More accurate translation????

These words are from Matthew Hennessey on “First Things” ( “In fact, as I understand it, the new translation is a more accurate rendition of the Latin Mass, correcting some of the less precise word choices stemming from the original translators’ desire to get the job done quickly. You might call it a more faithful translation.” Matthew also says that “Latin is, was, and ever shall be the official language of the Church, and the Mass.”

So much needs to be said about these observations. The Church switched to Latin only because the Greek it had used for centuries was no longer the language of the people, Latin was. In other words, they changed to the vernacular. As to the new translation being a “more faithful” one, I would say that it is over-faithful to the rules of Latin grammar, imposed on English. While I think Latin is a wonderful language in its own milieu, English is not that milieu. I would venture that Latin cannot begin to approximate the magnificent subtlety that artful use of English can achieve. Accurate? The word accuracy is said in many senses. You can be accurate to some aspects of the original language (i.e., grammar) while producing what becomes in the long run a mockery of English.

To my mind the most powerful accuracy comes from saying well and accurately what the Latin did but providing the meanings with a new home within the new language, plunging forward, not dragging today’s words backwards into forms that do not suit it.





98 responses to “More accurate translation????”

  1. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Totally with you on this, John. Thought that Hennessy’s piece was coming from a position of not knowing any of the background or the values in play. Sometimes this can be illuminating; in this case it wasn’t. And starting with someone who does not go to church any longer is scarcely helpful.

    What we have to admit is that there are severe problems with the language and the style of the new translation. Fidelity to the Latin is but one value among many that are in play here. It would be so helpful if folk like SJH would acknowledge that. Then we would have a basis for dialogue.

    1. Margaret O'Connor Avatar
      Margaret O’Connor

      Hear, hear!

  2. Greg Foley Avatar
    Greg Foley


  3. Brent McWilliams Avatar
    Brent McWilliams

    My understanding is that Latin is no longer the lingua franca of the Church, which may be different than official language. From what I’ve heard English is the operating language of the Church and shouldn’t that translation be the most accurate for the sake of those not able to operate in Latin? (curially speaking…) I suspect that very few curial officials go around speaking Latin to each other at the expresso bar, much less at dinner with each other. Yes, we need an accurate translation, but not sure that this is it. I defer to those much wiser than I.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Two very different needs, both important, should be distinguished. First, the need to have an extremely accurate translation of Latin into English for the sake of translators into other languages who don’t know Latin. Second, the need to have good English texts for use in English liturgy.

      The first need can be met easily by sending around to every conference, or putting on the Vatican website, a strictly literal English translation, such as the base translation ICEL begins with as a starting point but not a text usable for worship.

      The second need should not be held hostage to the first need. The only criteria for English liturgical texts should be… the needs of English language worship. Period. We should never have texts which aren’t good for our liturgical use but will help translators in other language groups – especially when their legitimate needs can be met so much better by other means.


      1. Sean Parker Avatar
        Sean Parker

        Fr. Anthony makes a very good observation about there being a need for an exact Latin translation, in English, for translators who do not understand Latin. English is the current language of international communication and one of the most, if not the most, common second languages studied by non-native English speakers.

        And he follows up that the English liturgy that we use should not, necessarily, be the exact Latin translation.

        But, is that going to leave the English speaking Catholics at whims of whomever is currently in power in the Vatican? Does that mean every 40 years do the English speakers have to prepare themselves and undergo the heartache these liturgical shifts cause?

        One of the benefits of using Latin as the official base text is that most of the people who want the liturgy to be in Latin, are traditional in nature and like the most exact wording.

        If, as Fr. Anthony proposes, there should be an exact English translation, and also a version that is actually used in English speaking liturgies, there needs to be a defined way in which the texts can be chosen or changed, which (GASP!!) include giving the people in the pews some voice in the decision as to whether we approve of the translation being used for liturgies.

      2. Peter Haydon Avatar
        Peter Haydon

        I think that your idea is good. But remember that the meaning of words in English changes over time and differs across the world. Perhaps a French text alongside the English would help.
        Then remember the problem illustrated by the proposed Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories. Did that mean all of them?

      3. Ann Riggs Avatar
        Ann Riggs

        This is such an obvious way to handle the situation — no wonder the Vatican hasn’t thought of anything like it.

  4. Sean Parker Avatar
    Sean Parker

    Mr. Hennessey’s article, like so many others, makes the claim that we are not getting a new mass, merely a new translation of the existing mass. If this new translation had been created and introduced four years after the previous one, then he might have a point. But allowing 40 years to pass when nearly two generations of people are alive who know this translation, and no other – that’s introducing a new mass, not merely a new translation.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      Sean, I’m not convinced by that argument. Is it the 40 years and two generations that tip the scale to “new mass”? If the 1998 translation had been put into effect in 1998, would that have been a “new mass”? What if it had been delayed until, say, 2001?

      While it may feel like “a new mass” (especially to those who have no memory of the Missals of the 1960s), it’s objectively not. It’s a new edition of the Pauline Missal.

      1. Sean Parker Avatar
        Sean Parker

        Jeffrey, perception is reality. If the people view the new mass as a new mass, then it’s a new mass, regardless if the church says it’s just a new translation.

        If you take the design requirements of a Cadillac and “translate” them so that the new standards are equivalent to the standards for a Hyundai, the people are not going to view the “new Cadillac” as still being a Cadillac – they’ll say it’s a Hyundai with a Cadillac label.

        Similarly, the new mass, might be labelled a new translation, but people perceive it as a new mass, and that makes it – the reality, a new mass.

      2. Bill deHaas Avatar

        JP – you appear to discount the foundational ecclesiology of those who advance various liturgical stances. Some would argue that this new translation (LA & RT) reflects a different ecclesiology than that expressed by SC and VII documents.

  5. Fr. Allen Corrigan Avatar
    Fr. Allen Corrigan

    First, John, thank you for all of the beautiful music.

    I think you put this very well, but apparently it is not the mindset of those who authorized Liturgiam Authenticam and the Ratio Tranlationis.

