Archbishop Gregory: The time is right to review Mass translations

Retired Bishop David B. Thompson of Charleston, S.C., Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, and Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Savannah, Ga., concelebrate Mass with bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina at the Altar of the Tomb in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican May 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 7, 2012)

The archbishop who heads the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee says that controversial changes to liturgical translations that have been fully implemented in Catholic parishes since 2011 may need to be revisited to fix “problematic” sections that fail to “bring the entire church together.”

In an April 26 interview with America, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said that when U.S. bishops voted to adopt the final translations in 2009, it was with the understanding that after a period of time, they would consider if the texts were working well.

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Archbishop Wilton Gregory says that controversial translations may need to be revisited to fix “problematic” sections that fail to “bring the entire church together.”

“Let’s have a review,” he said, adding that while he does not think U.S. bishops “have the stomach to start from ground zero,” he thinks a consultation with priests and laity “would be helpful.”

Last fall, Pope Francis gave hope to Catholics who wish to reconsider the most recent translations when he released a document called “Magnum Principium, in which he shifted control over liturgical translations back to national bishops conferences, with the Vatican maintaining veto power.

Several changes to the English-language Mass—which included responding to the priest’s “Peace be with you” with “and with your spirit” rather than “and also with you”—were described by bishops as being more faithful to the Roman Missal, the Latin text that serves as the blueprint for the Roman Catholic Mass. But critics described the translations as clunky and overly formal.

“Let’s have a review,” Archbishop Gregory said, adding that consulting priests and laity “would be helpful.”

Below is a transcript of the interview with Archbishop Gregory, which has been edited for clarity.

MJO: You have been interested in liturgical translations, and the pope came out with this document saying maybe we can take another look at changing these texts.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory: What the document basically said was that going forward, episcopal conferences have much greater leeway. The document didn’t say, “You’ve got to go back and start from ground zero.” But going forward, there’s a new capacity on the part of the conferences of bishops to determine language and idiom, etc. In some respects, he’s restored the authority over liturgical translations to episcopal conferences and said, “Rome has a role, a very important role. But the prior role, and the first role on the local level should be the bishops who are serving in a given country and a given language group.”

MJO: Do you think we’ll see any—I know you said going forward—but do you think we’ll see any looking back at the current translation?

WG: When the bishops of the United States approved the most recent English translation, one of the recommendations, and I think one of the reasons that it won approbation, was something that Cardinal George said. [Editor’s note: Cardinal Francis George, the now-deceased former archbishop of Chicago, was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when the full body voted to adopt to adopt the new translation of the Roman Missal in 2009.] He said, “Well, let’s live with it for awhile and then review it after we’ve had it in possession to see what things work, what things don’t work, what modifications can be made.” And I think that’s an appropriate way to look at it.

Let’s have a review. I don’t believe that the American bishops have the stomach to start from ground zero. But I do believe that given the right structures, which would include the pastors, the guys on the firing line, a review of how these texts are being received, what’s problematic, what’s working, what’s better, what’s not better, would be helpful.

MJO: Do you think there are some issues with the translation, some “problematic” things that could be reviewed?

WG: Well, I do. Some of the [presider’s] prayers are difficult to proclaim because they are very long. The original Latin is dense and it has multiple layers of meanings and allusions, and to try to unpack the Latin into the English, sometimes creates these long, convoluted sentences. I like to use this example. There are certain things in a given language that don’t translate well in another. How do you translate Shakespeare into Japanese? Each language has its own poetic, prosaic structure, and it’s hard to just flip it and catch everything. How does Japanese haiku come into English? You have to respect the linguistic structure of each language.

We also have to look for a text that unifies. It’s not going to be perfect, but does this text bring the entire church together in a way that all of us can understand it and be moved by it?

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Mike Theman
5 months 2 weeks ago

The Archbishop said, "The original Latin is dense and it has multiple layers of meanings and allusions, and to try to unpack the Latin into the English, sometimes creates these long, convoluted sentences. There are certain things in a given language that don’t translate well in another....We also have to look for a text that unifies."

