Why we shouldn’t change the translation of the liturgy again

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

I am visiting my hometown hospital, where I have brought Holy Communion to Dorothy, whom I have known all my life. She was a cook at the parochial school that I attended. Her husband Leonard tended bar for the Knights of Columbus. He would sell my father a beer on summer Sunday afternoons when lawn work was finished. Dorothy chats about Ellen, my classmate, who is now a Catholic school principal.

This concord is what pastoring was meant to be. I know my own, and they know me.

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When it is time to receive Holy Communion,Dorothy and I pray the Lord’s Prayer together. I hold the host over the open pyx and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Dorothy and I both offer a response. Dorothy speaks of herself being unworthy to receive him. I refer to him entering under my roof. The latter is more biblical, more poetic. But the deeply pastoral question, desperately needing to be raised, is this: Should a 90-year-old woman encounter dissidence when she prays, publicly, with the church? Should she or, for that matter, those whom we might call the “seldom-churched” be surprised and unsettled by new words and phrases when they reconnect with us?

If one more revision of the Mass is truly needed, then let us resolve that it will be the last in our lifetimes.

On the first Sunday of Advent 2011, English-speaking Catholics began using a new, more literal translation of the Mass. It sought a more sublime language. Many feel it produced something stultifying. Pope Francis has now called for greater involvement of national episcopal conferences in the revision of liturgical texts. Some hope that this will lead to an “improvement” on the 2011 “improvement.” But as a trained liturgist and active pastor, I would urge the Holy Father and our bishops to leave the liturgy alone.

They should surrender the search for the perfect translation of the Roman Missal. Why? Because somewhere, somehow, those pastoring the church seem to have forgotten a fundamental requirement of all ritual: its need for stability. If one more revision is truly needed, then let us resolve that it will be the last in our lifetimes.

I will pass on evaluating the quality of the 2011 translation and focus instead on its very act of existence, which is to say as a substantial change in Catholic ritual. At this point in the church’s liturgical history, perhaps more requisite than any critique of content is a clear explanation of why Catholics of all hues—and whatever their differences—were rightly reluctant to accept the 2011 missal and, furthermore, should be loath to make future changes to the liturgy.

Why wary? Because on that first Sunday of Advent in 2011, something occurred in English-speaking Catholicism without precedent in the long history of the Roman rite. To cite “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution on the sacred liturgy, for the first time the laity experienced a full, conscious and active awareness of their language of prayer being altered. In that regard, the historical exemplars for this event are not the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, when the typical lay Catholic would not have been capable of comparing the then-new vernacular prayers to their prior Latin formularies. No, to find a precedent for the vernacular itself, altering in the very ears of the congregation, one must look to the Church of England, which was the first to create and then to re-create a vernacular liturgy in English, The Book of Common Prayer.

King James and his courtiers had already learned one lesson from the first 50 years of a changing vernacular: The less the liturgy appeared to change, the better.

‘As little altered as the truth of the original will permit’

What did the Anglican church learn upon entering the vernacular? Certainly among its lessons was the recognition that new theologies, when made patent in English, produced immediate and strong reactions. This lead to the rapid release of three distinctly different editions of The Book of Common Prayer: that of 1549, the first, and rather conservative, edition of King Edward’s reign; that of 1552, a more radically reforming text of the same court; and that of 1559, which represented the Elizabethan religious settlement.

Both the Edwardian and Elizabethan liturgical changes were introduced by royal committee and regal edict, but as the Cambridge church historian Eamon Duffy amply illustrated in The Stripping of the Altars (1992), the faithful of England had not been clamoring for a reform of the church’s liturgy. In fact, for decades afterward, members of the established Church of England stubbornly resisted these changes, sometimes violently, and not primarily out of loyalty to Rome. They did so because of the very nature of liturgy. They knew that, whatever the putative values that liturgical changes might offer, common prayer—as the book was so aptly named—should not be become labored, intrusive or jarring.

So, for example, when it became politically expedient to accompany The Book of Common Prayer with a new edition of sacred Scripture, the very King James who gave the English-speaking world the incomparable translation of sacred Scripture that bore his name, knowing that its primary use would be liturgical, commanded his appointed translators that “the ordinary Bible read in Church commonly called the Bishopps bible, [is] to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the Originall will permitt.”

The Bishops’ Bible had been introduced into English worship under Henry VIII. James didn’t want his new translation to sound markedly different from the earlier one. Wasn’t the liturgy the very presence of God among them? Had God changed? Then why should the people hear God speaking differently now that he addressed them in the heightened timbre of their native tongue? James and his courtiers had already learned one lesson from the first 50 years of a changing vernacular: The less the liturgy appeared to change, the better.

Summarizing the Anglican experience in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, Charles Hefling wrote:

This is why it has always been regarded as a serious business to alter the wording of its services or even (and sometimes especially) its rubrics. The reason was formulated long before philosophers began to insist that language is what bestows meaning on the workings of the human mind and heart. Whoever invented the adage lex orandi  lex credendi knew that already. According to this venerable saying there is a correspondence between the beliefs of those who pray and the articulate form their prayers take. So, to paraphrase, the way in which God is addressed in worship is what settles the conviction that worshipers adopt and hold about the God they address. Doctrine is believed inasmuch as it can be prayed.

