Friday, December 13, 2013


Shortly after the Ordinary Form of the Mass was translated into English in the 1960's using the extremely flawed method of dynamic equivalency rather than the accuracy of the literal/formal method of translating, especially for the laity's parts of the Mass, new music in English had to be developed for the Kyrie, Gloria, Alleluia, Credo, Sanctus, Mystery of Faith, Amen, Our Father and Lamb of God.

I clearly remember in the late 1960's and well into the 1970's and even the 80's that improvised paraphrased pieces for these parts were used where the words were not even the silly equivalent translation in the Roman Missal of that period. Words were replaced with other words, and even parts of the prayer were eliminated all in the name of "artistic" license and the so-called dynamic equivalent method of translating liturgical texts into the vernacular.

Maybe some of you who are my age and older can remember this. Even songs that appeared to be basically the same meaning of these parts of the Mass were used in place of the actual words for the parts of the Mass.

Well, thanks be to God, this, for the most part, is no longer the case today and certainly should not be the case with any new music using the glorious and accurate literal/formal translation of the Latin Mass into English.


Yes, even after the new and glorious English translation of the Mass using the literal/formal method, the 1960's mentality of using something dynamically equivalent with basically the same meaning, but completely different words, is still allowed for the Entrance Chant, Offertory Chant and Communion Chant. Clearly this is the 1960's dynamic equivalent translation mentality still allowed for these parts of the Mass, albeit the last choice in a hierarchy of choices for those who plan the Mass's music found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

When will there be consistency in applying the literal/formal translation of the the Latin Mass into English when it comes to these chants that are as much a part of the official Mass as the Gloria, Sanctus and other parts?

I have no answer other then to encourage those who plan the music of the Mass never to omit the first or second option for these parts of the Mass for the most abysmal option, #4 in the General Instruction which still to this day in 2013 moving into 2014 allows for another choice of music equivalent to the official chants of the Mass such as Protestant hymns, newer Catholic Broadway sounding melodies and the abysmal like! How 1960's is that!


John Nolan said...

Father, I don't know where you got the diagram at the top of your article from, but it purports to show that as accuracy in translation increases, clarity diminishes. This might be the opinion of the Pater Ignotuses of this world, but it is demonstrably false and in fact contradicts your argument.

Pater Ignotus said...

John Nolan - It is not my opinion that an increase in accuracy necessarily results in a decrease in clarity. Not at all.

Very clear and very accurate translations of the prayers of the Roman Missal are attainable, but only if one does some significant adjustment to the rules of LA.

Requiring that word order, phrase order, clause arrangement - syntax, in general - be maintained in the English as in the Latin is 1) unnecessary and 2) an impediment to the clarity we seek and need.

An accurate translation does not require maintaining the syntax of the original language.

John Nolan said...

PI, if you start adjusting the English translation of (say) a Latin Collect, without any real understanding of what the Latin actually says (and on your own admission your knowledge of Latin is limited) then you run a grave risk of distorting or falsifying the text, since you are in effect translating a translation. When I was a child I learned the following prayer for the faithful departed:
"O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful; grant to the souls of Thy servants departed the remission of all their sins, that through our pious supplications they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired".
What's wrong with the English in that? More than 50 years on I can still remember it. In Latin it reads:
"Fidelium, Deus, omnium Conditor et Redemptor: animabus famulorum tuorum defunctorum remissionem cunctorum tribue peccatorum; ut indulgentiam quam semper optaverunt, piis supplicationibus consequantur".

It is obvious that there has been no attempt to impose the word order or syntax of the original Latin onto the English, yet is a good translation which conveys something of the rhythm of the Latin. It is in complete conformity with the rules of LA. Could you do any better? If so, let's have your version.

Formal equivalence as mandated by LA does not require that Latin syntax be replicated in English or any other language for that matter, since to do so is an impossibility and is not what translation is about. My CTS hand missal for the Novus Ordo usefully prints the Latin and English side-by-side and even a cursory comparison shows that the principle which is applied is the same that was used in translating the prayer I cited above, which is (with one slight modification) the Collect used in the daily Mass for the Faithful departed.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - I understand English well enough to know if the adjustments I make change the meaning of the texts. They do not. If I have any sense that these adjustments change the meaning, or if I can't make heads or tails of how to fix the texts, then I don't make the change.

The LA rules call for maintain the Latin syntax. That is an imposition on English syntax.

"Thy servants departed" is better rendered "Thy departed servants" in American English. This change impacts not in the least the meaning of the text, now does it?

One may argue that "Thy servants departed" is more elegant or more poetic or more something else, I suppose. But why not use the clearer word order for American English speakers?

