“Sacred Language” or Trojan Horse?

Fr. P. John Mannion
Recently Gerald O’Collins S.J., former professor of Theology at Rome’s prestigious Gregorian University, wrote to all of the bishops of the English speaking world, many of whom were his former students, suggesting that they use a 1998 translation approved by bishops’ conferences instead of the current one due to the inadequacies of the present translation.
Last year, a survey of Irish priests showed that 4.7% were “completely satisfied” with the new translation whereas 60.7% were “dissatisfied”. What would happen to any company today which had a product on the market (say a car) with a comparable rating?
In most Irish churches today, the young people have voted with their feet; they are conspicuous by their absence. Recently a former chairman of the International Commission on the Liturgy, Bishop Emeritus Maurice Taylor of Galloway, suggested that the Vatican allow the same 1998 translation referred to by Fr. O’Collins. However, the current head of the Congregation for Worship, Archbishop Roach said no because the current one promulgated by Rome in 2012 “makes the 1998 version outdated”.
The purpose of the present evaluation is to question the validity of the Archbishop’s assertion. The fact of the matter is that the Roman Congregation responsible for the current translation, completely ignored the directives of Vatican Two, and gave us instead the Mass we were using since Pope Paul VI laced with Tridentine insertions plus prayers rehashed in a supposedly “sacred language” and translated from the Latin according to Rome’s directive “in a most exact manner” thus giving us a translation that is ungrammatical and laced with pious, phoney verbiage.
The Second Vatican Council laid down guidelines for future liturgical celebrations. These guidelines were adhered to in the translation we were given under Pope Paul VI and which was in use for the past 40 years. I quote the relevant guidelines which asks for a pastoral approach to the celebration of all of the sacraments.

Paragraph 21: Both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things they signify. The Christian people as far as possible should be able to understand them easily.

Paragraph 34: Rites and texts should radiate a noble simplicity. They should be short,clear, and free from useless repetition. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension and normally should not require much explanation.  

The Congregation for Divine Worship was entrusted with the task of translation by Pope John Paul (now St. John Paul) and continued its work under his successor Pope Benedict. Without any evident research to substantiate its position, the Congregation concluded that current declining church attendance was due in part to the “secular language” of the existing translation, so it decided that a more “sacred language” was needed in the new translation, and proceeded to act accordingly. The current widely noted “Francis effect” calls into question the validity of that assumption.
The first signs of storms ahead came with the news that we were to return to “and with your spirit” as well as “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” Recently I discovered a 1961 Bridal Missal (prior to Vatican 2) which had the Latin Tridentine Mass with the English translation. There were stunning similarities with the current translation. I also discovered that in the Congregation tasked with the new translation, “you had more chance of finding a needle in a haystack than of identifying one of its senior officials who celebrated Mass in any other rite (than the Tridentine rite)” Also “the final version was signed off by a sub-committee of non-English speakers, after they had made their own ‘improvements’”1 Later a priest friend commented that in his view, English was not the first language of the translators.
For purposes of comparison, I will refer to the Mass we had for the past 40 years as the Pauline Mass since it was issued under Pope Paul VI.

  • In the new translation the Congregation accepted the “I confess” from the Pauline Mass but inserted into it the triple “through my fault” from the Tridentine Mass.
  • It accepted the “Gloria” from the Pauline Mass but inserted into it the second “you take away the sins of the world” omitted in the Pauline Mass but present in the Tridentine.
  • In the Pauline Mass we used “we” both in the Gloria and in the Creed; in the new translation we retain the “we” in the Gloria, but return to the “I” for the Creed as in the Tridentine Mass despite the fact that in the original Nicene Creed both in Greek and Latin, the “we” form is used.
    Additionally, the Congregation itself in its document on translation said that when a term with a rich meaning “such as consubstantialem”was not easily translatable, it was permitted to use one or several vernacular words in the translation. So the American Bishops asked if they could use ‘one in being’” as in the Pauline Mass, but the answer from Rome was no. So they retained “consubstantial” as in the Tridentine translation. Obviously the word “substantial” in English has nothing to do with substance. It means “sufficient” or “adequate”.  So, apart from being an English transliteration of the Latin “consubstantialem”, the word “consubstantial” has no valid English meaning.
  • In the new translation we read in the Apostle’s Creed “He descended into Hell” despite the fact that some years back Pope Benedict writing about Limbo said it was never a dogma of the church but a theological proposition. So where did Christ descend into according to Rome?

