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Donald W. TrautmanMay 21, 2007

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) proposes the following translated text:

Accept, O Lord, these gifts,
and by your power change them
into the sacrament of salvation,
in which the prefiguring sacrifices of the Fathers have an end
and the true Lamb is offered,
he who was born ineffably of the inviolate Virgin.
—Prayer over the gifts,
Season of Advent


Can We Participate?

The above citation is a proclaimed prayer. What will the person in the pew hear and comprehend? Will the words “prefiguring sacrifices of the Fathers” and “born ineffably of the inviolate Virgin,” for example, resonate with John and Mary Catholic? Is this prayer intelligible, proclaimable, reflective of a vocabulary and linguistic style from the contemporary mainstream of U.S. Catholics? Is the liturgical language accessible to the average Catholic and our youth? Does this translated text lead to full, conscious and active participation? I think not.

This prayer is not an isolated example. While the latest ICEL translations for the proper of the saints and the commons are improved, we still encounter the following: “O God, who suffused blessed John with the spirit of mercy” (Collect for March 8) and “Cyril, an unvanquished champion of the divine motherhood” (Collect for June 27) and odd expressions like “What you have charged us to believe will taste sweet to the heart” (Collect for April 21). Does the heart “taste?”

The Right Language

All liturgy is pastoral. If translated texts are to be the authentic prayer of the people, they must be owned by the people and expressed in the contemporary language of their culture. To what extent are the new prayers of the Missal truly pastoral? Do these new texts communicate in the living language of the worshiping assembly? How will John and Mary Catholic relate to the new words of the Creed: “consubstantial to the Father” and “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”? Will they understand these words from the various new Collects: “sullied,” “unfeigned,” “ineffable,” “gibbet,” “wrought,” “thwart”? Will the assembly understand the fourth paragraph of the Blessing of Baptismal Water, which has 56 words (in 11 lines) in one sentence? In the preface of the chrism Mass, one sentence runs on for 10 lines. How pastoral are the new collects, when they all consist of a single sentence, containing a jumble of subordinate clauses and commas?

Will the priest and people understand the words of Eucharistic Prayer 2: “Make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit”? This translation was among the top 10 texts that the U.S. bishops in their consultation considered most problematic, but still ICEL did not change it.

In the new missal you will hear awkward phrases like “We pray you bid.” This is not American English. Ponder these concrete examples and judge for yourself.

What happened to the liturgical principles of the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”? The council fathers of Vatican II stated: “Texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively and as it befits a community” (No. 21). Note the words “with ease.” This is the norm, the expressed wish in the constitution. This is a prerequisite that calls not just for the accuracy of translated texts but for the easy understanding of those texts.

The council fathers of Vatican II had a pastoral sense and focused on John and Mary Catholic. Why have the new translations become so problematic, so non-pastoral? What is the basic difficulty?

Consult and Communicate!

The drafting of principles and norms of translation for vernacular languages should have involved the broadest consultation of episcopal conferences as well as liturgical and biblical scholars. But the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in 2001 issued a 36-page instruction on liturgical translation without collegial or collaborative effort. The cardinal and bishop members of the congregation were not consulted by mail or in a plenary session. The Pontifical Biblical Commission was not formally consulted. The episcopal conferences were not consulted.

When the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam (On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy) was issued in 2001, the executive board of the Catholic Biblical Association stated that the document “contains provisions detrimental to solid biblical scholarship…and advocates policies that make it difficult to produce good vernacular translations.” Those were prophetic words that have now been verified. Did anyone listen?

Liturgiam Authenticam rightly stresses fidelity and exactness in rendering liturgical and biblical texts into the vernacular. For the authors of Liturgiam Authenticam, however, that means “as literal as possible.” That was not the mind of St. Jerome, the greatest Doctor of the Sacred Scriptures. Jerome was a precise translator but not a literalist. He himself said, “If I translate word by word, it sounds absurd.”

Liturgical translations must communicate. If liturgical language is divorced from the reality of culture, communication is impossible.

What is missing in the present moment, unfortunately, is the voice of liturgical scholars and the voice of the laity, the assembly. I was dismayed when I recently learned that our liturgists—professionals with degrees and experience, teaching at our academic institutions—did not have access to the work of ICEL. No wonder there has been such limited public scrutiny of these translated texts. Some bishops have consulted individual liturgical experts, but the learned societies of liturgists have been excluded. It would be pastorally prudent and so beneficial to translated texts destined for the worshiping assembly if the laity were involved in the preliminary process for judging the ICEL texts. The proposed translated liturgical prayers, for example, could be proclaimed to lay groups to elicit their initial reactions: What did they hear; what did they understand; did these texts lift their minds and hearts to God? Such input would be helpful to translators in perfecting the proclaimability of texts.