    Essentially what they have done is to have exchanged one period of experimentation with another. Now we will have forty years to see if the theory of “a liturgical vernacular” as proposed by those two documents will be proven wonderful wisdom or otherwise.

    Time will prove where the wisdom lies.

  6. Hugh Farey Avatar
    Hugh Farey

    Surely the clock is ticking towards the end of Latin as the official language of anything; it’s just a question of when. Probably not for 50 years, but it’s coming. While much of the new missal is a retention of the old, everything composed during the last half-century is really a back-translation of the composer’s own mother tongue back into Latin – from which it has then been re-translated back into English! One wonders how often (if at all) the ‘new’ translation is in fact the original, and the Latin from which it has supposedly been translated is actually a translation!

  7. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    St Ignatius of Loyola told us, ‘let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.’

    Fr Foley has followed his master’s advice far better than I can. It is difficult to know where to begin with this flabby essay from First Things. ‘I try to avoid these conversations when possible,’ says Hennesey, as he publishes his ‘conversation’ on a widely read internet site. Then he indulges in multiple rounds of mind-reading – anyone who calls attention to the sex abuse scandal is lazy, a nominal Catholic using the scandal as an excuse to avoid the confessional. Even ‘faithful catholics’ who object to the new, bungled translation are doing so only because they find it unfamiliar. And finally, because – he said it twice – he does try to avoid these conversations, we get the edifying assertion that the guitar Mass has been as harmful to the Church as clerical sex abuse.

    The substantive error about the new, incorrect translation may not be Hennesey’s fault. He may be ignorant of Latin, I don’t know. He has clearly bought the claim that it is ‘a more accurate rendition of the Latin’. And why shouldn’t he think this? Similar statements have been parroted from pulpit and blog for the last year, often by people who are also ignorant of Latin, but who know how to stay on message.

    The new, botched translation is not more accurate, anymore than the schoolboy who writes ‘Gaul is all divided into parts three’ is providing an accurate rendition of Caesar. That needs to be the starting point of the discussion: it is not an accurate translation. It is not true. And therefore, as Bishop Morlino reminded us, it cannot be beautiful.

    1. Joe O'Leary Avatar
      Joe O’Leary

      The new translation is so bad that it fails on every front. Even if we confined our attention to the question of its accuracy, there would be a large book of complaints to be written.

  8. John Swencki Avatar
    John Swencki

    How faithful is the Latin text to the Greek (originals)?

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      Which Greek originals? The Roman Canon isn’t a translation of the anaphora of Chrysostom, for example. (Although some scholars have suggested it IS a translation of an earlier Greek text, due to the “summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech” in the Supra quae.)

      Certainly there are some texts in the Roman Mass which are also found in ancient Greek liturgies (like the dialogue at the beginning of the Preface), but I’d like to know what other Greek originals you had in mind.

      1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        Well, the creed at least and, I believe, the Gloria.

      2. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        Yes, those at least. Probably also the preface dialogue. And the Kyrie. 😉

  9. Brian Duffy Avatar
    Brian Duffy

    “Surely the clock is ticking towards the end of Latin as the official language of anything; it’s just a question of when. ”

    That may be true, but many of the young teachers in the USA are teaching Latin as if it were a living tongue. Who knows, Latin may become the official language of youth. What was that joke I saw recently! The young choir boy was rebuked by the nun for chanting the Kyrie eleison. She said that he probably didn’t know the meaning of the invocation. He replied that it meant Dne miserere!

    I once tried to use Latin to confuse my mother. Little did I know that she had won some kind of Latin medal in high school. Hubris!

    1. Sean Parker Avatar
      Sean Parker

      Knowledge of Latin is an excellent thing. Even my limited knowledge of Latin, which is limited to some exposure to Church Latin, has helped me discern the meaning of other words that I may run across. Even the Harry Potter Series of books is available in Latin.

  10. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

    I always find it curious when people defend Latin in the way that Hennessey has done. People walk into my office, comment to me on blogs or Facebook and discuss this with such a sense of authority… I just do not understand.

    When I am talking to folks about this POV, I like to remind them that Jesus did not rise from the dead, don some fiddleback chasuble, process up the long aisle of a Gothic cathedral, turn his back on the people, and start chanting the liturgy in Latin.

    Love the points about Latin having been the vernacular for that time… Lost on so many now.

    1. Paul Smith Avatar
      Paul Smith


    2. John Drake Avatar
      John Drake

      Jesus didn’t drive a car to Mass either. What ever is your point?

      1. Margaret O'Connor Avatar
        Margaret O’Connor

        John, I think it is perfectly clear what point Fran was making.
        Even I understood!

  11. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    I work for an international company, and English is the default second language. As a native English speaker, I find that when working with non-native speakers, I move into a stripped down version of English depending on how well the person I’m with speaks English. As a common language. English is very adaptable to various levels of proficiency.

  12. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    Anyone who has had extensive dealings with officials of the Roman Curia, in meetings or in correspondence, knows that the language of the Vatican is Italian.

  13. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
    M. Jackson Osborn

    Those who rail against the new translation might in empathy and sobriety reflect on the same feelings of loss, confusion, and abrupt change which were experienced 40 years ago by numerous Catholics whose spiritual lives were shattered. But, there was no turning back: some left (and nobody missed them or cared). The message was clear; sit through the new strummy-strummy psuedo folk music – and get used to it because we’ve chased away all your choirs and organists and we are here to stay: Too bad! These were the days when costly leather bound and gold tooled missals were commonly rescued (yes, literally) from garbage cans, when costly vestments, thuribles, etc., were given to the Episcopalians, who were thrilled to have them. I always wondered how Catholics could sit through the translation they had been handed — it never occured to me that any of them actually liked it – it didn’t seem like anything that anyone COULD actually like… have feelings about – it was just a poor rendering that had been imposed. Indeed, I have known numerous priests who grumbled that they had been using it for 40 years and there was not one memorable phrase. So, those who are upset (and I do sympathise with their feelings, but not what their feelings are about), you are not the first ones to go through this; and, those who went through it before you lost a far greater treasure than you are losing -greater at least when it was really done well (and THAT is another debate!).
    I will rejoice in the new translation, although I daily learn about more of some of its glaring faults. These faults do not, though, outweigh those of the current translation: they just are of a different sort. And, I suspect that those priests and people who spend some ernest, sincere, effort actually to get the feel, the heft, the spirit of the new text will find that the bounds of their prayer life, their spirituality, their experience of the mass will increase beyond what they might have thought possible.