The Church had it right all along: Leave it all in Latin, or as we say in my family, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Dominic Deus
5 months 2 weeks ago

Dominic Deus here.

Mike, I was going to make a comment but thought I would fact check myself rather than sounding like a fool. (I can actually manage both at the same time.) I know that's not popular these days but .... Anyway, I did not remember things as well as I thought. This is quite a complex area and it's not as simple as Latin or local language. I think I am safe in saying this: the idea of having the Mass in Latin only is probably unwise and not in the spirit of bringing Catholics together. On the other hand, a combination of Latin and local language could be very helpful, poetic and spiritual. I'm referring, of course to translation and more generally, expanding the concept of canon to include music, imagery, and even poetry. Actually, the Church has been doing this for centuries. This leads naturally to the question, not of language, but form and function. What does the Mass look like, feel like and how does it inspire the mind and spirit as well as infuse the flesh with...with...well, the mystery of the Eucharist? And what about communion, which is not really the Eucharist at all but the communion of all with each other and all believers, past, present and to come.

Anyway, there is a great deal to be explored and what I wonder is will the bishops allow for any authority in the faithful as to what the Mass should or could be? I was specifically thinking of Taize services, which are not the Mass at all but are very moving and I have to add the Native American ceremonies which are, likewise, not the Mass but very spiritual. One is the Wiping Away the Tears ceremony which could teach us much. Should their not be a Mass for that or "movable feast" Mass which can be used for the expression of any human sentiment, desire or longing?

I suggest the Catholic Bishops turn the whole thing over to a group of Catholic millennial women and let them decide.

Mike Theman
5 months 2 weeks ago

Dominick, please see my reply to Mike Bayer, below.

Jaroslav Lunda
5 months 2 weeks ago

I don't think it is possible. It tooks 1-3 months to learn Latin and remember: English translation of the blue catechism took nearly 5 years to complete because of the harsh resistance of various groups of people trying to subvert it by introducing some sort of newspeak.
Instead, more realistic for American catholics should be praying for not to evolve into pseudo-catholic sect with women priests celebrating "sessions" with chips and wine.

James O'Connell
5 months 2 weeks ago

I certainly hope the translation is changed; someday, even our English-speaking homeless families might be welcome at Mass, again. Worthy or not, they have no roofs under which to welcome anyone.

Karen Olson
5 months 2 weeks ago

Agreed.

Justin Ramza
5 months 2 weeks ago

Agreed!

Mike Bayer
5 months 2 weeks ago

Mr Theman,

When I attend Mass I want to be part of the celebration and not a spectator or observer. I don't speak Latin or understand its density and multiple layers. If I attended a Mass conducted in any language that I did not speak I would feel like an outsider.

I think something was broken. People were not actively participating in the Mass. The vernacular Mass permits interaction. If you have taken the time and put in the effort to learn Latin, I applaud you. However, the mission the of Church is to save souls which is better accomplished when its priests are talking to people and not at them.

Carol Goodson
5 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you, MIke Bayer: I completely agree.

Mike Theman
5 months 2 weeks ago

Mr. Bayer -

One need not learn the entire Latin language to understand the mass. I personally think that people are far too much into analyzing everything nowadays. While I'm sure that most people who read "America" pay close attention to each word of the mass, I'd wager to say that the vast majority of parishioners just say the words on the card or in the missal with little thought for their meaning. Given that, at least Latin adds an element of mysticism and reverence to the ceremony, characteristics that make our religion seem like something special and not just another business conference.

Jewish parents send their kids to Hebrew school; Judaism is a 5,000 year-old religion that has the strongest cultural ties between people that I have ever witnessed. Catholicism started to breakdown around the time that Latin was replaced. Not merely a coincidence, as I see it.

