Truth in the New Translation Series: The Opening of the Roman Canon

I have little understanding why anyone would not want a new translation. I DO understand that familiarity is often appreciated but the fact is,  what we have been using since 1970 is not even a translation. At best,  it is a paraphrase. For those of us who know Latin, the poverty of the current English Missal was enough to provoke anger and deep sorrow. The richness of the Latin text is great and masterful,  and that most Catholics have had no real access to it is a matter that has needed correction for decades.

In this series which I begin today as an occasional feature  I would like to look at some of the  new texts which have already been released. I would like to compare them both to the Latin text and to the current rendering (I cannot call it a translation) we are currently using. I would like to begin with the venerable Roman Canon. In this installment we will look just at the opening lines of that text. As you will see many important teachings are being recovered in the new translation, teaching never lost in the Latin but soon to be restored by a correct and complete translation to the English speaking world. I list first the Latin, then the new translation, then the current rendering for your reference. There follows my commentary.

Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas + haec dona haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata, in primis, quae tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica: quam pacificare, custodire, adunare et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum: una cum famulo tuo Pap nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. et omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus.

New Translation: To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you first of all for your holy Catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.

Current Rendering: We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless + these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church, watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world. We offer them for N. our Pope, for N. our bishop, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles.

Observations:

  1. Getting our focus right– Notice that the New translation begins “To you therefore” whereas the current usage has “We come to you.” The New translation renders the Latin (Te igitur) correctly. But of equal importance is the fact that the proper focus is restored in the New Translation. The focus shifts from us (“we”) to God (“You”).  One of the greatest problems with modern liturgy has been its anthropocentric focus. Modern liturgical notions have wanted to focus on the  self-aware, gathered community than seems to frequently to celebrate and focus on itself. Modern songs go on at great length to describe that we are gathered, that we are church, that we are called, chosen, etc. Modern church architecture too has tended to focus the community upon itself with circular and fan shaped churches. It is true that perhaps in the liturgies of the early half of the 20th century that the congregation had all but been forgotten. But the over correction now needs correction itself. The focus of worship is God, what God has done, is doing and who He is. God is worthy of our worship and praise. Liturgy does not exist to entertain me or please me. It is directed to God. God, it is true speaks to us and ministers to us,  but until we focus on Him and pay attention to him as our true focus, the Lord’s ministry to us is less fruitful than it should be. Consider for example a visit to the doctor. If the focus is merely on what pleases me and makes me feel good, and not the truth that the Doctor offers, the fruitfulness of the visit to the doctor is severely compromised. In the same way, if my visit to God’s house is on me and what pleases me and affirms me, and not on the truth that God proclaims and on his goodness and wisdom, my visit to God’s house is far less fruitful. Hence the Latin text and the new translation focuses on God and leaves behind the anthropocentric emphasis of the current rendering.
  2. Celebrating the Father and the Son– Notice the Latin text and the new translation contain far more adjectives in reference to the Father and the Son than the current rendering. The current render calls him merely “Father” whereas the Latin and the more faithful New translation refer to him as a most clement or most merciful Father. Further the Son is referred to as Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord. The Lordship of Jesus Christ cannot be emphasized enough in an age which has tended to reduce him to a merely affirming brother who told us to love each other and other nice things. Further, the great mercy and clemency of the Father must also be emphasized in an age which has tended to identify the Father with the “vengeful God of the Old Testament.”
  3. Ecstatic joy in the gifts we offer– There is a kind of ecstatic joy in the Latin and the new translation as we describe what we offer as gifts, offering and unblemished sacrifices. When I celebrate the Mass in Latin I sense a real joy as I say haec dona! haec munera! haec sancta sacrificia illibata! (these gifts, these offerings, these holy unspotted sacrifices) We are joyful in what we bring to God and we describe them almost as a child who has personally made a gift for a parent and joyfully presents it. The current rendering does not capture this joy but simply speaks of the them as gifts we offer in sacrifice. Gone is any reference to them as being holy or unspotted. The Old Testament had required a sacrificial lamb that was unblemished, hence the new translation also recaptures the scriptural allusion of the Latin.
  4. Recovering the Church as Bride– One of the most egregious tendencies of the current rendering is to consistently refer to the Church as “it” rather than as “she” and “her.” The Church is not an impersonal institution but is the great Bride of Christ. She is His Bride and our Mother. You will note that the new translation restores the proper pronoun “her” as opposed to the impersonal pronoun “it”.
  5. The Church needs more than guidance, she needs governance–  Note too that the new translation asks the Lord to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her. The current rendering is less strong asking the Lord merely to “guide” the Church rather than govern her. Frankly we need more than guidance. We DO need governance. We need commandments, and clear instruction. Too many moderns prefer a suggestive and supportive God who affirms but does not correct or punish, who does not direct and command. But the real and true God does command, does insist and does correct and punish. It is proper that the Latin “regere” should once again be properly rendered “govern.”
  6. A papal title recovered – One of the great titles of the Pope is Servus Servorum Dei – the Servant of the Servants of God. The current rendering omitted what the Latin says and simply called him our Pope. He is that but there is no greater dignity than to be the servant of God. In Mark 10:43-44  the Lord told the Apostles that the greatest among the flock must be the servant, even the slave of the others. The Pope’s most profound quality is that he has authority as one who serves.
  7. The faith is true– The Latin text is ancient and makes use of the word orthodox. It is used as an adjective, not as a proper Noun as though it were referring to the Orthodox Churches of the East. The word “orthodox” refers literally to “straight (or correct) thinking.” Hence it means that which is revealed to us and which is true. Hence the New translation correctly renders the word orthodoxis in a way that avoids the impression of the Churches of the east and captures what the Latin was originally getting at. The orthodox are those who cling or hold to what is true. The current rendering simply omits any reference to this word. But more than ever we need to recover a sense today that our faith is not just a viewpoint, or a way of thinking. Our faith is a truth claim. The opposite of what we teach is not just less meaningful, it is false. Jesus said, For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:37). The Roman Canon alludes to this verse here. It is good that we have this back in  the new translation. More than ever we need to recover a notion that when the Church announces the faith to the world, she (we) are not just expressing an opinion. We are speaking the truth. And those who are of the truth listen to us.