    1. Sean Parker Avatar
      Sean Parker

      It’s already been mentioned that two wrongs don’t make a right. Making one side of the church go through this heartache because those with the opposite opinions went through something similar 40 years ago doesn’t align with the Christian way of doing things. It should be turn the other cheek, not an eye for an eye.

      Many of us have thoroughly and sincerely put effort into reading the new text, and we find that it does not benefit our life, spirituality, and for those of us who have had the benefit of actually attending a mass said in the new translation, it does not benefit or enrich our experience of the mass.

      Additionally, people who like or want to celebrate using the Latin, are now allowed to do so. So, why not let those of us who want to continue to use the current translation also have an option of doing so? Or is the church afraid that if they did that, then not enough people would attend masses using the new translation?

    2. Dunstan Harding Avatar
      Dunstan Harding

      You have the TLM now, if you prefer it, so why are you begrudging us a much better English translation of the liturgy than the one we’re getting?

      As for the days when “costly vestments, thuribles, etc., were given to the Episcopalians, who were thrilled to have them”? Hardly, Anglicans already had these items in great abundance and usually of much finer quality and workmanship too.

    3. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      It sounds as if you were in a parish where the pastor imposed the changes from above with no effort to consult with the laity. If so, it was a case of someone embracing the surface aspects of the reform while ignoring the heart. I think the case can be made that the imposition of the new translation is another example of improper assertion of authority.

      As for the “strummy-strummy psuedo folk music “; I recall some real bad stuff from the first few years. However, I encourage you to actually listen to the music in use today. We’ve had 40 years to sift out the bad stuff. It’s not Latin chant, but it’s not bad!

  14. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    Anything can be improved and who knows what will transpire in the near or the distant future. Right now there appears to be two camps, the one that has power and has made decisions for better or for worse and the other who thinks it knows better, wants more input, transparency and more power for itself. The latter claims its form of power is more collegial and therefore more Vatican II. The former would beg to disagree.
    These concerns are the concerns of how many of the practicing Catholics of this country? There are supposedly 60 million all total, but depending on locale, only about 19% to about 30% actually attend Mass on a regular basis or give a flip about what the Church is doing at any particular moment. The translation wars, the dukeing out by academics and the laity who might blog and make comments are a rather distinct, tiny minority.
    Shouldn’t we take a wait and see attitude about this corrected English Mass, and by that I mean about a five year wait and see attitude? That doesn’t mean that academics and others don’t continue dukeing it out, but hopefully in a charitable way toward each other or making suggestions or comments in academic journals that make their way to rank and file blogs.
    We’ve had the new translation of the lectionary now since about 1998 I think. Initially there was some hysteria from some quarters about its quality. Who’s complaining today?
    As I mentioned, we’ve implemented the new translation. I’ve been seeking feedback. The hardest part is remembering “and with your spirit” but that already is becoming ingrained. The other hard part is memorizing the new words since the old words still linger in the mind. Most of my people liked being liberated from a worship aid; they need it now but that will certainly change over time.
    I suspect if I put out a survey about what people like or dislike about the corrected English Mass, that the most vile comments would be reserved not for the new wording of the Mass, but for music. That is what most people voice their concern about the most, music not the wording of the Mass.

    1. Paul Robertson Avatar
      Paul Robertson

      I’m just wondering about your use of “corrected”.

      In what possible way is the following “correct” English? I wouldn’t expect language as convoluted as this outside of a document written by lawyers:

      “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church.”

      Not only does it weigh in at 43 words for a single sentence, it also has numerous interjections and the presider makes three attempts before he finally decides on what on Earth it is that we are offering.

      My company’s legal department would be proud of such an afternoon’s work, but it is a thousand miles from correct vernacular usage in any town I have visited in this Green and Pleasant Land.

  15. Gerald T. Chinchar SM Avatar
    Gerald T. Chinchar SM

    I totally agree. Unfortunately, it seems, that something else is at play beyond “accurate” translation…..

    1. Fr. Allen Corrigan Avatar
      Fr. Allen Corrigan

      Hi, Jerry! Long time no hear. Hope you are doing well.

      Also, I agree with your comment.


  16. John Swencki Avatar
    John Swencki

    Re: earlier comment about original Greek texts. WHat I was trying to get at, is what is the “source” of the Latin texts? Have we overly “divinized” Latin? I mean, before Latin became THE language of the Mass, what made the prayers/missals/anaphoras, etc in use at the time “authentic”? Certainly we know what the absolute “basics” are required for a valid Mass, but beyond that isn’t the structure/language of the Mass decided by what would best communicate the mysteries of faith to a particular people? Unity does not require uniformity, and I hope the intended uniformity of Missal3 will not be at the sacrifice of unity in [understood] faith.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      The question of whether the Latin texts deserve the “pride of place” (or whatever you want to call it) they have in the Roman Rite has been raised several times on this blog. I could try and find a couple of the threads, if someone else doesn’t beat me to it.

      (And since you brought up the question of the Latin being faithful to underlying/original Greek texts, is there any reason to “divinize” the Greek texts, apart from those which are directly from Scripture.)

  17. Dylan Bahrkuhr Avatar
    Dylan Bahrkuhr

    If that blog post from First Things gets under your skin, then this cover essay from the print edition will really drive you over the top:

    Of course, I think both are spot on, myself.

