Behold the Lamb: The Triumph of the New Translation

To mark the implementation of the new English translation yesterday, the First Sunday of Advent, and to and facilitate discussion, we have reposted this piece and George Weigel’s column on the topic.


The reasons given for the new English translation of the Mass are that:

  1. it is more faithful to the Latin
  2. it restores allusions to Sacred Scripture which had been lost
  3. it heightens the sense of reverence by the use of special ‘sacred’ language and
  4. we needed something to wake up all those dozy Catholics.

One section of the new translation of the Mass which illustrates these points is the invitation to communion. In the 1970 translation the priest said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” Now the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.”

The new translation makes the quotation of John 1:29 clearer. The words matter. With “Behold!” we can better visualize John the Baptist spluttering up from the water after just dunking some fellow and spotting his cousin Jesus, and thundering out in his prophet’s basso, “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him who takes away the sins of the world!” It is almost Shakespearian in its ominous omniscience, and the somewhat archaic ‘Behold’ makes it so. When the priest says ‘Behold” there is something majestic and monumental and magnificent about it. Like any good allusion, it brings to mind the whole story. We can see John, gaunt from desert asceticism — in his rough camel skin (no that was not a camel’s hair jacket from Brooks Brothers) and then we see his obeisance and obedience as he says, “I am not worthy to untie his sandals. He must increase and I must decrease.”

Furthermore, “Behold” conveys a deeper meaning than the rather flat “Here is.” “Behold” carries a connotation of contemplation and wonder. We say, “That is something to behold!” when confronted with a wonder or some great beauty. “Here is” conveys no depth. Then “Behold” is repeated to bring us to wonder at the truth that the Lamb takes away the sins of the world. The fact that this statement of John the Baptist is so central in the Mass gives the theological balance to those who criticize the replacement of the word “many” for “all” in the words of consecration. Both are true. Christ died for the sins of the world, but not all will receive His love.

Then the priest says, “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” He says “Blessed” instead of “Happy.” “Happy is just, well, happy. You can be happy by going to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. You can be happy because you slept well, or you got a birthday card that day, or you saw a cheerful aphorism on Facebook. Happy is sappy. “Blessed” on the other hand, implies God’s involvement. A Christian person is blessed by God and therefore has a reason to be happy. Deep down happy. Existential Happy. Blessing implies a supernatural grace received. The dumb downers will say, “‘Blessed’ is an archaic word. People don’t know what it means!” Well, teach them. But anyway, at the end of Mass everybody gets a blessing. Of course they know what ‘blessing’ means.

The priest now says, “The supper of the Lamb” instead of “his supper.” “His supper” just sounds like you’ve been invited around to some guy’s house for soup and sandwiches. “Hey, come around for supper on Tuesday! Then we’ll watch the game.” Not really. “The supper of the Lamb” carries much more meaning — meaning which was lost in the old translation. First of all, “the supper of the Lamb” refers to the marriage supper of the Lamb” in the Book of Revelation. (Rev.19:7) This is the consummation of all things, and connects with the nuptial imagery in Ephesians where St Paul describes the church as the Bride of Christ. The Eucharist is therefore an eschatological wedding feast at which the whole church, and we as individuals are joined with Christ the Bridegroom. At the Eucharist we “participate fully” in the union with the Bridegroom. The Eucharist is an ‘even now-not yet’ moment. The marriage is complete through the cosmic event of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but it is also not yet fulfilled completely, for we are not yet in heaven.

The nuptial imagery in Ephesians and Revelation also connect with the passages in the gospels where Christ the Lord speaks in parables of the coming of the bridegroom and refers to Himself as the Bridegroom who has come.

There is more: the “supper of the Lamb” is also a reference back to the Passover Feast — which was not only a type of the sacrifice of Christ, but also a pointer to the Eucharist and the final consummation of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Jews referred to the Passover Lamb as “the Lamb of God” and so this language “the supper of the Lamb” now carries all these references and meanings. It is good to remember the theological and liturgical significance of these Scriptural allusions. They are not simply there to show how smart the liturgists are, nor are they inserted as some sort of clever literary device.