Well, we’re just getting started. And you can see how much has been lost and how much is being recovered in the new translation just these few lines. Praise God for this new translation which restores to us many teachings lost by the poor paraphrase we are currently using. I hope you’ll see that any discomfort in getting used to a new text is more than worth the price to recover the richness of the Latin Text.

Msgr. Bruce Harbert is a member of the new ICEL commission which was responsible for developing the new translation. In this 11 minute video he describes some of the insights and history of the new translation.

20 Replies to “Truth in the New Translation Series: The Opening of the Roman Canon”

  1. Absolutely awesome explanations. In our Diaconate Formation classes on Liturgical Theology we have been discussing the new translations. I brought up the sense that this will be a perfect way to begin re-catechizing the faithful. The faithful are going to be concerned that Rome is “changing our mass.” Maybe the explanation of why we are changing will bring new reverence and respect for why the mass is the most important form of worship in our catholic lives and also why it isn’t a ‘performance’ or ‘show’ we get watch every Sunday.

    I fear that when a lot of Catholics tell me, “I didn’t get anything out of that mass”, it is really “Well, that didn’t entertain me.” The Mass is not entertainment – it is a communion with God through His Son our Lord.

    After I am ordained as Permanent Deacon this December (God willing and with the Bishop’s blessings) I would like to undertake the task of teaching the congregation about these changes and try to reignite the fire within. I would like to compile these blog posts into a sort of informational pamphlet that I could use with your permission as I think your explanations are the best I have seen so far.

    God Bless you and keep up the good work!

  2. Just curious. Will the daily and weekly readings in the Missal also be updated since they are part of the Missal? The reason I ask is because I remember reading an article in the Adoremus bulletin, which quoted Pope John Paul II as stating that the NAB which is also used in the Missal was deficient.

    1. Yes, to some extent they will be changed. What JP II was specifically refering to was the NAB Translation of the psalms. Last year the Bishops decided to go with the new Grail Translation of the psalms. So our Lectionary will be updated.

