Academic justification for Liturgiam authenticam?

I am asked by the Pray Tell moderator if academic translation theory has changed in recent decades. Without any doubt, it has.

I am asked if the changes support greater literalism, as has been claimed in the debate over 2001 Vatican document Liturgiam authenticam. My answer is a resounding “Huh??”

I am not a Catholic scholar, and I would not dare tell the Catholic Church how to do anything, let alone translate. I am a translation scholar; I have published a survey of contemporary Western translation theories in book called Exploring Translation Theories (Routledge 2010); I am currently President of the European Society for Translation Studies; I train translators at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California; I am director of a doctoral program in Translation and Intercultural Studies in Spain; my name is on some 18 books and about 150 articles, most of them dealing with translation and intercultural studies. So I feel inclined to risk giving an opinion or two.

The one big advance in Translation Studies since about the 1970s is that we academics know that we can’t tell you what to do.

This is the result of at least three schools of thought:

  1. From the mid 1980s, theorists writing in German have claimed that how you translate depends on the purpose (what they call the Skopos) of the translation. The one text can be translated in different ways for different purposes (different audiences, but perhaps also different clients).
  2. Parallel to this, a broad movement called Descriptive Translation Studies has been gathering data on the many ways in which translators have worked throughout history and across different cultures, we now know that the range of possible strategies and social positions is so vast that few actual guidelines can be proposed.
  3. In parallel to all of this, the general mode of thought known as deconstruction consistently demonstrates that texts allow for many different readings and interpretations, so each translation is necessarily based on the translator’s own interpretation of the source text. In other words, again, you’re on your own.

All this academic work is perhaps not as useless as it sounds. The Skopos theorists, for example, are genuinely useful when they tell translators to consider the needs of clients and the particularities of target readerships. What Liturgiam authenticam means for translation into English will not be the same thing as it means for work into minor developing languages.

The descriptive scholars might also be of interest when they propose, for example, that the more historical prestige the source culture has, the more literalism will tend to be tolerated. So, if you can assume that your readership accords great prestige to Catholic culture prior to the translation process, then you might want to risk literalism. Of course, this does not help you if Catholic culture is unknown prior to the translation. As Goethe said, three translations are needed: an initial adaptation, to explain the foreign; a middling rendition, to normalize the text (hopefully to create prestige); and a literalist translation, to bring the reader into the foreign textual world.

As for deconstruction, its one useful message might be a plea for tolerance. If there are different translations, it is because the source text is itself multiple.

Does this mean that we are all reacting against Eugene Nida and his concept of dynamic equivalence, supposedly embodied in the prior doctrine of Comme le prevoit in 1969? Not at all. I think it is quite plausible to read Nida in terms of a spectrum of possible translation solutions, ranging from “dynamic equivalence” at one end (“Lamb of God” becomes “Seal of God” for Inuits) to “formal correspondence” at the other (it becomes Agnus Dei, teaching us Latin). Nida recognized that there is a time and place for everything along that range, and his great historical virtue was to open up that plurality.

That said, the concepts operative in Liturgiam authenticam might appear to find three supporters among contemporary theorists:

  1. The German theorist Ernst-August Gutt has applied relevance theory to translation. This theory posits that language just gives us “communicative clues” about intentions, and the receiver decodes those clues according to the various contexts present. When he talks about New Testament translation, Gutt does indeed argue that readers should interpret clues in terms of first-century Palestine, and not any other context. In the same way, Liturgiam authenticam insists that the only proper interpretative context is the existing Catholic liturgical culture. In both cases, the opinion is legitimate, but it in no way derives from the linguistic theory or the scholarship involved. The same theory can support the most adaptive of dynamic equivalences.
  2. The American theorist Lawrence Venuti has argued that the translator works to create a “domestic community of interest around the translated text.” This creation and extension of community sounds strangely reminiscent of what Liturgiam authenticam says about Catholic inculturation as being the aim of translation, and Venuti might be the theorist that the religious conservatives are looking for. Venuti’s politics, however, mean that he is actually talking about the heterogeneous marginalism of gay, feminist, poetic, academic, and scientific communities, huddling around cadences from abroad. There are many kinds of enculturation, and only perverse paradox could misconstrue Venuti as an ideologue in the mould of Liturgiam authenticam.
  3. The Indian theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak speaks about “enculturation” not just as the work of translation, but as a process of translation itself. This sounds quite similar to the term “inculturation” as it appears in Liturgiam authenticam, where it represents that aim and justification of translation. In both cases, the movement is not reciprocal exchange between two equal cultures, but a becoming, a transition from one culture into the other. So is Spivak your girl? Hardly. Spivak’s whole point is that all cultures are formed by translation and are constantly in a process of becoming. From infancy to adulthood, we move through a succession of cultures, always through translation, and none is permanent – not even the Catholic Church.

