Letter from Fr. Lar O’Connor to the Irish Catholic

Dear Editor,
I am becoming more and more annoyed as expensive advertisements for the New Missal arrive in the mail. Having reviewed the text of this document with the most favourable disposition I just cannot imagine how anyone in the English speaking world with a modicum of literary or sonant intelligence could accept it. It is latinized; It is abstract; it is impersonal; it is archaic; it is full of redundant and superfluous language. It will do nothing to bring a modern congregation to life.
The chief problem with the new text is that its basis is very wrong. The basis is the literal translation of the Latin text of the missal into the local vernacular. The proper basis for the translation of any text should be hermeneutic, the accurate interpretation of the narrative in a way that makes it accessible to contemporary generations. By focussing on the Latin translation the Missal ignores the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic subtexts that lie behind our Christian liturgies. In doing so the new translation makes basic mistakes. It returns to “And with your spirit” instead of the now familiar “And with you”. The Hebrew did not have a personal pronoun. So it used the word “spirit” as a substitute. When Jesus used the expression “Into your hands I commit my spirit” he was saying effectively, “Into your hands I commit myself.”Unfortunately the New Missal does not take account of the meaning of the Hebrew/Aramaic original which is far more personal than the latinised text. In the words of consecration over the chalice, “for many” replaces the present translation “for all” in reference to the death of Christ. This does not take account of the ambiguity of the Hebrew original which could be translated as “all” or “many” depending on context. The critical background text is Isaiah 53:12.  where rabim (all/many) is always inclusive, understood as “all” in the later Jewish tradition of this text. The new translation seems to threaten the theology of the universal redemption of Christ, in other words, that he died to bring all humankind to salvation.
“Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father” is another strange alteration. The placing of “my sacrifice” in first place suggests strongly that the priest’s sacrifice is more important. This contradicts the whole history of sacrifice where the priest offers sacrifice on behalf of the people. It is the people’s sacrifice that matters. Surely “our sacrifice” in the present translation is both adequate and accurate.
If we make a comparison between the old and new we see in some texts how inadequate and awful the new is. We take a sample from Eucharistic Prayer I. The present translation reads: “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive form this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” The new translation reads as follows: In humble prayer, we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” What a contrast between the concise and the superfluous!
There is much talk these days about renewal and reform. It is very difficult to bring about positive reform in the best of circumstances. This new missal is not in the realm of reform and renewal. It is both retrograde and backward looking. It may be too late now to prevent this detrimental infliction on the Irish church. But is it ever too late to show guts and make a stand for what is better and more appropriate for our present and future?
Fr. Lar O’Connor P.P.
Co. Wexford.

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  1. Matt Murphy says:

    New wine, new wineskins. The current batch of older priests may indeed be incapable of implementing the authentic renewal of Holy Church’s liturgy according to a correct interpretation of Vatican II, according to the papal Magisterium. These are interesting times. My hope is on the younger clergy.

  2. Gerard Flynn says:

    Ageist comments are unhelpful.

    I suspect Father O’Connor is as eager as you may be to promote the renewal of the church, not just the liturgy.

    His criticism is levelled primarily at the new translation. It is simply bad English. The axiom tradere traducere might have been coined for the 2010 translation.

    A recent gathering in Dublin criticised the new text on a number of grounds:
    de-inclusive language – ‘for us men and for our salvation;’
    an increased emphasis on the extreme sinfulness of human nature – ‘I have greatly sinned….through my most grievous fault;’
    ambiguous terminology – ‘he descended into hell;’
    archaic, arcane, sacral language – ‘consubstantial,’ ‘with your spirit,’ ‘chalice.’ (What is wrong with ‘He took the cup?’)

    Here is an example of the fractured phrasing that is pervasive:

    For, when your children were scattered afar by sin,
    through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit,
    you gathered them again to yourself,
    that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity,
    made the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit,
    might, to the praise of your manifold wisdom,
    be manifest as the Church.
    (Preface VIII of Sundays in Ordinary Time)

    Do you seriously think that the renewal of the church’s liturgy will be brought about by such an amalgam of defects?

    This is one of the lowest moments in the history of Christianity in Ireland, arguably the lowest. The 2010 translation will alienate many who survived earlier crises.

  3. David Wilde says:

    I’d say the sex abuse scandal was a pretty big low in the history of lows. I think comparing the new translation (if you don’t like it) subjectively to the objective evil of sex abuse is quite… something. I hate to bring sex abuse into it (we will hear about that quite a lot for the next 500 years at least, along with the Inquisition, the Crusades, and indulgence sales), but I had to make comment on that point.

    Re: the above objections: cup is banal. I drink hot chocolate from a cup. The precious blood of the Divine Lord should be in a chalice. Not a cup.

    The Irish people aren’t dumb. They might be treated so, but they’re not. They have potential and my money is on the Irish people rising to the occasion and embracing the new translation and learning their faith more deeply as a result. Give em a chance. This is a translation from the Latin and it’s quite something to translate from Latin and keep the original meaning in the host language. This isn’t the last translation into English either.

  4. Matthew Hazell says:

    “It is latinized…”

    Well, of course it is: we are Latin Rite Catholics, not English Rite ones! In any case, what’s wrong with a translation sounding like a translation? Because–shock, horror!–that’s what it is!

    “The placing of “my sacrifice” in first place suggests strongly that the priest’s sacrifice is more important. This contradicts the whole history of sacrifice where the priest offers sacrifice on behalf of the people. It is the people’s sacrifice that matters. Surely “our sacrifice” in the present translation is both adequate and accurate.”

