More on liturgical translations

15 Responses

  1. David says:

    “Good News for Modern Man” is not an example of a translation using dynamic equivalence, but a paraphrase. The new formal correspondence method is patently absurd and results in a translation that is wooden and odd.

  2. fr sean collins CSSR says:

    I thought that part of the reform of the Liturgy (Vat 11) was to cut out unnecessary repetition (hence 6 Kyrie Eleisons instead of 18!) and superfluous (?) prayers (manifold signs of the cross over the gifts,triple genuflections etc). Archbishop Hurley and ICEL did a Great Job, given their mandate. The Missal he bequeathed us has, through accustomed usage itself become a sacred text and we appreciate a minimum of tinkering with it.

  3. Todd says:

    Agreed on David’s comment on Good News. Equating a paraphrase with a valid translation is not making a logical point.

    Many apologists for the new translation seem stuck on dynamic vs formal equivalence, but there are other problems, too.

    One of the foremost in my mind is the insistence on old Roman prayers not harmonized with the Scriptures of the three-year cycle. The recent synod on the word touched on the value of more closely and deeply linking Word and Eucharist, but the Latin original of Roman Missal III suffers a certain impoverishment in that regard.

    On the three-year Lectionary cycle for Sundays and feasts, we proclaim different readings, different psalm texts, and homilies are focused each in their unique way to the given Scriptures. It is a gross oversight that RM3 was allowed to go forward much, much less than it could be.

    The new translation may be useful as a teaching tool, as an assist to translating the Missal into other languages from the Latin. But a living worshipping community needs a Missal with a lively vernacular translation. At this point, it would be best for the Church to scuttle the translation effort, start over with poets, musicians, and language experts at the fore of the work, adding originally composed prayers and aiming for a better effort in ten years.

  4. Martin Keenan says:

    Both David and Todd are incorrect in their pronouncements on “Good News for Modern Man”. It is the definitive example of “dynamic equivalence” used for Scriptural translations and Bishop Risi’s remarks on it are unexceptionable, entirely in point and logical. For lack of opportunity to access anything more academic, I suggest David and Todd check the Wikipedia article for “Good News Bible”:

    As for the hapless turkeys Fr. Collins served up in his paragraph, I must defer dissection until another time; but at all events, none of them will fly.

  5. Martin Keenan says:


    [1] If Fr. Collins objects to the triple self-accusation in the confiteor then his objection is properly to be registered against the Novus Ordo (the supreme product of the Vatican II liturgical reforms) and not against the accurate translation of it now in use in Southern Africa. His reading of Article 34 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (if that is what he was alluding to) is, in any event, misconceived, since that provision addresses “rites” not “prayers” (compare and contrast Article 35, for example).

    [2] There were never 18 “Kyrie/Christe” invocations in what was formerly called the “Tridentine Mass” (now “the Extraordinary Form”). It is, rather, in the “Israeli Mass” setting of the 1973 English version of the Mass which iterated 18 times “Lord/Christ have mercy [on us all]” – neither the Novus Ordo (“the Ordinary Form”) nor the Extraordinary Form was so repetitious. The only instance of “triple genuflections” that I can recall was the devotion known as “creeping to the Cross” on Good Friday.

    [3] It is unclear which “job” by Abp Hurley and ICEL Fr. Collins is applauding. It cannot be the provisional 1973 translation (still fully in use in Anglophone countries, except for Southern Africa since November 2008) because ICEL worked on a radical re-translation of the Latin original between 1983 and 1998 – that demonstrates how “sacrosanct” ICEL regarded its first efforts. Abp Hurley was chairman of ICEL from 1975 until 1991 which puts him in nominal charge of that re-translation process during its decisive phase.

    [4] The sentimentalisation of Abp Hurley’s role on ICEL is deplorable in this context. The issue is whether the translations are good or bad (I accept that there is no single metric, but the point stands). The identity (and nationality) of the translator/ instigator/ promoter/ publisher/ printer (etc.) is of supreme irrelevance.

  6. Martin Keenan says:

    As for David, his presumption in lecturing Bishop Risi is exceeded only by his ignorance of the subject-matter of the lecture.

    The Good News Bible (“GNB”) is by no means a “paraphrase”, as even a superficial acquaintance with it will demonstrate. In general it is a careful and accurate translation, although suffering from the defects Bishop Risi mentioned.

    There are numerous instances where individual terms or phrases in the original Greek of the New Testament have been explained rather than translated (“I am the first and last” instead of “I am the alpha and the omega” in Rev.1:8, for example). This leads, on occasion, to anachronisms, over-simplifications, and even banalities and vulgarisms.

    What is gained in terms of immediacy is off-set by the loss of the sense that Our Lord was incarnated at a particular time in history in a specific place with a specific culture.

