Sunday, December 10, 2017


Pope Francis has reopened the translation wars and the usual suspects are gleeful, especially the academics who are the most clerical of all clericalism. They look down the noses of those of us who like learning new vocabulary words.

This is an excerpt from praytell which establishes the superior credentials of the academic who writes this. Eamon Duffy, the distinguished Cambridge historian :

He describes the 2011 translation as
larded with latinate technical terms – “compunction”, “conciliation”, “participation”, “supplication”, “consubstantial”, “prevenient”, “sustenance”, “oblation”, “laud” – for all of which there are far more user-friendly English equivalents.
He notes that it “bizarrely attempts to replicate the complex grammatical structures of Latin. The result is protracted sentences with multiple subordinate clauses, hard for priests to proclaim and for congregations to follow.” (Here I agree with the Cambridge historian as I think the current English translation can use some tweaking to make it better English in sentence and paragraph structure as well as punctuation. )

Duffy accurately spots that the 2011
embodies the theories on translation set out in Liturgiam Authenticam, a profoundly untraditional text. It not only represented a rupture with world-wide post-conciliar developments in the liturgy, but in the interests of a tendentious argument it oversimplified the untidy plurality of the liturgical past. Revealingly, its 86 footnotes contain only two references to anything written before 1947, one of those a citation from Aquinas which distorted his meaning by taking it out of context.
To be sure, Duffy also speaks of the superiority of the translation that every English-speaking bishops’ conference in the world approved in 1998. It
retained what was best in the texts in use since the 1970s, while providing dignified and accurate versions of prayers which had earlier been paraphrased or shoddily rendered. But it also succeeded in producing texts that sounded natural in English, rather than slavishly replicating the verbal patterns peculiar to Latin. That cut no ice in Benedict XVI’s Rome: the bishops were browbeaten into accepting the suppression of their own admirable Missal.


Rood Screen said...

It seems to me that the problem with the previous translation was that it was often not a translation. For example, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" does not exist in the Latin original, because the acclamation after the Consecration is supposed to be addressed to Christ. The English translation did not appear to be addressed to anyone, but instead was just a statement made up for English speakers.

Even the new translation features some of this, such as the conclusion of the Gospel when the deacon says in English "the Gospel of the Lord", despite the Latin being "Verbum Domini".

Why not just translate it accurately, even if simpler words are employed to do so?

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

"Participation" is one of the "new" translations words that rubs me the wrong way.

"Through our participation at the altar..."

In this part of the English speaking world, "participation" is an unwieldy concept, it seems.

Maintaining Latin syntax is also a bit of an unnecessary and unhelpful burden.

Example: 18th Sunday Ordinary Time Prayer After Communion - "Accompany with constant protection, O Lord, those you renew with these heavenly gifts..."

Might, "Accompany, O Lord, those you renew with these heavenly gifts with [Your] constant protection..." be better?

John Nolan said...

This is hilarious. Duffy himself uses words like 'compunction', 'participation', 'sustenance' and so on in his writings, for the simple reason that English, unlike German, borrows most of its abstract nouns from Latin. He also uses complex sentences with subordinate clauses, since he is writing serious history, not composing an advertising blurb.

I doubt that Duffy has really studied the 1998 Sacramentary, with its newly-composed orations and clumsy attempts at 'inclusive language' and he appears not to be familiar with the events leading up to its rejection by the CDWDS, which had voiced its concerns on more than one occasion in the previous ten years. I also get the impression that he has not paid much attention to the detailed reasons given for its rejection, which have little to do with Liturgiam Authenticam, which did not appear until 2001.

If he really said: 'That cut no ice in Benedict XVI's Rome; the bishops were browbeaten into accepting the suppression of their own admirable Missal' then this is a unforgiveable lapse in a respected historian. The 1998 translation was not suppressed, it was simply refused the required 'recognitio'. And Benedict XVI was not elected until 2005, by which time the revision of the translation, by a reconstituted ICEL, was already underway.

John Nolan said...

Fr Kavanaugh

Your version conveys the same meaning, although I'm not convinced it's a good idea to put too much verbal distance between the ideas of accompanying and protection. In any case, it's a minor tweak. The Latin reads:

Quos caelesti recreas munere, perpetuo Domine comitare praesidio ...

Note - eight words where the English requires thirteen. Such elegant precision is not possible in English. Note how in both clauses the adjective and the noun are separated by the verb, common in Latin, impossible in English. The subordinate clause, which is the object of the imperative 'comitare' (accompany) is placed first, but this would sound awkward in English. So much for 'maintaining Latin syntax'!