Pater Ignotus said...

LA 57.a. "The connection between various expressions, manifested by subordinate and relative clauses, the ordering of words, and various forms of parallelism, is to be maintained as completely as possible in a manner appropriate to the vernacular language."

Among others...

John Nolan said...

PI, the key phrase is "in a manner appropriate to the vernacular language". All languages use subordinate and relative clauses, otherwise they simply reduce a text to a number of unconnected bullet points. Syntax is the grammatical structure of a sentence, which in Latin is determined less by word order than by inflection (word ending). English is one of the least inflected of modern languages and the meaning of a sentence is determined by word order and the use of prepositions. In the prayer I quoted the Latin does not use a single preposition whereas the English requires 'of' (twice), 'to' and 'through'. The Latin begins with the genitive plural 'fidelium' (of the faithful) followed by the vocative 'Deus' (O God) and another genitive plural, this time an adjective, 'omnium' (of all) - its case makes it clear that it goes with 'fidelium' but in English it can't be separated from the noun. The main verb 'tribue' is imperative (grant) and is inserted between the adjective 'cuctorum' and its noun 'peccatorum', both in the genitive plural (elegant in Latin, not possible in English). The object of 'tribue' which is 'remissionem' comes before the verb which would not make sense in English but makes perfect sense in Latin since it is in the accusative case.

The final clause is familiar from English syntax; 'ut' (that, so that) followed by the subjunctive 'consequamur' (may obtain) with a relative sub-clause, for want of a better term, 'quam semper optaverunt' (which they have always desired) but apart from the addition of a preposition and personal pronouns, which the Latin doesn't require, in order to conform to English syntax the word order must be changed, otherwise it would read "that the pardon which they have always desired through (our) pious supplications they may obtain".

It is impossible to construct an English sentence using Latin syntax, LA never suggested it was, and if your parishioners don't understand English unless it conforms to what they hear on the street, then celebrate in Latin - at least you will know that you are textually correct!

John Nolan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pater Ignotus said...

It is impossible, yet the translators have attempted to do just that. Hence, the need for adjustments.

My parishioners are good, holy, Catholic people - as good, holy, and Catholic as any. They nor I hear prayers on the street and they nor I need you to instruct us on the unnecessary complexities of Latin syntax.

John Nolan said...


"They nor I hear prayers on the street and they nor I need you to instruct us on the unnecessary complexities of Latin syntax".

Wow. If this is an example of your English, God help your parishioners as you arbitrarily and illicitly alter the official texts. I assume you mean "NEITHER they nor I ...". And I'm afraid that if you are going to comment on translations, you need to know what you're talking about. You quote LA 57a, but despite the fact that it is in plain English, you completely and (I suspect) wilfully misunderstand it. 'Ordering of words', for example, does not mean replicating the word order in the Latin text, which simply doesn't work in English, as I demonstrated.

The current texts are not perfect, but they are a vast improvement on the ones they replaced. Translation, particularly of texts which go back to the first millennium, is not as straightforward as (say) translating a magazine article from French to English. The translators had to get their texts approved by the bishops of the English-speaking countries, and after 2008 there was a further revision by the Vox Clara committee.

Latin syntax is not unnecessarily complex, although I suspect you mean that neither you nor your parishioners need trouble yourselves with it. You have said before that knowledge of Latin is "unnecessary". So what qualifies you to assert that the translators, well-versed in both Latin and English would be stupid enough to make English syntax conform to Latin syntax, when everyone who knows anything about translation, including translation of modern languages, would reject such an approach as being an absurdity?

Pater Ignotus said...

John - Now you see what happens when you are presented a sentence that is oddly constructed. WHAT is being said is rather obscured by HOW it is said.

Gene said...

Ignotus, You are a master at obfuscation and prevarication. It is laughable for you even to engage in such a conversation.

John Nolan said...

PI, that particular sentence was ungrammatical, which was why it was not so much ambiguous as meaningless. If I were not familiar with the context I might have assumed that 'nor' was a typo for 'or' in which case the sense would be diametrically opposite to what was intended.

In your last post, 'presented' should have been followed by 'with', but the meaning was not affected.

One reason for the pre-eminence of Latin was that the barbarian languages of the early Middle Ages could not cope with abstract theological concepts (and even Christian Latin had to borrow from Greek). Perhaps the dumbed-down non-literary English which is the vernacular of many people nowadays is equally deficient.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - The late, lamented "with" was omitted because I was posting way too early in the morning. Let that be a lesson to me.