So, have translation theorists moved beyond prescriptions of dynamic equivalence? Most definitely. Have they moved back to prescriptions of literalism? In some cases yes, but in most cases no, since there is little evidence of any kind of historical pendulum involved. And can contemporary academic theorists give support to the conservatism of Liturgiam authenticam? – Huh?


Translation scholar Anthony Pym is President of the European Society for Translation Studies. He trains translators at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and is director of a doctoral program in Translation and Intercultural Studies in Spain. He has authored some 18 books and 150 articles.


Gutt, Erst-August. 1991/2000. Translation and Relevance. Cognition and Context, 2nd ed. Manchester: St Jerome.

Pym, Anthony. 2009. “All things to all people. On Nida and involvement,” in Rodica Dimitriu and Miriam Shlesinger (eds) Translators and Their Readers. In Homage to Eugene A. Nida. Brussels: Les Editions du Hazard.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorti. 2007. “Translation as culture,” in P. St-Pierre and P. C. Kar (eds.) In Translation – Reflections, Refractions, Transformations, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins, 263–276.

Venuti, Lawrence. 2004. “Translation, community, utopia,” in The Translation Studies Reader, second edition, London and New York: Routledge, 468-488.


44 responses to “Academic justification for Liturgiam authenticam?

  1. John Halloran Avatar
    John Halloran

    I think a lot of us will be scratching our heads and asking “Huh?” come November 27, 2011…

    1. Don Johnson Avatar
      Don Johnson

      Oh, snap.

  2. Philip Endean SJ Avatar
    Philip Endean SJ

    This is splendid as a debunking of some of the rationales we are being given (eg in the letter from the E and W bishops). Could it be that people aren’t seeing it and commenting precisely because it’s a featured post?

  3. Julia Smucker Avatar
    Julia Smucker

    What in the world does going “beyond” dynamic equivalance mean? Admittedly, I have only a relatively basic level of linguistics training, but I can’t imagine anything other than meaning-based translation making sense as a basic translation principle. The problem with LA is that it entails a dogmatic rejection not only of just such a common-sense principle, but of any willingness to consider the expertise of anyone who would know better.

  4. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    I am struck by the repeated use of the word “foreign”: “explain the foreign”… “bring the reader into the foreign textual world”. It drives home the whole concept of the Missal needing to be, not directly in the language we speak, but in a translation from another language. The prayer of the Mass in Latin is a foreign text written in a foreign language and embedded in a foreign culture. God is far from us, and the encounter with God at Mass is like a trip to a foreign land.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      Do we need to treat the Scriptures the same way?

      Is it a question of being a translation from another language so much as it is a translation of a text from another time and culture? Certainly English prayers from 1800 would feel “foreign” too…

      More generally speaking, isn’t a sense of the other-worldly (and of the heavenly) a good thing at Mass? Is it a surprise that our participation on earth in the liturgy of heaven does make us feel somewhat “out of place”?

      I don’t necessarily see this sense of the “foreign” as a bad thing. What’s wrong with “furners”, anyway?

      On the flip side of this, I’m reminded that our commonwealth is actually in heaven, and that we have here no lasting city. Would that we might grow more and more comfortable with the “foreign” feel of our Christian experience!

      1. Claire Mathieu Avatar
        Claire Mathieu

        I agree, but isn’t it strange to identify foreign as in Latin, and foreign as in other-worldly? I don’t believe God has a preference for Latin.

      2. Tom Poelker Avatar

        Yes, JP, exactly, “from another time and culture” is the problem with the Roman Canon in general and LA in particular. They each tend to lock into place a 450 year old cultural expression of Christianity.

        A sense of the other-worldly/heavenly is not a good thing at Mass.
        Those things are a form of meditative prayer while liturgy is communal and participative prayer, very different categories.

        On PTB we continually encounter the problem of those who want to import into the parish Sunday Mass some form of prayer which they particularly appreciate. It might be sung prayer or spontaneous prayer or foretaste of heaven prayer. Basically, none of these are liturgical prayer.