    But “our sacrifice” is not what the Latin says. The Latin is quite clear here–“my sacrifice and yours” is what it says: “ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium”. And, like it or not, there is a fundamental distinction between the priest and the people in the Mass, the same distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all believers. It’s that distinction that the reply “and with your spirit” draws upon: the priest’s spirit has been fundamentally and permanently changed through the sacrament of Holy Orders. Priests alone consecrate the Eucharist. Without priests, there is no sacrifice of the Mass, there is no sacramental anamnesis.

    For nearly forty years, we’ve had an English text that effectively minimises and downplays the role of priests. Is it, then, really any wonder that vocations over that same period have gone through the floor, and that we have a priest shortage that, in the short term, is only going to get worse? After all, why be a priest when it is “the people’s sacrifice” that really matters?

    “It [the new translation] will do nothing to bring a modern congregation to life.”

    Father, I am 27. My wife is 25. People like us, and any children the Lord blesses us with, are the future of the Church. In our opinion, the new translation cannot come soon enough. Our parish is joyfully preparing for and catechising about both the new translation and the Mass itself. Perhaps the problem is less the new text and more with you and your fellow ACP members’ attitude towards it…?

    I confess, I am at a total loss as to why, Father, you consider what we have now to be superior to the new translation. The new is not perfect–it is still deficient in more than a few areas–but it’s miles better than the banal, childish paraphrase we currently have to endure. I studied Greek and Hebrew biblical texts in detail as part of my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in theology and biblical studies, and, trust me, if my translations had been anything like our current translation of Mass, I would have spectacularly failed those courses.

    Thank God we’re finally replacing the 1973 paraphrase of the Mass!

  5. Well, it’s nice to know that the perpetrators of this ghastly mess are able to translate Latin and keep the meaning (though in fact in many cases they have in fact lost the Latin meaning as well as massacring English). How happy the People of God will be that someone is able to translate Latin for them. If that is all they require of the liturgy 50 years after the Council, no wonder our churches are full with such a happy, contented flock…

  6. “The Hebrew did not have a personal pronoun.” Twaddle. Hebrew indeed did, and does, have a personal pronoun.

    I share the view that this new translation is a mess. But I am also of the view that any translation will be a mess. The fact is that the Roman Missal is in Latin, and that anything other than the original language is always going to cause problems.

    I think it would be more honest for the Association to call for an indigenous, original Mass book, not translated from any Latin texts, but newly composed.

  7. Chris McDonnell says:

    W H Auden, in his poem “If I could tell you” (7) written in October 1940, begins with these three lines.

    “Time will say nothing but I told you so,
    time only knows the price we have to pay;
    if I could tell you I would let you know”

    That, I am afraid is a neat and poignant summary
    of our present position.

    Chris McDonnell UK

  8. Mediocrity is poisonous and should be avoided as much as possible. Even the defenders of the new translation admit that it is mediocre, but they urge us to go ahead with the most poisonous policy of all: the DELIBERATE CHOICE OF THE MEDIOCRE.

  9. Paddy Banville says:

    I’m a simple country priest, I know little of Latin, nothing of Hebrew and Aramaic. When people speak of pre-Vatican II, I have no idea what they’re talking about! I’m too young to know. I started using the new (corrected) translations several months ago on weekday mornings. I started with Eucharistic Prayer II. What a shock to the system! I moved in fright to Eucharistic Prayer I. Within a day or two the new translation had lifted me into the One Sacrifice. I wanted to stay there. Reluctantly, I moved to Eucharistic Prayer III, then to IV, and back to II. I’m well and truly smitten now. Yes, there are issues, but the issues fade into insignificance in the face of Communion with God. I always celebrated Mass because there (as nowhere else) I entered into Communion with God, or rather, God entered into Communion with me, in the manner He chose. In terms of facilitating that Communion, of entering into and offering that One Sacrifice, independent of time and space, the new translations are much better. By the way, Fr. O’Connor is my boss. He also taught me in Seminary. I admire him greatly but I don’t always agree with him!!!

    Fr. Paddy Banville,
    St. Leonards (Parish of Ballycullane),
    New Ross,
    Co. Wexford

  10. Soline Humbert says:

    @ Paddy
    What about communion with one another ( including women!) and the whole of creation?

  11. Gerald Murray says:

    Fr. O’Connor:
    Your passion is admirable, but not your errors.
    1. Biblical Hebrew has personal pronouns, as pointed out.
    2. “spirit” (נפש in Hebrew) usually means spirit, not the reflexive pronoun.) It can also mean life. “Save me” is hatsileni. “Save my life” or “my soul” is hatsila nafshi. “And with your spirit”, in other words, is more faithful to Hebrew than “And with you”. And in any case the ICEL was supposed to translate the Latin, not the Hebrew.
    3. Speaking of which: You say we should “the meaning of the Hebrew/Aramaic original.” ??? Excuse me. Matthew and Luke were written in Greek. They both use the Greek πολλοι, which means “many”. If there’s a definite article (hoi polloi instead of polloi)it can mean masses or multitides. But they did not. We don’t know what Jesus said in Aramaic.
    4. You say “Isaiah 53:12. where rabim (all/many) is always inclusive, understood as “all”” With all due respect, that’s nonsense. Check the Hebrew – English bible at the Jewish website http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1053.htm. The word rabim occurs twice in that verse. The first time it means “the mighty” or “the powerful”. The second time it means “many”.

    I could go on. Could I respectfully recommend that you refrain from pronouncements on linguistic or technical issues that may be outside your domain?

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