    From St. Matthew’s Gospel, I instance: mention of “the police” (Mt.5:25); Matthew is said to be “sitting in his office” when Jesus calls him (Mt.9:9); the centurion at Capernaum is denoted simply “a Roman officer” (Mt.8:5); Jonah’s whale becomes “a big fish” (Mt.12:40); the Pharisees are said to have had “their feelings hurt” by something Our Lord says (Mt.15:12); Our Lord is reported (in the great Petrine text) as commending Peter with the words “Good for you, Simon son of John” (Mt.16″17 – the standard translation is “Blessed are you . . “); and the mocking of Our Lord by Pilate’s soldiers is trivialised and softened by the phrase “they made fun of him” (Mt.20:19).

    Although these (with many others) are numerous, they remain isolated instances and do not collectively convert the translation as a whole into a “paraphrase”.

    ICEL, in the 1973 translation, exceeded the limits of “dynamic equivalence” as evidenced in the GNB: extensive parts of some prayers were suppressed (the Gloria, for example) and other prayers were totally re-written or extensively paraphrased (including parts of the Eucharistic Prayers); and even scriptural quotations were sometimes omitted, sometimes truncated, and sometimes so distorted as to be unrecognisable (I have given examples before, in other posts).

    In scale and degree it vastly exceeded anything in the GNB and transgressed the very liberal “guidance” given in the semi-authoritative document “Comme le Prvoit” issued in 1969 which stipulated for a word-for-word translation of (inter alia) the Eucharistic Prayers.

  7. Martin Keenan says:

    Todd’s eccentric intervention hardly deserves comment, bereft as it is of any details justifying his all-out attack on the Missale Romanum.

    The hare-brained idea that local “poets, musicians and linguistic experts” (no mention of bishops, liturgists, historians or theologians, God forbid!) should concoct a Eucharistic liturgy commanding general approbation – let alone the approbation of the Apostolic See – condemns itself.

    Whatever process it is that Todd is recommending is so far from anything countenanced by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council as to disqualify it from any serious discussion of Catholic liturgy.

  8. Todd says:

    Are we talking about the same Bible?

    Martin, while I can appreciate your unwillingness to address my points, the truth of things are that the council documents indeed and on several occasions commended bishops to consult with lay people on matters of competence. Translating languages would certainly seem to fall under that category.

    As a matter of fact, there was consultation with poets and a few musicians on various translation efforts. The question I would have for you is why you would be afraid of competent experts in the arts and in matters of language. Isn’t this about getting the best result?

    Better reading comprehension, my friend, might net you a stronger ability to engage the issues.

  9. Martin Keenan says:

    Nothing wrong with my powers of comprehension, thanks all the same, Todd.

    And all my points still stand (if you had made any comprehensible ones on the Missale Romanum I might have bothered to address them). Your contributions are distinctly vague and innocent of detail.

    For what it ius worth, no-one disputes the need for experts in matters of translation, but it’s news to me that poets are “experts” in any sense that would have been recognised by the Council Fathers. Try reading the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

  10. Todd says:

    Thanks, Martin, for engaging the point. If you want more detail, you are free to visit my web site. I avoid using the comboxes of other people’s sites to elaborate on theology.

    The Roman Missal, as it was composed and translated, is itself deficient in ways that would be simple to remedy. Unfortunately, in the eyes of Rome, it would necessitate a wider consultation and a bigger net to mine the richness of original prayers composed in the vernacular from around the world. Politics, it would seem, has trumped the need for experts.

    Poets are indeed among the people I would see as vital to a translation effort: experts who are accustomed to the art of using few words to communicate profound realities.

    In addition to reading all the documents of the Council, I’m also familiar with Comme le Prevoit, which was, for a generation or more, the standard of translating Latin liturgical documents into the vernacular. ICEL in its work through the nineties, took seriously their role not only as translators, but composers and compilers of resources for liturgy.

    I would suggest, my friend, a more broad reading effort than you have shown. If you want to be taken seriously as a defender of Bishop Risi’s points, you will have to come to the table with considerably more than you have shown. If you have your own web site, I would be happy to continue this conversation on specifics. Otherwise, you are free to visit my web site, Catholic Sensibility, and browse through any summaries of Vatican II documents or post-conciliar liturgy documents. If you have a single issue (please not multiples at a time) you would like me to address, I’m willing to reprint a challenge from you and tackle it in-depth. Otherwise, I’m going to conclude my participation on this thread by reiterating that Roman Catholic liturgy is in need of more, not less, in terms of quality, beauty, attention, and good translation, and that the last ten years have seen more of a poverty in that regard. It is time to bring more, not fewer, people to the table, and examine the needs and the possibilities.

  11. Martin Keenan says:

    I would appreciate it if you drop the patronising tone, Todd.

    My defence of Bishop Risi – not that he requires a champion – was confined in this thread to rebuking the ignorant comment made by David (and applauded by you) that the GNB was a “paraphrase” and not a translation. In post 6, I gave sufficient justification for the contrary view.