Gregory Ryan
5 months 2 weeks ago

A picture is still worth a thousand words. No women in that beautiful photo. They have a rightful place. I realize that's not what the piece was about, but... Just sayin'. :-)

Dominic Deus
5 months 2 weeks ago

Dominic Deus here. Greg--see my suggestion above. Just let a group of young women write the whole thing and see what we get. I'm for it.

Dominic Deus
5 months 2 weeks ago

Dominic Deus here. Greg--see my suggestion above. Just let a group of young women write the whole thing and see what we get. I'm for it.

Atom Taylor
5 months 2 weeks ago

Bruh, you don't need to say your name in every comment. We can see your name just fine. So much for doing away with useless repetition....

Lucie Johnson
5 months 2 weeks ago

It is discouraging to see liturgists fight about things like "and also with you" vs "and with your spirit". I prefer the first language, but, like many people, got used to the second. It does not matter that much in my opinion. Praying together is what matters, and these are small differences. And now that the fighting is over, the congregations are used to the new protocol, the new words have become the usual ones, and finally feel like prayer, why re-start the battle?
Is the argument about literal vs dynamic translation worth it?

Carol Goodson
5 months 2 weeks ago

This is what I hate most: "... I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof..." The older words, "...I am not worthy to receive you..." was SO much better, and truly expressed the sentiment that is (at least) in my heart at that moment in the Mass. I wish they would change back to that.

Karen Olson
5 months 2 weeks ago

Agreed.

Justin Ramza
5 months 2 weeks ago

Not to sound repetitive, but also agreed.

Mätt Lintzenich
5 months 2 weeks ago

"enter under my roof," has a mystical symbolism that draws from Scripture and reflects a truer theological understanding of what is happening. You are receiving Jesus into your body, which is your temple, and bringing him into your home, under your roof.

Justin Ramza
5 months 2 weeks ago

And if ANY of the proceeding prayers had made this metaphor, setting or giving it context, it would be great. But as symbolic and metaphorically charged as it is, it's out of place and awkward as it so sits.

Bill Niermeyer
5 months 2 weeks ago

Much could be done. Terms that Benedict came up with while flowery need be revisited since they are not used in today's terminology. And please get rid of the use of Latin within an English language Mass. If a single Church in a parish has permission to have a Latin Mass then fine but in the USA our primary language is English. Room should also be included to have parishes with a majority of population being Spanish or Vietnamese etc should then offer a Mass in their language. My parish does that on Sunday three individual Masses. English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Don't mix them I do not want to hear it.

Atom Taylor
5 months 2 weeks ago

....and that, folks, is how the vernacular turns into Nationalism. Now Trump supporters are infiltrating our liturgy. Fan-freakin-tastic.

Justin Ramza
5 months 2 weeks ago

Funny! Thank you ;-)

Ken Stammerman
5 months 2 weeks ago

Here's a suggestion, let's NOT let the bishops review the liturgy and tweek a few 'consubstantials' and so on. Better to recruit the best people the Church has in linguistics, Scripture, liturgical theology and related fields, some of whom may be clergy and some laity to overhaul the entire liturgy. Again, and this time, do it right, without some grad student at the Vatican whispering in some aged non-English speaking cardinal's ear about being true to the 'original' Latin (and the original was really Greek or Aramaic, wasn't it?) . Their excellencies among the American bishops may have no stomachs for a full new translation, but that's not the real issue, is it? The real issue is how well the liturgy brings the People of God (that's us) to participate most fully in the Eucharist, the 'source and summit' of the Christian life. The current vernacular Mass texts are indeed clunky, loaded with obscure theological references which not only have zero import to the ordinary parishioner, but grate on the ear. A liturgy should sing, not plod.

Atom Taylor
5 months 2 weeks ago

....so let's sing it...in Latin!!!!

Samuel Pence
5 months 2 weeks ago

Christ died for all, not for "you and for many". I pray that we return to the original wording.

Atom Taylor
5 months 2 weeks ago

I, too, pray that Matthew 26:28 would be changed for the better.

