Revisiting the New Translations: One Year Later

Revisiting the New Translations: One Year Later November 25, 2012

The new translation of the Roman Missal has been in use for one, having come into use on the first Sunday of Advent last year.  The new translation was discussed extensively in the month following:  (see here, here and here for posts on Vox Nova).  Now that we have had one year of experience in the pews, what have been the results?  Have people adapted?  Have they accepted the new translation?

US Catholic has attempted to quantify the experience by conducting a survey.   The results are reported in detail on the second page of the article, but it is clear that there is still substantial division over the new translations, with more than 1/2 of Catholics surveyed reporting dissatisfaction with the new translation, and a lingering bitterness over the process which led to the new translation.

I am interested in hearing about how the implementation has gone in your parishes.  For my part, we are using them in our parish, but there is still a great deal of stumbling, and I would say that the volume of responses is still lower.  If you listen carefully, you can still hear people using the old responses, though whether accidentally or intentionally is unclear.  For my own part I am still not comfortable with the new responses, and while I have gotten used to their latinate constructions, I still cringe at some of collects:  their fidelity to the Latin renders them nearly unintelligible in English.   And the bishops in Europe are still fighting a rear guard action over the mandated translations, in particular rendering “ad multos” as “for many” instead of “for all.”   (Germany, in a divided vote, accepted the mandated translation, but Austria and Italy rejected it.  Obviously, discussions continue.)

So please let me know how things are going, and if your sense of the translations has evolved over the year.

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  • Doc Fox

    When arriving later than most at Church today, I was unable to grab a cheat sheet and found myself struggling. Some of it is awkward, yet very memorable (consubstantial), and other is just awkward. When taking communion to the hospital, as I do every Saturday, I find it necessary and educational to explain “not worthy that you should enter under my roof” and wonder why Pastors don’t explain that about three times a year until it’s second nature for all.

    • Rat-biter

      The older translation – how odd it feels to call it that ! – was spot-on with its rendering of the equivalent of that phrase.

      “Consubstantial” is awkward only because, unlike English-speaking Anglicanism, Catholicism has no long history of vernacular translations of the liturgy; it has a history that was interrupted – cut through ? – by the Reformation, followed by 400 years of Latin liturgy eked out with the use of English as a poor relation to the Latin. It has no Tyndale or Cranmer or King’s Men, as Anglicanism did – it does have a history of Latinate English, producing a phrase like “porrection of the instruments”, which is double Dutch to anyone unfamilar with the rite of ordination to the priesthood as it was from the ninth century to 1947. (A seminarian online some years ago refused point-blank to believe the phrase had ever been used – very understandably; it’s downright ugly.)

      It’s very hard to see how a group of men whose first language is not in all instances English can be trusted to supply English-speakers with an English liturgy that will read as English. (That’s quite apart from the remoteness & foreignness of those doing the work: it’s as though defeated subjects of the Roman Empire are having terms dictated to them.) Those who do not know English are *ipso facto* not competent to judge of matters that by their very nature involve the English language. Of which there are in any case several forms: learning what people in the US mean can be a shock if one is familiar only with the Queen’s English.

      Maybe, in 400 years’ time, Catholics will able to trusted with the English language. If it is not ruined beyond repair.

      What all this does do, is show the emptiness of the case against the translation of the Liturgy into the vernacular; something with many implications. Any reader of Michael Davies will be familiar with the arguments he quotes. That the Church has decided to ignore the arguments, and do what was argued against by translating the Liturgy, makes one wonder what other things are said not to be possible now, that in due course will be found to be possible. It’s arbitrary to try to say “This can be done, despite centuries of theological tradition against it, but that can’t be, because there are centuries of theological tradition against it”; by translating the Liturgy & making other such changes, the
      “official Church” has left itself without much defence other than arbitrariness when people favour the ordination of women. Playing at being Captain Jean-Luc Picard confronting the Borg saying: “The line must be drawn here! This far and no further !” is not a convincing theological argument; something better is called for.