  3. This is a series to which I look forward, Monsignor! Your points are all “spot on.” The loss of the sacral in reference to God as our sole focus at Mass and the loss of the translation of Church as “she”, the Bride of Christ, are particularly noteworthy.

    The “naval gazing” translations are now put to rest! We are finally entering a “Reform of the Reform!” Laus Deo!

    Pax tecum!
    D.v.

  4. Wonderful post, Father. I only regret we will have to wait a year and a half to hear these beautiful translations.

  5. Just think, if we can gain that much moving from the lame duck translation to the new translation for just a few lines what the whole missal has to offer.

    Bp. Troutman et al would have you believe that just because we can’t grasp the fullness of what these actual translations provide that we should stick with the simpler, made up ICEL rendering. However, we can understand most of what is being conveyed and can strive to understand everything. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the great. What we have right now is nowhere near either.

    And make sure you say thanks to Fr. Wadsworth next time he is around.

  6. Thank you Monsignor for the post, I do not understand Latin text, but I can see the difference between the two English interpretations. I was helping to edit a paper a few weeks ago and suggested changing all references to the Church as “She” and “Her” instead of “it” and “its”. However, when the discussion turned to the Church in a particular location, for example, the Church in the U.S., “She” and “Her” became more or all encompassing. I suggested using “She” and “Her” throughout for consistency and hope that the difference between whole and part can be visible through the context. I would like to share this post to my friend.

  7. I will look forward to the non-wussified liturgy.

    I hope there also will be less-wussified hymns? Your critique of the current rendering of the liturgy could be justly applied to many of the songs used at Mass.

  8. For many years I have prayed that one day I would finally be able to celebrate Mass in the pure and chaste words of the editio typica of the Roman Missal and to nourish my soul with the beauty and power of the venerable teachings of Holy Mother Church found in the Roman Missal. Lex orandi est lex credendi. Monsignor Pope, bene scripsisti. “Now at last you may dismiss you servant, O Lord….”

  9. I look forward to your articles on the roman missal 2011. As the coordinator of the RCIA program in my parish I feel it is important that we prepare our catechumens as well. They attend Mass now and they too need to understand the changes. Your articles will help me in this respect. It should be a requirement of all pastors to start now with the instruction that is so necessary for their church members.

  10. I thought it necessary to add a comment of dissent to dispel a bit of the “preaching to the choir” nature of the other responses. I am disheartened by the polarizing and condescending tone and of the original blog as well as the responses. Statements like “I have little understanding why anyone would not want a new translation”, “for those of us who understand Latin” demonstrate the sense of distance between some clerics (and some laity) and many others of the laity who want to participate in liturgy in a way which is meaningful to them. I also have some experience with Latin and appreciate the beauty of the language for liturgical purposes but I don’t hold to a closed-minded belief that the ONLY way to pray is the way some (not all) of our forebears did. Jesus himself offered worship to God in other than Latin, as did so many of his followers for centuries. The Good News works in any language, as Pentecost showed, and feeling the need to capture the particular style of one language (Latin) at the expense of connecting with the lived experience of the person in the pew is a mistake.
    The Mass is indeed NOT entertainment, but it does need to adress the joy and hope of people in their concrete situation. To call the current liturgy “navel gazing” arrogantly reduces the importance of the liturgical experience of many Catholics today to some exercise of self-worship. Is not the message of the Scriptures clear that God is sacramentally present in the lives of human beings (MT 25:31 ff)? Did God not enter into the human realm and thereby “meet us where we are at”?
    I think sensitivity is called for in this discussion rather than triumphalism (e.g. “The “naval gazing” translations are now put to rest! We are finally entering a “Reform of the Reform!” Laus Deo!”).
    I hope Holy Mother Church will find a way to bring all people together, both through the honesty and faithfulness of the hierarchical magisterium, but also through the sensus fidelium and a genuine openness to the workings of the Spirit, rather than a mere attempt to bring uniformity as if it were unity. pax vobiscum.