        Because we humans do not know the nature of heaven, all our attempts to show the other worldly are cultural projections. The Mass in particular is not for projecting human values onto heaven but for Christians to receive from God nourishment and communal support. Adding other objectives confuses the entire flow of the communal reception of the Scriptures and mutual sharing in the enfleshed part of the Body of Jesus in order to be strengthened for living the Christian life.

      3. Chris McConnell Avatar
        Chris McConnell

        “A sense of the other-worldly/heavenly is not a good thing at Mass.
        Those things are a form of meditative prayer while liturgy is communal and participative prayer, very different categories.”

        I’m not sure about your identification of these pairs of opposites, Tom. Besides separating out oppositions that should probably be integrated, it seems to assume that the pairs between each other like this:

        otherworld – this world
        meditative – participatory
        individual – communal

        I’m really not sure that either column lines up. They can cross over with each other quite easily, ISTM, although that’s not to say that they are all equally “liturgical.”

        And the assertion that neither “sung prayer” nor “foretaste-of-heaven prayer” is “liturgical prayer” seems completely unsupportable if your definition of “liturgical prayer” begins with actual liturgical data.

      4. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        Tom, I disagree strongly with you that the other-worldly/heavenly is not a good thing at Mass. I see the heavenly aspect emphasized in the texts of the Mass themselves (e.g. the Gloria, the Preface, and the Sanctus). Sac. Conc. describes our participation in the liturgy here as participation in the heavenly liturgy:

        2. […] It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek. […]

        8. In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.

        How can I ignore that? How can that — and my awareness of that — be a bad thing, an unwelcome intrusion into my liturgical participation?

      5. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar


        Tom, as far as perceptions of heaven…

        We can know that the Holy Spirit deemed it suitable that St. John should see glimpses of the heavenly liturgy and record them for us (I have the Betamax at home). I don’t think it is absurd to say that some “cultural projections” have God’s lamb (or seal, if you’re Inuit) of approval because God chose to act in those cultures in the particular way He did. We still use oil and bread and wine (mixed with water), staples of the culture in which God formed a people and took human form. These things have been “canonized”, no?

  5. Tom Poelker Avatar

    What my respondents are missing is that these other-worldly/heavenly and meditative elements are accompaniments not central to liturgy.

    The particularly royal ways of picturing heaven, the particularly human luxurious ways of looking at heaven happen to occur in the liturgy but they are not the point or the things to emphasize.

    The Mass is about sharing Scripture and being in communion with each other in our communion with Jesus. It is about nourishment for Christian living. There will always be other accoutrements according to the particular human culture in which the liturgy is celebrated. Those are merely accoutrements, not of the essence. You are missing the point in arguing that they are regularly present as accoutrements. That focuses on the manner of presentation rather than the essential elements.

    That is exactly why the Pian Missal needed reform after 1100 hundred years of history and 400 hundred years of stasis. What were originally cultural expressions accompanying the sharing of Scripture and of the Eucharistic meal had become more prominent than the essentials.

    The Medieval and Imperial Roman cultural horses are long dead; please stop beating on them because they have no life and no longer move. They have some historic beauty and theological validity, but they will not do for transporting people from other cultures.

    1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      The Medieval and Imperial Roman cultural horses are long dead; please stop beating on them because they have no life and no longer move.

      But lots of people say these things do still move them. Are they lying?

      They have some historic beauty and theological validity, but they will not do for transporting people from other cultures.

      Have you seen this?

      1. Bill deHaas Avatar
        Bill deHaas

        Saw your list – your point is what? Am very familiar with the StL location. A church, probably larger than the archdiocesan cathedral, that exists in the midst of a very poor inner city area of St. Louis. The residents are impacted by a failed school system; lack of employment opportunities; adequate affordable housing; transportation challenges; etc. Some in the archdiocese have tried to fulfill and live the church’s mission to reach out to the marginalized in this area through supporting catholic childcare organizations, catholic elementary schools, nearby St. Vincent’s daily outreach to street people; Hosea House’s attempts to educate and find employment for the residents, etc. Wonder what kind and amount of financial resources are poured into this church to do what – defend an unreformed liturgy. What does this really have to do with the heart/soul of eucharist which nourishes us and sends us on a gospel mission? In places such as Africa, what kind of confusion is being set up by this “order”?