For at least the coming decade, English-speaking Catholics will not pray orally—or sing settings to the Gloria and the Sanctus—without the awkwardness that unfamiliarity breeds.

Neither pedagogical nor prophetic

No one familiar with the worship of the ancient church would question the soundness of the liturgy that St. Pope Paul VI gave us or the deeply spiritual and learned work of those who produced it under the aegis of the Second Vatican Council. But as Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the architect of the new order of worship, himself noted, the great drawback of the new liturgy was its birth from a committee.

What is wrong with a committee? Its rationally reductive and deliberative approach assaults the very nature of liturgy as ritual, as enacted expression of belief. Put another way, liturgy is meant to be lived, not debated. Whatever else one would want to say about liturgy as an attestation of Christian belief, as a human reality liturgy is ritual, and ritual, by its very nature, calls for glacial, almost imperceptible alteration, not for changes introduced by committee, however well intended.

Then, less than half a century after the work of Archbishop Bugnini’s scholars, a new committee questioned the theology taught by the conciliar reformers, asking if it was sufficiently transcendent. It is a legitimate theological question, but the problem with imposing theological questions and reformist agenda upon the liturgy is that each act of rewriting worship lowers the very transcendence of the liturgy. It subtly teaches the faithful that liturgy is something that we write, not a gift that forms us in the Spirit of God.

In their own efforts to enhance the liturgy, a common error has been made, for much too long, by too many parochial liturgy committees and presiders. Theirs seems to be the very attitude toward ritual taken by Mrs. Proudie in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers. The bishop’s wife is of decidedly low-church tendencies. For her, the liturgy is “play-acting,” which needs to give way to productive pedagogy:

“Did you ever in your life, bishop, hear anything so like play-acting as the way in which Mr. Harding sings the litany? I shall beg Mr. Slope to continue a course of sermons on the subject till all that is altered. We will have at any rate, in our cathedral, a decent, godly, modest morning service. There must be no more play-acting here now”; and so the lady rang for lunch.

Baby boomers, raised upon rejection of the status quo, still see their task as finding a way to make the liturgy “different.” Shake people up! Make them think! Of course the unexamined presumption is that the discord of difference produces greater meaning. The epitome of the “rewrite” was Leonard Bernstein’s theatrical 1971 Mass, in which he has the priest deliberately drop the chalice. If the goal is to “get everyone thinking,” this will do it!

But liturgy cannot be treated as pedagogy, even though it does teach, and at a profound level. And there we find the deep dilemma posed by the latest set of liturgical changes and, now, the prospect of even more. For at least the coming decade, English-speaking Catholics will not pray orally—or sing settings to the Gloria and the Sanctus—without the awkwardness that unfamiliarity breeds.

Ritual binds disparate individuals together. Its uniformity allows their own particularity to find a place within the commonality of the group.

Ritual’s relationship to the real

It is a mistake to think that the sacred stands beyond the liturgy and therefore that ritual can be changed at will without affecting any transformation in the sacred itself. In his masterwork Ritual and Religion in the Making of Antiquity (1999), the anthropologist Roy Rappaport insisted that to view ritual as no more than an alternative symbolic medium for expressing or accomplishing what might just as well—or perhaps better—be expressed or accomplished in other ways is, obviously, to ignore that which is distinctive of ritual itself. It seems apparent, and few scholars writing today would disagree, that ritual is not simply an alternative way to express any manner of thing, but that certain meanings and effects can best, or even only, be expressed or achieved in ritual.

One can certainly see why indigenous peoples do not believe that their rituals are subject to change but rather are eternal. Indeed, two different notions of eternity are evoked in ritual: endless repetition and absolute changelessness. The sacred returns, ever again, in ritual because the sacred stands as a steady pivot in changing time. This is why ritual must be rather unthinkingly uniform. It is the moment of stasis in which history, which can never be uniform or settled, renews and settles itself outside of time, through participation in the eternal.

Yet the liturgy, unchanged, is eternally new because of what might be called the “Tintern Abbey” Effect. Because we change as we move through time, we never encounter the same phenomenon twice. In the poem “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth, the abbey ruins remain the same, but the effect that they have upon the one who encounters them alters as the visitor ages between visits. That fecund combustion between the ever-changing and the changeless cannot occur if one of the two elements does not remain stable.

In his now-classic How to Do Things with Words (1962), the philosopher J. L. Austin laid down a first and most basic condition for the performative success of ritual. Just as an underlying grammar is requisite to the formation of any successful sentence, so “there must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, the procedure to include the uttering of certain words [or the performance of certain symbolic acts] by certain persons in certain circumstances.” Or, as Rappaport puts the same, “Conventional effects cannot be achieved without conventions for achieving them.”