An allusion is meant to evoke not only the original literary story or text. It is meant to evoke an entire episode or story. The allusions to Scripture in the liturgy are actually allusions to events and images within salvation history. Here the liturgical concept of anamnesis holds hands with the literary term allusion. Anamnesis is the idea that as we remember previous events in a liturgical and ritualistic action we do not only remember them, but we re-live them. Events from the past are brought into the present moment. Liturgy makes time travelers of us all. Thus, when we recall the Passover we re-live and bring into the present moment that saving event. With that we gather up that dark Friday afternoon when the Lamb of God actually took away the sins of the world, and we also bring into the one present liturgical moment Christ’s words about wedding feasts and brides and bridegrooms and foolish virgins and keeping lamps lit and we look forward to that great marriage supper of the Lamb where all things shall be reconciled.

We are all in favor of the people ‘participating fully’ in the liturgy, but does this simply mean that we include the cub scouts and the ushers and the CCD teachers in our procession, or does it actually mean that we take time to inform and educate the faithful about the fullest depth of meaning which is we receive in concentrated form in the words of the liturgy? I don’t mean to be too cynical, but I fear that the trendy priests who get on their soapbox about ‘full participation’ will probably not touch on all these points at all, and so the ‘full participation’ they say they are in favor of will not have much depth.

At the end of the day, do the words matter? You bet they do. Last weekend in the parish I celebrated Mass according to the old translation, but had the people practice their parts from the new. I also started using some of the words which we will shortly be using from the new translation. I was delighted but not surprised to find the father of a five year old boy (who is often quite squirmy in church) say to me after Mass, “Father, Tyler noticed that you said ‘chalice’ instead of ‘cup’ and wanted to know why.” When I told Tyler that it was because the cup of Jesus blood was not just any cup, but was a sacred vessel his eyes lit up with instant understanding and faith.

Tyler understood it. It’s not the children and young people I worry about not understanding the ‘long words’, ‘archaic language’ and ‘theological concepts.’

It’s their parents and grandparents.

Rev. Dwight Longenecker


Rev. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is The Romance of Religion published by Thomas Nelson. Check out his website and blog at

  • Angela

    We’ve been using the new translation for a while now and it’s mostly fine, I’m beginning not only to remember ‘and with your spirit’ but to prefer it to ‘and also with you’ The one thing that irritates me is ‘consubstantial’ instead of ‘of one being’ By any dictionary they mean the same so why use the long word instead of the shorter, it doesn’t make the meaning any clearer. Is it to show off? to exclude ordinary people who don’t study theology? or just because it sounds more like Latin?

    • Anita

      My problem with “and with your spirit” is that it seems to suggest duality, separation of body and spirit. And the church executed many Christians for espousing that heresy…

  • Nathan


    I’d see the use of ‘consubstantial’ as more inclusive than exclusive of people that don’t study theology. With the old translation, people who didn’t study theology (the majority of Catholics) might never encounter such an important term, with the new translation they are included in the rich theological and historical depth of the Mass. Plus, its very easy to explain what the word means, so no one is left behind.

  • TomD

    As it was explained to me . . . “one in being with the Father,” while it “rolls off the tongue” better in English, misses the essence of the original meaning. While a certain poetic “simplicity” is desirable in worship, theological “precision” is important too.

    Substantia refers to the most real part of being, of something’s very nature, not merely “being.” Con-, from the Latin preposition cum, means “together with.” Consubstantial therefore more precisely represents that Christ was of one substance (together) with the Father . . . he shared His very essence, but also implies one substance (together) with our humanity.

    Consubstantial therefore more precisely signifies, and opens up for our theological reflection, this “double” duality . . . the dual nature of Christ . . . Christ’s consubstantiality with the Father, “together with” Christ’s consubstantiality with humanity.

    • Sarto

      After that long and complicated explanation, I will tremble in ecstasy every time I hear the word consubstantial. And I am sure your average Catholic will get the meaning down pat.

