When criticising the new Missal scores an own goal

Zr Z on his blog has more than once said that if people are unhappy with the English translation of the Roman Missal, they can always go back to the original Latin. No translation is perfect, from any one language into any other. The balance between meaning and style is usually impossible to replicate precisely. The previous English translation of the Missal failed often on both counts. The revised Missal succeeds far more often than the previous; indeed it is overwhelmingly superior as will be apparent when people do a little study of it and, well, just get used to it. That said, it is not, cannot be, a perfect translation. There have been moments when I have thought to myself I could have rendered a particular phrase better or more felicitously. Yet, then I remember that it is not about me; and also that the previous Missal more often than not paraphrased rather than translated the prayers, robbing us of so much meaning and resonance. If, on the rare occasion, a particular phrase or passage can be critiqued with some justification, it is always best to do so quietly and humbly, with a view to making its meaning clearer rather than merely stirring up angst.

So when the bulletin of a particular eastern Australian parish was brought to notice, it was disappointing to see that a priest seems to be looking for things to criticise, and doing so in terms far from humble. That at least one blogger has taken up his criticisms approvingly makes me realise how disastrous such pastoral leadership can be, sowing confusion among the faithful. In this case, both the criticisms made turn out to be own goals. No wonder the priest would not put his name to the critiques, hiding instead behind the soubriquet, Pastor Ignotus, a la The Tablet column. Since he prefers to remain hidden, I will not link to the parish nor name it.

Let us begin with his article MisTranslations, the relevant parts of which read:

In the Prayer after Communion for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time the original Latin text has the pivotal word ‘ut’ present. Indeed the word pivotal is a very appropriate one because the prayer literally pivots on that word ‘ut’, depends on it for its meaning. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the word was not translated in the prayer that was heard!

‘Ut’ means ‘so that’: we pray that God will do one thing so that (‘ut’) another thing may flow from it. In the prayer in question the Latin text beautifully asked that God would send forth the Holy Spirit so that we who share in the Eucharist might become one in mind and heart through our sharing in the Eucharist….

But the translation gave us none of that. It read:

Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness
make those you have nourished by this one heavenly Bread
one in mind and heart.

The ‘ut’ has been turned into ‘and’ with the result that we pray for two separate and seemingly unrelated things: for the Spirit and for unity in mind and heart. The rich theological connection has been lost.

It is basic Latin and to neglect it entirely changes the meaning of the prayer.

A first year Latin student would have received a resounding F. So should the translator.

It is known that many changes were made to the Missal texts by unknown hands after their careful preparation by experienced translators and approval by the English speaking Bishops’ Conferences of the world. It is the many errors (such as the one above) that have crept into the Missal that has led some liturgists to suggest that its further revision may lie not too many years in the future. Don’t buy a copy yet!

I doubt the first-year Latin student would have received an F. Indeed that is just vapid hyperbole. The good Father’s major criticism is fundamentally and fatally flawed. “And” does not always imply “two separate and seemingly unrelated things” as he asserts. Indeed that sweeping assertion should get him a grade of F in grammar class. “And” often joins related things or ideas, and can often express chronological order and consequence. Take this example:

Since I was remorseful, I went to him and confessed what I had done.

This is pretty standard English. It should be clear that “and” functions here much like the ut, or “so that” whose absence in the prayer so upsets Pastor Ignotus. In other words, it could have also been expressed “I went to him so that I could confess what I had done”. This is good English too, just a little longer and more complex. Or take a biblical example, like Matthew 19:21:

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (ESV)

Clearly the “and”s here function as “so that”s; viz. “Go sell what you possess so that you can give it to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven, and so that then you can follow me”. And it is not just a quirk of the ESV version: the Douay-Rheims version uses “and” in this text as well, as do others.

So really all of Pastor Ignotus’ conclusions, flowing from his faulty premises, are off the mark. It is clear in the prayer that the Eucharistic unity of mind and heart arises as a consequence of the gift of the Spirit.

Pastor Ignotus, so far unchallenged I suspect, and possibly affirmed by his disciples, does not stop here but offers a later week MisTranslations II. Again the translation of ut obsesses him (though he has a couple of other stylistic quibbles). He shall speak for himself:

On special occasions one of the many forms of the ‘Solemn Blessing’ may be prayed at the end of Mass. These blessings, as we all know, have three petitions, to each of which the congregation responds with an ‘Amen’ and then the blessing itself follows.

A number of these blessings in the new translation have the peculiarity that the third petition makes no sense whatsoever. Very peculiar indeed. An example may be drawn from the Solemn Blessing for feasts of the Apostles:

So that through the intercession of the Apostles,
you may inherit the eternal homeland,
for by their teaching you possess firmness of faith.

We have here a subordinate clause (which as any good grammar teacher will tell us cannot exist by itself) existing by itself! There are only two ways that this poor clause can be redeemed (and actually say something meaningful) – by being transformed into a principal clause or by being attached to a principal clause (as any good subordinate clause must do). The second option isn’t available to us because we only have the words we’ve been given. The first option could yield us the following paragraph:

Through the intercession of the Apostles,
may you inherit the eternal homeland,
for by their teaching you possess firmness of faith.

This has the extraordinary virtue of actually meaning something and, as a petition, actually asking for something.