If the language of the liturgy is inaccessible, how can liturgy catechize and convey the reality of the living, risen Son of God in the Eucharist? If the language of the liturgy is a stumbling block to intelligibility and proclaimability, then the principle lex orandi, lex credendi is severely compromised. If the language of the liturgy does not communicate, how can people fall in love with the greatest gift of God, the Eucharist?

Church of God, judge for yourselves. Speak up, speak up!

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17 years 1 month ago
Were I an Anglican, I might want to hang on to Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer because of the beauty of the language, even though some of it rings strangely on the modern ear, and may even be incomprehensible. But what excuse do we have for these new ICEL translations? Are they supposed to be more faithful to the Latin? Is that the reason for them?

If so, for my part, I hope that the ICEL contains some Latinists accomplished enough to realize that in the Nicene Creed, the phrase "et propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem" should not be translated, as it all too commonly is, "for us men and for our salvation," but simply "for us and our salvation." A real Latinist (which I am obviously not) might point out that "for us men" would be a translation of "propter nos viros." I think I've got the grammar right, though it's been some years since I tangled with the language. It's been even longer since I tangled with the Greek, but there too, the word used in the Creed is "anthrópos" -- human being -- and not "andros," -- man.

Bishop Trautman urges us to speak up against the infelicities (absurdities?) which he finds so common in the new ICEL translations. But to whom do we speak? And, more important, among those to whom we might speak, are there any who will do us the courtesy of listening?

17 years 1 month ago
Bishop Trautman says "Speak up!" With the near complete absence of collegial consultation channels for the laity, how and where and to whom does an American Catholic speak up in any effective way?

17 years 1 month ago
I am in total agreement that the new Mass translations (May 21 Issue) do not speak to the people in the pew. I find them annoying and intelligible. I have been reading and reflecting on the daily mass readings for the past twenty-five years. In 2005, I used the book Reading God's Word, Daily Mass Readings for my reflection. The text was ICEL. I would get so distracted by the run-on sentences and introduction of words I've never heard before. I thought to myself, "Who is writing this text?" Sometimes I would get out my 1970 New American Bible and compare the texts, trying to figure out what the ICEL version was saying. To me it ruins the flow of God's word. I gave up on the book and returned to reading the daily texts in my bible. Did the translators read out loud what they were writing; those run-on sentences of 40 plus words? I have never seen such poor writing. I'm saddened that no input was requested of our our bishops when this process was going on. One size does not fit all.

Jean Christiansen Sun City West,AZ

17 years 1 month ago
While one cannot help but appreciate Bishop Trautman's analysis and his leadership in what can best be described as "this translation mess," I find his concluding encouragement perplexing.

It seems far too late in the game for the "Church of God" to offer a constructive judgment. And how -- or to whom -- are any of us -- lay and clergy alike -- supposed to "speak up"?

The most cynical or despairing might suggest that God's people are already beginning to "speak up" to the too-often sorry state of Lord's Day worship. Maybe they are speaking up by walking out, or not showing up at all.

And convoluted, indecipherable language will only exacerbate that unfortunate trend.

17 years 1 month ago
What are they thinking? Or are they? As a Director of Religious Education I already have difficulty trying to convince children and their parents to come to Mass on Sundays. If once they are there they can't even understand what is said they will not be convinced that this is where they belong. We are already losing so many to other Churches and to TV evangelists like Joel Olstein who speak in a language they can understand. When will our leaders become more pastoral? I am very saddened by it all.

17 years 1 month ago
Please, to whom should I speak up? I agree fully; the translations could possibly drive the flock in the USA even farther away. Maybe we could just pray our rosaries again while they speak another language at the alter? I pity the presiders.

17 years 1 month ago
Bishop Trautman usefully highlights some of the challenges facing translators of the Roman Missal. The text he discusses, the Prayer over the Gifts for Masses of the Blessed Virgin during Advent, is one of the most difficult in the Missal, and caused ICEL’s translators to wrestle long and hard. They will be glad of any further help that may be forthcoming.

The difficulty arises in part from the prayer’s allusions to two doctrines that were better understood in patristic times than today. Not only its language, but also its thinking, is remote from what Bishop Trautman calls ‘the contemporary mainstream of U.S. Catholics’.

