A brief post on the new Missal translation

Lately, I’ve been posting much tamer, more reflection-like material on the blog. However, today I can’t help but post briefly about a subject of some minor controversy (which I think has mostly died down by now), that of the new translation of the Roman Missal.

I think most people complained about the new translation because of its replacement of old familiar phrases like “And also with you” (though as a Catholic consciously saying those words for over a decade, my first impulse just a moment ago was to write “And with your spirit,” so the change happens pretty fast if you’re willing). Another bone of contention, and probably a more important issue, would be the higher-gravity theology vocab words like “ineffable” and the like, as well as literalistic wordiness of the prayers. The “dynamic equivalence” tactic of the 70’s translation attempted to simplify the sometimes difficult to understand theological terms and the sometimes winding multi-phrased sentence long prayers in the original Latin text. Those who did not accept this method would note that not providing a literal translation of the texts would likely water down the theology expressed in those prayers. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Let’s do a brief WDTPRS style comparison to see the difference between the new and old translations for the collect on Thursday of the Second Week of Easter, and see how much of the new literal translation is expressed in the old.

New translation:

“O God, who for the salvation of the world brought about the paschal sacrifice, be favorable to the supplications of your people, so that Christ our High Priest, interceding on our behalf, may by his likeness to ourselves bring us reconciliation, and by his equality with you free us from our sins. Through our Lord…”

Many strong theological concepts expressed in this prayer: salvation through sacrifice, having to ask for God’s favor, Christ as our intercessor like us but equal with the Father bringing us the salvation we seek.

Now, the old translation:

“God of mercy, may the Easter mystery we celebrate be effective throughout our lives.”

Uh… how is this anything close to the first prayer? Sure, Easter implicitly suggests the paschal sacrifice, I suppose, and its effect would be our reconciliation… but you can’t tell any of that from the actual words of the prayer! What’s clear, comparing these two texts (assuming the new translation truly is literal to the Latin text) is that the old translation so often (not always, this is an extreme case) fell miles and miles short of expressing anything close to what the prayer actually tried to say in the Latin. Thank God we have a new translation for the Mass that will help people to pray the theology of the Church in a rich way and so help people come to a greater belief in what the Church actually teaches!


About Michael Williams

Ardent greater Clevelander. Brewing industry laborer. Future Theology teacher. Truth seeker. Beloved adopted son of the Father thru JC in the Spirit.
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3 Responses to A brief post on the new Missal translation

  1. James P. Cahill says:

    On the Mass translations – my two biggest problems:
    1. “We may merit to be co-heirs” this sounds awfully Pelagian to me and I still wince when I hear it. We don’t merit jack shit.

    2. Yes, “I believe” is the proper translation of the Latin “credo,” however the creed was written in Greek, not Latin, and the Greek clearly says “we.” This is what was approved at Nicaea and ratified at Constantinople.

    And there is a way to translate the Latin that would maintain accuracy while at the same time not moving into English the cumbersome clauses inherent in Latin. Jerome himself said, “If I translate word for word, it is absurd.

    • Mike Williams says:

      Right, but the second half of the quote is “if I am forced to change something in the word order or style, I seem to have stopped being a translator.” (per a google search) I’m not saying that absolute literalism is the only way, but I think it’s a far better way than what was previously in place. A step in the right direction.

      Merit is a part of the Catholic faith. But the point is it’s always merit after total grace, merit as “co-heirs” of Christ. Without first being a “co-heir”, which we in no way deserve, we could never have any merit. It’s a really relative kind of merit – totally relative to God’s mercy.

      As for the I believe/We believe, doesn’t make a huge difference to me. The “I” that I utter at Mass these days doesn’t sound or feel particularly individualistic or private to me – more like a collective “I”, essentially a “we.”

      I should have known you were going to comment on this. 🙂

  2. James P. Cahill says:

    And the old bishop here in Jacksonville, Victor Galeone, who is a Latin scholar extraordinaire, said that if one of his students turned in that Mass translation for a grade, he would flunk them.

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