So we have, literally, 'those you renew with (a, the) heavenly gift' followed by 'accompany, Lord, with constant protection'.

The heavenly gift, is of course the Eucharist, so why did the translators change the singular to the plural?

Also, 'participation' is a post-V2 buzz-word, so it should appeal to you.

George said...

Two significant changes that were made were adding "consubstantial" and "Incarnate" to the Creed. 'Of the same substance' is certainly not a good translation.
One human being is of the same substance as another, but each is a distinct being separate from the other. We know by faith that our God is Three Persons in ONE Being. So the Son of God is 'substantial with' the Father,though a separate distinct Person.

The replacing of "Born of the Virgin Mary" with "Incarnate of the Virgin Mary" is a recognition that Christ was the God-man from the moment of His conception.

Many Catholics may not appreciate the theological precision and significance of these two changes, but for those who understand the difference they are now in the Creed, and for those will will eventually become aware, the changes will be there for them.

Anonymous said...

"Of the same substance" when used of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father is a very good translation. It is an accurate translation of the Greek "homoousios," about as accurate as it gets.

If maintaining the notion of ONE being was desires, then "one in being with the Father" might fill the bill.

As to the "Born of the Virgin Mary," if clarity is desired, the text used by the Christian Reformed might work, "he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,..."

Episcopalians say, "by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary..."

John Nolan said...

In England it was always 'he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.' The bishops insisted on this. They also had 'my sacrifice and yours' instead of 'our sacrifice' at the Orate Fratres, and in EP IV after the Consecration mandated 'this one bread and one cup' instead of 'this bread and wine'.

George said...

The problem with "one in being with the Father" is that one could take is as
Christ "is with" the Father but not necessarily the same Being. Is He "being with" the Father or is He the same God-Being?

If you are a human being, which I presume you are,then you and I are of the same substance, but are separate beings. Accuracy in translation should not preclude precision in what is being conveyed.

As far as the use of the term "Incarnate", I wasn't arguing phraseology, but
only the use of that term over the use of "born of". Also the Creed we profess already has "conceived by the Holy Spirit".

Anonymous said...

"One in being" is clearly not "being with."

"One in being" is a description of the term "homoousios."

It is not a description of geography.

One could take "consubstantial" as "of the same substance but not necessarily one."

Victor said...

Yawn. I am very happy to be mastering liturgical Latin, and am awed every time I hear its use in the TLM. Liturgical translations into the vulgar tongues will always be problematic, and it pleases me to now be above those unnecessary problems.
The Jews in the 19th century resurrected a dying if not already dead language, Hebrew, and reserved it for God. Almost every Jew today understands Hebrew, and can worship and praise God through it. Too bad Catholics are either too lazy or unwilling to do more to worship their Creator in a language that was made sacred by its use on the very Cross of our Saviour, Latin.

Anonymous said...

“Godlessness in the Last Days 2 Timothy 3 3-9

3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, 7 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith; 9 but they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

John Nolan said...


I had five years of Latin at school, which hardly makes me a classicist. Yet three years before my first Latin lesson I was serving Mass and knew the responses by heart, and what their equivalent was in English.

I have never bothered to learn the Gloria or Credo in English (in my lifetime both have had three 'liturgical' versions) because I have never had to say, much less sing them.

Also, respect for liturgical Latin engenders respect for the language generally. I have now, fifty years after my last Latin lesson, rediscovered an interest in Classical Latin. I hope it's not too late for me to get into Ovid.

I still to a certain extent stand by the rather extreme position I was forced to adopt in the 1970s - 'If it ain't Latin, it ain't liturgy'. At least, not Catholic liturgy.

Anonymous said...

"Forced" to adopt?


TJM said...

Quelle Surprise! Just left-wing loons being dictatorial left-wing loons. I go to the Latin Liturgy so I wouldn't care if they said the English Mass in ebonics (probably their secret desire)

John Nolan said...

Force of circumstance. Anonymous, you are indeed a bear of little brain, which accounts for your reticence in identifying yourself.

Henry said...

Fr Kavanaugh,

In the particular instance you cite, ICEL 2011 reversed in English the order of the principal Latin clauses in order to render what seems to me a rather smooth translation that is readily proclaimed and easily understood, and thus may not have rigidly obeyed Liturgiam authenticam.

That said, I suspect that the authors of LA realized that the strait jacket of slavish adherence to the original Latin syntax could produce awkward results, but saw no less stringent a requirement to extract (however painfully) faithful translations from a community of liturgists that had so miserably failed to preserve full and authentic meaning in its earlier (mis)translations.