The first doctrine is that the sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigured and were brought to an end by the sacrifice of Christ. The Church’s redefinition of her attitude to Judaism at Vatican II has made Catholics hesitant to speak of the New Testament as superseding the Old, but without some notion of the bond between the Testaments it would make no sense to read the Hebrew scriptures at the Christian liturgy at all. The translators have found no word better for expressing the concept in question than the traditional one, ‘prefiguring’.

The second is the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, which means not only that she abstained from intercourse, but that she remained physically intact as she gave birth. How this happened is a mystery. Some of the Fathers said that Christ passed from her body ‘like a light through glass’. Our text uses the word ineffabiliter. ‘Unspeakably’ does not seem to be a good translation. Nor do ‘inexplicably’ ,‘indescribably’ ‘inconceivably’ or ‘incomprehensibly’, all words whose connotations would not fit the context. So the translators chose, here and elsewhere, to press into service an English word that, though rare, is not difficult to explain: ‘ineffably’.

‘Inviolate’ is aurally ambiguous, since it can be heard as ‘in violet’. The translators wished to avoid it, and looked around for an alternative term to use in this sensitive area of discourse. They felt that many would find ‘intact’ too directly physical or medical. Other terms that were proposed could be heard as indelicate. In the end, ‘inviolate’ was the best they could do.

Though the theology of this prayer is ancient, its text is not. It was not even in the Missals of 1970 or 1975, but first appeared in the 2002 Edition. It may have been written as late as 1987. Translators find recently composed prayers among the most difficult of all because, in eagerness to hand on the Church’s tradition or to incorporate the insights of Vatican II, modern authors sometimes cram too many ideas into too small a space. But their compositions are in the Missal and they must be translated.

Bishop Trautman ends with a call that ICEL can readily echo: ‘Speak up!’. Anybody who can offer a better version of this difficult text is most welcome to send it to the ICEL Secretariat for consideration by the Bishops of the Commission when they meet in July. It is healthy for critics of any translation to ask themselves not only ‘Do I like this version?’ but also ‘Can I do better?’.

17 years 1 month ago
Bishop Donald Trautman is not only a liturgical expert but as Chairman of the US Bishops Committee on Liturgy, his comments should carry considerable weight.

It is tragic that his voice has not been heard, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. It is even sadder that they have not consulted with those who could have given good advice.

When Bishop Trautman tells the church of God to speak up, he is right to do so. But if they will not listen to him, whom will they listen to? As a priest who is charged with conducting the liturgy, and ensuring participation of the people, I would be tempted to retranslate the words. But that is also forbidden, and I am sure a punishable offence.

As bishop Trautman states so clearly, "If the language of the Liturgy does not communicate, how can people fall in love with the greatest gift of God, the Eucharist?" It is not only the people who want to be there who will be compromised, but it is also those they struggle to bring - their children, who will have logic behind them when they say, "It's boring!"

17 years 1 month ago
Bishop Trautman's article (5/21)on the new Mass translations was very sobering. I feel that if they are accepted they will not be understood by a majority of Catholics. This will lead to a wider gulf between the Bishops and the lay people. However the greatest tragedy will be the loss of that simple and basic message: Jesus has come for all of us, He has died and is risen. The Pentecost prayer of the Eastern Church brings to mind the need to keep the message intelligible. "Blessed are you, O Christ our God, for by the sending of your Holy Spirit you made wise men out of fishermen and through them you caught all the world." The message preached at Pentecost was understood by all. O'Holy Spirit come to our assistance.

17 years 1 month ago
My thanks to Bishop Trautman for having the courage to speak up regarding the proposed ICEL translation of texts for the Liturgy.

Long ago I learned that Latin is "a dead language." And so is a literal translation of it. When Jesus spoke to the people of his day, he used the language and the imagery that people could understand. He never claimed to be "consubstantial" with the Father.

If this translation is finally approved, perhaps Pope Benedict will be kind enough to allow us to continue the celebrate the Eucharist using the Missal of Pope Paul VI, since he seems willing to allow others to continue to celebrate the Mass in Latin. What a circus this is!

17 years 1 month ago
Someone is going to have to convince Pope Benedict to get rid of the imbeciles in the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and in the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. Is Bishop Trautman the only one with guts in the American episcopate?

17 years 1 month ago
Bishop Donald W. Trautman in his article on "How Accessible Are the New Mass Translations? (May 21, 2007) asks us to judge for ourselves the new Mass translations. He tells us to "speak up" about them. To whom does he wantus to speak up to? The ICEL? If they won't listen to the American Bishops, would they listen to us, the laity? My hope and prayer is that the American Bishops will do everything in their power to urge the ICEL to permit the translations for the Mass used for American-English speaking people to come from the American people themselves and not from those who come from countries whose words have completely different meanings. As a daily Mass participant, I don't read the Eucharistic prayers, I listen to them. With the translations that were cited, I'd have to wear ear plugs.