“And with your spirit” from the Tridentine Mass replaces the “and also with you” from the Pauline Mass.

  • 1). Part of Rome’s justification for insisting on a return to the original is that St. Paul sends greeting to a number of churches using the phrase (Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, Philemon 1:23). But Paul also sends greetings without mentioning “your spirit” e.g. “the God of peace be with you all” (Romans 15:33), “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1Cor 16:23, 2Cor 13:11, Philippians 4:9, 4:23, Coll. 4:18). In actual fact, Paul uses the phrase “with you” more frequently than he uses “with your spirit”.
  • 2). In the Greco-Roman world the body was a valueless piece of junk, weighing down the soul. According to one ancient thinker, “The body is a tomb.” Plotinus, the father of Neoplatonism, was ashamed to have had a body. Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher said of himself, “You are a poor soul, burdened with a corpse.” What is beyond question is that Paul in his letters reflects this linguistic and cultural understanding. So today in the 21stcentury, a first century understanding is foisted on the worshipping community.
  • 3). The priest’s greeting to the people both in Latin and in the vernacular, does not refer to the spirit; it is simply “The Lord be with you”. Why then, is it not O.K to reply “and also with you” as we have been doing for the past forty years? Are the priests in a separate category from the laity?

“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”etc. Here again is a return to the Tridentine translation. The original is based on a miracle Jesus worked for the servant of a centurion, a Roman officer. (Luke 7:1-10). According to Luke, Jesus is on his way to the home of the officer whose slave is ill when the latter send him the above message. The reason: in Jewish law to enter the home of a foreigner would incur uncleanliness and the centurion was aware of this. Jesus heals the slave without going near the house.

  • 1). The Council of Jerusalem ,(49 A.D.) decreed that the Old Law no longer applied to Christians, so it is irrelevant, obsolete.
  • 2). “Come under my roof” raises other issues. Under whose “roof” does Jesus come? Jesus does not “come under our roof”; rather we are drawn into union with Him and with each other by means of our sharing in the Eucharistic Mystery.

The Consecration:

  • The Tridentine Mass has “Simili modo” at the beginning of the consecration of the cup so it is reintroduced into the new translation. A proper English translation would read “In like manner” but the awkward “In a similar way” is the new translation.
  • The “cup” has now transmuted into “the precious chalice” even though the Greek original is poterion, which is a drinking cup. The word chalice conjures up images of gold plating, jewels etc., none of which were present at the Last Supper.
  • “Bloodshed” is a common English word. In the Pauline Mass Christ’s blood is “shed” but it is “poured out” in the new translation.
  • Most controversial, “for all” in the Pauline consecration is replaced by “for many” in the new. So for whom did Christ not die?