Here is an illustration of Rappaport’s point. Once, while presiding at a Sunday parochial liturgy, I noticed two women who had arrived late sitting in the front pew with two teenagers, a boy and a girl. The women appeared to be mother and daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder if grandmother had insisted that mom and the grandchildren accompany her to Mass. The teenagers did not seem to resent the request, and I noticed that the mother figure several times appeared to be explaining the ritual to them.

Let us presume that both teenagers were baptized but non-practicing Catholics. In what sense can one speak of them as participating in the liturgy? Virtually everything about the experience was foreign to them, and nothing is more antithetical to the nature of ritual than unfamiliarity. Watching them, I realized that an entire lifetime of familiarity with Catholic ritual with countless hours spent within liturgy separated me and most of the congregation from these two young people. They could scarcely be informed by the liturgy, because they had not been formed by it.

Ritual binds disparate individuals together. Its uniformity allows their own particularity to find a place within the commonality of the group. When graduates throw their caps into the air, they all do the same thing, at the same time, and yet no two of them feel the very same about what they are doing, no pair summons up identical images of challenges overcome or of a future ready to be embraced. Each expresses, and thus comes to possess, something uniquely his or her own, and yet each does so through a common act.

In our almost unconscious communal participation in ritual, regions of deeper consciousness come to the surface. Make the act labored, take away one’s ability to participate in it without conscious thought, and the power of the subconscious cannot arise. Liturgy loosens the human spirit as it calms the mind and charms the body. The sociologist Emile Durkheim’s well-known thesis is that religion motivates in a way that abstract speculation never can:

A philosophy may well be elaborated in the silence of the interior imagination, but not so with a faith. For before all else, a faith is warmth, life, enthusiasm, the exaltation of the whole mental life, the raising of the individual above himself.

Look out upon the pews. Heads buried in books mean that the canary has died. It is bad enough that some misinformed priests used to tell parishioners to follow along in the book. At least in the foreseeable future, we’ve now made a script the sine qua non of liturgy. Yet, as every director cajoles, actors can’t truly act until they are ready to go “off book.”

Look out upon the pews. Heads buried in books mean that the canary has died.

The Trinitarian Thou

In his famous work The Idea of the Holy (1950), Rudolf Otto insisted that religion is, above all else, an encounter with the numinous. God is not simply an idea; God is a presence. Otto wrote, “It is in His ‘life’ that this God is differentiated from ‘world reason,’ and becomes the ultimately non-rational essence, that eludes all philosophic treatment.” He added that the numinous “finds its most unqualified expression in the spell exercised by the only half-intelligible or wholly unintelligible language of devotion, and in the unquestioning real enhancement of the awe of the worshipper [sic] which this produces.”

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber made much the same point: We need to understand that liturgy is an encounter with a Thou, not an It. For Buber, ritual, like art, is a hierophany, a manifestation of the divine, but the danger is that it can degenerate into an object when it is seen as possessed, put at our disposal.

In true prayer, cult and faith are unified and purified into living relation. That true prayer lives in religions testifies to their true life; as long as it lives in them, they live. Degeneration of religions means the degeneration of prayer in them: The relational power in them is buried more and more by objecthood; adherents find it ever more difficult to say “You” with their whole undivided being.

God can speak a word that never alters. Human words constantly shift because they take their meanings from their enveloping, evolving worlds. This is why we can (and do, and must) translate sacred Scripture, why liturgy itself can be translated into new tongues, and must be translated into new temporal contexts.

Of course, we cannot reverence the presence of the Triune God in liturgy by never changing the words that we employ. Indeed, they would change even if the symbols on the page and the sounds enunciated never altered. They would change because they would be spoken in endlessly evolving contexts. Because humans live in history, like fish in water, we cannot stop liturgies—or any other human form—from evolving.

And yet the numinous presence of the Triune God whom we encounter in liturgy demands that we not treat the words which we employ as mere instruments, informational bits at our disposal. In the church, the Incarnation, our foundation in Christ, has been given over—and by the Lord himself—to the Holy Spirit. The issue is whether we reference the liturgy as a living manifestation of the Trinity or reduce it to a text to be manipulated. Ideally, liturgies should change as they do in the Eastern Churches, without anyone knowing or—perhaps one should say—admitting to know when the change occurred. The Trinity is among us, but not as a text to be debated or a ritual reduced to a teaching moment.

When liturgy is labored, it not only fails to set our spirits free. It loses its pneumatic presence in a much more dire way. It inhibits our reception of God’s Spirit. We are supposed to encounter the living Lord in our midst. This community, these words, these gestures: They are the ways in which he has chosen to dwell among us. This is why changes in the liturgy, whatever their provenance or potential for the good, should be as gingerly introduced as a surgeon wields a scalpel. There is a person beneath the lethal instrument; there is a pneumatic presence within our purview.

The liturgical issue now is: How can all of our talents and energy be poured into this truly stable medium? As gifts and efforts vary, and as the individual, deeply existential needs of the ritual’s participants alter, the liturgy will live a myriad of different lives, and all of them in a single moment.