So, how did the problem arise? Well, the translator slavishly & literally translated the little word ut (meaning ‘So that…”) which we’ve already encountered in Part I, even though in the previous example we saw he inexplicably omitted ‘ut’ from the translation of the Collect for the Third Sunday and in so doing completely lost the theological intent of the prayer. And yet here, where idiom demands that it (ut) not be literally translated, he did!

No need to quote further. On the face of it he has a point. But it would have helped his understanding if he had taken note of the two invocations before this last one. Let’s see the blessing in full:

The Apostles

May God, who has granted you to stand firm on apostolic foundations,
graciously bless you through the glorious merits
of the holy Apostles N. and N. (holy Apostle N.).
R. Amen.

And may he who endowed you
with the teaching and example of the Apostles,
make you, under their protection,
witnesses to the truth before all.
R. Amen.

So that through the intercession of the Apostles
you may inherit the eternal homeland,
for by their teaching you possess firmness of faith.
R. Amen.

And may the blessing …

Did you see it? They are not three separate and unrelated invocations. They flow one into another. In effect they are one long sentence, broken up by “Amen”s, which is an ancient style that survives in the various litanies (of the Saints or the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example). Indeed in African-American gospel congregations the preacher’s sermon and prayers often elicit interjections of “Amen” or “Alleluia” or “Praise the Lord” etc. It comes quite naturally really.

So in this blessing we can that the third, supposedly deficiently-translated, invocation is the logical conclusion of the previous two, and ends the extended sentence. Thus the structure is something like “May God do this… Amen, and may God do that… Amen, so that we might… Amen”. If the three invocations were logically separate and distinct, then the Pastor would have a valid criticism. But in the context, which he has failed to note, we find something quite different to that he assumes is to be found. In fact, all the Solemn Blessings follow this structure. Did the Pastor read them too? If so, did he not marvel that the same supposed mistake had been made in all of them?

Most likely Pastor Ignotus is an example of someone itching to find fault at any price. In the process he scores an own goal, for the joke is on him. More serious is the fact that these forays into liturgical criticism were published in the parish bulletin, unsigned, though probably by the Parish Priest (though he does not want explicitly to associate his name with the critique… in case he gets in trouble?), and spreading error and confusion among his flock. His grandstanding has revealed a fundamental failure to nurture his flock and serve the universal Church of which his flock is an integral part and without which the parish becomes a sect.

As a Pastor, Ignotus gets a grade of F.  (Perhaps I am a little harsh, but Ignotus did rather ask for it!)

6 thoughts on “When criticising the new Missal scores an own goal

    1. Thank you. I am not sure if you submit this link with approval or disapproval. However, my reaction on reading the page is pure horror. The “alternatives” that “Barry” offers are no alternatives at all. The prayers of the Missal are the prayers the entire Church is meant to pray in its official worship. As you can see, these alternatives are not even paraphrases of the Missal prayers, but are even wordier despite their relatively simplistic vocabulary, and aim at emotiveness rather than substance in content. He rather speciously cites an unnamed priest from the Philippines’ Liturgical Commission as his authority in composing his own prayers, which are saccharine at times to say the least.

      Sadly it seems that Barry is doing exactly what a faithful priest should not do. It’s all about him: “I had hoped that the translators would have tried do the opposite: use shorter sentences, make them simpler and easier to follow, have a stronger connection not only with the scripture readings of the day and the theme of the celebration, but also with people’s daily lives…. On each of the days, I’ll start with a prayer from the current Roman Missal, and then include one that tries to follow the guiding principle as outlined in the Philippines.” I really had thought we had finally got over having themes for Masses! Barry obviously thinks he knows better than the rest of the Church, or at least the committee of scholars, teachers, and pastors who oversaw the new translation.

      He ends his 1 March entry by offering “If you would like a copy of what I wrote each day during earlier months, just email me on…”. No thanks.

      Pax.

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  1. I left the link (hurriedly) with deep disapproval of this priest’s goings-on. Unfortunately he is not the only priest in this Diocese who has refused to accept the New Translation. I know of at least two others who continue to use the old one, or who have made up a conglomeration of the two, omitting the words they do not like, such as ‘for many’ (they still say ‘for all’, etc.) This particular priest has caused more scandal I think by putting his own ideas on the parish web site. He also does not use the words of absolution in Confession, has told his parishioners they don’t need to go to confession as they get absolution in the Mass, offers no regular confession times and goes into the local Catholic school where he gives general absolution to the chldren. In his church he has taken out the confessional, removed the pews and all kneelers and turned the Lady Chapel into a coffee room.

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    1. Oh dear! I will hold my tongue lest I become intemperate, though my opinion is not hard to guess. If all that you say is daily reality there, we can only hope that Catholics will vote with their feet and attend a parish that is more truly in union with the rest of the Church.

      For example, if he changes the words of absolution then there is a real danger that his absolutions are invalid. It is not the priest per se who absolves, it is Christ who absolves, acting through his Body the Church, represented by the priest. Only when you hear the Church’s words can you be sure you are receiving a valid absolution.

      Mercy!

      Pax.

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      1. Many have indeed voted with their feet, Father. And of course no-one goes to confession there as he has told them they don’t need to, so the danger of not receiving valid absolution is averted, though for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps you could spare a prayer for him and for us.

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