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And With Your Spirit: The New Translation of the Roman Missal Part I

March 18th, 2011, Promulgated by Abaccio

We’ve mentioned the new, corrected translation of the Roman Missal into English on a number of occasions here at Cleansing Fire.  Two of our seminarians have taught classes on the Mass, the diocese insisted that your priests spend the month of February discussing the Mass in their homilies, and every heterodox group has found some reason to gripe about it.  Through all of this, the fact remains that in 254 days, the words of the Mass will set a drastically different tone than they have since the Novus Ordo Missae was promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI in 1970.

This will be the first in a lengthy series of posts discussing these changes, and showing you what to expect come November 27.  First and foremost, we must discuss a bit of history.

Liturgiam Authenticam

In 2001, the Vatican’s worship committee, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) issued a text entitled “Liturgiam Authenticam,” which, among other things, set forth the principles that are to be used when translation liturgical texts.  There are two basic schools of translation:

  1. Formal Equivalence, which strives to render, verbatim, the original text into the target language.  This is often difficult, as it may obscure some idiomatic references that are “lost in translation,” so to speak.  Furthermore, as many words can take more than one meaning, a formal equivalence translation must be careful to use proper context in order to select the correct meaning.   Furthermore, formal equivalence translations can at times sound “clunky” and awkward.
  2. Dynamic Equivalence, which ostensibly strives to render the original meaning of the text in its translation into the target language.   This can often lead to an easily readable text, but also one that can miss layers of meaning.  Furthermore, this approach can be dangerous, as a translator’s bias can easily shine through, obscuring the actual text.

Many popular contemporary Protestant Bibles use Dynamic Equivalence, while the New American Bible (used at Novus Ordo Masses) uses some combination of Dynamic and Formal Equivalence.  The Revised Standard Version and the Douay-Rheims use Formal Equivalence.  For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Psalm 23:4

NAB: Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.

The Message:(Dynamic “Equivalence”) Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

Challoner-Rheims: For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.

RSV: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Liturgiam Authenticam calls for translations of the liturgical texts into vernacular languages that are true to the Latin originals, that is to say, a formal equivalence translation.  The current translation is much more “dynamic equivalence,” though I’d argue it’s hardly equivalent.

“While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet” (Emphasis mine)

Liturgiam Authenticam, coupled with the 2002 release of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal made it clear that a new translation of the Mass into English was necessary.  As I alluded above, the current translation, released in 1973, is perhaps more of an adaptation than it is a translation.  There is no possible way to translate “Et cum spiritu tuo” (literally “and with your spirit”) as “And also with you.”  This sort of adaptation can be seen in literally thousands of instances throughout the current lame-duck translation.

Liturgiam Authenticam also puts forth certain translational norms for the whole Church, such as the requirement to use the original pronouns, rather than switching to gender-neutral language.  Specific instances of this include:

  1. The feminine pronoun (rather than the neuter) referencing the Church
  2. Jesus as the “Son of Man”
  3. The proper rendering of the word “fathers”
  4. Splitting a collective term into two gendered terms

There is certainly more to this document than I have summarized above, as it is a lengthy 15,000 words, but this should give a touch of background.

Since the release of Liturgiam Authenticam and the subsequent release of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other English-speaking Bishops’ conferences have been working with the (CDW) to provide a translation that fits within the norms set forth in Liturgiam Authenticam.  In Part II, we will examine this process of translation, and discuss the objections to (and support for) the forthcoming text.

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6 Responses to “And With Your Spirit: The New Translation of the Roman Missal Part I”

  1. avatar TD says:

    I wouldn’t insult dynamic equivalence translations, e.g. the New Living Translation, by calling “The Message” an example of such. The message is just a flat-out paraphrase, not a translation.

  2. avatar Hopefull says:

    What would you call Matthew 16:18 in the RSV? Greek is pretty clear on the “gates of hell (or Hades)” so why does the RSV translation say “Powers of Death?” I don’t think that is dynamic equivalence or paraphrase (though both leave the door open to abuse of the Word) but rather I think it is an outright mis-translation. How/why does this happen? What say you?

  3. avatar John F. Kennedy says:

    While I look forward to Advent and the using the revised translations. It won’t stop the abuse. On Ash Wednesday, the priest who offered Mass paraphrased the whole thing. I was shocked when even the Lord’s Prayer was different (the Protestant version) and nearly everyone there said it with him.

  4. avatar Scott W. says:

    While I look forward to Advent and the using the revised translations. It won’t stop the abuse.

    True. And perhaps I am a fool for being hopeful, but for me it is evidence of the thaw from always-winter-never-Christmas. Imagine trying this 15 years ago.

  5. avatar John F. Kennedy says:

    Scott W,

    I understand what you are trying to say and that your are hopeful. I too am hopeful, because we have a good and just God, but he has left sinners in charge and some of them are unrepentant. So while I don’t doubt God, I’m very wary of the actions and faith of some of his Bishops and priests.

    I was born in late 1963. I only remember the New Mass, but I’ve seen the Order of the Mass books that people followed during the Pre VII Latin Mass. There was English on one page and Latin on the facing page. It was already translated! From what I’ve read, the “new” revised translation will be very close to what every book said in 1965. There were and are people who very much wanted to change the nature of the Mass. That was their opportunity to sow discord and dissent.

    I don’t think the upcoming change will change their hearts. Too bad for them and their flocks because their eternal souls depend on proclaiming and hearing the Truth.

  6. avatar Gilbert says:

    Great post! I’m eager to learn more about the new translation, so I look forward to future posts in the series.

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