Perhaps after another forty years of use of the currently imperfect but vastly improved English translation has restored more general understanding of our Latin liturgy, it will be possible to revisit the issue with a goal of a translation that is both reliable and reasonably smooth (or even eloquent). Too bad this was not the goal a half century ago.

Anonymous 2 said...

I have a technical question. Regarding Father Kavanaugh’s observations on the word “participation,” when I read this word in this context it conjures up for me the metaphysical doctrines of Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas. Is it possible that the word “participation” in the phrase “through our participation at the altar” (in Eucharistic Prayer I?) is doing some metaphysical work here in the context of the surrounding words?:

“In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God:
command that these gifts be borne
by the hands of your holy Angel
to your altar on high
in the sight of your divine majesty,
so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar
receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son,
may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.”

George said...

Anonymous@ 6:38 AM

The Latin was rendered from the Greek noun "ousia" (being) as "substantia", and the Greek adjective "homoousios" (of the same being)

Consubstantial(from the latin),unlike the Greek from which it was translated, connotes substance, as well as being. Otherwise, why was "One in being" replaced by consubtantial, and not kept? There is a unity of substance,essence and being, but a distinction of Persons in the Trinity.

George said...


We are a participant in the Eucharistic celebration of the Eternal Sacrifice of Christ by our actively taking part in it. We are also actively participate by partaking of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ which is offered to us after being offered up at the altar to the Eternal Father in Heaven.
What we do may have a metaphysical aspect to it, but really it transcends that.

Gene said...

Anon 2, I do not care for the word "participation," as one might expect of a Calvinist/Jansenist. You have also hit upon another issue...this metaphysics thing. Theology is not metaphysics. This is why protestant theologians do not like Aquinas, and they have a point. Metaphysics, largely Platonic in origin, implies a great chain of being that moves from man to God through a rational progression. There are many variations on this but, if you are a student of philosophy, the pinnacle of such thinking is probably found in the "Process Philosophers" like Whitehead, Hartshorne, Daniel Day Williams, etc. This is why serious Christian theologians prefer Kant, who says that metaphysics is pretty much an impossibility (never mind his writing a couple of very complex volumes about the same). So, Kant is often employed to remind us of that "discontinuity" between man and God that is essential to an understanding of Revelation. "Participation," in the theological sense, tends to posit a necessary continuity in man's relationship to God that, in Christian thought, is only established contingently through the work of the Holy Spirit. "God's action and presence are not predicated upon any determination of being." (Karl Barth) This is, of course, the crux of much protestant/Catholic theological disagreement. Sadly, there is no "happy" medium.

Anonymous said...

The translation debates remind me of beating a dead horse. The prayers are meant for God and He understands Latin. The Mass should be taught and explained in Sunday school to Catholic children. At the end the student would be better catechized and would have completed a course in a foreign language. The benefits are spiritual and intellectual. In addition, the practice would probably engender strong Catholic identity. Jewish children are taught to pray in Hebrew, muslim children are taught to read the Koran in Arabic no matter their particular mother tongue. Often wonder why no one thinks in practical terms.

rcg said...

To tie the disdain of Latin back to the supersubstantial (did you catch that?) societal changes that are blamed for the existance of lazy liturgical procedures: please note that the push for simplistic vernacular use predated the exponential increase of technology in our society and is, therefore, an outdated approach. Concurrent with that increased technological presence was the increased use of complex as well as obscure terms derived from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and other languages to express technical concepts. People have become inured to the rapid change of language and expect themselves and others to keep up with it.

I recommend that the progressive clergy get with it and start interjecting more jargon and obscure phrases into their work. The peeps will dig it.

rcg said...

That is why I like Gene. Despite his rough and sharp edges he is good at explaining this sort of thing.

I don’t know if it was intended but the participation as it is currently explained has usurped the role of the priest and left the work of the layman largely undone. The Three Persons of God is our Command, the priest is the pilot and we are the crew. I synchronise what I am doing with what is going on up front. If I can’t hear it then all I have to do is look at the configuration of the altar and what the people upfront are doing to know what I should be doing. Mental cleansing and focus on the Mass, check; assembling the crew, check; review the order of battle and mission objectives, check; flight checks in before final approach to target, missing flight members noted, check; post release checklist and landing sequence assigned; dismissed.

