Sunday, January 6, 2013


Does the new English translation of the Mass make the Mass sound like a Babel Fish?

Even when the Mass was in Latin, we encouraged people to have a translation of the Latin Mass, especially the changing parts, so that they might know the prayers. But some are complaining about how poorly the following prayers are translated from the original Latin or these are phrased in English as they would be in Latin thus making it too hard for the priest to read and pray and for the congregation to hear and understand thus making those in the congregation extremely mad at Mass.

I'm not a linguist but I do know from my Italian that there are many ways to translate it into English. I've always preferred the more literal translation of Italian into English with the necessary adjustment of course. When I would translate my mother's Italian into English, I would do it as I went, translating first as I heard it, but making quick corrections for proper English syntax or grammar or actual wording.

So how offended are you by these recently prayed prayers and how hard are they for you to understand and how befuddled are you by them and how angry do these new translations of the Latin prayers into English make you? Just wondering.

A recent weekday Collect:

May your people, O Lord,
whom you guide and sustain in many ways,
experience, both now and in the future,
the remedies which you bestow,
that, with the needed solace of things that pass away,
they may strive with ever deepened trust for things eternal.
Through Christ our Lord.

And Epiphany's Prayer over the Offerings at Mass during the Day:

Look with favor, Lord, we pray on these gifts of your Church, in which are offered now not gold or frankincense or myrrh, but he who by them is proclaimed, sacrificed and received, Jesus Christ. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Does that one make you scream for help and make you helpless in prayer? Just wondering.

I recognize there could be better translations but someone had to make the determination of what would be used and in what style. Good for them, for too many chefs and not enough cooks spoils the broth, or something like that!


John Nolan said...

When Cranmer composed the Collects for the Book of Common Prayer he kept to the word structure and rhythm of the Latin originals. In Victorian times elementary school children memorized them. When as a child I learned the Angelus the concluding prayer was (and still is) as follows: "Pour forth, we beseech Thee O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we to whom the incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may be brought by His Passion and Cross to the glory of his Resurrection".

This is typical Collect form, and is indeed the OF Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The new translation renders it as such, only changing the archaic/poetic second person singular. ICEL 1973 began "Lord, fill our hearts with your love ..." An instruction, not an entreaty, and note there is no mention of grace. And some of the so-called translations were much, much worse.

Theological concepts cannot be rendered in everyday speech. The second example you give makes perfect sense in English. So does the superseded version. But the latter, by referring to "the sacrifice and food they [the Magi's gifts] symbolize" is not a translation. The Latin does not even imply symbolism - it says "sed quod eisdem muneribus declaratur, immolatur et sumitur", and the new translation faithfully renders this.

You can make something immediately comprehensible to a three-year-old or someone with an imperfect grasp of English. But if by doing so you fail to properly convey the meaning, you might as well not bother. I suspect that most of the whingers over at PTB resent the fact Monsignors Harbert and Wadsworth just happen to be Englishmen.

Could I suggest to priests that in their homilies, instead of simply expatiating on the scripture readings (do we really need to be told yet again what the parable of the Good Samaritan means?) they actually examine some of these Proper prayers for the theological richness they contain. The compilers of the Paul VI missal drew heavily on ancient sacramentaries but their work was nullified by poor 'translation'. Until now, that is.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Indeed, Msgr. Harbert does a wonderful job of explaining the wording and meaning of these prayers and does give food for homily material or least a mention in the pastor's letter in the bulletin!

Gene said...

Once again, John Nolan makes an excellent point regarding conveying theological meanings. Nuances in theological language are important and often decisive with regard to meaning. Good homiletics require the proper, careful, and clear transmission of these truths, both to Sam down at the assembly line and to Theodore in the college Philosophy Department.

ytc said...

Really, the people who complain about these things are either chronic whiners, are stupid, or are dyslexic. I, the young man that I am, can proclaim these prayers aloud with perfect diction. I do have a knack for language and oration, but this is not that hard.

Templar said...

This is why I prefer to just stay with Latin. Any translation seems inadequate, so just stick with the original.

Not because God needs to hear Latin either, Lord knows God will hear it if we speak it in Swazi, but Sacred Liturgy demands a Sacred Language, and we happen to have one, so why bother arguing about which translation is best, when no translation is necessary.

Jenny said...

Both of these prayers make perfect sense to me when I read them. When attending Mass, understanding the prayers as heard depends a great deal on the priest. The parish I generally attend has been blessed with an outstanding pastor. However, he is originally from Europe, and English is not his first language. Although I do not have any trouble understanding his homilies or understanding the prayers under the old translation, with the new translation, many of the prayers often sound like nonsense. I have often found myself thinking, "Surely I heard that wrong. There's no way they could have meant that...." I try to address this by reading the prayers in the missalette before Mass so that I have an idea of what is supposed to be said--hoping that this will make it easier to catch what he is saying. Unfortunately, some of the prayers--especially some during the Eucharistic prayer--do not appear to be in the missalette, and I have no idea what was said.

Michael said...

Agreed. The "Prayer Over the Gifts" is almost unintelligible, and made more so because, I'm convinced, it's grammatically wrong. ". . . myrrh, but he who" should be "myrrh, but him" with "him" being the object of "offered." I prefer the new translation to the 1973 ICEL, but this particular prayer is very badly done.

Michael said...

Agreed. The "Prayer Over the Gifts" is nearly unintelligible. Moreover, it's grammatically wrong. ". . . myrrh, but he" should be "myrrh, but him" with "him" as the object of "offered."

John Nolan said...

Michael, you're wrong. "Are offered" is the passive voice, and the things that are offered are therefore in the nominative case. "He is offered", not "Him is offered".