However you see the future, whatever changes you envision, whether you are a parochial liturgy committee or a Roman congregation, learn to revere the Trinity made manifest in the liturgy. Ancient peoples reverenced the world around them; we moderns want to remake everything in our image. It is difficult for us to think of liturgy as a presence rather than as a product. Yet Christ is still Lord, as marvelously present to us as he was to the Magdalene outside the tomb. And perhaps, even in our enthusiasm, we need to hear the same command, asking us to encounter him in a new, transcendent way: “Do not touch me” (Jn 20:17).

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chris lane
1 month ago

The article does not discuss what I think (emphasize think) is one of the most significant problems with the current translation. As I understand the process, sometime well before 2011, the English speaking countries formed a committee to re-work the English vernacular liturgy. ICEL (International Committee on English in the Liturgy?) was formed to undertake the project. ICEL labored for years and produced a respectable English version. We do not use that. The Vatican Traditionalists (obviously editorial comment) refused to approve the new translation and sent it back to ICEL for rewriting.The composition of ICEL was changed to reflect Vatican views and directives. or handed the project to a committee they formed. In either event, Significant input came from non-native English speakers. The guiding principle was virtual transliteration from the 1500s Latin mass. (As you will recall from your theological training, that 1500s Latin version is what Jesus used at the Last Supper. (Pardon the editorial comment.)) So their work product is what we are using, not something that sought a religiously rich liturgy produced by and for English speakers. Unfortunately, the bishops from the English speaking countries did not have the courage to tell the Vatican no. I think (again, emphasis on think) that the Vatican tried the same thing with a revised German translation, but the German bishops refused to use the Vatican product.

Obviously, there are many other issues. But I think a piece that addresses whether to change the current liturgy should address its highly illegitimate history.

James Hess
1 month ago

I agree the 1998 Missal was approved by all the English Speaking Bishops and is a Masterpiece. The Opening Prayers which reflect the lectionary are totally lost in the present "missal". As usual, Pope Francis is on the right track.

William Guglielmi
1 month ago

Chris, I fully agree with all your points and your editorial comments. I think you are totally agree with all your points. That being said, I agree with Father. The current translation, despite its problems, should remain as is for the foreseeable future for all the reasons he outlines and for the following (based solely on my thinking and prejudices):

a. Reopening the English translation gives the haters of the vernacular still another opportunity to try to sell their ridiculous wares that the vernacular is, at best a poor substitute for the 14th Century Latin Mass, or, at worse, not a Real Mass. Before they jump down my throats for saying this, let me say that I do enjoy an occasional Extraordinary Form Mass—especially one presided over by a priest who actually knows Latin; however, I am old enough to remember attending Latin Masses that were mumbled by priests whose Latin proficiency had deteriorated like my current French proficiency from lack of real conversational usage.
b. Our hierarchy has more serious issues to tackle than whether consubstantial is a better English translation of ‘consubstanialem’ than ‘one in being’ or ‘of one substance’ or something else like Webster’s ‘’of the same substance’.

Respectfully,

Bill

Anthony McCarthy
1 month ago

I am old enough to remember the Latin mass and I studied Latin and I know the experience was anything but an engagement with the words for just about everyone, including the priest, it was a mumbled meaningless thing to fulfill a formal requirement. That is what the "traditionalists" want to return to, meaningless formality that signifies little to nothing. The 2011 change wasn't a reform, it was a deformation of a far better English liturgy. I favor a return to the liturgy from before the deform or something that is English as it is and not as it's forced into a pseudo-Latinate form. The deformation of 2011 was an exercise in Vatican politics, not a liturgical reform.

Charles Erlinger
1 month ago

This is one of the most mature essays on this subject that I have read recently. But on a slightly lighter note I would like to speculate in public on another aspect of the vernacular issue.

I have been amused, since Vatican II, with the fascination with the idea of getting back to the “original” in English translations. But the “original” in these contentious efforts seems to have been defined as Medieval Latin. I don’t mind the effort to faithfully express in English the thoughts expressed in the language of the Schoolmen of Paris, but what’s wrong, to further that line of thinking, with going one step farther? What would be wrong with mounting an effort to go back to the Greek of the Patristic era?

In terms of how that would turn out, just imagine what would happen to everybody’s favorite talking point, “consubstantial.” In fact, what would our vernacular sound like if Thomas Aquinas had never read Averoes and if Averoes had never read Aristotle? We still stumble when we come to that word in our Mass praying. What would we think about the situation if we dwelt on the knowledge that the word is a product of a Muslim Moor’s introduction of a Pagan’s metaphysics to the thought of the Angelic Doctor? Would it be irreverent to smile (furtively) at the irony?

RONALD ROBERTS
1 month ago

For the sake of discussion...

Viewed through the eyes of those who seek the “reform of the reform” the liturgy revisions were nothing more than an effort to make the English language translation of the mass, more faithfully, a word for word translation of the liturgies as they are published in Latin. But I suspect more was afoot.

The revised English translations, which we began to use in 2011, were a result of the Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, which included the requirement that, in translations of the liturgical texts from the official Latin, "the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content”.