Whereas Pope John XXIII called for “aggornamiento” or “updating” and our present holy father Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly of the need to look to the future, the above are some examples of a return to 16th century text in the name of renewal.
I will now turn to what I can only call “un-English English” with a few examples.
1)      The end of prefaces in the Pauline Mass usually read “as we endlessly proclaim”. The phrase in Latin, reads “sine fine dicentes” which is good Latin syntax, but in translation it would read “without end we saying”, which is not good English. However in the new translation, instead of “endlessly” (an adverb qualifying a verb) we read “as without end we acclaim.” But the word “end” is not an adverb, it is a noun. We talk about a “front end” or a “back end” so “without end” before a verb is bad syntax and incongruous.
2)      “To our departed brothers and sisters….give kind admittance to your kingdom”, instead of “welcome into your kingdom”. (Eucharistic Prayer 3). The word “admittance” in English has a clinical, commercial dimension as in admission to a hospital, a theatre, a football match etc.  The word “kind” refers primarily to a person, not a thing. So a “kind admittance” is not good English. We say “eternal rest give unto them…” for our deceased. Are we ever likely to pray “Lord, give kind admittance …” for any of our departed friends or relatives?
3)      “..welcome them into the light of your face” (Eucharistic Prayer 2). Instead of “bring them ….into the light of your presence”. “In your face” nowadays refers to an aggressive attitude whereas the word “countenance” or “presence” reflects more the attitude of reverence and respect which the Vatican seeks.
4)       In Eucharistic prayer No1. We now pray “firstly” for “your holy Catholic Church”, but there is no “secondly” so why the addition of “firstly”?
5)      Whereas we prayed “Bless and approve our offerings” we now pray “be pleased O God we pray to bless, acknowledge and approve this offering in every respect”.
The use of the Sacred Language and the slavish adherence to the Latin original in translation have led to unfortunate consequences.  In regard to the former, there is no evidence that Jesus ever used a “Sacred language” in his preaching. His parables were not intended to confuse but to challenge his listeners and also to put off the possibility of a revolt against Rome if people recognized him early on as the Messiah. The use of words like “ineffable, consubstantial, incarnate” do not “radiate that noble simplicity” spoken of by the Vatican 2 bishops. Most people find them meaningless.
Again there are prayers which elude understanding when read by a priest. Example: “May the people consecrated to you O Lord, we pray, receive the fruits and joy of your blessing that the festive homage they have offered to you today in the body may redound upon them as a spiritual gift. ” (Prayer after Communion, dedication of a church).
Again the prayer after communion for a wedding reads: “By the power of this sacrifice O Lord, accompany with your loving favour what in your providence you have instituted, so as to make of one heart in love those you have already joined in this holy union and replenished with the one Bread and one Chalice.”
Are these prayers “short and clear,” as mandated by Vatican Two? I think the answer is in the negative.
Of 49 prefaces in the new translation 42 have sentences beginning with the word “For”.  In English that word introduces a subordinate clause but these 42 are not subordinate clauses but masquerade as sentences, in some cases sentences of more than 60 words.
The above examples hopefully validate the case made at the outset of this presentation.
At the beginning of the missal is a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship which “gladly approve(s) and confirm(s) the text” at the request of the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh. This is, to say the least, disingenuous. To imply that the cardinal, like all other bishops of the Church, had asked the Vatican to approve his and their translation of the Missal is putting the cart before the horse. The Vatican imposed its translation on the universal church.
The Council of Trent (1547 – 1563) to which we owe the Tridentine Mass took place in a different world. It imposed a single Latin liturgy on the Church, (then a largely European Church) out of fear of heresy and it suppressed many local rich and varied liturgies which were totally orthodox.
The laity was largely uneducated and illiterate apart from the upper classes and the very idea of spirituality for lay people was relatively new. The industrial revolution, the growth of cities and mass literacy were undreamed of.
Today’s world is radically different. Not only basic education, but also third level education is increasingly within the grasp of many. The emancipation of women in society, (less so in the church) means that today many of the laity and many religious women are more educated than some of the clergy. All of this has fundamental ramifications as to what constitutes a meaningful, dynamic and authentic worshipping community.
People today look for more active involvement and participation than in the past. Megachurches in the U.S. are characterized by huge, well-trained choirs, direct input from talented, charismatic speakers and active involvement by the congregation in the worship. African and Latin American worshippers look for smaller groups, active participation in communal singing and dancing and charismatic leadership. All of which indicates that Masses with passive recipients while the priest reads everything he utters are recipes for declining congregations, with the sheep leaving for other pastures or for none with the rise of secular humanism.
The method used at the time of Trent was unquestioned then, but is totally irrelevant in the 21st century. That academics in Rome should have the power today to dictate to laity, clergy and local hierarchies, is totally at variance with the ideals Christ preached and lived in His earthly life and which were practiced in the early Christian communities of the New Testament. Surely hierarchies in the various language groups, in consultation with clergy and laity, ought to be the ones to ultimately determine what is an acceptable method of worship in the contemporary world.
Does Rome really believe that God’s Church only has “Authentic Liturgy” when throughout the world, everybody is mechanically saying the exact same words at the exact same point as dictated by Rome? It would be difficult to justify this understanding of worship by appeal to anything in the New Testament, early Church history, or in any document of Vatican Two.
One may be excused for believing that the mandatory introduction of Tridentine remnants into a twenty first century liturgy in the name of updating or whatever, is a Trojan Horse of Titanic proportions. Like the Trojan Horse it needs to be consigned to the dustbin of historical irrelevancy. 

