Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Translation Tuesday: Truths Trapped in Translation?

Welcome to this installment of "New Translation Tuesday."

I am trying to take a little time each day to spend with the prayers in the newly translated Missal. Some days are more inspiring than others. Here is the Collect for Holy Thursday, with which I have been praying today:

O God, who have called us to participate
in this most sacred Supper,
in which your Only Begotten Son,
when about to hand himself over to death,
entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity,
the banquet of his love,
grant, we pray,
that we may draw from so great a mystery,
the fullness of charity and of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

My goodness, there is a lot going on in this prayer. I have read this aloud over and over again. While I certainly understand that the proclamation of the theological truths expressed in this prayer are essential to forming a Eucharistic faith, I am left wondering if this is one example where the strict translation rules have produced a text that is virtually impossible to proclaim well and whose meaning is impossible to grasp when heard at Mass. I am wholeheartedly behind a translation that recovers what our current translation may have paraphrased or glossed over. I just wonder if, when actually proclaimed and prayed, the truths expressed might be lost because of the difficulty celebrants will encounter when preparing and proclaimng this prayer. As always, time and actual experience will be the key.

My ears are going to be much more attentive beginning in Advent. How about yours?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


ethelthefrog said...

At 61 words, it's quite a mouthful and epitomises all that makes me uncomfortable with the new translation.

As usual, I offer the 1998 translation for comparison:

"Lord God,
we are gathered to celebrate this most holy Supper,
at which your only Son, on the eve of his passion,
bequeathed to the Church
a new and everlasting sacrifice
and the rich banquet of his abiding love.
Grant in your mercy
that we may draw from this great mystery
the fullness of charity and life."

Although only four words shorter, dividing it across two sentences makes it much easier to read and proclaim. It also avoids the nineteenth-century "O God, who have...": a construct that, although valid, fell out of use many decades ago.

Hey ho. We're stuck with it, we'd best get used to it. I, for one, am very glad not to have to try to proclaim that in front of a congregation.

Paul Robertson

ethelthefrog said...

The 1998 version also handles "a sacrifice new for all eternity" much better, a phrase that took me four readings to understand.

Dennis said...

Sounds like they should have gotten a poet involved in the new translation.

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Every one of my elementary school teachers - nuns and laywomen - back in the late 50s and early 60s would have decimated this sentence with red ink. Then they would have kept me after school and challenged me to diagram it, corrected my diagramming errors, and made me go home and rewrite it.

FJH 3rd said...

On the other hand, the 1998 translation, as with so many prayers in the 1973 we have been suffering so long, opens with the focus on US: "Lord God, WE are gathered..." rather than the proper focus on God utilized in the new, corrected version: "O God, WHO have called us..."

BTW, I much prefer the "nineteenth century" use of "O God, who..." God knows what he has done, and doesn't need us telling Him that He called us. The new version simply addresses God.

I wish they they had done the same in the Agnus Dei: "Lamb of God, WHO takes away ..." But alas, I guess we couldn't have a perfect translation!

Alan Hommerding said...

I, too, prefer the translation in which we are "called to participate" instead of "gathered to celebrate" ... especially since participation is such a ground-level principle of Vatican II, and participation is also an extension to the Eucharist of baptismal language, in which we are called to our first participation: as members of the mystical Body of Christ in the Holy Spirit.
When I - or the people in my RM3 workshops - have run up against one of these lengthy and quite dense prayers, it's a time to recall that we aren't expected to grasp every truth contained therein immediately. There isn't going to be a quiz on the prayer after Mass! The prayer will be back, and so will we - and perhaps a different word or phrase will leap out for us, touch our hearts, and open the mystery of the celestial banquet a bit more. [Confession: I'm not sure I'd be able to grasp everything contained in this prayer via the '98 translation, either.]
While I do number myself among those who wish that some more poets had been consulted for the phrasing of this precise language, there is nothing in this prayer that is expressed in a completely incomprehensible manner; it calls me to do a bit more work, and be a bit more engaged ... dare I say to participate more fully and consciously, as is my calling?

Jeff Rexhausen said...

To Alan:
If this is where Liturgiam Authenticam leads, then it needs to be named as defective because it is unmistakably in opposition to Sancrosanctam Concilium's mandate that the liturgical rites be "distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation."

From your comment, I infer that you are taking the position that the subject of the sentence is necessarily the focus of attention. I would suggest that this is not necessarily the case. For example, when I go to visit a sick or grieving friend, and I greet them at the door by saying, "I wanted to see how you are doing," my focus is on my friend, not on myself.