        To use your example, we now have a “religious order” whose purpose is to support a papal document that started as an “indult” by a prior pope. Would venture to say that this may be one of the rare times in church history in which a religious community was established to support a liturgical rite that was declared “illegal” by an ecumenical council (despite whatever two popes try to twist and justify) which had been the tradition of the church. (see the other recent post on the “abrogation of the Paul Missal”).

      2. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        your point is what?

        First, that it is not the case contra your assertion that these “Medieval and Imperial Roman” cultural forms no longer move anyone. It’s simply false.

        Second, that people from non-European cultures (as demonstrated by pictures of an Institute of Christ the King mission in Africa, are also “transport[ed]” by this liturgy.

        Both of these blanket statments are false. There may be more limited claims along similar lines that are true, or at least not demonstrably false, but these are not those.

      3. Bill deHaas Avatar

        Samuel – I made neither of those claims as you seem to suggest. I have made other claims that I stand by – and citing one church in Africa is not overly convincing for me. Rather, it supports my claims that this type of movement is confusing and divisive.

        People find emotional outlet all over the place but not sure I would call a pentecostal meeting on the banks of the Waco River a catholic eucharistic community.

    2. Chris McConnell Avatar
      Chris McConnell

      As one of your respondents, Tom, I’d like to clarify that once again, my comments had nothing to do with the importation or any particular culture’s peripheral notions of “kingship.”

      OF COURSE all of this stuff is human culture. Human beings have nothing — nothing! — else to work with. The liturgy’s — indeed, the Christian faith’s — appeal to “other-worldly” or “heavenly” categories, however, derives neither from the Roman empire nor the medieval West, but from Jesus’ preaching of the reign of God, itself following in Jewish prophetic and apocalyptic traditions. In these traditions, the (yes, cultural) idea of participation in heavenly realities was intimately tied to a radical hope in a new heaven and a new earth, in which human relationship, weakened by a fallen humanity, would be set right — a profoundly “this-worldly” and practical hope.

      As the gospels would suggest, this proclamation of the reign of God is ABSOLUTELY central to Christian faith, and our liturgical participation in it is thus at the very center of what the liturgy is about. “Sharing in Scripture” and “being in communion with each other” are the “how”, and the paschal mystery and the reign of God are the “what” and the “why”.

  6. Gerard Flynn Avatar
    Gerard Flynn

    If they want to indulge in a little nostalgia let them! But don’t dress it up as Christian! And don’t foist it on the rest of us!

  7. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    This is a brief but very informative presentation of a topic, key to many PrayTell discussions.

    I hope that we might have comments that center on this post rather than a tiresome rehash of things (like the worldly-otherworldly issue) which have been expressed many times on this blog.

    Occasional side conversations are fine even interesting at times, but the same conversations by the same people get tiresome especially if you have to sift through 50 or more comments to find the few relevant.

    1. Julia Smucker Avatar
      Julia Smucker

      Now this is a relief to see! Just when I was despairing of seeing this discussion move beyond the tired old “this-worldly vs. otherworldly” dichotomy, I finally see a call for sanity. Now can we hope for a happy medium and move on?

  8. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Sorry, Jack – my post above was meant to follow your suggestion – let me add: even foremost experts on translation seem to posit that a “formal, literal” translation makes little sense; much less, that you base your complete vowed life on this “academic” way of liturgy.

  9. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    The second translator mentioned, Lawrence Venuti, writes: “Meaning is a plural and contingent relation, not an unchanging unified essence, and therefore a translation cannot be judged according to mathematics-based concepts of semantic equivalence or one-to-one equivalence.

  10. John Ainslie Avatar
    John Ainslie

    The writers of LA, if it should have ever been written, should have consulted an international panel of professional translators. Mr Pym is too polite by half!

    ICEL & Vox Clara should have had (and should now have) professional English translators and poets among its full members.

    Doesn’t the Church see the need for the highest professionalism in work that it knows is so important? But of course such professionals would include lay people, who, unlike bishops, the Roman powers-that-be cannot dictate to…

    1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
      Fr. Steve Sanchez

      “ICEL & Vox Clara should have had (and should now have) professional English translators and poets among its full members.”

      I would agree so long as they were doctrinally sound; cause after all they’re not just translating any text. The Roman Missal is the law of prayer that expreses our law of belief.

      Furthurmore, have any considered the traditional practrice of translations by Christians of their sacred texts; and why they were very careful to translate these texts, for the most part, in a formal equivalent sort of way? Because we all know that when you try to render somthing in a dynamic way – the translator risks becomeing an inturpriter instead of a translatior; and much of the beautiful illusions are lost from the text (which, I don’t know about you all, but I greatly enjoy discovering in prayer). In sacred texts I would argue that a formal equivalance should be given pride of place, with a splash of dynamism to make the text poetic and beautiful. I don’t want someone else beside the Pope to tell me how to inturprit our sacred texts.