However, hidden beneath the requirement of developing a more accurate, literal translation, conservative liturgists sought to go further and “reform the reform of Vatican II” and elevate the language of the liturgy to make it more complex, abundant, lavish and rich and to restore many of the rubrics of the pre-Vatican II, Latin mass.

Beyond the linguistic gymnastics which brought the theological term “consubstantial” to a wider audience of non-theologians, there is an underlying desire to return to the pre-Vatican II liturgy. There was a call by Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, in an address to the third international “Sacra Liturgia” conference (2016), to return, as soon as possible, to the practice of offering Mass ad orientem, suggesting “beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year”.

The product of their linguistics efforts belie the stated intention of making it a more exact translation of the Roman Rite. For example, many of those who long for the return of the pre-Vatican II church, cringe at the thought of us standing through the Eucharistic Prayer.
In Eucharistic Prayer II the language of the prayer was changed to read “giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” The traditionalist minded translators made it a point of ridding Eucharistic Prayer II of that troublesome line about “being worthy to stand in your presence”.

However, if you read the Latin version of Eucharistic Prayer II found in the Roman Missal it reads:

“gratias agentes quia nos dignos habuisti astare coram te et tibi ministrare”

Or translated into English:

“counting us worthy to stand in front of you, giving thanks, and to minister to you”

Coincidentally, The Apostolic Tradition contains, what many attribute as, the foundation of Eucharistic Prayer II. Burton Easton’s 1934 translation of “The Apostolic Tradition” from Sahidic Coptic texts, translated this phrase about standing in God’s presence as:

“because thou hast counted us worthy to stand before thee and to minister to thee”

Clearly, Liturgiam Authenticam’s requirement for an integral and exact translation was ignored when it did not fit the desire of the traditionalist, conservative minded, translators.

Now that I have demonstrated that an integral and exact translation was not always promulgated, I will reflect on the two specific points and I will add in another pet peeve, that being the use of the word “chalice”.

The language of the translation is excessively and unnecessarily stilted. “Consubstantial” …. “incarnate of Mary”. Absent an understanding of the metaphysical works of the great philosophers and theologians, these phrases lose their complete meaning.

Linking “dewfall” to the miraculous mana from heaven is probably a stretch when you read it in context of Eucharistic Prayer II which reads

“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall”.

Easton’s translation of this phrase in the Apostolic Tradition does not include any reference to “dew”.

"And we pray thee that thou wouldest send thy Holy Spirit upon the offerings of thy holy church"

Although I am not sure of origin of “dewfall” in Eucharistic Prayer II, I suspect it was the product of the effort to make the prayer more lavish rather than being a faithful translation.

The Latin version of this phrase in the Roman Missal is:

"Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spíritus tui rore sanctífica,"

The English translation:

"And these are the gifts of God, we beseech Thee, the Spirit come upon Thee"

Assuming that we keep it in Eucharistic Prayer II, despite it not being in the Latin version, it would be easier to understand if we used phrases that were more natural to our ear. For example “Make holy these gifts we pray, by sending down your Spirit like the gentle morning dew” an analogy we can more easily understand and relate to is better than “dewfall”.

Perhaps St. Augustine had our current Roman Missal in mind when he wrote,

“Therefore, there can be superstition by reason of excess even in the worship of God.”

The use of “the many” and literal translation of the Latin phrase “pro multis” in all of the Eucharistic Prayers should be reconsidered in line with the thoughts of Pope Francis expressed in an address to a gathering of representatives of more than 220 dioceses of the Italian Catholic churches, meeting in Florence in November 2015.

Pope Francis’ comments to the bishops included,

“Don’t be preachers of complex doctrine, but announcers of Jesus Christ, who died and resurrected for us.”

Pope Francis unequivocally stated,

“the Lord shed his blood not for some, nor for a few, nor for many, but for all.”

Coincidentally, regarding “for all”, in November 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, in a letter to “To their Eminences /Excellencies, Presidents of the National Episcopal Conferences” wrote:

There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to "for all", as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared (cf. Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Declaratio de sensu tribuendo adprobationi versionum formularum sacramentalium, 25 Ianuarii 1974, AAS 66 [1974], 661). Indeed, the formula "for all" would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord's intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5,14-15; Titus 2,11; 1 John 2,2).”

Should not our Eucharistic prayer reflect the reality of Christ life and blood being poured out for us all in favor of a translation that inadequately expresses this reality? Lex orandi, lex credende after all.

Chalice? Although in Latin, perhaps in Roman times, calix might have been a phrase that could be equated to a container that the itinerant band following Jesus might have carried with them or had available to them at the Last Supper. However, in today’s language it means something much different. It is easier to believe that the container Jesus passed to those at the last supper was, what we would call, a cup. To call it a chalice imparts a holiness to a vessel that contained the miraculous gift, the blood of Christ which remained disguised behind the philosophical accident of its appearance as common wine.
In the Eucharistic Prayers, we make the container more outwardly holy than Christ made his presence in the transubstantiated presence in the wine.

