“Sacred Language” or Trojan Horse?

Posted by Colm, With 0 Comments, Category: Church News, Church Reform, Latest News,


Fr. P. John Mannion

Recently Gerald O’Collins S.J., former professor of Theology at Rome’s prestigious Gregorian University, wrote to all of the bishops of the English speaking world, many of whom were his former students, suggesting that they use a 1998 translation approved by bishops’ conferences instead of the current one due to the inadequacies of the present translation.

Last year, a survey of Irish priests showed that 4.7% were “completely satisfied” with the new translation whereas 60.7% were “dissatisfied”. What would happen to any company today which had a product on the market (say a car) with a comparable rating?

In most Irish churches today, the young people have voted with their feet; they are conspicuous by their absence. Recently a former chairman of the International Commission on the Liturgy, Bishop Emeritus Maurice Taylor of Galloway, suggested that the Vatican allow the same 1998 translation referred to by Fr. O’Collins. However, the current head of the Congregation for Worship, Archbishop Roach said no because the current one promulgated by Rome in 2012 “makes the 1998 version outdated”.

The purpose of the present evaluation is to question the validity of the Archbishop’s assertion. The fact of the matter is that the Roman Congregation responsible for the current translation, completely ignored the directives of Vatican Two, and gave us instead the Mass we were using since Pope Paul VI laced with Tridentine insertions plus prayers rehashed in a supposedly “sacred language” and translated from the Latin according to Rome’s directive “in a most exact manner” thus giving us a translation that is ungrammatical and laced with pious, phoney verbiage.

The Second Vatican Council laid down guidelines for future liturgical celebrations. These guidelines were adhered to in the translation we were given under Pope Paul VI and which was in use for the past 40 years. I quote the relevant guidelines which asks for a pastoral approach to the celebration of all of the sacraments.

Paragraph 21: Both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things they signify. The Christian people as far as possible should be able to understand them easily.

Paragraph 34: Rites and texts should radiate a noble simplicity. They should be short,clear, and free from useless repetition. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension and normally should not require much explanation.  

The Congregation for Divine Worship was entrusted with the task of translation by Pope John Paul (now St. John Paul) and continued its work under his successor Pope Benedict. Without any evident research to substantiate its position, the Congregation concluded that current declining church attendance was due in part to the “secular language” of the existing translation, so it decided that a more “sacred language” was needed in the new translation, and proceeded to act accordingly. The current widely noted “Francis effect” calls into question the validity of that assumption.

The first signs of storms ahead came with the news that we were to return to “and with your spirit” as well as “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” Recently I discovered a 1961 Bridal Missal (prior to Vatican 2) which had the Latin Tridentine Mass with the English translation. There were stunning similarities with the current translation. I also discovered that in the Congregation tasked with the new translation, “you had more chance of finding a needle in a haystack than of identifying one of its senior officials who celebrated Mass in any other rite (than the Tridentine rite)” Also “the final version was signed off by a sub-committee of non-English speakers, after they had made their own ‘improvements’”1 Later a priest friend commented that in his view, English was not the first language of the translators.

For purposes of comparison, I will refer to the Mass we had for the past 40 years as the Pauline Mass since it was issued under Pope Paul VI.

  • In the new translation the Congregation accepted the “I confess” from the Pauline Mass but inserted into it the triple “through my fault” from the Tridentine Mass.
  • It accepted the “Gloria” from the Pauline Mass but inserted into it the second “you take away the sins of the world” omitted in the Pauline Mass but present in the Tridentine.
  • In the Pauline Mass we used “we” both in the Gloria and in the Creed; in the new translation we retain the “we” in the Gloria, but return to the “I” for the Creed as in the Tridentine Mass despite the fact that in the original Nicene Creed both in Greek and Latin, the “we” form is used.
    Additionally, the Congregation itself in its document on translation said that when a term with a rich meaning “such as consubstantialem”was not easily translatable, it was permitted to use one or several vernacular words in the translation. So the American Bishops asked if they could use ‘one in being’” as in the Pauline Mass, but the answer from Rome was no. So they retained “consubstantial” as in the Tridentine translation. Obviously the word “substantial” in English has nothing to do with substance. It means “sufficient” or “adequate”.  So, apart from being an English transliteration of the Latin “consubstantialem”, the word “consubstantial” has no valid English meaning.
  • In the new translation we read in the Apostle’s Creed “He descended into Hell” despite the fact that some years back Pope Benedict writing about Limbo said it was never a dogma of the church but a theological proposition. So where did Christ descend into according to Rome?