17 years ago
Bishop Trautman is to be commended for his frank and courageous critique of the proposed ICEL Mass texts. He synthesized perfectly the problems with the new translations: slavish literalism, extended periodic sentences, and far too many archaic words. I propose a pilot program for the translations approved thus far. Perhaps one diocese in each of the ICEL countries could be selected to test the proposed texts for a year. Mistakes similar to those of the interim 1964-70 translation might perhaps be corrected. Not too many recall the “yoo-hoo” Gloria of that period—-the result of a too literal translation of “tu qui,” which has been avoided even in the new ICEL text.
Jerome Stack
17 years ago
Fr. Dalpiaz makes several questionable assertions in his critique of Bishop Trautman's article. Yes, the ICEL translation may not be just for Americans, but I rather doubt that other Catholics who use English in the liturgy would find the language apt for their worship. This would be especially true for those for whom English is not the first spoken language. I doubt if the
Joyce Donahue
17 years ago
In a climate in which fewer people actually come to Mass, and people in many parishes have been reluctant to make the recent changes for the posture of the faithful (such as bowing at the line in the Creed about the Incarnation, or standing up earlier in the Eucharistic Prayer) these proposed changes will just increase the perception that decisions made in Rome are totally irrelevant to the rest of us. It seems particularly counterproductive to revert to archaic language for the Mass at a time when Americans are living in a culture that is linguistically increasingly casual. Using incomprehensible phrasing to parse theological niceties will totally elude the people in the pew. Just one more example of how hard the Church works to shoot itself in the foot these days. The birth control encyclical was so out of touch with reality that it gave people permission to dissent. With these proposed changes, the Church runs a substantial risk of becoming incomprehensible and thereby irrelevant to a large segment of the Mass-going population. No, American Catholics do not need the language of kindergarten. They do, however, need the language used by today's average American adult.
Richard Warren
17 years ago
Bishop Trautman’s essay 'How Accessible Are the New Mass Translations?' (America, May 21) confirms Ionesco’s maxim, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” He succinctly illustrates the lack of pastoral content in the translation of the Latin texts. He asks, “Whatever happened to the liturgical principles of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy?” Duh! Such principles have never been the ‘guiding’ type for this Pope. It was Cardinal Ratzinger’s congregation who, for instance, enjoined pastors to promote the sacrament of Reconciliation in the form of private confession over the other two forms offered in the Sacramentary, i.e., private confession of sin followed by general absolution and blessing, and purely general absolution. But the Council said, “It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and actual participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private.” (SC 27.) So, the Council recommends the most communal form of the ritual, but the Vatican now forbids it except in extreme circumstances. So much for Council principles! Bishop Trautman gave us many questions, but few answers. Here’s some for him. Why doesn’t he stand firm for the laity of the American Church? Why doesn’t the NCCB refuse to accept the coming translation? Are the American bishops merely the Vatican’s branch managers that we suspect they are? Deacon Richard Warren 36980 Wallace Creek Road Springfield, Oregon 97478 (541) 285-0847
Robert Kribs
17 years ago
I am not a linguist, but one originally trained in mathematics, who, most definitely, does not come to the Eucharist with the mindset of a logician. Shouldn't we all come, hoping to be engulfed in awe and wonder, and somehow mysteriously transformed each time, if even in some small way, into our true and better selves? (A book review of "Meeting Mystery" in this same issue describes this alternative mindset more fully and most eloquently.) And doesn't elevated, yes even occasionally stilted, language aid in that transformation? Heaven forbid someone would declare that the "art," "hallowed," and "thy" of the Our Father are not longer "intelligible, proclaimable, (or) reflective of a vocabulary and linguistic style from the contemporary mainstream of U.S. Catholics." Maybe we should all "chill out" a little - a phrase we all understand. But PLEASE don't put it anywhere in our liturgies.
17 years ago
Please let me know to whom I should "speak up!" Give me an email or an address. Bishop Trautman says that the average person in the pew will not understand but even with graduate training in Theology, I find the examples of the new translations confusing. To say the least, if you pray with your heart at liturgy, you will have the choice of ignoring the text or jumping into your head to work out what may be meant by what you are praying.
Marilyn Regan
17 years ago