The enemy shows himself during these raids. He sees the formation and hears the thunder of all the prayers and craps his pants. He also makes his best attacks by distracting you and getting you to think about work stuff outside of Mass or the clevage of the woman in the pew in front of you. You don’t have anymore time for that rubbish. Pray like it is your last ever prayer and that you may not make it to end of Mass. Let the priest be the priest, let God be God. That is what participation is for me.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Yes, the prayers of the Mass are directed to God and He understands them, no matter the language. All we need is a good translation of the prayers into our own language so that we are properly formed in Catholic prayer and how to pray as Catholics.

What disturbs me the most about vernacular Mass is that Catholics now are segregated by language groups in the same parish. I don't have a Spanish Mass in my new parish, but I am told there are a significant number of Mexicans in my parish who do not come to the English Masses. If I provide a Spanish Mass they will come.

In pre-vatican II times, despite the national parishes we had in the north catering to immigrants of various countries, the Mass was the Mass and everyone had the same Mass in the same language, primarily Latin. It was only the homily and the pastoral care that people needed that required the vernaculars of the parishioners.

I think Pope Francis and others who insist on the vernacular Masses have created so much unnecessary division in the dioceses and parishes were the Mass has to be in the language of the various nationalities.

Marc said...

The problem with arguing for the use of Latin on the logic that "God understands our prayer even when we don't" is that the logic could be further used to completely negate the need to pray at all -- after all, God knows what we're going to ask before we ask it.

In other words, there is a didactic element to liturgical prayer. While it is possible that the liturgical action as a whole could present the proper education, and I would argue that the Latin Mass does so, it is also important to understand the prayers themselves. Put simply, we need to know what we're praying so that we can know the faith and vice versa.

In our times, though, that goal isn't necessarily accomplished solely by the hearing of the prayer during the liturgy and its contemporaneous comprehension. It could also be accomplished by the use of a vernacular missal, the reading of the prayers in advance, or the sermon of the priest incorporating a discussion of the prayers.

TJM said...

Fr. McDonald,

The balkanization of the American Church into various language groups has been a pernicious development and conflicts with St. John XXIII's Veterum Sapientia where he clearly stated that "Latin is the language which joins the Church of today." I sometimes attend Mass at a parish which is about 50/50 English and Spanish speaking. That parish has the EF and it is a wonderful thing to witness all of us praying in the Church's common tongue. Missalettes are provided with both English and Spanish translations.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Blaming Pope Francis for creating "unnecessary division" is silly.

Long before he ascended to the Archbishopric of Rome, the "divisions" based on languages within the same parishes were an established fact.

As you note, ethnic parishes, reflecting national origins as well as language, were common in many places for as long as Catholics from different nations and speaking different languages were coming to America. One of my seminary classmates came from Berlin, NH, 130 miles from the Canadian border, where there were four Catholic churches. He said that, when he was growing up, the French speaking Catholics, if asked how many churches were in the town, would reply, "Three Catholic Churches and the Irish Church."

Catering to the needs of specific language groups is a blessing. Yes, there is a linguistic division in the parish, but that reflects the ethnic division that already exists in many places.

John Nolan said...

Where I part company with Fr K and other critics of the translation norms of Liturgiam Authenticam is that they assume, without explaining how, that the ICEL translators have attempted to impose Latin syntax onto English, to the detriment of the latter.

Latin, being a highly inflected language, has a syntax of its own. Compare this passage from Ovid (Metamorphoses III, l.14-16) with its English translation.

vix bene Castalio Cadmus descenderat antro/ incustodiam lente videt ire iuvencam/ nullam servitii signum cervice gerentem.

Cadmus had scarcely left the Castalian cave when he saw an unguarded heifer, moving slowly, and showing no mark of the yoke on her neck.

Nothing of the Latin is missing, yet the English word order and syntax are English, not Latin. One of the guiding principles of the new ICEL was to preserve the Collect form. Cranmer had done this in the BCP, but, more significantly, it was how Catholics prayed in the vernacular - 'Pour forth, we beseech thee O Lord, thy grace into our hearts; that we ...'

Occasional infelicities apart, this is an enormous advantage. In 2011 I spoke to a priest who celebrated the Novus Ordo in both Latin and English. He said that for the first time he felt that he was celebrating the same Mass.

As for 1998, it was so wretched a concept that I, for one, would never have attended it, whereas I would attend a vernacular Mass in the current form (although, fortunately, I rarely have to).

Henry said...

It seems to me a that ethnic parishes--where sermons and hymns, etc, as well as catechesis, devotions and other events are in the vernacular, at least while immigrant populations are still assimilating--are clearly a good thing for the preservation of Catholic faith in ethnic communities.