    1. Philip Endean SJ Avatar
      Philip Endean SJ

      merciful God …

    2. Hugh Farey Avatar
      Hugh Farey

      What I don’t understand is this: given that the first translation was an obvious, clumsy and deliberate attempt by manifest sons of Satan to destroy the Catholic faith completely, why did almost every one of the bishops of the English speaking world, and then every single one of the English speaking advisors to the Pope, and then His Holiness himself, welcome this banal, flat, lifeless, incorrect, gibberish with such enthusiastic unanimity. It beats me…

    3. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      Dearie me. To begin with, he could have been describing the 2010 translation 40 years on. It was only some way into it that it became clear what he was talking about.

      His claim that there was no justification for the 1973 text is both arrogant and incorrect. There was a perfectly good justification for it, as there was for the improved 1998 version. But no one wants to listen.

      1. Matthew Hazell Avatar

        Yet Prof. Esolen never claims that there was “no justification” for the 1973 text. And, in any case, there was a justification for the text – whether or not it was “perfectly good” is what Prof. Esolen questions.

    4. Geoffrey Madden Avatar

      I read the article and thought the author, Anthony Esolen, must just have a tin ear for the English language or perhaps it may have been a second language to him. Then I note he is an English professor and despair.

      1. Linda Reid Avatar
        Linda Reid

        Tony Esolen is a colleague of my husband’s at Providence College. I can say from personal experiences that his views on the Second Vatican Council are EXTREMELY conservative and he is pretty arrogant about it and demeaning of it’s fruits in conversation! This article does not surprise me in the least, but it saddens me greatly!

    5. crystal watson Avatar

      Esolen is known for his translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, but I remembered him from an email discussion he had with David Bentley Hart on suffering – he has some pretty conservative views. You can read the discussion at Touchstone here …

      1. Joe O'Leary Avatar
        Joe O’Leary

        Eselen is right about the sawdust preces but seems never to have heard of the 1998 translations which handle these prayers far more skilfully that the 2008-2010 version.

        The following is what Eselen thinks is admirable, but that most competent English writers would see as in need of some stylistic attention:

        For he revealed his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses
        and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form
        which he shares with all humanity,
        that the scandal of the Cross
        might be removed from the hearts of his disciples
        and that he might show
        how in the body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled
        what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.

    6. Joe O'Leary Avatar
      Joe O’Leary

      Esolen writes: Voltaire “fell back upon a cold impersonal God whom Cicero would have found appalling, much less Boethius.”

      It amazes me that so many of the supporters of the new translation fall into incorrect grammar so often.

    7. Jonathan Day Avatar
      Jonathan Day

      I agree, Dylan: Hennesey’s piece was bad, Esolen’s far worse.

      No surprise that he hasn’t published peer-reviewed material for a good long time, preferring Ignatius Press, First Things and conservative blogs.

      Tendentious, polemical rubbish.

    8. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      About this Esolen essay… I’ve just received the following communication. From his favorite table in his favorite cafe in Rome, the elderly Professor Xavier Rindfleisch writes:

      “How odd of someone as erudite as Professor Esolen, whose translation of Dante I quite enjoy, to cite the Prayer after Communion of the First Sunday of Advent as ‘splendid work’! Did Dr. Esolen miss the garbled antecedent business by which, contrary to the Latin text (and to traditional Catholic theology) the ‘passing things’ rather than ‘the mysteries’ end up teaching us to love the heavenly things that endure? Indeed, from this erroneous translation the cheerleaders on the US Bishops’ website have spun a whole spirituality. How embarrassing! See:

      and click on Prayer after Communion to reach the embarrassingly erroneous commentary based on the embarrassingly erroneous translation.

      The 2008 translation, by adopting the rejected 1998 translation of the problematic phrase, avoided the grammatical error that leads to the erroneous theology:

      May the mysteries we have celebrated profit us, we pray, O Lord,
      for even now, as we journey through this passing world,
      you teach us by them
      to love the things of heaven
      and hold fast to what will endure. (By the way, 2010’s ‘ever’ is surely unnecessary with ‘endure,’ and is not in the Latin).

      I notice that Professor Esolen wisely skips the Prayer over the Offerings, which is (as I have pointed out elsewhere on the blog) especially poorly done:

      Súscipe, quaesumus, Dómine,
      múnera quae de tuis offérimus colláta benefíciis,
      et, quod nostrae devotióni concédis éffici temporáli,
      tuae nobis fiat praemium redemptiónis aetérnae.


      Accept, we pray, O Lord, these offerings we make,
      gathered from among your gifts to us,
      and may what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below
      [continued below…]

      1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone


        gain for us the prize of eternal redemption.

        Accept, we pray, O Lord, the gifts we offer,
        gathered from among your blessings,
        and as the fruit of our temporal offering
        grant us the reward of your eternal redemption.

        The lovely Latin temporali/aeternae contrast, correctly temporal/eternal in 2008 becomes the ‘here below / eternal’ (shouldn’t that be ‘up above’?) in the ‘splendid work’ of 2010!

        And the fact that it is ‘your’ redemption – clearly there in Latin and in 2008 – disappears in 2010. Professor Esolen surely would lament such fiddling with the authentic text by the ‘translators’!”

      2. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        Oy. That is embarrassing. I mean, I thought the official response was going to be damage control on an ambiguously (or flat-out wrongly) worded prayer, providing the correct link between pronoun and noun. But no, they (whoever “they” are) have embraced the wrong interpretation of the Latin prayer because of the faulty English translation.

        Seriously. C’mon.

  18. John Swencki Avatar
    John Swencki

    Jeff, I don’t intend to “divinize” the Greek texts but would give them “pride of place” as being closest to the orginal “liturgists”.
    I appreciate the place of Latin in the liturgy and life of the church but the language alone doesn’t guarantee fidelity to the “sources”.
    In the various sacramentaries that existed over the centuries, we see alot of variations. Heck, even in today’s Eastern rites we recognize a valid Eucharist though the ritual and wording is quite different.
    (btw, best wishes with your books!)

