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New translation muddies waters
Revised version of Missal in English has more than its share of linguistic oddities
- Mike MacLachlan, London
- United Kingdom
- September 6, 2011
If you are one of those thousands you may already be using the â€śnewâ€ť translation. The timing is left to individual bishopsâ€™ conferences but by Advent it will be in use worldwide. After much heated controversy it started in the UK last Sunday.
I was at first surprised at the controversy and also by the use of the word â€śnewâ€ť since to someone of my generation it seemed mostly a return to the old, pre-Vatican II form, which, though archaic, had a certain poetry. For instance, I welcome the return of the reply to the priestâ€™s greeting â€śThe Lord be with you .â€ť
The reply â€śAnd with your spiritâ€ť has much more resonance than the post-Vatican II â€śAnd also with you.â€ť â€“ which sounds more like something you would say to a friend in the street. But there are plenty of other places where a return to the older phrasing is literally a step backward.
In the Creed, for instance, is â€śconsubstantial with the Fatherâ€ť any better than â€śone in beingâ€ť? Itâ€™s just less understandable. And â€śincarnate of the Virgin Maryâ€ť. Why not â€śborn ofâ€ť? It means exactly the same and means more to most people. Similarly, in the Sanctus, the phrase â€śLord God of hostsâ€ť became â€śGod of power and mightâ€ť â€“ a loose translation of the Hebrew â€śsabaothâ€ť maybe, but it conveyed the meaning beautifully.
Now â€śhostsâ€ť is back. But who understands the meaning of â€śhostsâ€ť in the sense of armies? And does it not invite confusion with the Communion Host? And in the Preface, I much preferred â€śIt is right and fittingâ€ť to â€śIt is right and just.â€ť The Latin â€śjustumâ€ť can mean fair, just or fitting.
Journalists like me are taught to avoid wasted words and to keep the meaning absolutely clear. But look at response after the Agnus Dei (and, by the way, why â€śbeholdâ€ť twice in that prayer?). â€śLord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roofâ€ť is a phrase taken from the Gospel story of the centurion with the sick child. Post-Vatican II it became â€śLord I am not worthy to receive you.â€ť A sensible change, since I remember the nuns at my primary school tying themselves in knots trying to explain that it meant the roof of your mouth, not the roof of your house, as in the centurion story.
But, would you believe, itâ€™s back. Finally, at the very end, â€śGo, the Mass is endedâ€ť, becomes â€śGo forth, the Mass is endedâ€ť. Why? Where else would you go?
And the poor priest has it even worse. He has to negotiate such jawbreakers as: â€ťBlessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you â€¦â€ť Why â€śforâ€ť? Why â€śreceivedâ€ť? Why â€śwe offer youâ€ť? Isnâ€™t it all obvious from the context?
Even worse: â€śâ€¦ we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life â€¦â€ť What exactly is a co-heir? There are constant unnecessary â€śthereforesâ€ť and â€śindeedsâ€ť and so on.
And of course there is the phrase that caused the real controversy â€“ in the Consecration itself: â€śThe blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many.â€ť For many? Who are the lucky many? Why not â€śfor allâ€ť?
Of course, this is a faithful translation of the Latin â€śpro multisâ€ť. But that Latin dates from a time when the Church was somewhat less inclusive than it is today. In fact a cynic might conclude that the whole â€śnewâ€ť Mass is less inclusive than the old.
As you can see, this opinion has sparked a great deal of reaction, much of it unfavorable. The writer, Michael MacLachlan, has responded to many of his critics on our blog, Give Us This Day. To read what he has to say and to add further comments yourself, just click here.
Michael MacLachlan is a London-based Catholic and journalist