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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Now you tell us!
    This prayer is new to me and sounds like a slap in the face to any married couple:
    “By the power of this sacrifice O Lord, accompany with your loving favour what in your providence you have instituted, so as to make of one heart in love those you have already joined in this holy union and replenished with the one Bread and one Chalice.”
    There was detailed discussion of the glaring defects of the new translation for years before it was imposed. No one in the hierarchy listened, except Bp Trautman. They behaved with utter insensitivity and arrogance.
    Most of the clergy also behaved in a cowardly or somnambulistic fashion, oblivious of the principle suprema lex salus animarum.
    Fr Mannion, please check some of what you say above. You speak of the “Pauline translation” and the “Tridentine translation” — but in many cases it is the Latin text of the Novus Ordo that you are objecting to. In one case you are objecting to the text of the Apostle’s Creed (clumsily translated as “he descended into hell’).
    The head of the Congregation for Divine Worshiip is Cardinal Sarah, not Archbishop Roche (sic), who is the secretary. Both are manifestly incompetent..

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    What the bishops still do not realize is that churches now are in a situation of open competition. A church that cannot put on a meaningful liturgy will be abandoned by its customers for one that can. In the present ecumenical climate there is not even a strong theological objection to this. Sadly, in many or most cases, those who find the liturgy meaningless will just stop churchgoing altogether.
    I see Fr Mannion did define “Pauline translation” as referring to the 1973 English translations, which are of course far more usable than the new dreck. These translations do alter some of the Latin original, quite justifiably. The question to be asked is why our liturgy is so totally entangled in a regime of translation and why the people of God are forbidden to create prayers suited to the present time.
    The new translations do not read as if written by human beings. They are committee products, sometimes consulting earlier translations and altering them in a way that ruins them. The celebrant is left handling the resulting mess, while the faithful tune out (which is their wisest recourse).

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Replenished by the food of spiritual nourishment” — just one of thousands of phrases of this “sacred language” the bureaucrats find so uplifting. It is a soggy mess that far from raising the mind drags it down into the mentality of the bureaucrats and leaves the faithful puzzling over their quaint quandaries as they made their translation choices. Insofar as anyone attempts to listen to the language of the liturgy now, they will find in it nothing but a nest of distractions. The medium has become opaque and artificial, effectively preventing the message from being heard. The language of prayer has become the enemy of prayer, the language of the community throws us back on isolated and irritated individualities, the language of the Church has become a no-man’s-speech, preventing the Church from expressing its identity anymore.

  4. Tumbling over ‘prevenient grace’ in tonight’s preface… not sure if any of the parishioners huddled together on a cold winter’s night or their priest understood it all…. maybe we are not meant to…

  5. john dwyer kirwin,p.p. ret.,u.s.a. says:

    I think the time has come for all priests to take things in their own hands and stop waiting for permission to do what their hearts and minds are telling them to do. The ’98 translation that the bishops approved, is by far the best that’s available at the moment, and even that can be tweaked here and there. Life is too short and we’re going to be dead for a long time, hence we should enjoy ourselves above the ground and not wait for Daddy to tell us it’s alright.