      1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        Once again, Fr Steve, orthography, grammar and syntax do not appear to be priorities for you.

        Your theology of hermeneutics is deficient.

      2. Joe O'Leary Avatar
        Joe O’Leary

        The use of Latinized diction makes a mockery of translation into the vernacular.

        Vatican II gives the bishops, not the Pope, responsibility for the vernacular. The idea that a German speaking Pope or a spanish speaking cardinal could know best how to use English in the liturgy is mind-boggling.

        Beautiful illusions, indeed…

      3. Chris McConnell Avatar
        Chris McConnell

        Studying how liturgical texts have been translated throughout history would certainly be of some value. It would become pretty clear, however, that they wouldn’t have fit within the parameters of LA.

        Conversely, LA should perhaps have been based on something more than its drafters’ imagination.

      4. Bill deHaas Avatar

        May I ask – where were you trained? what semiary? Your comments reveal a dearth of historical understanding even about prior translations of bibles, etc.

        Very few of the “great” bibles were “formally” translated – some of the worst translated bibles were formally translated.

  11. Paul Boman Avatar
    Paul Boman

    JA, such professionals would indeed include lay people, some of whom might well be female.

  12. Stephen Beall Avatar
    Stephen Beall

    Liturgiam Authenticam makes more sense when it is read in comparison with Comme le prevoit (1969). Neither document is free from flaws. Perhaps the Vatican should not have issued ANY guidelines for translators, but I prefer to think that guidelines are fine, as long as they are prudently applied.

  13. Paul Schlachter Avatar

    I thank Professor Pym for writing this concise and thoughtful piece and the editor for posting it. It merits rereading and has given me a lot to ponder.
    I handle spoken and written translations all the time. As a lector I seek to communicate an ancient message effectively to modern listeners, never forgetting that it is ancient and timeless. When I draft a letter I try to take into account my reader’s word ambience and familiarity with our subject, avoiding mere transliterations of my English universe.
    I couldn’t agree more with Pym that “it depends.” It will take great discernment, more than I have seen from CDW. When translating an ancient liturgical prayer, it has to be done carefully because the new version will be used over many years by millions of believers. As believers we seek a sense of linkage with our forebears through a language that also speaks to our heart. Can God speak to us and we to God in any other? Of course we appropriate phrases all the time if they help the process, and there are centuries of wisdom in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but these should remain as midwives to the process and not as the expectant mother.
    From what I can tell, scripture translations from Greek to Latin were near transliterations. There were reasons for this, and apparently some disagreed at the time, but it does not mean that we succeed in handing on the apostolic faith intact by transliterating from Greek or Latin into our own vernaculars. That is not the way languages work.
    Now for a complaint. Hymn writers who merely juxtapose the same vernacular lyric one beside the other (e.g. English and Spanish) insult the modern believer who knows more about the other language than the writers can imagine. The music directors who select these infantile pieces do not know their assembly. We weave one language with another in our daily conversation. Even popes are known to do this! Learn from the many creative medieval and Renaissance settings of bilingual hymns.

  14. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    “The one big advance in Translation Studies since about the 1970s is that we academics know that we can’t tell you what to do.”

    This corresponds to my experience using BibleWorks to study scripture. When one looks at a dozen translations of a Bible verse, it might appear an easy matter to select the most accurate representation of the Greek text. However if one uses the Greek morphological search engine to locate the occurrences of key Greek words of a verse say in Mark, first in other passages in Mark (interpreting Mark in terms of Mark), then in the OT to see how hearers of the OT might have understood Mark, and finally in the NT to see how other Christian writers used the language, it is clear that one could not bring this literary-canon context into one translation.

    One could say it is the job of commentary to bring out the larger context. Indeed the Church Fathers tried to do that in spiritual exegesis (the OT in light of the NT and the NT in light of the OT) because they were all inspired by the Spirit. Their practice of writing commentaries on Biblical books may have originated at a time when books were read continuously. However the liturgy evolved to make easier the cross reference of Biblical texts with the development of the liturgical year and lectionaries. The evolution of the Office with its antiphons, and responsories also facilitated cross-reference of Scripture. In the East, the Biblical allusions of the troparia made similar connections. Avery Dulles has said that while the Liturgy is not all of Tradition it is a great part of it, and a great part of Liturgy is the re-organization and cross referencing of Scripture.

