam authenticam [LA] or the Ratio translationis [RT]. Examples have been taken from the Order of Mass and the Proper of Time, but the observations also apply to other texts.

It is presumed that technical difficulties (consistency in textual repetitions, capitalization, punctuation, grammar) can be resolved without explicit permission from the Congregation for Divine Worship. In addition to consistency in textual repetitions, capitalization, and punctuation, this would include Areas of Difficulty nos. 9, 11, and possibly no. 2 in cases in which the revision is obviously a mistake rather than a deliberate change. The communication of other problems is left to the discretion of the member Conferences. An exhaustive analysis of the entire received text can be completed should this be useful to ICEL’s member Conferences.

  1. change of meaning from the Latin original (RT 41)
  2. mistranslation of the Latin (RT 20)
  3. limiting of the vocabulary (LA 49/51; RT 20, 46-50)
  4. additions of an element not found in the Latin (LA 20)
  5. omission of an element found in the Latin (RT 44)
  6. weakening of Scriptural allusion (RT 6, 36)
  7. loss of intensity of original (RT 50/62)
  8. introduction of a theological problem (RT 102)
  9. difficulty with English grammar or usage (LA 44/74)
  10. adoption of Neo-Vulgate when an antiphon uses the Vulgate (LA 37/38; RT 37/107)
  11. capitalization of LORD when it renders YHWH. (LA 41c; RT 81/116)
  12. suppression of a rhetorical device (LA 57a/58/59)
  13. translations of ‘unigenitum’ (RT 81)

James Martin, SJ

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Stephen SCHEWE
10 years 7 months ago
Anthony has a easy to understand post up this morning that nicely illustrates the dilemmas of translation.


Near as I can tell, fixing the 2010 text of the Missal isn't an issue that's dividing along liberal/conservative lines.  Traditionalists, liberals, and liturgists and scholars who defy such classifications all contribute to Pray Tell; except for one tendentious critic (I guess every blog needs one ;-))  everyone seems genuinely concerned to get the best possible text.  The fallback is the 2008 text, which was translated by people appointed by conservatives and approved by the bishops before some last minute, murky tinkering led to the current mess.  For those with a propensity towards knee-jerk reactions, watch for any move to use the 1998 text, completed before the previous ICEL staff was fired.  Consideration of that version would make it a liberal/conservative issue.
Jack Barry
10 years 7 months ago
Competent translation is a high art, demanding strong human knowledge of languages, associated cultures in time, and the intended recipients. Indications as above are that none of these were adequately brought to bear. 
A significantly broader question is raised by this event.  The Vatican publishes online numerous translations of official Church documents.  How valid are they?  For example, do the six translations of Humanae Vitae all say accurately what the Latin says?


LATIN TEXT: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 60 (1968), 481-503.
10 years 7 months ago
That is just bizarre about the mysterious last minute changes.  Leaves one wondering about a lot of things.

Permit a view from the pew.  Despite my four years' study of Latin language, and having been raised in the 'old church' I am completely happy in the vernacular and see no reason to try to return to any one era of church liturgy - other than that of the first Christians.  I would be very, very interested to read more scholarly articles on what "Mass" was like in the early church. 
Mike Evans
10 years 7 months ago
It seems that this revision is not well-supported nor popular in any sense of the word. Why the rush to publish and implement? Is it just another distraction? Certainly we have much bigger issues to deal with, especially the decline in practice and the disillusianment so many feel. Is there not a worldwide clergy shortage?
10 years 7 months ago
Hello Norman,  I wish I had more time today to respond to your questions but, alas, I am swapped and will give the snarky reply:

A Catholic liberal is someone who subscribes to Commonweal and loves MSNBC and a Catholic Conservative is someone who subscribes to First Things and loves EWTN ;)

I think this article would sum it up for my though - liberals want to be accepted/incorporated by popular culture as much possible while trads think the opposite, they want to stand in opposition to popular notions of morality/culture:
Jack Barry
10 years 7 months ago
In earlier times, before Vatican II, we piously used a missal at Mass that had Latin on the left page and English on the right page.  The priest carried on in Latin and the laity read their English.  Intermittently, gestures or standing up/sitting down would synchronize the whole crowd, confirming that you were on the right page.  Whether or not the facing pages said the same thing never came up as an issue, even among the few fluent in both languages.  Occasional Latin like ''Tantum Ergo'' and ''Ite missa est'' was adequately understood.  Perhaps a similar approach could offer a way out of the current turmoil.
10 years 7 months ago
Taylor's A Secular Age - or Sources of the Self - are a rather conservative indictment of the "false authencity" of modern ideology (could also be applied to modern, liberal Catholicism) with the exception of his musings on sexuality - but that is just my reading (not that I have read the entirety of the secular age!)  But that is a debate for another time.