      My favorite part of the new liturgy is the fact that Jesus died only for many. I know, I know…somehow, after another long sermon that must be repeated often, it doesn’t mean that. But more and more people are going to believe it. Lefebre and the Pius X society triumph, because Jesus dying merely for many is a big part of their theology, based on the Latin words of Consecration. Coming from Pius X country and knowing Pius X people, I know this is true.

      • Brad

        Yuck. A belching forth of cynicism.

      • TomD

        As to the change in the Institution Narrative to “for many”:

        “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Mt 26:26-28,RSV-CE).

        “And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many'” (Mk 14:22-24, RSV-CE).

        “. . . so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28, RSV-CE).

        • Sarto

          Not a belch. A gag. “Triumph?” Something that got stuffed down our throats by Rome, violating the Council’s principle of collegiality?”

          Triumph can only be decided later. But the”many” business does disturb me. “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The way we worship decides what we believe. And all Catholics will hear far into the near future that Christ died only for many. When I was arguing with some Lefebrites, who hold that position, they clinched their argument by quoting the Latin prayer of Consecration: “Isn’t that what it says? That Christ died only for many?” Cardinal Arinze said all that can be handled by a sermon or two. Cardinal Arinze has been in Rome so long he no longer understands the challenges of a parish priest. Five sermons a year won’t counteract what the priest will be saying in every single Mass.

          But I am hopeful. In the midst of a Mass full of crying children and old people groaning as the kneelers kill their knees, many will rise in rapture, mesmerized by the wonderful Latinized prayers.

          Please report any sighting to Crisis.

          • Sam Schmitt

            Did you read the passages from Scripture? What do you think they mean?

      • TomD

        And . . .

        “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
        and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
        because he poured out his soul to death,
        and was numbered with the transgressors;
        yet he bore the sin of many,
        and made intercession for the transgressors.”

        Is 53:12, RSV-CE

      • Chris in Maryland


        4 syllable words are not hard for average people. Now I’m not saying your writing is average, but in your post you did write the words “explanation” and “consecration.”

        It is remarkable that you consider an 8 line explanation wrapped in a little combox to be “long and complicated.”

        When writing and editing a newspaper or a journal, it is understandable to expect limits on syllables and lines, but not when transmitting the liturgy of The Mass.

        I just checked the “CatholicTradition” website, which is created by Catholics who attend Mass in the EF/TLM form (it seems both SSPX and FSSP), and they prominently feature Alphonsus Ligouri’s treatise “Prayer – The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection,” which abounds with the numerous citations from the New Testament that “Christ died for all.” Also, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, states: “If we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed his blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race.”Also,

        You may know something of “Pius X people” but you actually misunderstand them on the particular point you raise.

        • Michael PS

          Yes, I am sure the Pius X people know the condemnation of five Jansenist errors by Innocent X in “Cum Occasione” (1653)

          One of these was “It is Semipelagian to say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men without exception.” – Declared and condemned as false, rash, scandalous, and understood in this sense, that Christ died for the salvation of the predestined, impious, blasphemous, contumelious, dishonoring to divine piety, and heretical.

  • John Zmirak

    You’re right, Sarto. “Consubstantial” IS way too much for us dopey Catholics. In fact, to continue the process of pre-chewing every complex idea so it can be spat into the tiny beaks of the laity, I suggest replacing “transubstantiation” in the Catechism with “the Ol’ Switcheroo”.

    • Mark Duch

      Haha, I think Mr. Zmirak just won the Internets.

    • Sarto

      Hey, I speak for a living. I know what language works and what language doesn’t. If I want to say something that people will take to heart, I skip the multi-syllable words and I try to use the truly effective concrete words from our Old English/German heritage. Take, “Do not cast pearls before swine.” Better than “Do not cast nacreous articles before porcine animals.” The “swine” is marginal. “Hogs” would have had a dynamite effect.

      • Nick Palmer

        Sarto, the Mass is not an oration. Ideas from public speaking, where one looks to make an impact once , and to an audience potentially unfamiliar with a topic and likely not fully attentive, do not necessarily hold sway.

