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August 29, 2009



Thanks for this. Put a smile on my lapsed catholic face....

Caelius Spinator

Methinks I know the melody...

1979 BCP: Eucharistic Prayer D

"It is truly right to glorify you, Father, and to give you thanks; for you alone are God, living and true, dwelling in light inaccessible from before time and for ever.

"Fountain of life and source of all goodness, you made all things and fill them with your blessing; you created them to rejoice in the splendor of your radiance.

"Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and beholding the glory of your presence, they offer to you unceasing praise. Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you and and glorify your name as we sing (say):"

My commentary on the 1979 BCP (may its author rest in the Lord) says that this is a translation of the Roman sacramentary. Which translation do you like better?

Spirit of Vatican II

Caelius, the translation is a lot better than ICEL one and even than the current version. I would quibble with 'splendor of your radiance' -- the kind of pleonasm English does not tolerate. Also "giving voice to" is unidiomatic. In English one gives voice to a thought or sentiment not to "every creature".

The phrase "truly just to give you glory" in the ICEL version sound awful. It is a carry over from the mistranslation of "Dignum et iustum est" as "It is right and just". English "just" is an incorrect translation of Latin 'iustum" here, and this betrays the tin ear of the jumped-up ICEL committed for both Latin and English.

"bring joy to many of them" as opposed to "lead all men to the glorious vision of your light" sets a quasi-Calvinist limit to God's saving purposes.

"confess your name in exultation" -- this is meaningless. It seems that the new ICEL is a band of ideological hijackers who have no sensitivity for Latin, English, or liturgy.

Caelius Spinator

Thanks for the analysis:

I looked at some of the other examples at the page you linked. I found the replacements of English phraseology (One being) with Latinate (consubstantial) to be interesting.

Spirit of Vatican II

"It is truly right to give you thanks, truly just to give you glory, Father, most holy, for you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abide [NOTICE HOW AWFUL THE JERK IN THE RHYTHM IS HERE] for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet [THE OPPOSITION MAKES LITTLE SENSE IN ENGLISH] you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light." ALL OR MANY? THE TEXT SEEMS TO CONTRADICT ITSELF. THERE IS NO PROCESS OF THEOLOGICAL THINKING BEHIND THIS TRANSLATION, UNLIKE THE CURRENT EUCHARISTIC PRAYER IV.

cor ad cor loquitur

It's bad enough that this is terrible English. It is worse that the translations from Latin look like a schoolboy did them, or like they were lifted from one of Fr Zuhlsdorf's word-for-word "slavishly accurate translations".

The Latin for the passage quoted here is:

Vere dignum est tibi gratias agere, vere iustum est te glorificare, Pater sancte, quia unus es Deus vivus et verus, qui es ante saecula et permanes in aeternum, inaccessibilem lucem inhabitans; sed et qui unus bonus atque fons vitae cuncta fecísti, ut creaturas tuas benedictionibus adimpleres multasque laetificares tui luminis claritate.

Translating "sed et" as "yet" makes little sense in English, as Joseph says, but it isn't what the Latin is trying to convey, which is the wonderful and unnecessary generosity of God in creating the world. Similarly, translating "multas" as "many" is simply to misunderstand the Latin.

They say that the last Latinist in the Vatican, Fr Foster, is in poor health, which is why the official Latin version of Caritas in Veritate has been slow to appear.

I wonder what he thinks of these bizarre translations. If he is not currently up to helping the ICEL, a quick call to Oxford, Cambridge or Yale could sort things out quickly enough.

Spirit of Vatican II

"sed et" may be something like German "aber", which can sometimes mean "and still more..."

Also "iustum" in this text means right, meet, or fitting not "just". I think Italians sometimes say "giusto" meaning "sure, right, ok" and French "juste" as in "Cela est juste et bon" does not mean English "just" either.

Even if these were fugitive nuances rather than, as I think they are, outright mistranslations, they would be of great consequence in a text used for the Mass.


Here's the 1998 ICEL version that the Vatican turned down:
"Father most holy,
it is right for us to give you thanks,
it is right to give you glory,
for you are the one God, living and true.
Before time began and for all eternity you dwell in unapproachable light.
Source of life and goodness, you have created all things,
that they may abound with every blessing and rejoice in the radiance of your light.
Countless hosts of angels stand before you
and gaze upon your splendor;
night and day they serve you and worship you without end.
We join with them and, giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you and glorify your name:"

Bernard Brandt

I thank Fr. O'Leary for yet another insightful display of the inadequacies of ICEL texts. I thank also those commenting for bringing light (if not 'unapproachable') to those inadequacies, and giving far better alternatives.

While I would perhaps quibble with the good Father about pleonism, with which the English language is rife, if not replete ('tuna fish', 'safe haven', 'null and void', and 'poodle dogs' being but a few examples), I would agree that 'the splendor of your radiance' is a type of the species that we haven't seen running around since the days of Shakespeare. This sort of fossil shouldn't be put on display, and certainly should not be hauled out every Sunday, but should rather be given a decent burial.