"Neither" was omitted intentionally to create a non-standard text. The reaction to the non-standard text was a laser-like focus on the text itself, not what the text was communicating. That's one of the problems with non-standard writing.

The texts of the Roman Missal are non-standard to speakers and/or writers of American English. This does not indicate we are poorly educated or that we are too "stupid" to understand English. It means that the texts, following the rules set down in LA, are not optimal for communicating the sacred mysteries to the people of God.

I'd rather have more standard texts that do a better job of communicating than "slavishly accurate" translations that miss the mark.

John Nolan said...

PI, sorry to keep banging on about this, but omitting words from a text that need to be there does not create a non-standard text, it merely creates a text from which words are missing. I read works of both fiction and non-fiction by American authors and find there is very little difference between British and American English; apart from differences in spelling, it's only the very occasional and minor thing which betrays the nationality of the author.

Looking at three of the best-known prayers, the Our Father, Hail Mary and Hail Holy Queen, only the first is arguably in non-standard English, since it uses certain terms and phraseology that are now archaic. (I'm not talking here about 'thees' and 'thous' which can be altered to modern usage without materially affecting the text). The second is a straightforward translation of the Latin, with no extra words added. The third, a translation made by Adrian Fortescue in 1913 is an accurate translation of the Latin which conveys something of the poetry of the original in an effective and memorable way. This means occasionally adding a word; 'Salve, Regina' becomes 'Hail, Holy Queen', and 'exsules filii Evae' becomes 'poor, banished children of Eve'. But it's standard English.

But, you may say, it's not the sort of English you use when ordering a pizza, so how can it be standard? Because standard English has a variety of styles for different contexts. The style used when ordering a pizza is not the style used when giving a lecture, or preaching a sermon, or (as in this case) reciting a paean to Our Lady. The only change made in this prayer when it crossed the Atlantic was that 'vale of tears' became 'valley of tears', presumably because 'vale' was not used topographically in North America.

Most Catholics can still pray the Angelus. The closing prayer (Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts) is next Sunday's Collect in the OF. Most people only realized this two years ago when they heard the new translation for the first time, so woeful was the previous version, which didn't mention grace at all. And it was by no means the worst example. My Solesmes Gregorian Missal (1990) still has the old "translation" of the Collects alongside the Latin. In every case the English has far fewer words (to translate Latin you need more words, not fewer) which is not surprising, considering the amount they left out when they effectively rewrote them. Was this "communicating the sacred mysteries to the people of God?" Hardly.

John Nolan said...

Following my last comment, I have come across a translation of the Salve Regina approved by the USCCB which is worth quoting in full.

"Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you we cry, the children of Eve; to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this land of exile. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy on us. Lead us home at last and show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus."

Now, on reading this without knowing the original, it appears to be a quite decent prayer in fairly direct English. However, on further examination it raises some problems. Firstly, the translator knew that the Fortescue translation was deeply ingrained, so he has "to you we cry" rather than the more idiomatic "we cry to you", and phrases like "most gracious advocate". Secondly, for some reason he omits the 'banished' from 'children of Eve' and renders 'in hac lacrimarum valle' as 'in this land of exile'. If Hermann of Reichenau, who wrote this prayer ten centuries ago, wanted to say this, he would have written 'in hac terra exsilii', but he didn't.

Later on, a completely new phrase is inserted, viz. 'Lead us home at last'. We are not wandering aimlessly in this vale of tears(our exile from the garden of Eden) and will leave it when God calls us.

This version fails on several counts. It is not an accurate translation of the Latin. It is neither poetic nor memorable. Its additions are theologically dubious. It's not even in the direct English it claims to be. Catholics (who are supposed to be educated to an extent their ancestors only dreamed of) need to be reconnected to the style and idiom of formal public prayer.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - I don't agree. Omitting words does result in non-standard English. "Our Father, who in heaven. Hallowed Thy name" is pretty non-standard by anyone's measure.

Other forms of non-standard English include, but are not limited to, e.e. cummings' non-capitalization and Frank McCort's non-use of quotation marks, which I found infuriating.

A wonderful, fun novel, Ella Minnow Pea, is another example, employing the non-standard lipogrammatical dropping of a vowel or vowels.

I don't want pizza ordering English used at mass - we've never had that, in fact. I do want standard English as spoken in these United States. I prefer not to sound like an odd admixture of Yoda and Hyacinth Bucket.

Oddly enough, I learned the Hail Holy Queen with the word "vale" not "valley." I imagine that was the influence of the mostly Irish Sisters of Mercy who taught us.

While you find unfamiliar that unfamiliar translations "fail" I suggest it is more because they are unfamiliar than because they are weak in themselves.

