Liturgical Translations Explained
By Bishop Edward Risi – Bishop Roche, president of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), addressed the bishops’ conference on the revised translation of the texts of the Mass. Here are some of his thoughts:
The task of preparing a new translation for the Mass and the release of that new text has made it evident that there are indeed as many ideas as there are people. And the fact that we are dealing with the celebration of the Eucharist has led many to offer their praise or criticism for the renewed texts because for Catholics the Eucharist matters.
It is important to state at the outset that in the teachings of Vatican II the bishops together with the Pope have a very proscribed role and to them is entrusted the responsibility of faithfully handing on what we have received from the Lord.
These words of St Paul uttered in a different context, addressed to Timothy, his faithful co-worker, have significance for those who maintain the apostolic authority in the Church: Remind them of this, he says, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:14-16).
The new translation, syntax and vocabulary
The reactions we have received reveal something of the truth in Bishop Roche’s statement. However, that some are unhappy with the quality of English in the new translations needs to be responded to. There are an equal number who have shared with us their great appreciation for the new texts and they believe that the style of English has helped them appreciate more fully the message contained in the texts of the Mass.
The style of translation is definitely different. The sentences are longer. Modern English communication, for the most part has moved to the shorter sentence. Generally, there is less use of relative and adverbial clauses in modern English. The previous ICEL texts tended to accommodate this newer English style. Here is an example of a translation of one long sentence in Latin divided into two shorter sentences in English:
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The new English text, although one long sentence, emphasises what lies at the heart of the prayer in its original Latin formulation that the Lord deliver us from every evil and, by the use of clauses, emphasises that this means living in peace, being free from sin and being safe from all distress. This the Lord does by sustaining us by his mercy which is his free gift.
The revised translation reads:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, sustained by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope, and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The nature of the gift is emphasised by the graciously grant. It is a grace, freely given, not earned or merited.
Be pleased to or graciously grant, or we pray bring a variety of reverential ways of saying please to the God we worship, and emphasise the Lord’s freedom in action.
Those charged with the work of revising the translation concluded that the word distress better expressed the Latin pertubatione than did the word anxiety, which was in use up till now. Distress includes external circumstances as well as an internal state.
The blessed hope and the coming of Jesus Christ are two expectations we have: awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
Another point: this prayer has always been considered to be a single sentence expansion of the last petition of the Our Father: but deliver us from evil.
The new text requires more effort to be attentive to the meaning of whole sentence and to what is being said prayerfully. But the effort may be well worth it! The same can be said for most of the new translations.
An example from Eucharistic Prayer Three
We have become used to saying and hearing the two separate sentences:
Look with favour on your Church’s offering, and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself.
Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.
The central focus of this prayer, in the format which we use presently, is that we ask the Father to look with favour on the offering of the Church and to recognise in it the Victim who has reconciled us to himself the victim around which the whole celebration of the Mass revolves. In a second sentence, we ask that by receiving the body and blood of the Lord, we be filled with the Holy Spirit and so become one body and one spirit in Christ.
This is a single sentence in the revised form. Still addressing the Father, we ask God to look upon the offering (oblation) of the Church and thereby grant that we become one body, one spirit in Christ. The other elements qualify (1) the oblation and (2) what nourishes us, that is the Body and Blood and the Holy Spirit. Note also the scriptural content echoed in the qualifying clauses:
Ephesians 5:2 Christ gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
1 Cor. 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Cor 12:12,13 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. The revised text reads as follows.
Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognising the Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself, grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ. (I have emphasised in bold type the focal point of the paragraph.)
Another example from Eucharistic Prayer Four
The text we have been using up till now reads as follows:
And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.
Here is an example where the rich scriptural content of the proclamation was lost in translation. The new text clearly connects Jesus’ redemptive work (he died and rose) and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in those who have been set free from selfishness and death thus Jesus completes the whole process of making holy (sanctification) that God began, as the same prayer acknowledges in the following words: You formed man in your own image, and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures.
The revised translation reads: And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.
Compare the two texts, read them aloud, savour them, and see what you think. Do you hear the echoes of Titus 2:14? who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
And 2 Cor. 5:15: And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
And Rom 8:23: and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
With the aid of the ICEL booklet which was widely distributed, please further your own study of the new texts and try to penetrate and share with one another the renewed depth of doctrinal and theological teaching contained in them.
The syntax demands of the priest that he lead the prayers more slowly and with greater mental alertness, to really convey the meaning.
Bishop Risi is episcopal head of the bishop’s liturgy deptartment. The ICEL booklet can be obtained from the Department for Christian Formation, Liturgy and Culture, Box 923, 0001 Pretoria. updated from 2009