    1. Joe O'Leary Avatar
      Joe O’Leary

      The Roman Sacramentary, as far as I know, contains very little that has a Greek original.

      1. RP Burke Avatar
        RP Burke

        The scriptural allusions — one of the reasons for the new transliteration — wre originally in Greek. But, no, we get a Latin base instead (“for many”)

    2. Ann Riggs Avatar
      Ann Riggs

      The “original” liturgical prayers were those extemporized by the presider, at least according to Justin Martyr, who describes the presider as giving thanks as he is able. So if you want to get to the closest liturgical prayers and practices, we would have no official texts at all — only talking points.
      I once knew a priest who did indeed extemporize an EP, but it was very well crafted and included all the elements common to the official ones. He subbed occasionally at one of the “conservative” parishes in town, where the little old church ladies just loved him.

  19. Mitch Powers Avatar
    Mitch Powers

    It would seem that the Church has said many times where the place of Latin is. If Priests can not speak Latin when ordained then it would seem in defiance of Canon Law. They should be proficient in Latin. Veterum Sapientia, an Apostolic Constituion states that where Latin has been eclipsed or is lacking that it will be vigorously restored. Vat II seems to back this with its’ statements in its’ Constitution on the place of Latin. And with this proficiency the Faithful can be taught the parts of the Ordinary that pertain to them in Latin. If several generations ago the whole of Priests could pray and speak in Latin there seems no reason it can not be so today. WIth the internet sources and a wide means of communications it is easier today than yesterday. But human beings are no less able to learn today than before. Is it easy?, no, is it the law of the Church, yes. The issue can be skirted around about how useful it is or that other things are priority, but that does not change the Constitutions of the Church. If no one understands it anymoe then it is more a failing of the persons who were supposed to implement a set of guidelines that are there and have decided for themselves what is better than the Magesterium says. Use a Missal with whatever translation suits you and you can both obey the Church and understand the vernacular of Mass in the translation that best enables you to understand.

    1. Claire Mathieu Avatar
      Claire Mathieu

      I remember that Cure d’Ars (St John Vianney), who was the model proposed by Pope Benedict for the year of the priests that happened recently, almost didn’t make it to the priesthood because he could not learn Latin according to the norms of those days.

      Catholic Encyclopedia: “Though he was of average intelligence and his masters never seem to have doubted his vocation, his knowledge was extremely limited, being confined to a little arithmetic, history, and geography, and he found learning, especially the study of Latin, excessively difficult. […] He was so deficient in Latin as to be obliged to follow the philosophy course in French. He failed to pass the examinations for entrance to the seminary proper, but on re-examination three months later succeeded. […] His difficulties in making the preparatory studies seem to have been due to a lack of mental suppleness in dealing with theory as distinct from practice — a lack accounted for by the meagreness of his early schooling, the advanced age at which he began to study, the fact that he was not of more than average intelligence[ …] . He was sent to Ecully as assistant to M. Balley, who had first recognized and encouraged his vocation, who urged him to persevere when the obstacles in his way seemed insurmountable, who interceded with the examiners when he failed to pass for the higher seminary, and who was his model as well as his preceptor and patron. “

    2. Jack Feehily Avatar
      Jack Feehily

      You are completely misinformed. Veterem sapietiae was issued and almost immediately set aside by bishops nearly everywhere. There was no golden age when parish priests could speak and understand Latin fluently. At best they could pronounce the words and have a hit and miss understanding of the prayers of the mass and the breviary. I’m trying hard to understand how you could make such assertions. Is this what you need to believe to justify your POV?

  20. Bill deHaas Avatar

    That’s okay, Claire – there have been many examples since then – the best, John Cardinal McIntyre, who tried to give a short discource on the floor during Vatican II and SC stating that any change from latin would be heresy (very loose translation). His latin was so bad and so incomprehensible, that someone else had to speak for him so his statement could be understood and recorded. Per those who knew him, he never did really learn latin; never really spoke it; and had a difficult time reading the latin of the pre-Vatican II mass.

    1. Mitch Powers Avatar
      Mitch Powers

      So everyone can learn Spanish and English, but not Latin? Is that what you are stating> The Latin is THE impossible language to learn. Because that is how the opponents of Latin make it sound. And since when can Bishops read an Apostolic Constitution and set it aside? Would it be the same thing to read Missale Romanum and simply set it aside? I simply stated that there is a plan and a reason behind it spelled out very well by the Magesterium in regards to Latin. You may disagree with me but they are not my words. They belong to the Magesterium of the Church

  21. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    It should also be recalled that Cardinal Cushing was so frustrated at the first session of the Council, owing to his admittedly deficient Latin, that he offered to bear the expense of a simultaneous translation service. When this was rejected, he returned to Boston.

    Cardinal Spellman, during the Council, famously championed the vernacular for priests bound to recite the daily Office, but was dead set against the vernacular in the Mass.

    And, Father Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey, editor of Orate, Fratres/ Worship for a quarter century, gave many priests’ retreats throughout the US in the 1940s and 50s. He often recounted that when priests came to him for counseling during the retreats, a majority told him that the Office in Latin was an impossible burden. And for many it was a cause of intense and debilitating scrupulosity.

    The notion that most priests (and many bishops) before the Council knew Latin well cannot be credibly sustained.

    1. Mitch Powers Avatar
      Mitch Powers

      “The notion that most Priests before the COuncil knew Latin well cannot be credibly sustained” This was addressed in Veterum Sapientia, that where study is lacking or poor it will be reinvigorated. I simply will not accept that the generation of Priests just prior to and during the Vatican Council II were less capable of learning Latin fluently that there forefathers. Proper formation and curriculum seem more at fault for this than the person. If Hebrew was successfully ressurected and used not only by all clergy, but in the home and family life as well there is not reason it can not happen on the part of Catholic Priests worldwide. Again its’ place is one thing ( which the Magesterium clearly states its’ place and permeance) and the fact that no one speaks it well now is entirely another.

      1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        And while you’re at it:

        The word ‘priest’ does not have a capital letter. Maybe it’s your subconscious, hierarchical schema breaking through.