  6. Joe O’Leary : “This looks good” : I have dipped at random into one of these Post Communion prayers. “…Ita et nos in amplexu Domini morientes…” certainly does not mean “….so we, surrounded by the dying of the Lord…”

  7. Roy Donovan says:

    The “And with your spirit” response – what a ‘deadener’ & a killjoy! This response has no meaning for me so I don’t bother with greetings any more.
    I am a human body – a humoid!
    I can’t imagine Jesus saying to me ‘I’m with your spirit’. If he did, I would tell him to get lost/ get real.
    Baruch (last Sunday) tells us – “Take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever”.
    Gone is the new missal – I’m back with the old. Strange for somebody like me who has a preoccupation with the new.
    I compromise when there is con-celebration (seldom) with Eucharist Prayer 11 (new missal) but even it has numerous problems. It has many cringe factors ie. Lord replacing Father/ Chalice with cup/ For many against for all.
    Replacing love with charity certainly doesn’t do it for me. Jesus didn’t say ‘I give you charity’ or ‘I charity you’!
    The new liturgy with all its spiritualizing makes a farce of the ‘incarnation’ – of a God who lets go of divinity, status and power and is happy to be human.

  8. Louie Macari says:

    Good to see that the issues with the translation have not been forgotten. It is not just that it is a bad translation but there are inconsistencies too. The et cum spiritu.. one could put up with had a better explanation been given. eg this is the tradition of the Church. Though I am much more comfortable with “And also with…”
    The translation of “dignum et justum est” as “it is right and just” seems to be taken from my old missal which I was given in 1960. Although there it is “meet and just” The problem here is that in the translation of Domine non sum dignus. Dignus is translated as worthy. So which word is the translation of dignum. The early translators of the dialogue in the Anglican Church in the past used it is meet and right. I assume dignus = meet and justum = right. I assume they as English speakers knew what they were doing. The Italian translation is E cosa buona e giusta which can mean “it is a good and right thing” as giusto/a can mean right or just. My thought when I hear this response is just what? and I quietly say right and fitting instead as I feel this is a better fit to the meaning.
    I know the acclamations after the consecration are translations of the Latin but I feel that these are prayers instead of statements of the mystery of faith which the older versions were. One should be able to ask the question:- What is the mystery of faith we profess? The answer should be any one of these responses.
    While it might be acceptable to have what are discontinuities in Latin it doen’t work in English and it is to be hoped that something will be done to look again at the 1998 versions.
    Something else which is a bit concerning I saw in an article in the magazine of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walshingham which I include below. If this is correct then it is really an attempt to go against the decree on the Liturgy of Vatican II
    Cardinal Robert Sarah, the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after the approval of the Divine Worship Missal, has suggested that a future revision of the Roman Missal might include, as options, three features of the rite which are found in the pre-conciliar Missal but not in the current Roman Missal.
    The second is the traditional Offertory section, in which the extended prayers over the oblations – ancient in origin – were replaced in the Missal of Pope Paul VI by Jewish table blessings. The Divine Worship Missal (of the Ordinariate) includes as alternatives both forms – the traditional Offertory section (which is said secretly) and the Jewish table blessings.

  9. Bob Hayes says:

    My heart sinks when I read anyone (no. 10), let alone a priest, declare ‘I would tell him [Jesus Christ] to get lost / get real’. So sad to read.

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Latin “iustum” does not translate automatically as English “just” — but just as the translators have no ear for the English language, they have no ear for the Latin language either. My spirit and I acclaim: they are illiterate bureaucrats.

  11. Joe O'Leary says:

    The dereliction of episcopal duty in regard to the new translations is also a betrayal of the Council, where bishops fought hard to have their authority on this front recognized. The cowardice and subservience with which bishops toed the Vatican line, suppressing and even penalizing legitimate doubts about the quality of the translations, is a scandal equal in gravity to their handling of the sex abuse crises.

  12. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Oh Bob @ 12, push your bottom lip in. My closest friends, allies, and loved ones have told me to “get lost” and “get real”. I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t hold it against you, would he? So sad that you would take that away from that comment, truly sad.

  13. I was on the point of offering a comment but Lloyd@15 and Joe@14 have just said exactly what I was about to say. I agree with them completely.

  14. Mary Burke says:

    It would be interesting to find out how much the recently publicized financial troubles of Veritas have been caused by the money it spent on publishing and printing the retranslation of the Missal following the principles of Liturgiam authenticam. If reports are accurate, the anticipated sales were much overestimated leaving a significant amount of unsold stock in the warehouse which is unlikely ever to see the light of day.

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