I have raised a few hackles, and caused more than a bit of mirth, by suggesting that if the American Catholic Church is truly against abortions, it should start by dumping both ICEL and NEB texts.

But, starting from the premise of the immortal Mark Twain's, that 'a camel was a horse built by committee', it is not surprising that we should get the things we do from the ICEL and the USCCB. I once spent a week one afternoon watching EWTN's coverage of of the USCCB's voting on the ICEL texts. Truly, it was a case of the bland leading the bland. We won't get anything better until at least two of those three spoonfuls of alphabet soup have their cold, dead hands wrested from our Divine Liturgy in English.

Bernard Brandt

It seems that in my last entry, through a slip of the keyboard, I wrote 'pleonism' when I meant 'pleonasm'. I hope that I may be forgiven my typographic sin here.

Gene O'Grady

Not to be irreverent, but I only know "poodle dog" as a humorous mistranslation of poulet d'or dating back to gold rush days.

I haven't seen this kind of a translation since I stopped teaching second year Latin. I particularly note the truly... truly" -- used to tell my students that if they have to use "truly" for vero/vere they haven't understood the sentence.


the horrible subjunctive "so that you might fill your creatures with blessings" makes me think of "and, then again, you might not"...
"may" would have been better.

Bernard F. Brandt

For the benefit of Gene O'Grady:

"Beyond the garage were some decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs."—Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep.

That said, concerning his experiences with his student charges, who appear to have all of the qualifications to be ICEL translators, all that I can say is: "Indeed".

cor ad cor loquitur

A lot of the blame for this textual fiasco needs to be laid at the door of the unfortunately named Liturgiam Authenticam.

This clause, in particular, has caused a lot of mischief:

57. That notable feature of the Roman Rite, namely its straightforward, concise and compact manner of expression, is to be maintained insofar as possible in the translation. Furthermore, the same manner of rendering a given expression is to be maintained throughout the translation, insofar as feasible. These principles are to be observed:
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.

An immediate consequence of this was that the translators rendered each of the prayers (collect, super oblata, etc.) as a single sentence. Latin works that way but English doesn't, except in translations of Vatican documents.

Even though the new translations of prayers haven't been released you can see this happening. Here's an example from the 3rd eucharistic prayer:

Currently we have:

Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.

Here's the new, elevated, literalised translation:

You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise, for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy, and you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.

Three sentences into one. Semicolons, which the old translators used to give the texts flow and sense, have been excised.

Schoolboy Latin translation!

cor ad cor loquitur

And here's another gem from Liturgiam Authenticam:

43 … It should be borne in mind that a literal translation of terms which may initially sound odd in a vernacular language may for this very reason provoke inquisitiveness in the hearer and provide an occasion for catechesis. 

In other words, render the text as gobbledygook, then hope that little Angus asks Sister Agatha what language Father is babbling at the altar. And hope that she gives him a clear answer.

Spirit of Vatican II

Cor ad Cor, thanks for that enlightening reference to Liturgiam Authenticam. I am shuddering at the thought of the pastoral havoc that these translations will wreak; but they may prompt a revolution in the Church.

In an few moments I am off to King's College here in Cambridge for what I hope will be a real liturgia authentica!

cor ad cor loquitur

Here's an excerpt from Bishop Vigneron's essay on translation, found on the website Joseph cited:

by stressing the sacral mode of expression in the language of liturgical translations – what we could call the "reverential diction" of the translations – LA seeks to safeguard the attitude of faith, fides qua creditur.

The new translation is an attempt to invent a "sacral language", rather as some Russian Orthodox use Church Slavonic rather than contemporary Russian in their liturgy. I am surprised that some characteristics of Cranmer's original Prayer Book didn't get brought back -- the Thees and Thous, for example.

Some claim that such a sacral language is part of our Catholic identity. But we already HAVE a sacral language: Latin. If people want a private, special language for Mass, the Novus Ordo said in Latin is hard to improve on. In its "noble simplicity" this rite strips away some of the fussiness of the Tridentine Mass. The Latin is clear and powerful; it is not that difficult to memorise or to follow with the aid of a book. Subordinated clauses and "sacral" grammatical constructions don't sound bizarre in Latin, the way these English translations do.

Latin, then, or real English. This translation is neither.

Spirit of Vatican II

"may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God."

here "this day" is a floating expression that can to with "our sacrifice" or "be pleasing" -- so that the entire phrase loses in clarity, rhythm and expressive force.

The world's bishops were asked to give their observations on the translation -- but (a) bishops are not usually so linguistically sensitive as to sight all the many, many flaws of these translations; (b) nor have they the time to do so; (c) the problem is much deeper than can be solved by noticing individual defects -- the entire translation is wretched; (d) the Vatican pays no attention to the bishops' observations anyway.

Whom the gods wish to destroy they first deprive of sanity.