  • Melody

    It’s going better than I thought it would. We seem to have gotten used to the wording in the Creed, with barely a stumble. We (including me) are saying “And with your spirit” with enthusiasm. However the words of the Consecration still seem stilted and awkward; there I feel like I am reading the English side of my St. Andrew’s missal, as we used to do back in the day. I still don’t like the change of “for many” from “for all”, I feel like that sacrifices clarity of meaning for faithfulness to the Latin (is Latin what we’re really trying to stay faithful to?)
    I am predicting that this won’t be the final version; maybe there isn’t going to be a final version; it will inevitably be tweaked again. And perhaps this is as it should be.

  • Julia Smucker

    The fundamental problem is literalism being mistaken for fidelity. Aiming for syntactic mimicry and technically close cognates at the expense of clarity is actually very unfaithful to the source text.

    I’ve been making a gradual uneasy peace with this translation itself (the only thing I still choke on is the singular “I believe”). I don’t prefer it, but it’s something I’m learning to live with, although I still entertain the hope of an eventual revision back toward more dynamic equivalency. But what I will never have patience for is any argument from the presupposition that more literal equals more faithful.

  • Frank M.


    Our parish implemented the new translation as required. No sooner, no later. We do what we have to do because we have to do it, and at least one person in the congregation still trips up on every single “new” response. A few seconds into the Credo there’s always fumbling for the card with the new words on it. We always use Memorial Acclimation “B”, because it is almost identical to the old Acclimation “C”. If a visiting priest selects one of the other Memorial Acclimations, nobody responds because it’s over before we realize that we have no idea how to join in the response, and by the time we find our cards, it’s too late.

    More significant than unhappiness and our total ineptness with the translation is the continued erosion of the bishops’ moral authority. If our parish participated in the “fortnight for freedom” I didn’t notice it. In the last election, California bishops lobbied hard for Proposition 34 to end the death penalty, but it failed anyway. I’m confident our parish voted strongly with the bishops and for the proposition, but not because of anything the bishops did. In more conservative parishes more inclined to keep the death penalty, I doubt the bishops had much influence there either, and I expect that those congregations voted the other way, again not because of anything the bishops did or said.

    Maybe this is as close to “success” as it gets for the church hierarchy. They led and we do as we’re told. Sort of.

  • Dante Aligheri

    The process has been slow, but I think most have got it down. Personally, I like the new translation for the most part (“right and just” in particular) – although I had to get the “under your roof” thing explained to me for me to appreciate it. “Right and just” – besides the fact that Anglicans retain it in some form – reminds me at least that creation “owes” the Creator as a matter of natural order and justice. That our praise with Creation is the way things are supposed to be. I agree that the “for many” change can be sticky and probably should have been left alone for clarity’s sake. If they mean the same thing, why not less confusion? Actually, the most singly irking change that does not make sense to me theologically is the Creed. To say the Son was born “before all ages” – in English – rather than “eternally” seems almost to invite the possibility of Arianism which the Creed was originally designed to refute. While I understand what “consubstantial” means, “one in being” reads more clearly. I still hope that the Filioque will be dropped – not on an account of error, of course – but for greater communion with the Eastern Churches.

  • Mr Cruz-Tribe. I disagree with your statement: ” I still cringe at some of collects: their fidelity to the Latin renders them nearly unintelligible in English.” I am a young adult Catholic male of 29 years, and having been with the new translation for a year, I am perfectly fine, and in fact, even more pleased at the new translations. The old collects had much of their meaning, beauty, and sacredness, was stripped from them when the rushed 2nd edition came out in the 70’s. Personally speaking, with my now current knowledge, I feel that the old collects were garbage, washed-down, and insult my intelligence as a young man raised in the Catholic elementary and secondary school system, prior to its current state in co-existence with our increasingly dumbed-down, secular, anti-Catholic society.

    As evidence to what I am saying, If you choose, you should venture onto popular Catholic blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s site, “What does the Prayer Really Say” where you can view comparisons of the EF, old 2nd edition, and new 3rd edition collects for yourself to see the evidence. These postings are what earn and are the crux of the blog’s main title. In addition, Fr. Z breaks down the Latin and relates the words and choice for those collects to their theological meaning, so one can see what was intended in the prayer, and how, or how not, the OF collects accomplish the tasks the original ones did.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Julian, please call me David!