        We Catholics attend the Mass weekly, at least, thus encountering these words and ideas again and again. The mystery and nuance surrounding the words should draw us into a deeper understanding of the theology of our Faith, and hint at the deeper mysteries.

        About a decade ago our Parish became obsessed with its “family Mass” (i.e. family = inattentive children and parents who behave worse than inattentive children). Groan-fully I remember the Christmas reading where Jesus was wrapped “in baby clothes.” Who needs “swaddling” anyway? Who ever uses the word?

        Well, I vote for “swaddling,” “consubstantial,” and “transubstantiation.” I don’t fully understand these things, but they, like incense and other trappings of ritual carry me toward a state of greater awe and humility.

        And, the words exist (check your OED). Why not use them?

    • Sarto

      “Transubstantiation” is another dilly. Could you give me ten minutes and a blackboard so I can explain the Aristotelian philosophy behind those six! syllables? But I am sure some will be floating above the pews, lifted to the third heaven by this term.

      • Chris in Maryland


        Are you giving away something hear? I mean, since you reject the “T-word” are you telling us you also reject the theology it communicates?

        Or not?

      • Alan Church


        Is your criteria for Truth a 10 minute explanation?

        • Sarto

          Actually, I embrace the theology (The real presence of the living Risen Jesus Son of God, Second Person the Trinity whose body-soul-and divinity are received int he Eucharist) but I reject the Scholastic philosophy that attempts to explain it in physical terms. The risen Jesus has been caught up into the divinity of God. He no longer lives among us physically. Otherwise, we commit cannibalism when we go to Communion. Transignification might be a better explanation, but I’m still thinking about it.

          No. But when you are dealing with ordinary people with a sound-bite attention span, you have to work your fool head off and find something better than “transubstantiation.”

    • Gail Finke

      Fr. John Tragilio blog-yelled at me (a term I just made up) a year or so ago for commenting that I liked “one in being with” better than “consubstantial with” because I thought it was more poetic. I still do. I think that “consubstantial” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and I have never had any trouble with understanding what “one in being with” means. But hey, guess what? It’s not about me! I don’t think it’s worth making a big fuss about, “consubstantial” is fine with me. Although “the ol’ switcheroo” does have a ring to it…

    • Rebecca

      Of course, “the Ol’ Switcheroo” has a lovely ring to it, but Switcheroo has more than one syllable, so that won’t work.

      How about, “First’s it’s one thing, then it’s a thing that’s not the same as the first thing, it just looks the same as the first thing.” That’s much easier to understand.

      • Sarto

        That’s the problem with the conservative explanation here. The Eucharist is not a thing. One “thing” does not become another “thing.” It is a person to person encounter. We are talking about the living Jesus, the risen incarnate Son of God. Our Communion makes us one with him in his sacrifice. He gives himself to us…we give ourselves to him. “Substance” has to be used metaphorically here, because it is a PHYSICAL description of reality devised by Aristotle.

        When we talk about the “divine substance of God,” we do not mean what we mean when we talk about the “physical substance” of a human being. Poetic God-talk. And that is what is lost in the apparant precision of terms like transubstantiation. People think they have it nailed, but all they have managed to do is fasten a word to a mystery.

        • TomD

          “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Mt 26:26-28, RSV-CE).

          “The Eucharist is not a thing . . . [i]t is a person to person encounter.” I did not realize that the two . . . thing and encounter . . . were (1) a “conservative” understanding, or (2) that they were necessarily mutually exclusive.

          Both/and seems to be operative here . . . the Eucharist is a “thing,” God physically becoming Man, and a personal encounter that transcends that physical reality. An either/or approach seems to deny the mystery, while a both/and approach acknowledges the mystery of God’s presence in the Eucharist.

          Ultimately, the best we can do as humans, in the presence of God, is to “manage to fasten a word to a mystery.” After all, WE are merely human.

  • Bender

    “Happy is sappy”

    So much to say on this matter, but this will do.

    How about we bother to teach on what authentic “happiness” is (especially since one of the aspects of beatitude (blessedness) is happiness), rather than just trash the Church with accusations that the Holy Church has been wrong and in error all these years?