Spirit of Vatican II

"And so, in your presence are countless hosts of angels,"

Can anyone figure out the logic of that "so"?

Spirit of Vatican II

"Et ídeo coram te innúmeræ astant turbæ angelórum, qui die ac nocte sérviunt tibi et, vultus tui glóriam contemplántes, te incessánter gloríficant."

The "ideo" ("so") is less illogical in Latin because the verb that follows is not "are" but "astant" (suggesting that the angels are standing in a posture of praise).

cor ad cor loquitur

Yes, the principle of literal translation seems to come and go in this new text. ‘Ideo’, as you say, explains why the angels are assembled (astant) and why they give God unceasing praise (incessanter glorificant).

The next sentence in the Latin is

Cum quibus et nos et, per nostram vocem, omnis quae sub caelo est creatura nomen tuum in exsultatione confitemur, canentes

I’m a bit surprised that they departed from Liturgiam Authenticam’s rule about literally translating words and grammatical structures; that would give you something like this:

With them [the angels] both we and, through our voice, all creatures under heaven proclaim your name in exultation, as we sing …

Not that this would work in the liturgy, but at least it’s more or less literal. If you translate ‘omnis quae sub caelo est creatura’ truly literally you end up with the old problem of a singular subject conjoined with a plural – does it it take a plural verb? ‘Both we and, through our voice, all that is created under heaven proclaim your name in exultation’.

It is utterly ridiculous to translate ‘confitemur’ as ‘we confess’ in this context. I suppose you could give it the sense of ‘acknowledge’, as though one were bowing before the holy name (Philippians 2.11, ‘et omnis lingua confiteatur quia Dominus Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris’), but even that doesn’t seem right: we are talking about the angels here! ‘Confess’ implies some sort of change of mind; perhaps the angels, having read a particularly penetrating ‘fisk’ by a conservative Catholic blogger, are now realising that Jesus is Lord after all. Don’t think so; I’m guessing those angels knew it all along.

Let’s see how the translators render ‘confitemur’ in the memorial acclamation (‘Mortem tuam annuntiamus et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias’):

We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.

Ah, now it’s ‘profess’, probably because even they couldn’t bring themselves to write ‘confess your resurrection’, and having used ‘proclaim’ earlier in the sentence they couldn’t use it again. But this violates the Liturgiam Authenticam rule of lexical isomorphism between Latin and English.

And by the way, where are these initial capitals coming from? The Latin text in front of me doesn’t capitalise ‘resurrectionem’. Liturgiam Authenticam says, bizarrely in my view, that what’s capitalised in Latin is to be capitalised in English (§32).

Where ARE the liturgical mutaween when you need them?

Spirit of Vatican II

Perhaps they are thinking of Augustine's Confessiones which has the meaning of "confessions of praise" -- but of course once again they are caught by a "faux amis" since confession does have that sense in English at all.


Perhaps all was done using BabelFish.

cor ad cor loquitur

The instruction "Comme le prévoit", originally issued by Consilium to liturgical translators, is well worth re-reading. It is full of good sense. Just a few excerpts:


...it is not sufficient that a liturgical translation merely reproduce the expressions and ideas of the original text. Rather it must faithfully communicate to a given people, and in their own language, that which the Church by means of this given text originally intended to communicate to another people in another time. A faithful translation, therefore, cannot be judged on the basis of individual words: the total context of this specific act of communication must be kept in mind, as well as the literary form proper to the respective language.

Even if in spoken communication the message cannot be separated from the manner of speaking, the translator should give first consideration to the meaning of the communication.

The translator must always keep in mind that the “unit of meaning” is not the individual word but the whole passage. The translator must therefore be careful that the translation is not so analytical that it exaggerates the importance of particular phrases while it obscures or weakens the meaning of the whole. Thus, in Latin, the piling up of ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilem may increase the sense of invocation. In other tongues, a succession of adjectives may actually weaken the force of the prayer. The same is true of beatissima Virgo or beata et gloriosa or the routine addition of sanctus or beatus to a saint’s name, or the too casual use of superlatives. Understatement in English is sometimes the most effective means of emphasis.


An English text of the instruction can be found here: http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/documents/comme.htm

Far better than the silly instructions in Liturgiam Authenticam.


@Geds | September 08, 2009 at 09:41 PM

"the horrible subjunctive "so that you might fill your creatures with blessings" makes me think of "and, then again, you might not"...
"may" would have been better."

## OTOH, "may" could imply God is being given an opportunity to "fill," etc.

Spirit of Vatican II

Is it not perfectly obvious to anyone who is used to good English that the subjunctive you highlight is indeed horrible? Whatever complaints people make about the present Eucharistic Prayers there is nothing in them that grates on the ear like this. I am sure I will not the only celebrant to refuse to use this dreck. But our bishops seem to be alienated not only from reality but from the English language.

Spirit of Vatican II

The new translations are a stealth missile aimed at the heart of the Church. They may be its coup de grace.

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