Perhaps we should eliminate all references to the container (just as there is no reference to the ciborium or basket containing the bread) and rewrite the words of consecration of the wine to read “Take this, all of you, and drink it, for this is my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me”.

Elia Cuomo
1 month ago

I have refused to participate in the changes and have continued to pray the same words that we used prior to 2011, including “for all,” “cup” “Happy are those....” and the response,”And with you also” which I say very loudly.

RONALD ROBERTS
1 month ago

Great minds think alike, I hear

Vince Killoran
1 month ago

Hear, hear!

Vince Killoran
1 month ago

Hear, hear!

Michael Caggiano
1 month ago

Elia, are you also someone who would scoff at a (generally youthful) person who chooses to kneel for Holy Communion because it "disrupts the unity" of the congregation? I generally hear that line of complaint from people who also retain the now-disused translation of the Mass.

Why then are those who are exercises their right to kneel and receive disruptive of unity, but those willfully choosing to ignore the very words of the liturgy by which we express our unity are "in the right"?

I'm sure you say it very loudly, and you are likely quite proud of yourself, too.

Charles McDermott
1 month ago

This is the best study of the words used in the liturgy that I have read in a long time. Thank you. My problem with the present Missal is the structure of the sentences.

Michael Bindner
1 month ago

The 2011 responses for the people use the same language as the Mass of John XXIII. It was pushed in by superannuated altar boys in a fit of nostalgia. The English translation from the Mass of Paul VI is the only one most people know. It would be a relief to go back to it.

Remember, what Christ instituted was Challah or Matzo becoming His flesh. No priest or rabbi was necessary for this until Clement of Antioch started using Eucharist to enforce discipline. The HaMotzi blessing is ancient. Catholic families can be trusted with Eucharist as it first was. We can have priests do public ministry, but it need not be a reserved power. Of course, the downward spiral started when the Twelve thought that dealing with food distribution was below them. We have come full circle.

John Walton
1 month ago

Thanks for writing this Fr. Terry. While I consider myself fortunate to have learned the mass in Latin, I know from the little smattering of translating Cicero and Virgil in high school that the translations from Latin to English can take on many forms, with many subtleties, and much beauty! (I also count myself fortunate to have taken Greek Literature in Translation taught by Richard Doyle SJ at Fordham, one of the glories of my undergrad education!)

I recommend "The Murderous History of Bible Translations". Little is settled.

Denise Delurgio
1 month ago

Yesterday I attended the funeral Mass for an old friend of 67 years. The congregational variety included practicing Catholics, pre-2011 Catholics, pre-Vatican II Catholics and non-Catholics. The up-to-date bishop who presided mumbled the prayers, and did not indicate the sitting/standing/kneeling preferences. So, most of us were lost in what to say or do. I don't subscribe to the idea of returning to the Latin Mass because there are only a few of us left who would understand how to pray it. But, the advantages that it held were that it was the same Mass no matter where in the world you were, and always sacred. The American Mass is different from hour to hour, priest to priest, parish to parish, and sometimes far from sacred. Kathy's funeral Mass was very different for each person attending. "Let us pray," doesn't have the same meaning any longer.

John Chuchman
1 month ago

Resisting change is at the heart of the Roman Church’s demise.

John Chuchman
1 month ago

Resisting change is at the heart of the Roman Church’s demise.

Mister Mckee
1 month ago

"I refer to him entering under my roof. The latter is more biblical, more poetic. "
And let's not forget that it is much more GAY, since these words originally emanated from the mouth of a Roman Centurion who was ready to try anything to cure his dying PAIS...(traditional Greek word for gay lover. I am sure the liturgical mafia in Rome -waving their banner of Liturgicam Authenticam- who destroyed more than 20 years of work by ICEL to create the 1998 Roman Missal translation and foisted the current clunker on an unsuspecting anglophone world were more than well aware of the gay subtext to which they were alluding.
What do you think?
.https://www.gaychristian101.com/Gay-Centurion.html

James Russell
1 month ago

"Because on that first Sunday of Advent in 2011, something occurred in English-speaking Catholicism without precedent in the long history of the Roman rite. To cite “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution on the sacred liturgy, for the first time the laity experienced a full, conscious and active awareness of their language of prayer being altered."

Is this a joke? Are we to take seriously the laments of a novus ordo preist on liturgical changes? Asking for a friend

William Guglielmi
1 month ago

At the risk of being uncharitable (to which I fully confess) I find it extremely difficult to take seriously any comment written by one who lacks the intestinal fortitude to self-identify while criticizing another commenter and a priest of the Catholic Church. Hiding behind the moniker Pius X is disrespectful to those the poster is criticizing as well as disrespectful to the Pope whose name he is using.

Paul Mclaughlin
1 month ago

I the use of words and phrases that are not commonplace impairs the ability to grasp the meaning of the Mass. I think adding “the” many reflects an inclusive purpose of Christ’s birth to death.