But all such communities should share the unity of faith and superior spiritual benefit of the Mass itself in Latin. Everyone equally conversant with the Mass in Latin and the vernacular agrees that Latin does provide superior spiritual benefits. The only disagreement I've ever seen has come from those with little or no experience with worship in Latin. The liturgy has developed in other sacred languages--e.g., Aramaic, Greek and old church Slavonic--in other cultures, but in Western culture, our traditions of worship and spirituality have developed exclusively in Latin, and to date remain largely inaccessible in vernacular languages.

Henry said...

The horrors of tower-of-Babel liturgy, from an account of a tourist on the Mediterranean island of Myconos:

"We were given a novel kind of missal as we went in. It was in eight languages, and done in parallel, so that each double-page spread had eight boxes of text, one for each language. The bishops who have responsibility for the Greek islands realise that in summer their churches become little towers of Babel, and have imaginatively designed this book to help everyone cope. It works very well.

"The people’s parts of the Mass were done in Latin, because that was likeliest to be the language we all had in common. The variable prayers were done in Greek. The non-Gospel readings were done twice over, once in Greek and once in English. The Gospel was in Greek only, but we had all been given sheets with the readings in our own language (English, Spanish, etc) so that we could all follow.

"The homily was in Italian, and the priest paused every few sentences so that one of the congregation – a person from Philadephia whom I loathed on sight for reasons I shan’t go into here – could translate into English. The same sort of thing happened whenever the priest wanted to give us instructions or exhortation during the Mass.

"Deepening my devotions, or distracting from them (it’s hard to tell which) was the eighth language in the missal. Latin, Greek, English, Spanish, Polish – all those were straightforward, but what was this thing called “Shqip”? I spent a long time reading the Creed and the Eucharistic Prayer in it, looking for the words for “Lord”, “Father”, and so on, but coming to no conclusion at all." [It turned out that “Shqip” is the Albanian language.]

As for me, I got the same spirit-killing effect once at a so-called “bilingual” Mass in just two languages—a mishmash of English and Spanish. A combination of English and Latin somehow is not quite as bad.

Anonymous 2 said...


I am not so familiar with the Protestant positions on many of these matters, but Catholicism seems to be replete with metaphysical concepts, both Platonic and Aristotelian, resulting from the integration of Greek metaphysical thought into the Catholic Christian tradition, as effected in particular by St. Augustine and St. Thomas. Indeed, aren’t the core doctrines of consubstantiality and transubstantiation essentially (pun intended) metaphysical? And, of course, the metaphysical notion of participation may also have a place in this lexicon, which prompted my original question (is there also a connection with Paul’s notion of being “con-formed” to the image of Christ?).

This said, Kant’s transcendental idealism resonates instinctively with me due to the epistemological humility it represents (and goodness knows, we could benefit from acquiring more of this virtue of humility, both in the area of epistemology and in other areas). But I don’t know how to square this easily with the Catholic tradition’s emphasis on reason and its integration of foundational metaphysical concepts into our belief system. The same is true of our belief in a God of Reason rather than pure Will, which serves to distinguish the Christian (or at least the Catholic) concept of God from what became the dominant and orthodox Islamic concept, the medieval battle between voluntarism and rationalism having differing outcomes in the two traditions.

John Nolan said...


Exactly. The Trisagion on Good Friday is unique in that it is sung in Greek and Latin (Hagios O Theos/ Sanctus Deus etc.) It seems to me to be utterly perverse to alternate Greek and the vernacular (Hagios O Theos/ Holy is God etc.) It's saying in effect 'we respect the liturgical language of the East yet have only contempt for our own.'

We are spared bilingual Masses in England (except, of course, Masses which alternate English and Latin, which isn't quite the same thing). London, which is the most ethnically diverse city in the kingdom, is the place where it easiest to find a Latin Mass.

Some twenty years ago, I visited Hungary. In both Budapest and Esztergom I experienced no difficulty in finding a Mass which was predominantly in Latin. On the day of my departure I left Esztergom for Budapest airport, and, as is traditional before a journey, I went to early morning Mass in a pretty little church across the road from where I was staying. It was in Hungarian, a language I do not understand, but there was no singing and no homily. I followed the actions of the Mass and made the responses in Latin. I didn't feel in the least bit deprived.

John Nolan said...

Reference the quotation from Ovid, above - it should of course read 'incustoditam' and 'nullum'.

Rood Screen said...

Me like easy English. Me no smart. Big words make me sad. They mean to my head.