      Even if I were to grant what you say about the new prayers, it does not refute what I said about their unintelligibility. Yes, I can usually parse out their meaning with the written text in hand, but the fact remains that I can only rarely understand them when spoken, and some of them really do abuse English sentence structure.

  • Andrew

    My parish seems to have caught on to the new translation fairly well. My gauge is the uniformity with which the congregation recites “It is right and just” instead of “It is right to give Him thanks and praise”; those phrases are sufficiently different that it is very glaring when that one person forgets and says the old one. (At least a handful of times that someone was me.) By contrast, I visited relatives in another town over the summer and noticed that it was about a 50/50 split. So I think there is a lot of variation from parish to parish.

    If my memory serves, Fr. Barron put out one of his YouTube videos contrasting the new translation with the old one not on the basis of it being more faithful or literal, but instead as a choice between being more POETIC and being more down-to-earth / practical. To me, this seems the strongest argument for the new translation. There are elements in the new translation whose word choice is more artistic, more like poetry, even if it is harder to understand.

    It is in this spirit that I personally have most easily made peace with it, but I admit that it is an argument which benefits mostly people like us, whose catechesis is no longer at its beginning stages, than for someone who is trying to understand what is going on at Mass for the first time. My daughter, for example, who just had Confirmation last year, still grumbles in her teenager way about the fact that the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” is not very elucidatory if she has to ask an adult what “consubstantial” means and is then told it means “one in being with.”

    • Julia Smucker

      I tend to approach it as a linguist and see it as an issue of word-based vs. meaning-based translation, which overall is why it bothers me, but I do find the “poetic” dimension helpful for making peace with it. There are at least a few new turns of phrase that now require us to think more poetically, “under my roof” I suppose being one. I could never get out “and with your spirit” until a friend of mine told me she thought of it as saying something like “the deepest part of you.” I do like “Behold the Lamb of God” which alludes more directly to John the Baptist and does sound more magestic without losing any meaning.

      On the other hand, I think Eucharistic Prayer III, which had been my favorite, has actually been made less poetic, especially in losing the parallel “from age to age … from east to west.” And I regret the paring down of memorial acclamation options, especially my favorite: “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life.” Now that’s poetry – and some serious Christology to boot.

      I will say, one thing that has come out of the new missal that I really, really like is the dismissal option, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” That captures about as well as anything can the purpose of gathering to participate in the Eucharist.

      But I just remembered, I have another “other hand” – not to end on a downer, but this always makes me chuckle. When the celebrant chooses the most literal option, “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” and we respond with “Thanks be to God,” it sounds like we’re saying, “Thank God it’s over!”

      Well, anyway, I’m trying.

      • Thales

        On the other hand, I think Eucharistic Prayer III, which had been my favorite, has actually been made less poetic, especially in losing the parallel “from age to age … from east to west.”

        It’s funny you say that, Julia, because I’ve always thought the exact opposite: that the new phrase “from the rising of the sun to its setting” is more poetic than the old “east to west”. But to each his own, I suppose.

        • Julia Smucker

          I’ve heard that said too. It has a certain ring to it, and to some degree it’s a matter of taste. But what I really liked about “age to age … east to west” was the catholicity it conveyed – the communion of saints across time and space. “The rising of the sun to its setting” could be heard as a poetic way of saying “from east to west”, but in context it sounds more like “all day”.

        • Pinky

          I see the imagery as more Biblical.

          Isaiah 45: 4-6

          For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I
          have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee,
          though thou hast not known me.

          I [am] the LORD, and [there is] none else, [there
          is] no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou
          hast not known me:

          That they may know from the rising of the sun, and
          from the west, that [there is] none beside me. I [am] the
          LORD, and [there is] none else.

          There’s also the verse about Jesus’ return being like a lightning bolt travelling from east to west, and the orientation of most Catholic churches toward the east. The imagery seems rich to me.