    Your response was the plaintive: “Are we talking about the same Bible?”, as to which you could have easily resolved matters for yourself by checking the wikipedia link I gave at post 4. I have no idea what bible version you and David thought you were referring to, but it is clear without any possibility of error (a) what Bishop Risi was referring to, and (b) that his remarks on it were fully justified.

    You and I at least agree that the 1973 ICEL translation was defective (a view not shared by Fr. Collins, who considers it sacrosanct) and that, since 1973 the English-speaking part of the Church has been waiting for “more, not less, in terms of quality, beauty, attention, and good translation” ( as you put it).

    Where we disagree is whether the revamped ICEL have, in all the circumstances, achieved as best as can reasonably be expected. That is largely a matter of taste since the accuracy of the new translation is not in issue.

    We also disagree as to whether it is desirable (or necessary) for each of the various language groups within the world-wide Church to develop an autonomous stream of new liturgical prayers for the Mass.

    I defy you to produce the slightest evidence that such an approach was contemplated by the Council Fathers.

    If this were a viable project (which I strongly doubt), it would necessarily undermine the “substantial unity of the Roman Rite” (a core requirement of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: see Art.38 and the severe practical constraints put upon “radical inculturation” by Art. 40), and inevitably lead to a proliferation of national or multi-national language-group Churches.

    You see this as an issue of Church politics, but the Council reiterated (SC, Art.22) that the primary regulator of the liturgy is the Apostolic See as the ultimate guarantee of the unity and integrity of the Church’s worship (which is not the possession of any individual or group of individuals, no matter how numerous: see SC, Art. 26). Adherence to that principle is not a matter of internal Church politics but is central to the Church’s understanding of what the liturgy is.

  12. Dear Bishop Risi [or someone able to shed some light].

    Do we simply pronounce our Creed at Mass or do we pray it?

    Saying, or addressing God as maker of heaven and earth implies that God made them out of something. Biblical scholars and/or spiritual leaders have elaborated on our Penny Catechism and taught that God creates because God brought heaven and earth into being out of nothing. That is why we mortals are only imitators of our heavenly father because everything we create is made out of something already in existence.

    I would have a hard time believing that the words make and create in other languages can apply equally to the essence of Gods being and be-ing.

  13. Martin Keenan says:

    Nothing in the English word “maker” or in the verb “make” precludes the idea of generation “ex nihilo” – which seems to be the difficulty felt by the writer of the previous post.

    In the New American Bible (the English translation used on the Vatican website and from which all the following translations are taken), the verbs “create” and “make” are found in the two scriptural accounts of creation (Gen.1:1 and 2:4, respectively); but even in the former account, the verbs “make” and “create” are used interchangeably (“create” of the fishes of the sea at v.21, and “make” of the animals on land at v. 25, for example).

    I have to conclude that this usage reflects a distinction without a difference in the original Hebrew. The Greek Septuagint translation (dating from the 3rd century BC) gives “epoi?sen” (“He made”) in all the instances cited above. Clearly, the Greek translators felt nothing significant turned on the Hebrew usage.

    Consider also this passage from the Prophet Isaiah where we find “create” and “make” interchangeably:

    “For thus says the LORD, The creator of the heavens, who is God, The designer and maker of the earth who established it . .” (Is.45:18).

    And this well-known biblical phrase, which exists in various forms:

    “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps.123:8; cf. Ps.120:2, 145:6 and Acts 14:15).

    Among numerous other occurrences of “make/ maker” referencing God’s act of creation, see, for instance, Ex.20:11 (“In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them”) and Rev.14:7b (“Worship him who made heaven and earth and sea and springs of water.””).

    The official Latin text of the 4th century Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed gives the word “factorem” with regard to God’s act of creation, and the official Greek text of the same Creed has “poi?t?n” – both of which terms are correctly translated as “maker” and neither of which implies that God used pre-existing material from which to construct the universe.

  14. Joe says:

    The new translations have met universal rejection in South Africa:

    “It is a crisis insofar as it generates deep divisions in the Church. A simple imposition of the liturgy as it stands may have numerous unhappy consequences. At best, it may lead to an increasingly passive community, with varying degrees of disillusionment and resignation. It will not renew a sense of life to the Church, nor will it probably deepen Eucharistic faith. It may lead to disruptive passive resistance, with opponents to the new liturgy blurting out the old lines as loudly as possible, disrupting the sense of unity that the liturgy calls us to share. At worst, it could lead to some angrily walking out of the church, declaring that its not the church I joined. If we note that this new translation has yet to be implemented in the major English speaking areas of the Church, we might imagine how horribly these scenarios might be magnified, particularly in countries where there is an active, vocal and well-organised laity who are already combative in the wake of the long battles over Humanae Vitae, married and women priests, and sexual abuse scandals.”