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Can someone provide a translation for the translation?

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What is on the mind of America's Catholics as we enter Holy Week? We're fast approaching Easter 2014, but rather than talk about Palm Sunday, I decided to discuss another matter that's been in the news this week: the new English language translation of the Roman Catholic mass.

As many of my readers may remember, I discussed this at some length when it was first implemented. The new English language missal, implemented in November 2011, made various changes to the terminology in English language masses since Vatican II. Perhaps the most well known change is that Roman Catholics now respond with “And with your spirit” rather than “And also with you” whenever the priest says “The Lord be with you”. Other changes include saying Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father” rather than “one in being with the Father", and that Jesus was “incarnate of the Virgin Mary” rather than simply being “born of the Virgin Mary". Some previous sections have been removed entirely, such as the phrase “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”, while others have been lengthened considerably.

Naturally, not everyone is happy with the new wording. A study out last week showed that not only are lay Catholics annoyed by many of the changes, but many priests consider to find it awkward and problematic as well. A study done by Georgetown University found that only 27% of priests said they were happy with the missal before and after the text's use in churches, while 41% of the priests who were surveyed said they were "apprehensive" about the new missal before its release and "still don't like it." three years later. Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory went as far as saying that the U.S. Catholic Church needs to consider another overhaul: “We’ve tried it, we’ve lived with it, we think it needs correction” he stated earlier this week. So is it time for a new new translation, or do we need some kind of translation for the translation?

In my opinion, yes and no. I agree there are problems with the new translation that need to be corrected. At the same time, I think most Roman Catholics would be exasperated at yet another attempt to re-translate the Mass into English from scratch after only three years of using the latest “update”. I'll do a bit of editorializing here, and suggest a solution that everyone can live with. My feelings have always been that if something isn't broke, there's no need to fix it. In the case of some of the awkward terminology used in the new translation, there are other English-language texts already available that have been in use for decades or even centuries, and parishioners never had any problem using them. Many examples can be found in the English-language texts of eastern-rite Catholic churches. Their liturgies ofter have the same prayers and responses as a Roman Catholic mass, but use a slightly different language translation. English-speaking Catholics have been trying to use language that is both faithful to the wording of the original Latin and Greek texts, but also flows naturally and is easy to speak in English. Many of the texts used in the United States by eastern-rite Catholics do so. The prayers can sometimes be far more detailed, but at the same time, they are easy to understand and convey the theological beliefs being expressed. For an example of a major difference, here is the English-language version of the Eucharistic prayer used in the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Catholic Churches:

ROMAN CATHOLIC VERSION:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

BYZANTINE CATHOLIC VERSION:

O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God; for I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when you shall come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when you shall come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when you shall come into your kingdom. May the partaking of your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body. O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly your most precious Body and your life-giving Blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. Amen.

For a less drastic change, compare how the Profession of Faith is translated into English both ways:

ROMAN CATHOLIC VERSION:

I believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,

born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,

and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,

he suffered death and was buried,

and rose again on the third day

in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory

to judge the living and the dead

and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins

and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

BYZANTINE CATHOLIC VERSION:

I believe in one God,

the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

Son of God, the only begotten,

born of the Father before all ages.

Light from Light, true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

one in essence with the Father;

through whom all things were made.

For us and for our salvation,

he came down from heaven,

and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit

and the Virgin Mary,

and became man.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

and suffered and was buried.

He rose on the third day

according to the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father;

and he is coming again in glory

to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Creator of Life,

who proceeds from the Father;

Together with the Father and the Son

he is worshiped and glorified;

he spoke through the prophets;

In one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

I profess one baptism for the remission of sins;

I expect the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

So does this mean the Roman Catholic Church should simply adapt the English-language text verbatim from other Catholic texts? No. There a number of cultural differences and various area of theology that are empathized differently from what is the norm in a Roman Catholic Church. What I am suggesting is that for the more stilted and awkward areas of the Roman Catholic Mass, words and phrases could be substituted from other Catholic texts that are much more natural sounding and easy to remember. I doubt many Roman Catholics would object if they had to recite “one in essence with the Father” rather than “consubstantial with the Father”. There is a reason why many of these English translations have been used in other Catholic services for years and remain unchanged before and after Vatican II: they work well.

In short, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. The new English translation of the Roman Catholic mass could use a bit of polishing around the edges, and I can think of a number of texts already in use that could make good source material.

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