Mike K said...

I just tried (silently, to myself) to chant this prayer.

Despite doing normal breathing cadences, I just about ran out of breath after "the banquet of his love."

When you see/read/listen to some of these prayers, you'll see that, in the determination to have a strict translation of the Latin, those doing the interpretation didn't even think of how English (and most languages) work when it comes to pauses. There is supposed to be a greater pause after a period than there is after a comma - and most people forget that.

And forget about how many times I had to read the prayer to figure out what it meant.

Ironically, in the 1998 translation posted above, I inserted a comma after "sacrifice" and rolled through it quite easily. And I got the meaning right away.

I agree with the feeling some have expressed: prayers such as the 2011 Mass of the Lord's Supper collect will result in a Roman Missal IV, if only to correct/simplify some of these.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I didn't find it a challenge to read as long as the words are prayed slowly, and liberties are taken when using commas and pauses...some commas may need a long pause then others. :)

ethelthefrog said...

I've just done a bit of analysis of this one-sentence prayer. The unhappy conclusion I reach is that nobody will be able to understand it. The subject "God" is 41 words before the verb "grant", and the defining relative clauses are layered three deep. There is simply too much for the mind to hold on to and decode. Remember also that this is being proclaimed from the Altar at about 100 words per minute, most people won't have the written text in front of them, and the Mass carries on after this prayer with no pause for mastication.

Given its likely effect, I humbly opine that the presider is merely wasting his breath and our time by pronouncing this prayer out loud.

I agree with Jeff Rexhausen.

peregrinus.sg said...


Don't worry. Prayers in the liturgy, such as this, is directed to God. I'm sure he has the capacity to understand even the most convoluted of sentences. (And how many of us, in our private prayers, use incomplete, hanging sentences?!) The prayer prayed by Christ acting through his Priest will certainly not be in vain.

But even if we are to consider from the point of the gathered assembly, most people should be able to grasp the prayer when they take care to pay attention and are not hopelessly uncatechised. In my diocese, we are already using the new translation of the prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers, and I have found it relatively easy to actually catch the ideas of the clauses and even appreciate how they link up (and I have made it a point not to use the people's booklets with these prayers, just so to "hear" the prayers without any additional aid/biases). Actually, I found myself uplifted in the prayer and better enjoy joining in the prayers at Mass than with the old translation.

Challenges will arise in 2 situations:
(1) if the people are not attentive, whether due to their state in life (e.g. parents with young children) or by poor choice.
(2) those who are poorly catechised.

The solution to these are not found in dumbing down the translation. The 1998 text that said "we are gathered" is actually theologically wrong. The rewriters should have used "we have been gathered by you", but that would be an inelegant and unwieldy construction compared to the 2011 text.

Alan Hommerding said...

To Jeff:
SC #34 is about the reform of the rites, not the content/translation of the prayers within the rites. Even if #34 were about content, not structure, I don't think that the forthcoming translation of the Holy Thursday collect is "unmistakably" in violation of it. As to whether or not it's within "people's" power of comprehension, or if it requires much explanation still remains to be seen, as we've not yet used it in its intended context. I'm inclined to give "the people" a little more credit.
This is one of the prayers I've used as an example in RM3 talks - I asked one group of young adults what it was about. They answered that it was about the Last Supper being the beginning of the eucharist; a few even grasped that it was also talking about the heavenly banquet.
I'm not a cheerleader for LA, or the forthcoming translation; as the child of a Catholic school grammar teacher, I know its grammatical shortcomings (and diagrammatical obstacles-on the grammatical front, the 98 translation very nearly always did better, sometimes at the expense of the content). But where this translation has made improvements over the current translation - or even the 98 translation - let's just say say so.

FJH 3rd said...

Jeff, I might concede your point in your example of greeting your sick friend, but I am pretty sure the subject and verb is still "I want", modified by the prepositional phrase "to see".

If your friend had requested that you visit, might not your greeting be something like, "Joe, thanks for asking me to come over. You look well. How are you doing?" Doesn't that sound more focused on him?

And if, during your visit, every sentence you spoke started with "I", even though you may have been expressing your wish for his good health, wouldn't it sound pretty self centered? " I hope... I wish...I am happy to see you..."

As I said, the new translation seems to me to return our focus toward God.

Mike K said...