Karen Olson
5 months 2 weeks ago

Agreed, as to what Samuel said above.

mike lynett
5 months 2 weeks ago

Repeating an "already-made" entry: 'Christ died for all, not for "you and for many".' I agree 200%: how do I know if I'm one of "many" or one of "unmany". A linguistly-learned friend explained to me that the words should be properly translated "you and THE many", meaning all of us. In fact, I've heard a few "liberated" presiders use the words "the many". Hallelujah!!!

Henry George
5 months 2 weeks ago

James O'Connell - you are fully correct, after all is said and done, whatever translation the Bishop's come up means far less than providing shelter for those who have no place call home.

Carol Goodson - well the "new translation" goes back to the Pre-Vatican II translation which goes back to the Centurion speaking to Jesus about healing his servant - I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.
Though "receive" has a similar meaning.

Bill Niermeyer - I am not an "American Catholic" I am a Catholic,
a little Latin here and there, along with some Greek - may well be good
for your soul.

Ken Stammerman - clunky the translation may be here and there but far more faithful to the prayers in Latin.

Samuel Pence - That is a disputed translation - "for you and many"
seems to have the longer history.

Can't we take a look at the Anglican Translation of the Mass and
its history and use some of their memorable and moving phrases ?

Franklin Uroda
5 months 2 weeks ago

Looks like-to me-the texts we're using now are more transliterations than translations.

Linda Gatter
5 months 2 weeks ago

How are the Bishops going to decide what's working and what's not? I hope they would take the time to ask the priests of every parish for written comments from their parishioners -- about what's working for the parishioners and what's not. Otherwise, it'll just be another top-down exercise that appears to be addressing a possible problem without actually doing so. With respect, the opinions of Bishops do not necessarily reflect the opinions of their congregations.

JOHN GRONDELSKI
5 months 2 weeks ago

The average Catholic in the pews seems to have made his peace with the reforms that are now 7 years old. Liturgical language needs to be established and retained, not revised every so many years. I do not have issues with the "density" of the language: I have issues with the "see Dick run; run, run, run" prose that ICEL foisted on us 50 years ago, from which we have been finally liberated. Liturgical language should not read like a Tweet, and we should not make Tweet-like style the norm for what English should be.

Joris Heise
5 months 2 weeks ago

Possum in lingua Latina ecclesiastica cogitare-etiam orarre, si necesse sit. Similiter, possum in linguam anglicam verba graeca transferre. I think the Latin Mass needs to be available for older folks., but I have two suggestions--and they are suggestions from a prayerful points of view. I think the English-speaking bishops should offer (as they do in the Canon) a true variety of translations--not merely the NAB (based ultimateLY on Wycliffe and the resonate out-loud versions of the late sixteenth century--a true necessity at the time), but also "the Way" or some much more contemporary version. (I get so tired of people worshiping the Vulgate as though it is the Quran--we need contemporary, less cliched language in our Biblical readings). There is a great chasm between current scholarship and the nostalgic traditionalism that is hindering the bridging of that chasm. Ninety-nine percent of modern translations are "accurate" as possible, and every one is a theological interpretation. 2nd, it is time to TRANSLATE into English. "Amen, Amen I say to you," IS NOT ENGLISH, BUT HEBREW/ARAMAIC. Mechanical translations do not convey the Word of God from the Person to persons.

Joris Heise
5 months 2 weeks ago

Here is what some people (not everyone!) might understand more of what Jesus is saying if the language of the bible looks like this: Jesus says to people inspired by him: "Peace I am leaving with you; my peace I am giving you. It is not the kind of peace the world gives that I am giving you. Don’t let your heart get upset or live in fear. You have heard me tell you, 'I am going away but I will come back to you.' If you loved me, you would feel good that I am going to the Father—the Father is greater than I am—but I have told you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may have the faith you need.