“And with your spirit” from the Tridentine Mass replaces the “and also with you” from the Pauline Mass.

  • 1). Part of Rome’s justification for insisting on a return to the original is that St. Paul sends greeting to a number of churches using the phrase (Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, Philemon 1:23). But Paul also sends greetings without mentioning “your spirit” e.g. “the God of peace be with you all” (Romans 15:33), “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1Cor 16:23, 2Cor 13:11, Philippians 4:9, 4:23, Coll. 4:18). In actual fact, Paul uses the phrase “with you” more frequently than he uses “with your spirit”.
  • 2). In the Greco-Roman world the body was a valueless piece of junk, weighing down the soul. According to one ancient thinker, “The body is a tomb.” Plotinus, the father of Neoplatonism, was ashamed to have had a body. Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher said of himself, “You are a poor soul, burdened with a corpse.” What is beyond question is that Paul in his letters reflects this linguistic and cultural understanding. So today in the 21stcentury, a first century understanding is foisted on the worshipping community.
  • 3). The priest’s greeting to the people both in Latin and in the vernacular, does not refer to the spirit; it is simply “The Lord be with you”. Why then, is it not O.K to reply “and also with you” as we have been doing for the past forty years? Are the priests in a separate category from the laity?

“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”etc. Here again is a return to the Tridentine translation. The original is based on a miracle Jesus worked for the servant of a centurion, a Roman officer. (Luke 7:1-10). According to Luke, Jesus is on his way to the home of the officer whose slave is ill when the latter send him the above message. The reason: in Jewish law to enter the home of a foreigner would incur uncleanliness and the centurion was aware of this. Jesus heals the slave without going near the house.

  • 1). The Council of Jerusalem ,(49 A.D.) decreed that the Old Law no longer applied to Christians, so it is irrelevant, obsolete.
  • 2). “Come under my roof” raises other issues. Under whose “roof” does Jesus come? Jesus does not “come under our roof”; rather we are drawn into union with Him and with each other by means of our sharing in the Eucharistic Mystery.

The Consecration:

  • The Tridentine Mass has “Simili modo” at the beginning of the consecration of the cup so it is reintroduced into the new translation. A proper English translation would read “In like manner” but the awkward “In a similar way” is the new translation.
  • The “cup” has now transmuted into “the precious chalice” even though the Greek original is poterion, which is a drinking cup. The word chalice conjures up images of gold plating, jewels etc., none of which were present at the Last Supper.
  • “Bloodshed” is a common English word. In the Pauline Mass Christ’s blood is “shed” but it is “poured out” in the new translation.
  • Most controversial, “for all” in the Pauline consecration is replaced by “for many” in the new. So for whom did Christ not die?

Whereas Pope John XXIII called for “aggornamiento” or “updating” and our present holy father Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly of the need to look to the future, the above are some examples of a return to 16th century text in the name of renewal.

I will now turn to what I can only call “un-English English” with a few examples.

1)      The end of prefaces in the Pauline Mass usually read “as we endlessly proclaim”. The phrase in Latin, reads “sine fine dicentes” which is good Latin syntax, but in translation it would read “without end we saying”, which is not good English. However in the new translation, instead of “endlessly” (an adverb qualifying a verb) we read “as without end we acclaim.” But the word “end” is not an adverb, it is a noun. We talk about a “front end” or a “back end” so “without end” before a verb is bad syntax and incongruous.

2)      “To our departed brothers and sisters….give kind admittance to your kingdom”, instead of “welcome into your kingdom”. (Eucharistic Prayer 3). The word “admittance” in English has a clinical, commercial dimension as in admission to a hospital, a theatre, a football match etc.  The word “kind” refers primarily to a person, not a thing. So a “kind admittance” is not good English. We say “eternal rest give unto them…” for our deceased. Are we ever likely to pray “Lord, give kind admittance …” for any of our departed friends or relatives?

3)      “..welcome them into the light of your face” (Eucharistic Prayer 2). Instead of “bring them ….into the light of your presence”. “In your face” nowadays refers to an aggressive attitude whereas the word “countenance” or “presence” reflects more the attitude of reverence and respect which the Vatican seeks.