  • Tony Esolen

    I’ve written quite a lot of commentary on the new translation – 87,000 words for one venue alone. I’m delighted that it’s coming. To second Father Longenecker’s observations on allusion and anamnesis: the bulk of my work came from citing about 900 Scriptural allusions embedded in the language of the Ordinary of the Mass, and the collects, offertories, prefaces, postcommunions, prayers over the people, and special blessings for each Sunday and feast day, and the special prayers for the Easter Triduum. I could easily have cited 3000 allusions, because for every echo I found, there were often three or four sources I might have mentioned. The Mass is steeped in Scripture, and in most fascinating ways, too – as for instance the juxtaposition of the Baptist’s call and the Angel’s call, which Father has mentioned.
    People have asked me, “Why ‘for many’?” My reply has been that the translators were faced with three choices. One was to pretend that the Latin “pro multis” was actually “pro omnibus.” But it wasn’t. Put it this way. I could wish that Dante had written, “Blessed are the peacemakers, who never sin in wrath,” but he didn’t write it. He wrote, “Blessed are the peacemakers, whose anger is no sin.” And that, of course, required explanation in my notes. The translator ought to be a humble fellow, and follow what’s written, rather than what he wishes had been written. That leaves two choices: “for many” and “for the many.” Latin doesn’t have a definite article, so either one is valid, and “for the many” actually translates the Greek text that is the source of the Latin. I prefer it, but I am told that the translators felt that that locution would sound too exclusive, as if there were a well-defined and corralled “many” out there whom we could identify. I don’t agree with the evaluation, but their motive was good.
    On “consubstantial”: the word translates the Greek “homoousios,” built from the words for “same” and “being” or “nature”. The trick is, how to render that into English without giving the impression of mere likeness or agreement or unification. We can argue about this forever. Does “one in being” actually mean all that “consubstantialem” and “homoousios” mean, or does it rather suggest that Jesus was “in harmony with” the Father, or that His existence came out of the Father’s existence? I could live with “one in being.” I think that “of one being” would be clearer still. “Consubstantial” seems to deliver even more, just because it is a precise theological term.

    • Sarto

      Thanks for pointing out that Latin (that supposedly polished and significant language) lacks a definite or indefinite article and, therefore, could not possibly translate the Greek, which said, “for the many.” And that, of course, is where the problem began.

      I predict that, one or two generations from now, the Church will be dealing with the renewal of the old heresy held by the Lefebrists who are my near neighbors: That if Jesus died only for many, that means he died for some and not all. In proof, they quote the Latin words of consecration. Oh, we are told, a priest can handle that in a sermon: “Christ died for all even if I keep telling you he died for many every time we celebrate Mass.” And a number of puzzled people are going to think, so you say, but I know what the most sacred words a priest can ever speak tell us. Slice it, dice it…but many does not mean all. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Why did the Church choose to walk eyes wide open into this problem?

      • Chris in Maryland


        You are mistaken to assert that those in SSPX don’t believe “that Christ died for all.” Anyone can go to the “CatholicTradition” website, which is created by Catholics who attend Mass in the EF/TLM form (it seems both SSPX and FSSP), and they prominently feature Alphonsus Ligouri’s treatise “Prayer – The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection,” which abounds with the numerous citations from the New Testament that “Christ died for all.” Also, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, states: “If we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed his blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race.” SSPX may disagree with The Church about some things (I’ll leave that to them) but clearly not this.

  • Tony Esolen

    On “happy”: The trouble is that the word now is associated with feelings alone, and not with a transcendent beatitude. I am very happy that the Saint Louis Cardinals won the World Series. But it isn’t beatitude. The NT Greek word “makarios” is roughly equivalent to Latin “fortunatus” in some of its uses; it is closer to “beatus” in others; depending on context, it could mean “happy” or “fortunate” or “blessed.” Now, the English “happy” has as its root signification the advent of good fortune – as in “lucky,” or in the German sister-word “gluecklich” – a “happy” person is someone to whom something nice has happened. So when the older English writers wanted to denote the happiness of the saints, they used words that had to do with blessedness rather than with mere good fortune: so Chaucer describes Saint Thomas Becket as the “holy blissful martyr.” I think that “blessed” includes all that is worthy in the word “happy,” and much, much more.