    1. Ah but Daniel do you not engage in the same polarizing and condescending tone when you indicate wishing a greater access to the meaning of the Latin text is a “closed-minded belief” and that we “only” think you can pray that way? Physician heal thyself. You use other words such as arrogant and triumphalistic. I do agree that naval gazing is a short of charitable.

      However, your comments add balance in the notion of what I call the anthropocentric tendencies of modern liturgy. I think in the more distant past the congregation was all but ignored. But I think now we have over-corrected That said, we cannot wholly disregard the presence of Christ in the assembly that has gathered in his name. So I agree that here too we do not want to over-over-correct.

      But one thing I think you have not covered in your remarks which was really the central point of the article was the English Translation itself. You apparently interpreted by puzzlement as to why anyone would not want a new translation as merely rhetorical. I did not intend it to be so. I expresses a actual puzzlement on my part. So let me ask you more directly, Why would you not want a more accurate translation of the Latin text of the Mass? I DO undertand as I said that it will take time to adjust to a new text, no way around that. But beyond a temporary irritation which will eventually be overcome, why is there objection to a more accurate rendering of the Latin text? As you can see by my article, the omissions and paraphrasical nature of the current English version are quite significant. It’s not just a word here or there. So again, my question is simply why.

      1. Perhaps I have fallen into the same trap of polarization as you suggest–if so, mea culpa. So many of the other responders said things which in my opinion needed to be addressed, and the tacit approval of some sentiments upset me. (E.g. “wussified” liturgy?) Also, Bishop Troutman has done a great service to the Church in lending his (extremely knowledgeable) voice to this discussion, and should be heeded for his wisdom, not made to be a member of another team.

        As I said, I have had some experience of the Latin language and have an appreciation for it. I happen to be a native English speaker and have an appreciation for that as well. I have found that when trying to “capture” the Latin in an English translation the result frequently is not as dignified as some seem to insist, but rather archaic-sounding, convoluted, and grammatically incorrect. The fact that it is primarily a written language and that it possesses a sense of brevitas makes it (as you well know) extremely difficult to render into colloquial English. MT 6:7-8 gives wonderful advice here. I think if someone wants to appreciate the Eucharistic liturgy in Latin, there is ample opportunity to do that ( in Latin). I do not equate “accuracy to the Latin” in liturgy with “meaning” in liturgy. I have no problem with the current translation that paraphrases (and even omits) occasionally but which makes room for the Spirit and is reverent AND understandable.

      2. Well stated but if the lex credendi is expressed in the lex orandi then the poor translation has led to poor faith. Such is demonstrable in terms of any analysis of current Catholic understanding of the faith. Catechetical understanding is at best poor and at worst it is dismal. The liturgy alone does not explain this but it is a big factor.

        Like it or not the Latin text is the UR document, the root and source of any translation. It must serve as the basis for any English rendering. I do not suggest that every subordinate clause must remain a subordinate clause but English is capable of much more than many admit. I have not found the proposed Ordinary Text difficult or stilted. I have not yet had the opportunity to see the Propers and am not aware that they have been released. I suspect that they will be a little more difficult. However, I still admire some older English renderings of Latin Prayers that work very well in English, for example the Hail Holy Queen, the Concluding Prayer of the Rosary, the Novena prayers of the Miraculous Medal etc. These all contain a kind of literalistic rendering of the Latin and work quite well. The people in my parish recite them from memory. The Concluding prayer of the Rosary actually contains a double subordinate clause! It works fine and people receite it from memory and know what it means..

  11. Msr. Pope, is there anyway I could communicate with you personally? I do not wish to raise points for a general discussion, but would really like to engage you personally in this discussion. I have been asked to help implement this coming transition, and your explanations seem to have a lot more merit than others I have read. Yet there are some points I would like to have further discussions about. Thank you for any consideration you can give to this request. Will be glad to give you my email address. And thank you for taking the time to address this time of transition regarding the new translation.

    1. Dear Clare,

      I tried contacting you with the e-mail you included in your post but it was returned to me undleiverabel. Perhaps you could verify your e-mail and send me another comment and I’ll try again?

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