  • We adopted video screens about a week after the new translation. This seemed to facilitate the transition. That said, our parish’s Sunday attendance is pretty anemic considering that within the past decade we have consolidated from 4 parishes to 1. The promise of renewal with the new translation apparently hasn’t manifested itself in my neck of the woods. In fairness, I’m sure part of the issue is that more than a few people in the pews don’t share our bishop’s concern that the greatest issue of our time is that some woman, somewhere may be able to have health insurance which pays for contraception.

  • Our parish gets enthusiastic about almost anything that happens in the sanctuary, and so the new translation has found a home with us. With exceptions. Every so often, even our very eloquent pastor gets lost in the Latinate syntax of a preface, and almost no one says the prayer about the roof without choking over it. We just dumped “like the dewfall,” which cannot be said with a straight face, and every so often Jesus picks up the cup again rather than a chalice. Prediction: Under the next pope, this one will be swept into the dustbin of history, as it really should have been before it was forced on us.

  • Things seem to have been going well. I attend at a fairly large parish with an extremely variable population — people are constantly moving in and out — and people seem to have adjusted well enough, despite very little being done to prepare them (it’s hard to do in a parish like this). People still rely on the cards, although there seem to be fewer as time goes on.

    Having also come to the prior translation from a tradition without anything remotely like it, and thus having had to pick it up from scratch, I have generally been unimpressed by arguments that the prior translation, which had an extraordinary tendency to being ludicrously vague, was very good to begin with. I was fine with it, though; it did its primary job. I think the new translation suffers from serious unevenness, and has lost some of the better as well as the worst features of the old; but I am generally fine with it as well, for the same reason. What we actually need in terms of collects, though, are something more ‘Anglican’, so to speak, than we actually get in either translation.

    I have talked with people, though, who have said that they like the somewhat closer correspondence between English and Spanish now (although this, as with everything else, is uneven). And, while VN hasn’t been much of an offender, given some discussions of the new translation I’ve seen, I have at times wondered whether it wasn’t worthwhile just to make the point to Anglophone Catholics that they don’t get to do whatever they want, but actually have a burden of proof to show that they are on the same page with parts of the world that don’t speak English.

    • Julia Smucker

      The thing is, though, there are thousands of languages in the world that are not Indo-European. So I don’t buy the argument that having closer correspondence with Romance languages (which will naturally correspond more directly to Latin) brings us closer to the whole non-anglophone world. Plenty of other languages will be having an even harder time with literalistic translation principles than we are.

      To be fair, I certainly agree that there are gains and losses in every translation. There are always a lot of considerations to balance at once. I have to say, though, we had a much better balance on principle in Comme le Prevoit. Liturgiam Authenticam reads more like a guide for how not to translate.

      • Yes, but we aren’t talking about the quality of the translation of the Mass into Finnish. Not only is English itself an Indo-European language, it is, despite its Germannic roots, nearly half a Romance language anyway, with extensive Romance connections: if there isn’t a clear correspondence despite necessary changes, then at least one of the translations is being done wrong.

        In any case, the point is not about correspondence but about burden of proof: the primary standard for translation here is not euphony, nor is it personal translational preference, but meeting the burden of proof in showing that we are definitely saying what everyone else is saying, modified only by the actual necessities of English. And as I said, while it’s anecdotal, I have come across more than one person spontaneously expressing appreciation for the fact that there is the closer correspondence in the English/Spanish case. This is not a small thing.

        • Julia Smucker

          We seem to be in agreement on the overall goal of “saying what everyone else is saying”. Where I think we disagree is on how this is accomplished. Actually, your caveat about the necessities of the language is really key. The purpose of any translation is to convey the same meaning to speakers of the source language that the text had for speakers of the target language, and this requires different constructions in every langauge according to its own idioms and grammar. Saying the same thing doesn’t mean following the same syntactic structure (in which case we may end up saying something wildly different from what was intended), but rather saying words and sentences in our respective languages that mean the same thing.