Phillip Stone
5 months 2 weeks ago

I think I read some nonsense here proclaiming Latin to be a universal language.
It is most definitely not. As a dead language from amongst a group of languages it has no place to be given a similar status as Arabic is to the Qu'ran.
The Last Supper was most surely NOT conducted in Latin, I have no certainty about the facts but the chances are that it was Aramaic or liturgical Hebrew.
The curse of Babel is still upon the world and I know of no reason for us to try and pretend we have circumvented the punishment by choosing one for arbitrary or pragmatic reasons.
Punishments are supposed to be of benefit and I think the benefit of this one is to force us all to be humble and loving and accommodating while struggling with the Word and Truth of God in human words.

Joris Heise
5 months 2 weeks ago

Yes, Latin is a dead language, but the nostalgic faith of some people -- not you nor me --requires a kind of ambiance for their prayer and their faith, and I am more than willing to suggest that the hierarchy take that nostalgia-prayer into consideration My own prayer life is much more wordless as I have come to realize how poorly the words of Jesus--his Aramaic/Hebrew understanding of justice, love, sin and heaven in particular-- come through history into English. Justice was "salvific justice" which we wanted! It is ironic that the Latin meaning of justice (suum cuique) is almost diametrically opposite the Tsedaqah which Jesus understand as "justice." Latin betrayed us. Love is something one does. Sin is something that goes wrong (almost unhinged from morality, though morality was part if it). and 'heaven" meant NOT so much the sky any more but the way things are done in God's world HERE.

Mike Theman
5 months 2 weeks ago

It's funny that this issue is re-addressed on the basis of the need for unity. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of vernacular versions, a disunifying fact. Latin was used for centuries, and all cultures used it; this was truly unifying.

Anyone who has ever st through one of those masses in which there is a different language assigned to different parts understands how absurd it is to suggest that multilingual translations in languages that are constantly changing (good thing the earlier translators didn't use the word "gay" in the English translation) is unifying. Ironically, they do those multiple language masses but refuse Latin because no one would understand it.

Also worth noting is that Latin is a dead language and is not subject to change and unintentional changes in meaning than might occur with modern languages.

Karen Olson
5 months 2 weeks ago

My aging loved ones have found comfort in the familiar words of prayers they've been saying at Mass since I was born. (I'm not referring to Latin.) All that changed seven years ago, NOT for the better. They NEEDED the words to remain the same. They NEEDED the joy of active participation, for as long as their memory allowed it. I'm frustrated that your decisions deprived them of this. I see this in the pews every week. It is heartbreaking. Life is not an academic exercise. I say this as the daughter of two teachers and as a person with an advanced degree. Step into the shoes of people with disabilities and people with no roof over their heads before you mess around with longstanding prayers. Return to the wording that was used seven years ago. People still remember that. And no, they haven't adjusted to what you're doing now, so please don't kid yourselves.

Justin Ramza
5 months 2 weeks ago

I haven't adjusted. I accept it. But it sounds odd, woodenly formal, and the syntax among parallel sentences is lost. "And with your spirit," always leaves me feeling like I've cheated the priest - he has wished the Lord to me, in my entirety; I've only wished it on his spirit. Every time I say it - it just feels "wrong." Same with the "under my roof." No longer the context of the whole previous set of prayers. "He suffered, died and was buried," is so much more poetic than "he suffered death." It doesn't even make sense (imo). How does one suffer a permanent state of being? Consubstantial with the Father? Jeesh. Seriously?
As someone else said, it's a transliteration. And like any transliteration, it suffers as a thoughtful, engaging prayer.

Ryan Carnes,OFS
5 months 1 week ago

Why are people complaining about liturgies being too long?? This is a complain when Westerners (even some TLM people) when visiting Eastern Liturgies is that the go for too long. How do people think heaven is going to be? If liturgy is an hour and a half - 3 hours, who cares you’re in the presence of God himself what else could one possibly have planned that is more important. The same thing with transferring holy days to Sunday, stop it! Oh no having the Ascension on Thursday is too much of an inconvenience for the faithful we’ll just move it to Sunday. 😒

Robert Bledsaw III
5 months 1 week ago

You know, there wouldn't be all these "problems" with "translations" if we just used the Latin.

Justin Ramza
5 months ago

Nice try.

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