  • Tom

    The new translation is wonderful but the truth is this********the majority of priests do not follow the translation now in force and they aren’t going to follow the new translation either**********. All kinds of disobedience has been allowed to go unchecked since Vatican II the result being chaos. The fastest way to loose your Catholic faith is to attend Mass in a Catholic parish. What do you find in 99.9% of Catholic churches – sloppy Masses, horrible music, priest acting like a bunch of stand up comics, people dressed and acting like slobs, awful, sometimes heretical homilies, complete disregard for the Real Prescence in short a complete total colllapse of the faith. A new translation will do nothing. Masses will still be ad libbed and NOTHING will be done to stop it. My god they protect child rapists. If the bishops didn’t, and they still don’t care about the sinfullness that happened, then they certainly don’t care about priests offering dignified Masses.

  • Interesting to see that change, Fr. Dwight. I’m not sure if this is commonplace or not, but my parish priests have always improvised (to varying degrees) this particular language. The word “behold” has actually been used by nearly all of our priests for the last several years. One of the more recent lines I’ve heard, just a few weeks ago was: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Behold the Lamb…”

  • Nick Palmer

    A really good article article by Rev. Longenecker, and a really enjoyable, fun thread following.

    I thought I’d weigh in a brief bit on “Behold!” I recently completed an audio-course on The Book of Genesis by Professor Gary Rendsburg (The Great Courses). He spends a good deal of time explaining to the contemporary reader how to read Biblical writing correctly. He likened the word, “Behold!” to a movie director zooming in for a close-up shot on someone’s face or a very small detail in a much larger scene.

    With Rev. Longenecker, I find the soon-arriving “Behold!” a dramatic improvement, as we should zoom in on the greatest gift that has been or could be ever given.

    Oh, and a great line from a homily at Mass today: the priest was recounting his first meeting with a his new spiritual director. The director greeted him with, “God is absolutely wild about you!”

  • Howard

    One problem with “happy” is that it is based on “hap”, meaning “luck”. “Happy” and “lucky” would have been synonyms, though they have drifted somewhat apart, like long-lost twin brothers. The German word “gluecklich” has the same problem.

    We can be blessed without being either Pollyannas or being lucky.

  • TeaPot562

    When the Presider at Mass (or even the Deacon, when there is one) ad libs, it messes up the congregation’s ability to respond properly, and detracts from any meditation from the prescribed words that members of the congregation may have been enjoying.
    At one point our parish had a “rent-a-priest” from a religious order guilty of frequent paraphrasing the prescribed words (OF). At least once he paraphrased the “Orate Fratres” so badly that the Congregation left several seconds of silence before recalling “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name . . .”
    I must remonstrate with our deacon about that before November 27.

  • Re “consubstantial,” I’m reminded that the KJV translators scoffed at the Douai-Rheims use of exotic terms such as “tunic,” “rational,” and “holocausts.”

    They must roll over in their graves each time an Englishman shows off in daily conversation by using the Latinate term “rational.”

  • Tony Esolen

    On a related note: they have been holding a really disingenuous groan-fest over at NCR, on the nasty ol’ papal directives regarding the translation. The thing I keep hearing is this: “If only the bad ol’ Polish Pope had approved the 1998 revisions!” Waaaal, I asked the great Father Zuhlsdorf to send me a copy of that 1998 missal. What I found was most interesting. They had indeed redone the collects and prefaces, so they were superior to the 1973 text – which isn’t saying much, since in 1973 they gutted those prayers; there is absolutely no justification on any grounds for what they did to the “propers”. And yet – the 1998 translators left the ordinary of the Mass almost entirely untouched! The truncated Gloria was still in place. So too the truncated Confiteor. So too the freeze-dried Eucharistic prayers (with an occasional reference to holiness restored, but still, most such references remained in oblivion). So too the muffed words of the centurion. It was wholly inadequate, actually an act of intransigent disobedience. AND some new absurdities were introduced. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.” “A human being saves the human family,” for the Latin salvatio hominis per hominem. In other words, the translators were carrying water for the feminists. I am deeply grateful that Rome shredded it.