    The Word of God is a living presence in Scripture and Liturgy. The morphological search engine has convinced me that we should not limit ourselves to using one Bible translation. Much of the analysis and comments here at PrayTell lead me to conclude that we should not limit ourselves to one Missal translation.

  15. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
    Fr. Steve Sanchez

    “Once again, Fr Steve, orthography, grammar and syntax do not appear to be priorities for you.” – Gerard Flynn

    No they’re not; especially when I’m rushing through my favorite blogs and I don’t have time to put my two cents in everywhere.

    “Your theology of hermeneutics is deficient.” – Gerard Flynn

    How so?

    “The use of Latinized diction makes a mockery of translation into the vernacular.

    Vatican II gives the bishops, not the Pope, responsibility for the vernacular. The idea that a German speaking Pope or a spanish speaking cardinal could know best how to use English in the liturgy is mind-boggling.

    Beautiful illusions, indeed…” – Joe O’Leary

    Thanks for that wise crack, it made me chuckle.
    Bye the way, I didn’t say anything about “Latinized diction” in English. Don’t put words in my mouth. And Vatican II gave the bishops responsibility to do the translation (of course according to the translation norms – which have since changed); not the final authority to approve the translation for liturgical use. That is obviously reserved to the Holy See and its needed recognitio.

    ” It would become pretty clear, however, that they wouldn’t have fit within the parameters of LA.” – Chris McConnell

    I wouldn’t have expected them to since they predate the Vatican document.

    “May I ask – where were you trained? what semiary? Your comments reveal a dearth of historical understanding even about prior translations of bibles, etc.

    Very few of the “great” bibles were “formally” translated – some of the worst translated bibles were formally translated.” – Bill deHaas

    Ah Bill, thanks for letting me down gently about my “dearth” of understanding. I admit that I don’t have a list of Bibles and how they were translated; but I do know that the tendency toward dynamic equivalence seems to be a modern phenomenon. Oh wait, I just found a list that proves my point (in English at least.) The Protestant and Catholic tendency…

  16. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
    Fr. Steve Sanchez

    The Protestant and Catholic tendency was to translate its sacred texts in a more formal equivalent manner – only in the 90’s did this practice seem to change. The Roman Missal being a sacred text – I think it should follow the same historical practice.

    Bible translation
    Translators of the Bible have taken various approaches in rendering it into English, ranging from an extreme use of formal equivalence, to extreme use of dynamic equivalence.[3]
    Formal equivalence

    Relationship between some formal equivalence Bible translations
    • King James Version (1611)
    • Young’s Literal Translation (1862)
    • Revised Version (1895)
    • American Standard Version (1901)
    • Revised Standard Version (1952)
    • New American Standard Bible (1995)
    • New King James Version (1982)
    • English Standard Version (2001)
    • New Revised Standard Version (1989)
    • Douay-Rheims
    • Green’s Literal Translation (1985)
    A balance between dynamic and formal equivalence
    • New International Version
    • Today’s New International Version[4]
    • Holman Christian Standard Bible called “optimal” equivalence
    • New American Bible
    • New English Translation
    • Modern Language Bible
    Extensive use of dynamic equivalence
    • New Jerusalem Bible
    • New English Bible
    • Revised English Bible
    • Good News Bible (formerly “Today’s English Version”)
    • Complete Jewish Bible
    • New Living Translation
    • God’s Word Translation
    • The Message
    • Contemporary English Version

    The above was taken from

    1. G. Michael McGuire Avatar
      G. Michael McGuire

      Father, for this Latin text:

      Quia filios, quos longe peccati crimen abstulerat,
      per sanguinem Filii tui Spiritusque virtute,
      in unum ad te denuo congregare voluisti:
      ut plebs, de unitate Trinitatis adunata,
      in tuae laudem sapientiae multiformis
      Christi corpus templumque Spiritus nosceretur Ecclesia.

      which of these translations would you choose as being:

      1) an accurate translation of the Latin
      2) in conformity with the norms of LA and RT
      3) making proper use of English grammar and syntax

      Translation 1:
      For, when sin had scattered your children afar,
      you chose to gather them again to yourself
      through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit,
      so that a people made one from the unity of the Trinity
      might be revealed as your Church,
      the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Spirit,
      to the praise of your manifold wisdom.

