WASHINGTON — The Vatican has officially recognized the new English translation of the Order of the Mass, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops confirmed on July 25.
A 12-part project expected to take at least another two years, the revision of the Roman Missal began with part one, the Ordo Missae: the most common prayers offered by the priest in the Mass along with the people’s responses.
Approved by the U.S. bishops in 2006, the first stage of new translations can now begin to be introduced to the people by their pastors.
Notable changes include: “I believe” instead of “we believe” in the Creed, which is faithful to the Latin Credo, the response “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you,” which had already been in use in most other translations (such as the Spanish “y con tu Espíritu”), and the restoration of “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” to the Confiteor.
One particularly embattled change is the translation of pro multis in the Eucharistic prayers. Younger Catholics have grown up hearing that Christ’s blood “will be shed for you and for all,” but that final phrase will likely be rendered as “for many” or “for the many.”
Father John Zuhlsdorf, author of the blog What Does the Prayer Really Say? and columnist for The Wanderer, has published several articles on the topic.
“While it is clear that Christ died for everyone, it’s also clear that not everyone will accept the merits of Christ’s sacrifice,” he wrote. “Many will be saved, but not all. The language of our prayer should reflect that.”
Father Zuhlsdorf pointed to the tradition of the Church, noting that all translations of the Eastern Catholic rite use “for many,” and that the Roman Catechism from the Council of Trent has a dedicated paragraph on why the translation cannot be “for all.”
“The scholarship that was behind the decision to translate pro multis as ‘for all’ is very questionable,” explained Father Zuhlsdorf. “It goes back to an article by Lutheran Scripture scholar Joachim Jeremias. He tries to find a way to interpret the Greek to avoid offensive theology, doing a philological Kabuki dance to make the words say something they never said.”
Besides, cautioned the priest, “translation of liturgical texts is not the same as translation of Scripture or any other kind of translation. The liturgical texts constitute their own theological source; therefore, when we translate them, we should translate them as they are.”
That task is ongoing for the U.S. bishops, who earlier in July rejected the proposed translation of part two, the Proper of Seasons, which consists of prayers at the opening, over the gifts, and after Communion, which change depending on the day of the liturgical year.
Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Fla., has been following the proposed changes closely. The son of Italian immigrants, he taught Latin for seven years in a minor seminary and is fluent in several romance languages.
“I’m not a demagogue,” he said with a laugh, but he does have questions. “Will our people be inspired to lift their hearts in solemn prayer or will they be distracted in trying to comprehend what’s being said?”
On a broader level, Bishop Galeone warned about making translations too literal, or what he calls the “untouchable-formula” approach. He recalled the Gloria from the late 1960s, which included three instances of the Latin qui translated as “who,” leading to several repetitions of “You who” during recitation.
“It was dubbed by some, the ‘yoo-hoo Gloria,’” he said. “The new translations corrected the overly literal rendering by omitting the relative pronoun altogether: ‘You take away the sins of the world. ... You are seated at …’”
When it comes to words like “ineffable” and “gibbet,” Bishop Galeone stressed, “The parents are struggling to get their children to attend Mass. Will these erudite words be understood by the parents — let alone the children? And yet nothing dramatic has to be done in order to render these prayers into English that is both reverent, and, at the same time, understandable.”
Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, allowed that there will have to be give and take on both sides.
“Although there is a lively discussion and different views, the goal is exactly the same: translations that are theologically accurate and can be prayed with devotion and understanding,” he said. “Once you move beyond that, for as many people as you have translating you’re going to have different opinions on how that works out practically.”
The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has, for instance, heard requests to replace the aforementioned “gibbet” — a multi-faceted word meaning a cruel device of execution in a cross shape, laden with public shame — with everything from “gallows” to “torment.”
“The word gibbet is a much richer word,” asserted Bishop Serratelli. “It’s much more graphic and appropriate for the ignominious death Christ endured.”
Father Zuhlsdorf agreed, holding that some words have no equivalent.
“There may be a word like ‘consubstantial,’ which is a very precise term and very important to Christian identity,” he said. “These words have to be hard because they say very difficult things, and no other word will do.
“There’s a reciprocal relationship between prayer and belief,” Father Zuhlsdorf said. “If you dumb down the language, you will dumb down the faith. On the other hand, if you believe people are smart, you’ll give them something to work on, something to stretch and challenge them.”
In the end, he said, “the true content of the prayer is Jesus Christ. Jesus is my brother, but Jesus is the God of fearful majesty. The language has to reflect that. You have to go to Mass with the willingness to be stretched by something wholly other than yourself — a desire for an encounter with mystery, an awe in transcendence.”
Stephen Mirarchi writes from