Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Paschal Prefaces

  1. The opening paragraph or Protocol

The official translation reads "It is truly right and just . . . . at this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed'. This is surprising, since 'when . . . has' in constructions like this usually refers to future events, for example 'when Richard has opened the door, I shall leave'. The Paschal Preface refers to an event not in the future but in the past, namely the death of Christ, so that 'when Christ our Passover was sacrificed' would be more idiomatic.

But there is another point to be considered. In the background is 1 Cor 5, 7-8: 'Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us: let us therefore keep the feast'. Here, the connection between Christ's sacrifice and our liturgy is causal, not temporal. We are not merely marking the anniversary of Christ's death but celebrating its enduring power. 

The revisers may have been following the classical rule, according to which cum with a subjunctive is causal ('because') and with an indicative is temporal ('when'). But in later Latin this pattern lapses, and cum with indicative, as here, can mean 'because'. So I would argue that this clause would be better translated 'because Christ our Passover has been sacrificed'.

  1. The final paragraph or Eschatocol

Concern has been expressed concerning the word 'even' in 'and even the heavenly powers . . . sing together . . . the hymn of your glory'. Why should we be surprised that the heavenly powers sing to glorify God? Is that not their principal activity?

The revisers may have been misled by the words sed et in the original. The Latin word sed is an adversative or contrastive particle, regularly translated 'but'. But when coupled with et, sed loses its adversative or contrastive force: sed et means simply 'and also'.

Sed et recurs often in the Missal, and this erroneous translation is repeated in several places, but not in all. For instance, in the Roman Canon sed et beati Ioseph is correctly rendered 'and of blessed Joseph', not 'and even of blessed Joseph'! 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Striving on the First Sunday of Lent

In the Post-communion of today's Mass we anglophones are bidden to pray that we may 'strive' to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. That isn't what the the Latin says. It prays that we may 'be able' so to live. The English stresses human effort more than the Latin does.

The previous English translation was widely, and rightly, criticised for the same tendency. Many accused it of Pelagianism. The new translation has improved matters in this regard, but not entirely, as today's Post-communion shows.

Another instance of this tendency can be seen in the invitation to repentance at the beginning of Mass. We are asked to acknowledge our sins 'and so prepare ourselves' to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. The Latin says merely 'that we may be ready' (ut apti simus) to celebrate - no mention of human effort there, but plenty of room for God's grace.


Pelagius was a Celt, and a high proportion of English-speaking Catholics have Celtic roots. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the shadow of his teaching should fall over our translation of the Mass.

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

This feast did not occur in the Roman Rite before Vatican II. When it was introduced into the 1970 Missal, a new Collect was composed which, like many of the newly-written prayers in our Missal, lacks the conciseness and simplicity of the older tradition. Its seven lines contain no fewer than three participial phrases - a challenge to the translator.

The alternative Collect is simpler and much more ancient, being found already in the Gelasian Sacramentary. In the official translation, the third and fourth lines contain a curious thought:

grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves.

Line 4 seems to imply that Christ, though outwardly like ourselves, is inwardly unlike us. This seems to me to veer towards the heresy of Apollinarianism, which holds that Christ had no human soul. Orthodox Christianity understands that Christ is 'like us in all things but sin' (Hebrews 4,15). 

The revisers have misunderstood the Latin. In fact it prays that our outward Christian profession may be matched by our inner lives. The problem, as so often in this translation, arises from incorrect placing of an adverb. It easy to mend with the help of the Morecambe Principle:

grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize outwardly as like ourselves.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

January 5 Prayer after Communion

One criticism of the official translation of the Missal that one often hears is that it is 'clunky' - that is, clumsy in its language. There are several reasons, but a major one - the major one, I would say - is that the revisers seem not to have understood how adverbs and adverbial expressions behave in English. They put them in the wrong place. A clear example is today's Prayer after Communion, in which we are asked to pray

that, through the working of this mystery,
our offences may be cleansed
and our just desires fulfilled.

move 'through the working of this mystery' from its current place to the end of the prayer, and I think you will find it far less clunky. This is because the normal position for a non-modal adverb or adverbial phrase in English is after the verb that it modifies.

The modification that I propose follows the 'Morecambe principle', named after the comedian Eric Morecambe who, when accused of playing the wrong notes on a piano, retorted that he had played the right notes, but in the wrong order.

If you adopt this change, you may also wish to change 'through the working' to 'by the working' so as to avoid having two occurrences of 'through' in consecutive lines.

I'm back

I stopped writing this blog nearly three years ago because I couldn't find time to achieve the level of coverage that I had been aiming at.
Now that the official translation has been in use for 5 years, it seems a good idea to start again but less ambitiously. I'll post when I come across something in the Missal that seems worthy of comment - that leaves me with plenty of material.
I would also like to hear comments from other people, and so I have (I hope successfully) opened the blog to comments.