      Translation 2:
      For when your children were scattered afar by sin,
      through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit
      you gathered them again to yourself,
      that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity,
      made the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit,
      might, to the praise of your manifold wisdom,
      be manifest as the Church.

      Thank you.

      1. Fr. Steve Sanchez Avatar
        Fr. Steve Sanchez

        Your question gets down to the very reason these debates can go on and on ad nausium; translation is very much an art as much as it is a science. The opinion that ultimatly matters belongs to those who make the final judgment and established the norms to begin with, i.e. the Holy See. And besides, I generaly leave this to the experts – of which I’m not. We wern’t trained in translation in seminary. But, if I had to give an opinion – and assuming this isn’t a trick question – I notice that the first translation translates more of the Latin words directly into an English equivalent. Whereas the second translation omits some words. That would make it more in conformity with LA. It also seems to flow better in English. But, as I said, my humble opinion really dosen’t matter now does it. I will simply say the black and do the red. 🙂

      2. G. Michael McGuire Avatar
        G. Michael McGuire

        Congratulations, Father! You may well be on your way to “the high hat,” since the version you chose, translation 1, is the 2008 ICEL translation approved by all the English-speaking conferences of bishops.

        As you note, it does fulfill the Holy See’s mandate, set forth in both Liturgiam authenticam and the Ratio translationis, by translating ALL of the Latin. Moreover, it is excellent English: subjects, objects, verbs, modifiers are all where they belong – for starters!

        As they are not in the clumsy translation/paraphrase which, inexplicably, is the fruit of the famed Vox Clara Commission, deputed by the poor, trusting Holy Father to ensure accuracy, fidelity, and literacy!

        Yes, of course you’re going to say the black and do the red: that’s what an obedient priest does. But I believe the Ordination Rite describes priests as coworkers with the order of bishops. And, at least in Robert Bolt’s excellent A Man for All Seasons, Saint Thomas More reminds his daughter Meg, who counsels him simply to sign the Act of Supremacy and not trifle over the details, “God made plants and animals to glorify Him in their simplicity, but man to serve him in the tangle of his wits.”

        A Commission entrusted with a supremely important mandate by the Holy Father has failed him, pure and simple – and this butchered Preface is but one example. Use your wits, Father, to compare the Latin, the approved translation, and then the hack job we’re being stuck with. And speak up: not to “foment dissent” or whatever expression is now being used by those who don’t want to be disturbed by the truth and who do want everyone to sit down and shut up. But to make known to those whose coworker you are that the Holy Father’s trust deserves to be honored and the Church’s liturgy deserves to be translated accurately, faithfully, literarily.

        Taking up the cassock doesn’t mean setting aside your brain. Obedience derives from obaudire. One side finally decides; both sides need to…

      3. G. Michael McGuire Avatar
        G. Michael McGuire

        . . . listen. Indeed, Saint Benedict, in his Holy Rule, counsels the Abbot to listen to the youngest monk in the community, since the Holy Spirit sometimes more easily speaks through the youngest . . .

      4. G. Michael McGuire Avatar
        G. Michael McGuire

        One last (I promise) point, Father Sanchez: I would be wary of the expression “translation is as much an art as it is a science.” That’s true, of course, but it’s being quoted by many of those, Monsignors and others!, who are now wanting to distance themselves from some of Vox Clara’s more egregious errors and near-comical infelicities (how quickly “he bends slightly” disappeared when exposed to worldwide ridicule), by noting that “7,000” experts were consulted . . . and, to quote Monsignor Moroney, “with that many people working on this big a project, you’re bound to end up with some mistakes.”

        There is an art involved, to be sure.

        But “profusis” – in the conclusion of the Paschaltide Prefaces – is NOT “overcome”, as in “overcome by” rather than “overflowing with” paschal joys. And in that same conclusion “Sed et” is not “Even the heavenly powers rejoice” as if we hadn’t expected them to be happy about Christ’s resurrection.

        There’s science there, too. Some words mean this, not that; or, at the very least, THIS in THIS situation and not THAT in THIS situation. In other words . . . one of these translations is accurate, faithful to LA/RT, and literary; the other (the one we’re going to be stuck with!), is NOT – and that is sad!

        Quapropter, profusis paschalibus gaudiis,
        totus in orbe terrarum mundus exsultat.
        Sed et supernae virtutes atque angelicae potestates
        hymnum gloriae tuae concinunt, sine fine dicentes.

