I am very happy about, and look forward to the new English translation of the Roman Missal that will begin use in November. However, I have had challenges in explaining to the faithful what the essential problem with the current translation is. When the distinction between “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence” is mentioned, many eyes glaze over or puzzled looks appear. I have tried to take an example of a prayer and show the difference in three columns: Latin, new translation, and current translation (as I do below). But asking people to compare three different columns, one of them in a language unknown to most of them, presents problems too.
But, at the bottom of this post there is a great video that does a wonderful job explaining the difference between the method of “dynamic equivalence” (translating the gist of a prayer, and capturing its basic thoughts), versus “formal equivalence” (translating a prayer in a more literal, word for word way). The video shows the difference with a basic down to earth example and then explains why the difference is important. While it’s geared to teens, adults can benefit greatly from it as well. See what you think.
Example of difference - As Fr. Z. often does to great effect, the opening prayer (collect) for this coming Sunday shows the different approaches of the current translation and the new translation.
LATIN: Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da nobis id amare, quod praecipis, id desiderare, quod promittis, ut inter mundanas varietates, ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
NEW TRANSLATION (formal (word for word) equivalence) O God, who cause the minds of the faith to unite in a single purpose, grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise., that amidst the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed, where true gladness is found.
CURRENT TRANSLATION (dynamic (gist) equivalence). Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise make us one in mind and heart.
As you can see the current translation (lame duck, as Fr. Z calls it), gets the gist of the Latin prayers. But there are important omissions.
- First it proposes that lasting joys can be found in this world, rather than in heaven, which the Latin says.
- The current translation rather weakly ask that we will be helped to “seek the values” whereas the Latin more vigorously asks that we may “love what you command.”
- The Latin speaks of hearts as being “fixed,” whereas the current translation muddles this into our joys (not our hearts) being “lasting.”
It will be seen that the current translation is in much need of help and that the new translation fixes the problems of the old by using a formal equivalence (word for word) translation as opposed to the “dynamic equivalence” (a general summation of the idea) translation currently in use (but not for long)!
Clearly we need more than the “gist of a prayer,” to pray with the universal Church. The new translation will be welcomed by this pastor.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf of course is the master of analyzing these collects and you can see his more expansive treat of this prayer here: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time