George Trejos
10 years 7 months ago
Liturgy is suppose to bind us together in the worship of the Father through the commemoration of Jesus' sacrifice and gift to his church.  It pains many and myself to see divisive attacks between Catholics over this issue of the new missal. 

If this new missal/translation is so controversial we have indeed missed the mark and the goal of promoting true prayer.  From this perspective, we might do best to begin afresh.
Aloysia Moss
10 years 7 months ago
The Church used Latin because it was the spoken word of Europeans at that time .  Latin evolved into the so-called romance languages .  These became the vernacular . 

We devolved onto a nostalgic view of Latin due to historical events from which it appears we refuse to extricate ourselves notwithstanding the action of the Holy Spirit through the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council .  

I am an admirer of Joseph Campbell .  However it seems to me that a gentleman who didn't , for whatever reason ,  regularly join in the celebration of the Eucharist might not be the person  to whom one would look for the best example of adequate liturgical matters . 

Campbell ,  as an observer of things human may have some insights .  And it behooves us to go deeply into these .  The mystery we seek to feel and enter into has nothing to do with Latin , or any human language for that matter .

God's first language may be Silence but God has no problem with English .  Nor should the Vatican .
David Cruz-Uribe
10 years 7 months ago
To add to the comment by Aloysia Moss:  it is worth remembering that the first liturgical language of the Church in Rome was Greek.  Latin was the official language of the empire, but Greek was an unofficial second language, used in scholarship and commerce.  As Greek fell out of use in the Western empire in the 4th century, Latin supplanted Greek.  In other words, the liturgical language that united the Churches of East and West was supplanted by the vernacular, so that people could understand what was being said. 

On the subject of translation (which is where this thread started) I would only add, based on personal experience (I translated a Spanish textbook into English) that trying to be word for word faithful to the underlying text often results in a translation that sounds bad in English and is, surprisingly, further from the meaning of the original than a "looser" translation would have been.  There are lots of other issues going on in translating liturgical texts, and I am glad that I am not on the ICEL.
Craig McKee
10 years 7 months ago
Thanx to Father Ruff for his act of courage. I hate to say
Craig McKee
10 years 7 months ago
"...EGO VOS DICI SIC!" (my high school level translation of "I told you so!" which is about as good as some of the Vox Clara's English renditions of the Roman Missal...)
but this latest chapter in the Latin church's continuing liturgical fiasco is just one more indicator of the wrongness of the PROCESS by which this liturgical claptrap is being foisted upon the English-speaking Catholic world.

Where, oh where, is the 1998 ICEL Roman Missal translation when we need it?
10 years 7 months ago
Liberal Catholics really hate change away from their comfort zone, don't they?  Well, times they are a' changin!
Vince Killoran
10 years 7 months ago
Yes, Brett, "the times they are a'changin"-to bad judgement, abuse of power, and incompetence.  This is not a time of celebration.
10 years 7 months ago
I read the document in question a few days ago, and I'm quote sure that it will be a major discussion at the USCCB meeting next week.  They were fools not to have heeded HE Trautman's warnings last year at this time.  The previously approved texts would never have scandalized the faithful the way that this new text will.

While we're on the subject, why in the world translate the traditional greeting and reply (Dominus Vobiscum) rather than leaving it in the Latin?  Similarly, I've always thought we should retain the Greek cry of the Kryrie and the beginning phrase of the Gloria.  HINTS of the great antiquity of the Latin heritage that we western Catholics share would be very helpful in passing the faith on to our children.  (I'm aware that the Popes have urged us to be able to pray the Credo, Our Father, and Agnus Dei in latin together but I think it hardly worth the trouble when it's just as beautiful to pray it together in the myriad of languages that spring from our hearts.)
10 years 7 months ago
Well, Fr. Jim, I suppose; however, there are just as many defenses of the new translation as there are critiques.  It seems to fall, as usual, along "politcal" fault lines:

Marie Rehbein
10 years 7 months ago
I have had this image in my head for some time that once these translations come into use, someone at Mass will start giggling and it will spread to the whole assemply.
10 years 7 months ago
Considering it has the approval of Benedict, I am not worried about the peanut gallery of subjective, politically colored anaylsis. 

It is well documented that anything to do with a more faithful use of Latin in the Mass whips liberal Catholics into a critical frenzy.

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