        Therefore, overflowing with paschal joy,
        the whole world exults with your praises;
        the heavenly powers also and the angelic hosts
        sing together the hymn of your glory and acclaim without end:

        And so, overcome with paschal joy,
        every land, every people exults in your praise
        and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts,
        sing together the unending hymn of your glory as they acclaim:

    2. Bill deHaas Avatar

      Fr. – you need to read and study the actual history of the King James Bible. 70% of this bible came from Wm. Tyndale’s Bible and he used “dynamic” translation. King James translators avoided overly pious and stilted translation (which they attributed to “popish” bishops); they strived for “richness of language”, clarity, etc. It is a deeply political book (as you would imagine coming from Jacobean England) and showed the struggle between individual conscience and the need for order and respecting inherited tradition. There were numerous expert groups set up for the King James Bible – these experts, if anything, used both formal and dynamic techniques. You might want to read Adam Nicolson’s book, “God’s Secretaries, the making of the King James Bible”.

      You can’t believe everything you read on Wiki. So, what seminary did you attend? Who taught you liturgy, ars celebrandi?

  17. John Farley Avatar
    John Farley

    Great article; thanks!

    Which makes me wonder what is the purpose of the words we use in liturgy? That is, who is the audience or target of my prayer? Surely I don’t need to use words to explain myself to God who knows what I want to say even before a word is on my lips.

    If the purpose is to create a community by creating a certain code (with all the necessary insiders, outsiders, and boundaries), then the missionary nature of the Church to bring the Gospel (and likewise the Sacraments) to the ends of the earth not only geographically but sociologically, requires many translations to reach “the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads,” and more.

    If the purpose is to draw the listening assembly into my prayer (as presider in union with the church throughout the world), then the SKOPOS matters immensely, just as the Sitz im Leben matters in biblical interpretation. And Bishop Cullinane’s words about how the new translation is but a sort of first step in inculturating the liturgy become MUCH more understandable and actionable.

    A lot to think about.

  18. David Staszak Avatar
    David Staszak

    Sorry for being late and simplistic. What bothers me most is that when they say the new missal will be a “better translation” they are really saying “a better translation of the Latin”. Most of the above has centered on what is meant by “better”. My gripe is why are we stuck with the Latin as a basis for the translation? Wouldn’t “a better translation” logically mean “a better translation of the original texts”? And I think most of the original texts were in Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew. Being stuck with the Latin as an interim step reminds me of the old pre-school game of pass the message.

  19. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    I’m going to be later and even more simplistic!

    Ever since the “Seal of God” for the Inuit was mentioned, I’ve been turning over in my mind what an Anglican missionary told me nearly 40 years ago.

    He said that in Papua-New Guinea, sheep do not exist and wool is unknown. The only way that a Christian missionary can give the indigenous natives an idea of what a lamb is, and looks like, is to use, in their language, the phrase “Little Hairy Pig of God” instead of “Lamb of God”. The fact that little hairy pigs do not exist either is something of a problem, but this is the best they have been able to come up with while remaining faithful to the concept of Lamb.

    That seems to me to sum up the dilemma that Professor Pym’s article sets up before us. Should liturgy convey meaning, or doesn’t it matter if it doesn’t? Once you have answered that question, then you can start to discern which translation theory will best fit the way liturgical texts should be rendered in a vernacular language.

    It would appear that the theory espoused by LA doesn’t care if meaning is apparent or not. Language is to be different, detached, sacral, etc (cf. 47, etc). I’m not at all sure that the Fathers of the Council signing off on SC 11, 14, 21, 34, 37, 38, 40, etc, would have agreed with that.

  20. Lars Huttar Avatar
    Lars Huttar

    This point is not central to the topic of your post, but I do want to point out what seems to be an “urban legend” of Bible translation, namely the Eugene Nida / “baby seal of God” story. This story is often cited in connection with Nida, though from what I have read, he explicitly rejects both the truthfulness of the story, and the translation principles illustrated by it.

    Nida wrote, “The story has been widely circulated that the word ‘seal’ was used for sheep in one of the Eskimo translations. This is an intriguing story but without foundation in actual fact. A baby seal might be considered parallel to a lamb as far as general attractiveness and reputed ‘innocence’ is concerned, but after these features the parallel stops. Such an adaptation would be completely unsatisfactory.” (Bible Translating: An Analysis of Principles and Procedures, with Special Reference to Aboriginal Languages, 1961, p. 136)

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