        It’s ‘their’ forefathers, not ‘there’ forefathers. More properly, unless you do mean ancestors, ‘priests of earlier generations.’

        It’s ‘magisterium.’

        Why would you want to promote Latin when your English needs attention?

      2. Simon Ho Avatar
        Simon Ho

        Gerard, the first point is a matter of style. You can choose not to use like it, but there is no need to impose your own style on others, or to judge another’s motives.

        The new translation capitalises Priests. Perhaps that is catching on in the Church too, who can stop where the Spirit blows?

      3. Michael Podrebarac Avatar
        Michael Podrebarac

        Gee, I would think the Spirit has more important issues to tend to than capitalization styles of the Roman Missal. But maybe not.

        “Bright? He’s a common ignorant slob. He don’t even speak good English.” ~ Juror 10 in Twelve Angry Men.

  22. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    Irish revivalists ate up a book called “Hebrew Reborn” but it did not help revive Irish. And Mitch, excuse me, but you could learn to write English more correctly. It’s not ” its’ “, it’s ” its ” — that’s right — no apostrophe.

    1. Mitch Powers Avatar
      Mitch Powers

      Rule number 7 of Engagement, Welcoming. And no hyphen either.

  23. Sean Benedicts Avatar
    Sean Benedicts

    The Church switched to Latin only because the Greek it had used for centuries was no longer the language of the people, Latin was. In other words, they changed to the vernacular.

    By the time the Church in the West began using Latin, the Latin it used was vastly different from the Latin used in speech by the common people. The Latin of the Roman Canon is the literary language of an elite, albeit not the pure Latin of Cicero, Horace, Caesar and Virgil. It is fair to call it a vernacular but the idea it can be described as “the language of the people” of those who started using it for worship, as though it was the same as what one might actually hear on the street or in the wineshop, is really quite dubious.

    Even in the first generation of Christianity the slaves and lowly freedmen who formed the bulk of the early church in and around Rome would have regarded the language later to be used in the Latin Mass as already formal and archaic by comparison with the Vulgar Latin language they actually spoke (cf, for instance, Pompeii graffiti: the neuter isn’t used; “tabula” has become “tabla”; “quomodo” has become “qumo” and so on. This is not the language of the Roman Canon).

    (The idea that a Greek vernacular was widely spoken as a “language of the people” in 1st to 3rd century Rome is also a bit odd).

    I remembered once reading, and tracked down, a Greek-Slavonic version of the Roman Canon may be found here: though I do not know what current academic thinking on that is.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      There’s no doubt that the Roman Canon is written in a register “higher” than the common Latin of the 3rd to 5th centuries CE. I have commented on this topic before on PTB, and this subject has already received quite a bit of scholarly attention. Christine Mohrmann’s “Quelques observations sur l’evolution stylistique du Canon de la messe romain”, (Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan., 1950), pp. 1-19) serves as a good introduction to the interlace between the Canon and prominent classical Latin points, particularly quaesumus.

      While your observation has merit, the Latin register of the earliest Roman liturgies has diminished bearing on the postmodern Catholic liturgical project. Prof. Foley’s desires to bring the Missal to the next level of derivation, which is a fully Anglicized register.

  24. Paul Robertson Avatar
    Paul Robertson

    I studied electronic engineering at university, and one of the lectures that has stuck in my mind ever since concerned the definitions of accuracy and precision. These two are different words because they are different things.

    Basically, precision relates to how finely you can define a result. Take the same measurement a hundred times and get the same result and you’ve got good precision. Accuracy, on the other hand, refers to how close to the truth you are.

    As an example, I could say “I am 985.43cm North-North-West of the post holding up the big ‘Platform 4’ sign at King’s Cross Station”. You will appreciate that this is very precise indeed. Unfortunately, it’s not very accurate, as I’m actually at Paddington Station.

    The new translation seems to be striving for hitherto unprecedented precision with respect to the underlying Latin and leaving any semblance of accuracy by the wayside. An “accurate” translation must leave behind syntactic precision with respect to the source language and use the full beauty and subtlety of the target language and culture to accurately convey the concepts embodied in the source text. To do anything else is an insult to the target culture and speakers of that language (“No, I will not learn your language, but I will tell you how I think you should speak it. Just call it ‘sacral vernacular’ and stop bothering me”).

    1. Jonathan Day Avatar
      Jonathan Day

      Bravo Paul! Well said!

      Translation in the mode of Liturgiam Authenticam is also an insult to the culture and tradition of the source language, in this case Latin, because it turns that language into a thing to be decoded rather than understood.

    2. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      That’s a very helpful distinction, Paul. It deserves to be kept in mind. I’ll try to do so.

    3. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      The mnemonic I learned (I think in physics class) was that Precision is about Place, whereas being accuraTe means hitting the Target.

      So shooting ten arrows that all land in the same place is being precise, but if that place is ten yards to the left of the target, you weren’t accurate.

    4. Lynn Thomas Avatar
      Lynn Thomas

      Brilliantly put!

    5. Paul Robertson Avatar
      Paul Robertson

      Thanks to Jeffrey for providing a better example. Also, the astute will note (and you have all been too kind to point it out) that taking the same measurement many times and getting the same result points to stability, not to precision.

      As Jeffrey says, precision is about getting all your dots really close together; accuracy is about getting them in the right place. Sometimes, you can have both, but not when you are translating text between languages that use different techniques to deliver the same message.

  25. Mary Kirsch Avatar
    Mary Kirsch

    Just want to say “Thank you” for these discussions and other info on this site. It has helped me deal with the sadness and frustration I feel as we approach the First Sunday of Advent. I know I am not alone in these feelings when I hear others say the same thing.

    How I will deal with it, I am still pondering, as I still want a prayerful liturgy. Probably I will remain silent during parts I cannot peacefully say: ex. “Through my fault…..”, “under my roof….”,etc. When it is a matter of a few words, I may say the present ones: Ex. “We” instead of “I” in Creed, “with you.” instead of “with your spirit.”