Or they could have used "you have gathered us" and it would have worked just as well.

ethelthefrog said...

peregrinus.sg, I am not worried that God won't understand. You will note that I said that the presider would be wasting his breath pronouncing the prayer out loud, not at all. If it's not important to proclaim the prayer in such a way that the people also understand, we lose any meaningful participation by the people and may well return to Mass in Latin and a totally disengaged congregation. Not my idea of Communion at all.

I live in England, and have had the pleasure of Mass in the new translation for two months now. My experience of the Mass has been significantly tarnished by the convoluted nature of language now used. I wholeheartedly reject the notion of "sacral vernacular" as, not only contrary to the definition of "vernacular", but also contrary to Christ's way of teaching people in language they could understand, relating to experiences they had in their everyday lives. From my reading of the Gospels, he seemed to be keen to get people to integrate their lives and their worship. The stated aim of sacral vernacular is to separate worship from everyday life, do dis-integrate church from society and, insodoing, to belittle the entire congregation's entire lives.

Jesus was a carpenter; the apostles were fishermen, labourers, tax collectors; he spoke of fishing, farming, of bread-making; he derided the Pharisees for dressing in fine clothes and raising up their ostentatious worship over the faith of the poor. Liturgicam Authenticam seems to be reversing over this.

Alan, it is impossible to apply SC 34 to rites without also applying it to the words used within those rites. Unless you want the congregation to attend every Mass with their ipods on really loud.

As for whether or not "the people" understand the prayer, it is interesting to me to note that, in all the discussion here, nobody has pointed out that the prayer, as quoted above, makes no sense at all. I am assuming that "in which" is a transcription error on Dr Jerry's part, but the prayer does not make sense unless you remove the "in". I humbly suggest that this indicates that we, who have spent these last few days examining it carefully, have not been able to grasp it, and I conclude from that that "the people" won't have a chance at parsing it in real-time, in the 45 seconds or so that it will take to proclaim.

If "we are gathered" is theologically wrong, fix it to say "we have been gathered". Don't dump the whole thing in favour of the 2010 version.


Anonymous said...

FJH 3rd said "As I said, the new translation seems to me to return our focus toward God."....

I have heard this comment before and truly resent it. Our focus has never been away from God at any Eucharistic celebration!!!!
The closer we get to implementation of this terrible translation,the more condemnation of the current missal I am hearing. I am so distressed with the controversy that the Church has created. I have even been told.."Go to a Protestant Church if you are not happy!" It will be difficult for me come Advent but I will not be driven from the Table by either the hierarchy or mean spirited people!!

Alan Hommerding said...

Ethel - if SC 34 were meant to apply to the prayers, then the Consilium would have reformed/revised them (actually, they did revise some of them).
If the Collect for Holy Thursday violates SC 34, then it is because the Latin prayer in RM 3 violates it. In that case, using that premise to object to the translation is still invalid.

Jeff Rexhausen said...

Are you being serious here? If so, I think you need to talk with some of the people who have offered thoughtful critiques of the new translation, people who can help you to understand the difference between a poorly written original text and a poor translation that is the result of poor translation principles and/or execution.

Simon Ho said...


"O God, you have gathered...", is not so much of a difference from "O God, who have gathered...", but wait, that's the new traslation. I'm glad that at least on this point we have no objections to the new translation.

Even in Masses in Latin, the orations are prayed aloud. Even though God can hear me in the silence of our hearts, I also pray aloud when I can. The sounds become part of the vehicle of the prayer.

I'm more and more certain in my opinion that it is a mistake to demand/expect that people attending a liturgy should understand every phrase, every iota of the rites and words. Ultimately, the liturgy, not so different from God who is the principal actor in the liturgy, is so rich that it is beyond full human comprehension. The symbols used (whether they are gestures, signs or words) point to the richness of the reality, but like a good painting, there are various layers of meaning that not everyone will notice at first glance. The new translation, in my opinion, does not obscure the richness contained in the texts, it is very different from the case if Chinese were used to a group of native Americans. But the appeciation and understanding of the text will grow in tandem with a deepening of the faith.

But I must disagree with your eisigesis (nor exegesis) of the Gospels. Jesus used parables made up of familiar items & words - absolutely. But you forgot that his listerners did not understand his parables. The symbols he used made sense only with a deeper encounter with Jesus. If I may propose, appropriating the new translation is like encountering Jesus in his parables, they also grow more meaningful as we wak closer and closer to him.