Every prayer we say was, at one time, unfamiliar...

John Nolan said...

PI, agreed. If it is a newly composed prayer, fine. But a translation of an existing prayer is not a newly composed prayer.

I got into the car this afternoon and the radio came on automatically. A choir was singing a 20th century setting of the Magnificat. The first thing I heard was 'quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae' so I immediately knew where I was. Those like yourself who consider Latin to be unnecessary cut themselves off from a liturgical and musical heritage which is at least 1500 years old and is still continuing. I don't belong to a Church whose memory doesn't go further back than 1965.

John Nolan said...

If I were asked to give a literal translation of the Salve Regina it would be something like:

"Hail, O Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. We, banished children of Eve, cry to you and sigh to you, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. So then, you who are our advocate, turn your merciful eyes on us; and after our exile here show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb."

It's dull, it's pedestrian, but it's an accurate translation. What it lacks is poetry and memorability. I won't criticize a translation because it's unfamiliar, but I expect a greater degree of accuracy than that shown in the USCCB version I quoted earlier.

Gene said...

Now, John, you know there is no poetry in Ignotus' soul…well, maybe some beat poetry or something like that...

John Nolan said...

Gene, arguing with PI can sometimes seem like playing ping-pong with an android, but nothing in life is easy. You have to keep in mind the old adage - Magna est veritas, et praevalebit.

Gene said...

John, the PI reduction to pedestrian English of your adage is as follows: "Hey, truth is cool and it rocks."
BTW, I'll take the android...

Pater Ignotus said...

John and Pin/Gene - I don't favor pedestrian language. I never have.

You assumed that I do, but that is based not on anything I have said, but on your own psyches and prejudices.

I think many of the prayers of the Missal are very good. But far too many of them are clunky, and awkward. And, because of the rules laid down by LA, too many become a jumble of clauses, of subjects and verbs separated by one or two clauses, with vague internal cohesion.

They do not achieve what LA calls for in #25: "So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision."

The dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision can be preserved without trying to fit Latin syntax into American English.

Gene said...

Ignotus, You are simply amazing in you dishonesty and prevarication. Ity couldn't possibly be a problem with you…oh no…it is with everyone else's "psyche and prejudice." I'd love to call you a liar and a pretender to your face, but I don't think you are supposed to do that to Priests. Makes me wish (almost) that I was still a Calvinist for five minutes...

Pater Ignotus said...

Pin/Gene - I am not dishonest. I don't want "pedestrian" language in the prayers of the mass. What I want I have clearly stated.

What you think I want comes entirely from your own mind, not from what I think or what I say.

You can call me whatever you want - that, too, is your issue, not mine.

John Nolan said...

PI, I think you need to give an example of a text you think has been badly translated, say why you think so, and say how you would alter it. Fr Zuhlsdorf (who is a Latinist whereas I am merely Latin-literate, which is not the same thing) has, on his blog and in his Catholic Herald column looked closely at the Proper prayers of the Roman Missal (some of these were in the 1962 MR, others are taken from ancient sacramentaries, a few are new compositions). He gives the Latin, which he analyses, then what he calls "a slavishly literal translation", then the 2011 version, and finally the obsolete 1973 version.

Zuhlsdorf is not assuming that all his readers know Latin, but it is clear that the 2011 versions, while maintaining the structure of the originals, do not attempt to replicate their syntax. Occasionally they don't do full justice to the originals, and they also have a habit of inserting "we pray" when the Latin doesn't have "quaesumus" or an equivalent. Some of the awkwardness (which shouldn't be exaggerated) is a result of too many people having had a hand in the translation. If someone of the calibre of Adrian Fortescue had been given sole charge of the translation it would have been better and would have taken a fraction of the time. But that's not the way we do things these days.

You can't write decent English without using subordinate clauses, and there is nothing in English usage which says the subject must directly precede the verb. Anyway, compare the following (Feast of the Lord's Baptism):

"O God, whose Only Begotten Son has appeared in our very flesh, grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed through him whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves".

The Latin has "in the substance of our flesh" and "we may merit to be inwardly transformed", and since this is the main verb of the clause beginning "that", it is, following Latin syntactical rules, placed at the end. It would be perfectly understandable in Engish, but it is awkward, and so the translators have quite correctly placed it first.


"Father, your only Son revealed himself to us by becoming man. May we who share his humanity come to share his divinity".

Not in the remotest sense a translation, and not even praying for the same thing. But even so, subject and verb are still separated by a relative clause. Yet you presumably prayed this year after year without raising any objection, or showing the slightest wish to alter it so that it bore some semblance to the original.