Bishop Trautman's article is totally accurate. As I, a Mary catholic, read some of the excerpts that he cited I was amazed at the lack of connection to the average Catholic sitting in the pews and hearing these words. They hardly make sense even to me and I happen to have a Master's degree from Santa Clara University (not in theology or any related subject), but nevertheless I am probably more educated than the average Catholic in the pews. I only pray that Bishop Trautman will be better supported in his efforts to bring the liturgy closer to the "People of God" as proclaimed by Vatican II. Marilyn Regan San Jose, CA
Jerome Stack
17 years ago
Bishop Trautman has written a thoughtful article which ought to be sent to all of his brother bishops in the United States. He urges the Church of God to speak up. Why did so few of our bishops speak up when they had the chance?
Elizabeth Osta
17 years ago
I was alerted to this dilemma by an 89 year old Monsignor who taught me theology and still inspires me to action. Indeed, to whom can we speak? It feels as if the Bush government has made it to Rome as well. Any ideas? Elizabeth Osta eosta@rochester.rr.com
Richard Bollman
17 years ago
News of the anticipated Mass translation saddens me whenver I read about it. I appreciate Bishop Trautman's candor, as always, and his disappointment. As a pastor I feel embarrassed that the English speaking world will be given such an uneven and starchy book for our future at worship. What am I to do, rephrase things in order to lead prayer that is understandable by the congregation? Or, I wonder, will there be petitions to local ordinaries for permission to use the Sacramentary of 1973, as many now seek to use the Tridentine Rite?
Vince DiPiazza
17 years ago
I realize I've come into this dialogue late, but after reading the article and the comments, my blood is boiling and I've got to let off some of the steam. Bishop Trautman hit it on the head-- what I should be able to expect from the liturgy is the opportunity for full, conscious, and active participation. I don't need so-called
Robert Waldrop
17 years ago
When it comes to bishops these days, it's best to have minimal expectations. There's a lot of "straining at gnats, but swallowing camels" going on out there. Consider the disastrous failure of the US bishops vis a vis the unjust wars on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Even so, I intend to write letters, or rather, one letter and send it to ICEL, the Roman congregation, the Pope, the Papal Nuncio, the Vox Clara bishops, and my own bishop. And then I will pray. Maybe we should picket St. Joseph. That was what Dorothy Day used to do about serious problems. Bob Waldrop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City www.justpeace.org also, director of music, Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Church
17 years ago
There must be a balance between clarity and art. Efforts to enhance the beauty of liturgy are to be commended, but they must be grounded in the needs of the participants. Wording that obfuscates also alienates -- the people in the pews deserve better.
Mike Jankanish
17 years ago
The objections of Bishop Trautman and his supporters are totally predictable. For 40 years every kind of liturgical nonsense has been pushed down the throat of the Church by so-called liturgical experts. Now that Rome and many others, including laity, have said enough; every delay tactic in the book is being dragged out by the former progressives. Those who bull dozed churches without hesitation now cry; "We haven't been consulted!" "Let's have a long period of education on the new translations, perhaps on an experimental basis first." Oh please; give it a rest already. Every since VII I have been told many times; "Mike, change is a part of life. You will just have to learn to deal with it." OK. Here it is Biship Trautman and fellow travelers; right back at you: Change is part of life; deal with it!! If you can't, then get out of the way.
16 years 11 months ago
If the recommendations of the Bishop, Chair of the US bishop's Committee on the Liturgy, are rejected, to whom do we speak up?
15 years 10 months ago
I think Bishop Trautman needs to stop delaying the translations that need to occur. The current mass used today is so base and dull. The translations are awful and have no poetic sense. A joke among a few friends is that the current mass sort of sounds like this: "God you are so Big, help us to be Big like you, AaaaaaMEN". I am an organist and used to play in an Episcopalian Church. The Cranmerian texts that are used in the Rite I liturgies are very beautiful, poetic, and seem to transcend time. I don't really see Anglicans complaining about not understanding texts. Are we Catholics not as smart as these people? Can Tom and Mary Catholic not take the time to pick up a dictionary and find out what a word means? Or do they not have time to ask a priest what a specific phrase means? I also think that the "people" don't have to understand everything. We humans certainly cannot grasp all of the complex beliefs of our faith. So why do we Catholics have to make everything clear, bright, intelligible, and usually screamed at us over a overly loud PA system? I think the current texts take away a sense of the mysterious and mysticism that was present in the church before Vatican II.
susan russell
13 years 11 months ago
When will the Vatican listen to the people-when will the people have their church as Christ wanted us to have it? What can we as faithful members of the church do to have our voices heard?  VOICE OF THE FAITHFUL-is that the only group "out there" to confront what is being forced on us? 

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