    It is hard to be peaceful and prayerful with something that is so defective in both the process and the product.

    Any suggetions any one else has, as to how one deals practically with this are most welcome.

  26. Lynn Thomas Avatar
    Lynn Thomas

    I agree with you, although I don’t know for certain that I will be able to continue regular attendance. Peaceful and prayerful are already hard for me to reach – I get so aggravated by the new and clumsy texts, and angry at what I believe to be hopelessly bad church governance, that I can barely concentrate. And if I understand correctly, there is indeed a limit as to how much of the Mass is supposed to be penitential.

  27. John Swencki Avatar
    John Swencki

    I think I am just incorrigible (sp?)
    Why keep fussing over how (in)accurate a translation from the Latin is?
    When folks say they like a particular church or religion because “it makes me feel good” or “it’s contemporary” or whatever, I like to respond: That’s fine. But is it true?

    The revised Roman Missal may have literary or pastoral shortcomings –or it may be brilliantly done. But…. is it true? Does it express the truth? If so, can we work with that?

    1. Paul Robertson Avatar
      Paul Robertson

      There are many ways to express one truth. As an example, would you prefer to be told you’d lost your job by e-mail from HR, or by your manager telling you, in private, in person, in sympathy?

      The Liturgy speaks truth, I don’t hear anyone here disputing that. The manner in which that truth is delivered can make a big difference. A slavish adherence to Latin grammar and cultural context produces English that grates on many people’s ears and can seriously degrade the worship experience.

      Of course, for some, eight consecutive 43-word sentences full of interjections and highly legalistic language elevate some to sublime worship of the divine majesty. I confess that I am not one of them, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grevious fault.

      And therein lies the dispute.

      1. Gerry Davila Avatar
        Gerry Davila

        I am one of those whose worship of the Divine Majesty is elevated by 43-word sentences full of interjections and highly legalistic language.

      2. Lynn Thomas Avatar
        Lynn Thomas

        If, indeed, it is a fault to not find eight consecutive 43-word sentences full of interjections and highly legalistic language elevating, I’m still not sure I could accept the notion that it’s a grevious fault. But maybe that’s MY grevious fault, in which case, I guess it’s better than some others. Or less bad, anyway.

  28. James Barrett Avatar
    James Barrett

    Gerry Davila :
    I am one of those whose worship of the Divine Majesty is elevated by 43-word sentences full of interjections and highly legalistic language.

    Then I completely support you having an option of going to a mass that uses 43-word sentences full of interjections and highly legalistic language, as long as I also have the option of going to a mass that uses concise, contemporary English, similar to what we’ve been using for the past 40 years.

    If the demand for the updated missal exists, then people will ask for it.

    1. Mitch Powers Avatar
      Mitch Powers

      I find it hard to believe all this fuss over translations are over a few commas and a period…We can simply breathe when we like.

      1. Lynn Thomas Avatar
        Lynn Thomas

        Not when we’re singing, we can’t. Our choir directors disapprove. And it’s not the commas nearly as often as the words between them.

      2. Paul Robertson Avatar
        Paul Robertson

        Er. No you can’t simply breathe when you like. In case you hadn’t noticed, punctuation is the written equivalent of emphasis, tone, inflection and rhythm. Breathing is not a function of punctuation.

        The 43-word monstrosity I quoted above (first sentence of Eucharistic Prayer 1, for reference) is correctly punctuated, but it is hard, if not impossible, to proclaim reverently and still convey meaning. Breaking it up into smaller sentences is more than simply providing somewhere to breathe, it marks places where the mind can stop trying to hold onto the subjects and objects of all the preceding clauses so it can attempt to link them to verbs that come late in the sentence.

        Actually, EP1 is mild in comparison to the Collect for Holy Thursday, as mentioned over at Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray. 63 words, one sentence. The defining relative clauses have defining relative clauses. It takes me four readings to make head and tail of it.

        To understand the sentence, you have to do the following: link God to “who have called us to participate” (easy enough); next, you have to link the Only Begotten Son to to what was about to happen, which is in the next clause; you then have to link something entrusted back to the supper, three clauses ago; the banquet is what was entrusted, and reflects the second clause “sacred supper”; the subject of verb “grant” is God, 41 (count ’em) words ago; now we interject with what we are doing (“we pray”); and we’re back to the subject of “grant”, and it’s a big subject. At Mass, you have to do all of this in your head, in real-time. It is not written down for you, and you get no time to think before the Mass moves on.

        It is a miserable failure in translation. It is far more than simply breathing when you want.

      3. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        Breaking it up into smaller sentences is more than simply providing somewhere to breathe, it marks places where the mind can stop trying to hold onto the subjects and objects of all the preceding clauses so it can attempt to link them to verbs that come late in the sentence.

        Not only does that weigh in at 50 words for a single sentence, it has a comma where it should have a semicolon. But to your credit, I understood what you meant on the first reading. 🙂

        I don’t think the first sentence of the Canon is terribly difficult to understand; I think it flows in a straightforward manner.

        I agree that the Holy Thursday prayer you linked to is a mouthful, and “a sacrifice new for all eternity” seems to me to be an attempt to use as few English words as possible to match underlying Latin phrase: novum in saecula sacrificium. Yeah, that’s what it looks like.

        (But is “God” being 41 words before “grant” substantially worse than “God” being 37 words before “grant”?)

      4. Paul Robertson Avatar
        Paul Robertson

        In the two-sentence version, we address God and set up context in the first sentence. The second sentence begins with “grant” and is, therefore, implicitly using the subject of the preceding sentence as its own subject. The mental load is much lighter.

        Thanks, I’ve never been that good at semicolons. I’m sure you will agree, however, that my 50-word sentence was structured in such a way that you could decode the meaning without having to read it four times. I didn’t throw in relative clauses three layers deep. It’s the layering that twists my brain (and others I have spoken to about it).