Jose M. Castellano Hernandez
1 month ago

I say the prayers of Mass in Spanish. "por mi culpa, por mi culpa, por mi gran culpa", "Señor, no soy digno que entres en mi casa, pero una palabra tuya bastara para sanarme", etc. These haven't changed in decades. I find it odd that American bishops can't agree on how to translate very ancient prayers while Latinos (Americans say we're ignorant and backwards) have prayed quietly and reverently the same ancient prayers without any interruptions since Vatican II.

I attended Tridentine Masses for years in Florida and frankly those in attendance haven't a clue what they are doing. They can not agree as a body when to sit, kneel, stand, look up or around, their's is a confused stance which is understandable considering the priest mumbles when he faces the people only to return to give us his back to pray words few in the pews can follows in their Latin-English hymnals. After the Tridentine Mass, the traditionalists gather for coffee in the basement of the church and what comes out of their mouths as to gossip, slander, pride and so forth would never give an atheist reason to believe in anything they pray....their actions are blinding and deafening. It would be nice if traditionalists out-do liberals in doing good works for immigrants, the poor, the homeless, children without fathers (which is most kids today), and feeding the poor. It's always the liberal social justice types most of who have no faith in God that do these corporal works of mercy

If you don't know what you are praying and your actions are missing, then don't be surprised people don't believe your "confessed" faith.

Santa Maria, Madre de Dios, ore por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amen.

Charles McDermott
1 month ago

Perhaps this is true because the basic sentence structure of Spanish is Latin.

Jake Neu
1 month ago

Fr Terry, I have to say that you raise many great points, and this is a really good, thought-provoking piece, and many of these reasons are why I've given up on the English translations and prefer to attend an Extraordinary Form Mass or Ordinary Form Mass in Latin whenever and wherever the opportunity is offered.

John Halloran
1 month ago

I wonder about something. In the early part of the article, a comment, more like the basis of thought for much of the article, states that the English speaking world had never experienced their Prayer being changed... And yet, so many agonized with the change to the vernacular. And those of us who are old enough to remember, can point to the fact that we pretty much used these current translations of the people's responses until the 1970 Sacramentary was promulgated. So we have changed our prayer, our way of praying.

But while that 1997 Missal was/is much more prayerful, there is another reason to consider a return to those responses: Ecumenical relationship with other Christian traditions. They changed to match us! Go to any Anglican/Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. Church and hear "and also with you." Listen as they pray a Creed that was shared by all Christians.

I personally think that these changes were not so much about "more Sacred language needed" or a "direct translation" of the Latin text, but a fear that we might actually begin coming together as one, holy, Catholic, church... And today's "apostles" might lose their seats at the Table in the process.

Charles McDermott
1 month ago

One of the reasons why the liturgy was changed to the vernacular was because we pray best in our own language. The Pseudo-English of the present translation would have horrified Sister Gilbert OP, who drummed proper English into the heads of her students. There are many of the orations that I rearrange in order to make them have some level of understanding for me, but especially the congregation. “Oh, Lords” and “ we prays” plopped into the middle of a sentence, often dividing phrases are particularly confusing. Using word orders as found in the Latin are not the way we speak in English. Much of our vocabulary comes from Latin roots, but our structure has other bases. The present translation was forced on us by who knows who, after an apparently satisfactory one was offered by those who knew their own language. I think that Father’s argument is weak at best. We should seek the very finest in our prayer.

Boreta Singleton
1 month ago

I struggle with the fact that the US Bishops could have refused this new translation and asked the Vatican to work in a more collaborative fashion on making both the responses and the prayers in the true vernacular of the United States. I did not appreciate the fact that the new translation was forced on us. As Father points out in his article, committees have challenges but the imput of the right people on a committee can truly make good and productive change. The responses of the congregation are one area that needs consideration as well as the presidential prayers. These prayers are almost incomprehensible in their awkward construction. I have heard the most polished presider trip over the frequently run-on sentences. I would hope that the US Bishops would have the courage to enter into dialogue with their parishioners through consultation about the Roman Missal's non-inclusive prayers and responses. This is a case where our Bishops could , as Pope Francis urges them, "have the smell of their sheep" regarding our liturgical practice.

Michaelangelo Allocca
4 weeks 1 day ago

Amen, Boreta. I also struggle with the fact that the true, overriding intention of the version forced on us is clericalism, pure and simple. Why else would EVERY "we/us/our" be eliminated from the text, obliterating any hint that the presider and the congregation are together in offering the Mass, as opposed to the priest way up there in God's lap, and us lay peons watching passively from a distance? [Favorite example: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable ..." -- HOW is that an improvement on "OUR sacrifice," which in idiomatic English is identical to "mine + yours"?] Plus, the blatant lie that a more literal/accurate English version was the principal goal is utterly exploded by "... when supper was ended, he took the CHALICE" -- the Greek (as found in the Gospels) and the Latin both use the ordinary word for a cup that you drink out of at a meal, which is NOT what "chalice" means in English. It does make it seem more like Msgr. Jesus was wearing vestments at the Last Supper, though.