  • Jordan

    It is difficult to translate prayers of the first millenium CE into any modern vernacular. A frequent criticism of the previous missal was that many of the prayers of the ordinary (such as the eucharistic prayers) were paraphrases. In some cases, the paraphrases strayed far from the Latin. And yet, the paraphrases were orthodox. I would say that it is better to paraphrase if doing so renders the meaning of the prayer intelligible for more people. The affective and intellectual need of the entire assembly outweighs my preferences.

    The re-introduction of the 1962 missal (EF) might prove instructive. Perhaps bishops could allow indults for parishes who wish to use the Sacramentary. Over time, these indults might become more permissive. Those churches who wish to keep using the newer missal would be allowed to do so. Perhaps a parish could even use the older and newer books at different Masses (provided the content of the two missals stay separate). Even one year has demonstrated that the newer missal is not appropriate for all assemblies. It’s time to let individual parishes choose the right prayerbook for their sensibilities.

  • Joseph

    I would really like to know if Vox Clara is working on atranslation of the Extraordinary Rite.

  • Mary

    Seems to be going pretty well here in our parish. we all used the ‘cheat-sheets’ for about four months….. some local parishes have done away with them by now. I remember the liturgy changes of the late 60s and there was no preparation of the congregation whatsoever. By contrast this was handled very well. don’t miss the clumsy “and also with you,” and a few other banalities. Oh for a music makeover though.

  • Ronald King

    The new translation still seems mechanical, but again, isn’t it all mechanical? What goes on in the hearts and minds of the congregation is the most important part of the Mass. Do these prayers take us closer to the Mystery or does something else or someone else bring us closer? The Lord’s Prayer and offering of peace seem to be the point in the Mass which we begin to connect and Communion seems to be the ending point of that connection. Something is almost gained and then it is lost again as we go about our business after Mass regardless of the translation used. Maybe I am cynical after so many years.

  • Personally, I found the new translation harder to adjust to than I’d have thought a few years back. I know Latin sufficiently to see a lot of the defects in the older translation. I don’t have a beef with dynamic equivalency, but I think the older ICEL version didn’t do a good dynamic equivalency. However, the new translation was clunkier, less poetic, and harder to get used to than I would have expected, in light of this. Nobody I know likes “consubstantial”. Actually, the old “one in being” is closer to the original Greek homoousios“, “of the same essence/being”. My understanding is that substantia was actually coined, since the Latin of that period didn’t have a verbal derivative of esse (“to be”) that was equivalent to ousia. Thus, the new translation is actually closer to the Latin but further from the concept it was supposed to express.

    Dante, I’d disagree with you on “It is right and just.” That’s better than “It is right to give Him thanks and praise”, but the Latin is Dignum and iustum est. Dignum does not quite mean “right”–iustum, translated “just” is closer to that. Dignum means more “appropriate” or “fitting” or “suitable”. The old Book of Common Prayer has it as “It is meet and just”, which is exactly correct; though “meet” wouldn’t work these days. “Right and just” is OK, but it’s more repetitious than the original and loses some of the subtlety.

    Our parish is doing OK. Our implementation was a bit haphazard–there wasn’t a lot of catechesis, and I’d say half or more still use the cards–but it’s going all right, and many are getting to where they don’t need the cards. I can do without it most of the time, but I still stumble now and then. It doesn’t help that they implemented an entirely new musical setting (which is not the easiest to sing), rather than a modification of the old, which a lot of parishes are using, and which in my opinion makes it easier. Our diocese’s anniversary is coming up, and to celebrate, they’re introducing another musical setting in honor of it–just as we’ve begun to get used to the first new setting. Oh, well. In any case, I haven’t noticed any changes in attendance, fervency of the parishioners, or suchlike. It seems to be more a vibe of “Oh, well, they’ve changed it again. Whatever.”

    Personally, I think the original Book of Common Prayer is still the best English translation of the liturgy, though the Elizabethan English would be a non-starter nowadays. Even the English side of pre-Vatican II missals is in many cases better than the new translation (though it has some problems, too–lots of “vouchsafes”, for example) in terms of readability. In any case, I guess we’ll see how it plays out over time.