        I concede your point that the first sentence of EP1 does flow without quite so many twists and turns as the Holy Thursday Collect, but it is still full of lumps and has two interjections. Also, why can’t the text make up its mind what we are offering? Why state it in three different ways? I find myself kneeling there mentally screaming “make up your bloody mind”. Hardly a devout response to the great prayers of the church.

        I think that my overwhelming response to the new translation is one of supreme disappointment. Throughout the whole Mass, I am left thinking “this could have been done so much better, so much more elegantly.” The wounds will scab over with time, the nerve-endings will die off, and it will stop hurting; in short I will stop paying attention. It saddens me to the core that the pinnacle of worship has become something I must endure rather than something I can embrace.

      5. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        the first sentence of EP1 […] is still full of lumps and has two interjections.

        (I don’t think it particularly lumpy, nor do I find the interjections to be distracting or disturbing to the prayer as a whole.)

        Also, why can’t the text make up its mind what we are offering? Why state it in three different ways?

        “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground.”

        Some of the commentaries I have read on the Canon draw specific attention to the couplets and triplets found throughout; they attribute them to the style of the prayer. Others consider them (at least when translated) to be defects. Still others point out that the three words are grades: from dona (gifts), to munera (offerings), to sacrificia (sacrifices), we are describing what we are offering with increasing specificity.

        I am truly sorry that for you, as for many others, the Mass is now becoming something you must endure rather than something that helps you endure. It does not please me in the slightest; I would have it some other way. There are some who would feel as you feel if the 1998 translation were used, and some who feeel as you feel now while this current translation is used.

        I don’t know when we’ll get it right.

      6. Paul Robertson Avatar
        Paul Robertson

        I guess we’ll get it right when all humans are the same. If there were any native Latin speakers left on the planet, they’d be just as upset about the various editions of the Roman Missal in Latin.

        Given that we’re all different, change will be perceived differently by all of us. There is no right solution. I simply feel that the new translation takes us back to the language of the Pharisees rather than the language of Christ.

  29. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Yesterday I stopped at a Mass at a central London church that is somewhat traditionalist in its outlook and style. Not surprisingly, they have embraced the new translation and ‘the Lord be with you’ was answered with a strong ‘and with your spirit’. The new rendering of Domine, non sum dignus was equally clear from priest and congregation.

    When the priest got to the post-communion, though, he stumbled and his voice sank as he tumbled from one clause into another. In the end, what came out was a gabble of pious-sounding words.

    This priest didn’t strike me as at all shy or inarticulate, but I think it was just as Paul Robertson says: it is very, very difficult to make these shoddy translations clear and understandable. This is not primarily a matter of word choice but of structure.

  30. John Swencki Avatar
    John Swencki

    You know the old joke about how punctuation can make all the differenc? Example: “Woman without her man is nothing” takes on a whole new meaning when it becomes:”Woman: without her, man is nothing.”

    Or Our Lord’s dying words to the Good Thief: Did he say: “Amen I say to you this day: you will be with me in Paradise” or “Amen I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise”?

    Verbal presentation can add “punctuation marks” to a text. Perhaps with practice we may be able to “punctuate” new translations to more understandable expressions.

  31. John Young Avatar
    John Young

    So if we are to have a translation of the Latin more faithful to the original, why do we still have “we lift them to the Lord,” for “habemus ad Dominum”?

    St Jerome wrote to Pammachius: “A literal translation made from one language to another cancels the sense and like a luxuriant weed, throttles the cultivated plant.” (PL 22, 572)

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      And Sursum corda is still “lift up your hearts”, even though literally it means “hearts on high”. I think that particular translation is due to the Greek behind the Latin, “ano schomen tas kardias”, which is more explicit than the Latin, having a verb and a pronoun: “let us hold up our hearts.”

      As for habemus ad dominum, my guess is that it was translated “we lift them up to the Lord” for the same reason that dignum et iustum est was translated as “it is right to give him thanks (and praise)” — that is, to echo the priest’s words in the people’s response:

      Lift up your hearts.
      We lift them up…

      Let us give thanks to the Lord…
      It is right to give him thanks…

      This echoing is not present in the Latin, of course, which is quite brief:

      Hearts on high. [Let us lift up our hearts.]
      We have (them) with/towards the Lord.

      Let us give thanks to the Lord…
      It is proper and right.

      I would not be (or have been) opposed to a new translation of these phrases.

    2. Jim McKay Avatar
      Jim McKay

      This Mozarabic version given by Wikipedia is intriguing:

      Priest: Introibo ad altare Dei mei. (Psalm 42:4a)
      People: Ad Deum qui letificat juventutem meam.
      Priest: Aures ad Dominum.
      People: Habemus ad Dominum.
      Priest: Sursum corda.
      People: Levemus ad Dominum.

      What we have been using is a literal translation of the final response, while the response to “ears to God” uses the Roman Latin response. I suspect our dialog was based on this, rather than the less coherent Roman version.

      “the God who gives joy to my youth” is something I would love to see added to this dialog!

  32. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Jeffrey and Jim,

    Anastasis the Home Page of Archimandrite Ephrem has a pdf entirely devoted to this third part of the dialogue. I am sure both of you will appreciate the extensive references and discussion for forming your own conclusions!

    His conclusion:

    What the first sentence means is something like “Let us have our hearts in heaven”. A strictly literal rendering would be,

    “Let us have our hearts on high here and now.

    The verb is Aorist Subjunctive, indicating a particular and immediate action. For reasons of euphony something like:

    Let our hearts be on high.
    We have them with the Lord

    seems to me to convey the meaning of the original more accurately than the familiar “Let us lift up our hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.” It also takes into account the living theological tradition of the Church, as expressed in the commentaries of the Fathers. The united testimony of both East and West then would suggest a translation such as the one proposed above for the third part of the Dialogue which opens the Anaphora, and this has been adopted for the new translation of the Divine Liturgy issued with the blessing of the His All-holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Gregory of Thyateira and Great Britain.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      Thank you for this resource, Jack! I look forward to an enlightening read. 🙂

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