Martin Berg
1 month ago

Fr. Klein, thanks for this (and thanks, Chris Lane, for your wonderful and witty response). I nearly left the Church after the 2011 Latinized English version of Pope Benedict came out, because it shouted out to all English-speaking peoples the contempt, disrespect and hubris that the Curia has for us. Things are better now under Pope Francis, but the damage has been done. I could go along with a reversion to the pre-2011 text, but otherwise I think Fr. Klein has a point that the disruption might not be worth the improvement in the language of the liturgy. Nevertheless, I certainly would applaud a consubstantial-ectomy in the Creed...

Carl Kuss
4 weeks 1 day ago

I remember when Fr. Z's Blog was called What the Prayer really Said, and dedicated to the thesis that the ICEL's translations were not faithful enough, not respecting the Latin original. Good point! And then there was the most famous instance of this, the question of pro multis, which in the circle in which I was raised was seen as not only a question about the quality of translations but a question about the form of the Eucharist and the validity of masses. By study and prayer I came to the conclusion that validity was NOT in question there. But that does not mean that loose translations are always good translations. The question is more difficult than that. Translation of a Christian liturgical text always involves an inculturation. The letter has its importance, but one must never forget that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life. A systematic option for archaic latinate language does not seem to be in accord with the liturgical reform. This is not a question of ideology but of fidelity to a gift given to the Church, and that gift is the liturgical reform, inspired by the Holy Spirit. I work as a priest in Quintana Roo in the Zona Maya and I feel that the ordinary people here have a good liturgical sense and even in the hymns that they sing, sometimes with technical difficulties, the Spirit is present. The Culture War has not clouded things and I think that the Spirit of the Council has taken root. But one should never simply be complacent in these things. When celebrating mass one is not bound to look for novelty but one is bound to do what the Church wants and what God wants. A rejection of the Second Vatican Council (smuggled in under the phrase reform of the reform) is therefore not a good starting point. As for Father Z, I think it is fine to show zeal for what the prayer really said, though I wish that he would show more interest in what the Holy Father really said. (Amoris Laetitia does not approve adultery and is not ambiguous about the issue of adultery. What is does is to insist on a genuinely pastoral way of treating people in situations of fragility.) We must have nothing to do with lies. Translations should be truthful. Jesus told us the truth. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.

William Guglielmi
4 weeks ago

I completely agree Father. One question has always fascinated me. How faithful is the 1962 translation to original Greek in which the Mass was originally conducted? My Latin knowledge is poor but my knowledge of Greek other than the alphabet (I was in a college fraternity) is nonexistent. Where does one go to find out this information?

RONALD ROBERTS
4 weeks ago

Perhaps this might help. http://www.rore-sanctifica.org/bibilotheque_rore_sanctifica/12-pretendue_tradition_apostolique_d_hippolyte/1934-burton_scott_easton-tradition_apostolique_d_hippolyte/Burton_Scott_Easton_-_The_Apostolic_Tradition_of_Hippolytus_(1934).pdf

William Guglielmi
3 weeks 6 days ago

Thank you

Jonathan Lee Ching
3 weeks 3 days ago

It is quite a pity to see in the comments good Catholics who are praise disobedience to those in authority. Liturgy is not about us, nor our likes. I can honestly say that I have not come across an English translation in the Latin Rite which I personally thought good. The old Novus Ordo translation was much simpler and flowed better for sure, but there was one truly unignorable drawback - theology. Many of the prayers were destroyed and much theological richness was lost.

The current translation IMO feels clunky due to its Latin style which does not work very well in English. I wish that we had followed the 1964 version a little more closely or the Anglicans, they certainly have a way with ritual texts in all honesty. Another group to keep in mind is the Western Orthodox. I am not fond of how they set their music, nor of the interesting additions to the Roman Liturgy, but each to their own I suppose. We can find goodness and inspiration practically anywhere.

If you ever have a moment to listen to the translation of the Tridentine Liturgy that St Clement's Philidelphia has done, that would be (honestly) ideal. A good translation and a Rite that is linked to the past and not the creation of a committee.

But that is just my 5c.

Philip Fillion
2 weeks 4 days ago

(I speak as one who is married to a Latin teacher, who never ceases to be amazed at just how bad the 1970 translation was:)

I’d like to point out that the 1970 translation was not the first English Roman Catholic liturgy. It replaced the provisional translations of 1965 and 1967, which are in fact almost identical to what we have today.

The butchering of the texts in 1970 caused the complete omission of many of the ideas in the Latin text, giving a broad summary of the main point of the Latin, but wiping out the themes of the original. If one compares the Latin and the English side by side, one notes that the ‘65/‘11 translations are substantially longer than the Latin paragraphs, since they have actually managed to fully unpack each phrase; the ‘70 translation is always shorter than the Latin.

There is no one to blame for the current disorder and bad feelings but the 1970 translators, who abandoned the already-workable and accurate interim translations and struck out in a new and creative direction, depriving the People of God from being formed by the full text of the rites they were celebrating, and causing consternation when it was eventually replaced by something that actually replicates (pace “dewfall” in EP2) what it is translating.

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