  • I like, and have always liked, the new translations as I really appreciate the sense if poetry and elevation, quite befitting of the liturgy. How can anyone really say that “from east to west” is better than “from the rising of the sun to its setting”? And the Roman Canon, which sounds so beautiful in Latin, sounded so dull and pedestrian under the old translation. Oh, and I loved the “dewfall”!

    I only have a couple of quibbles, and no, consubstantial is not one if them! I do have a problem with the new translation of “pro multis”. For the life of me, I don’t see why it could not have been translated as “for the multitudes”. This would have neatly captured the Semitic meaning, while avoiding the Calvinist undertones.

    Second, why was “homo/ hominibus” translated as “people” in the Gloria and “man” in the Creed? This makes no sense, and I suspect was a cowardly accommodation to those who claim to oppose “inclusive language” while failing to understand the all-inclusive nature of “anthropos-homo”.

    A third point: why was the opportunity not taken to give us a better translation of the Our Father? Again, I think it was cowardice.

    • Julia Smucker

      MM, I completely agree on “for the multitudes”: that’s perfect. I’ve heard a few priests sneak in a “the”, saying, “for the many”.

      On “from east to west”, see my replies to Andrew and Thales above. It goes with “from age to age”.

      And the familiar wording of the Our Father just has so much staying power that it’s best not to mess with it. What you see as cowardice I see as pastoral good sense.

  • Agellius

    I like it fine. The new mass is now slightly less annoying. They should have left the response cards in the pews a bit longer, for the people who don’t follow along in the missalette, to avoid the problem of people reciting the old versions out of habit.

    • dominic1955

      That’s how I see it, it make the NO slightly less annoying. Overall, its an improvement but there are many issues-mostly minor. I would like to see some improvements in the ritual and how its carried out along with the improved translation. At least a more elevated language translation makes the rest of your typical suburbanite NO that much goofier.

      As to its implementation, I’m from a midwestern archdiocese. Here, folks are pretty “conservative” and took to the new translation well. My parish is the FSSP parish in town, and I also frequent the Byzantine Rite so no new translation for either. In the parishes I’ve been too (and they run the gammut), the only bellyache-ing to be had was from priests of a certain bent. Not that one hears the cogent arguments against (and not necessarily for) the NO from them, its usually something along the lines of having one more thing to do or that who cares about liturgical “fluff”-get ’em in, get ’em out. The Low Mass Mentality is alive and well in our brave new Post-Vatican II world. As for the parishioners, most have no complaints and most have taken to the new responses with aplomb. Usually when you hear screw ups its from me, who doesn’t go to the NO when I don’t have to or from folks that usually do not darken the door of a church except for weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter and such.

  • Pinky

    I can’t think of any specifics that I don’t like in the new translation. The difficulty isn’t the text, it’s remembering the text. In my mind, I’m half-translating the prayers from the Latin every time I say them.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that every parish I attend uses the same music for the Gloria. It’s sung every time, with the same tune. I can really see the effect that has had. Nearly everyone has picked up that prayer flawlessly, and quickly. Less cheat-sheeting on it. It’s interesting how the human mind works.

    In general, though, people seem to be hitting every word correctly in all the responses. You can still hear the voices pick up confidence during the “God from God, Light from Light” part of the Creed. It’s interesting to me to hear people still trying to find the group rhythm in the Domine non sum dignus. I think it’s going to end up, “Lord I am not worthy (breath) that you should…”

    • Come to St. Jude in Fort Wayne, Ind., we have at least three settings for the Gloria, which is my favorite of the new translations.

  • Our parish in Fort Wayne, Ind., had several opportunities to come to church to learn about the translations. We also had CDs and written material to help with the change. We learned and started using the Gloria and Sanctus in November before the start of Advent. For several weeks after the start of Advent, we were saying “and also with you” at the sign of peace. I no longer hear that. As for the Creed, if I’m not reading it as I recite it, I use the old words. They’re still seared on brain.

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