4)       In Eucharistic prayer No1. We now pray “firstly” for “your holy Catholic Church”, but there is no “secondly” so why the addition of “firstly”?

5)      Whereas we prayed “Bless and approve our offerings” we now pray “be pleased O God we pray to bless, acknowledge and approve this offering in every respect”.

The use of the Sacred Language and the slavish adherence to the Latin original in translation have led to unfortunate consequences.  In regard to the former, there is no evidence that Jesus ever used a “Sacred language” in his preaching. His parables were not intended to confuse but to challenge his listeners and also to put off the possibility of a revolt against Rome if people recognized him early on as the Messiah. The use of words like “ineffable, consubstantial, incarnate” do not “radiate that noble simplicity” spoken of by the Vatican 2 bishops. Most people find them meaningless.
Again there are prayers which elude understanding when read by a priest. Example: “May the people consecrated to you O Lord, we pray, receive the fruits and joy of your blessing that the festive homage they have offered to you today in the body may redound upon them as a spiritual gift. ” (Prayer after Communion, dedication of a church).
Again the prayer after communion for a wedding reads: “By the power of this sacrifice O Lord, accompany with your loving favour what in your providence you have instituted, so as to make of one heart in love those you have already joined in this holy union and replenished with the one Bread and one Chalice.”
Are these prayers “short and clear,” as mandated by Vatican Two? I think the answer is in the negative.

Of 49 prefaces in the new translation 42 have sentences beginning with the word “For”.  In English that word introduces a subordinate clause but these 42 are not subordinate clauses but masquerade as sentences, in some cases sentences of more than 60 words.

The above examples hopefully validate the case made at the outset of this presentation.

At the beginning of the missal is a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship which “gladly approve(s) and confirm(s) the text” at the request of the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh. This is, to say the least, disingenuous. To imply that the cardinal, like all other bishops of the Church, had asked the Vatican to approve his and their translation of the Missal is putting the cart before the horse. The Vatican imposed its translation on the universal church.

The Council of Trent (1547 – 1563) to which we owe the Tridentine Mass took place in a different world. It imposed a single Latin liturgy on the Church, (then a largely European Church) out of fear of heresy and it suppressed many local rich and varied liturgies which were totally orthodox.
The laity was largely uneducated and illiterate apart from the upper classes and the very idea of spirituality for lay people was relatively new. The industrial revolution, the growth of cities and mass literacy were undreamed of.
Today’s world is radically different. Not only basic education, but also third level education is increasingly within the grasp of many. The emancipation of women in society, (less so in the church) means that today many of the laity and many religious women are more educated than some of the clergy. All of this has fundamental ramifications as to what constitutes a meaningful, dynamic and authentic worshipping community.
People today look for more active involvement and participation than in the past. Megachurches in the U.S. are characterized by huge, well-trained choirs, direct input from talented, charismatic speakers and active involvement by the congregation in the worship. African and Latin American worshippers look for smaller groups, active participation in communal singing and dancing and charismatic leadership. All of which indicates that Masses with passive recipients while the priest reads everything he utters are recipes for declining congregations, with the sheep leaving for other pastures or for none with the rise of secular humanism.

The method used at the time of Trent was unquestioned then, but is totally irrelevant in the 21st century. That academics in Rome should have the power today to dictate to laity, clergy and local hierarchies, is totally at variance with the ideals Christ preached and lived in His earthly life and which were practiced in the early Christian communities of the New Testament. Surely hierarchies in the various language groups, in consultation with clergy and laity, ought to be the ones to ultimately determine what is an acceptable method of worship in the contemporary world.

Does Rome really believe that God’s Church only has “Authentic Liturgy” when throughout the world, everybody is mechanically saying the exact same words at the exact same point as dictated by Rome? It would be difficult to justify this understanding of worship by appeal to anything in the New Testament, early Church history, or in any document of Vatican Two.

One may be excused for believing that the mandatory introduction of Tridentine remnants into a twenty first century liturgy in the name of updating or whatever, is a Trojan Horse of Titanic proportions. Like the Trojan Horse it needs to be consigned to the dustbin of historical irrelevancy. 

ACP website; 6 December 2015