  • Bill

    The new translation is meaningless because the real mass was destroyed in 1969. The priest is still facing the congregation and standing over a table rather than an altar. The offretory prayers are all missing etc.
    And an imposter is still sitting on the throne of St. Peter.
    Cardinal Siri was elected pope in 1958 and was prevented from taking office, get the whole story here!

    • John Zmirak

      If you think that’s true, Bill, then the honest thing to do is to join the Orthodox church.

  • Steve

    Does the new translation return to the “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” of the original, the poetic, the reverent, etc.?

  • Alan Church

    It is sad that people would be so against acquiring knowledge that they would take offense to the use of words that might actually cause them to pick up a dictionary, ask a priest or google.

    • TomD

      We live in a Sesame Street/ Dick-and-Jane culture . . . see Spot run, run Spot run.

  • Tony Esolen

    I’m not sure if Steve’s question above is meant to be ironical. No, the translation does not return to the language of early modern English. I don’t think it should. The text of the Our Father is left as is — I have heard that it barely survived the modernizing itch back in 1973.

    That said, I am a passionate opponent of “updating” the language of hymns and of prayers outside of the liturgy. The results of such updating range from unhelpful to (more typically) horrible. It is not hard for people to learn the meanings of the few archaic forms. If Baptists can do it, why can’t Catholics?

  • elm

    I’m just thrilled that the new translation keeps the priest standing where he is suppose to stand and reading out of the RM instead of making it up as he goes.

    Now if we could just do away with the laughfest that begins with the children being dismissed and ends with the announcements. I’m growing old waiting for that change.

    How soon before the music dept is revamped?

    “I am the Body of Christ, You are the Body of Christ, broken and shared by all, I mean many.


    lex orandi; lex credendi. It is clear that the translators of the 1960s were trying to americanize the Roman Catholic Church and the mass thus John Paul II and Benedict XVI decided to reCatholize it. Thank God, we need to be protected from the American culture; it is so vile and godless. america delenda est.

    • Chris in Maryland

      Johann has put his finger on a big problem with the “Americanization” that produced the 1973 ICEL translation. Susan Benofy’s 1996 article “ICEL’s Translation of the Roman Canon” (@ ADOREMUS dot org)quotes H. P. R. Finberg, a professor at the University of Leicester, referring to an early “American draft” of the vernacular english, and “that there were three Americans on the board suggests that they were responsible for the translation. The three Americans were Fr. (now Msgr.) Frederick McManus, Rev. Godfrey Diekmann, OSB and Professor G. B. Harrison.”

      “In 1967 The Tablet condemned the ICEL translation of The Roman Canon in a front page editorial entitled Lingua Deserta…. ‘Nobody who studies it line by line with the original can fail to notice that it is a prime example of that “desacralization” against which the Pope has warned the Church. The ancient and venerable text of the Roman Canon has been mutilated beyond recognition.’

      In December 1967, another critique of the ICEL Canon was published by Duncan Cloud, focusing “on the omission not only of words but of ideas: ‘It is not the function of a translator to remove what he dislikes or to add what he thinks is missing in the original. … In fact, once you start ejecting from the Roman Canon elements which are alien to our cultural and social milieu, you will soon be left with nothing at all…. ICEL were virtually bound to distort the Canon, once they had decided to compose their version in the dignified equivalent of strip-cartoon-caption prose.’

    • TomD

      It is relatively apparent now that many of the American liturgists, and many English speaking liturgists in other countries involved in the translation to the vernacular in the post-Vatican II Mass, wished to reinvent and transform the Church and saw as one primary vehicle toward this objective the reinvention of the Mass. Liturgical manipulation through lex orandi, lex credendi is a powerful way to achieve this objective.

      This is a primary reason why there is opposition to the new translation. It is seen, even if only in minor ways, as a step in the wrong direction, away from a “modern” style of worship and a “modern” set of beliefs.

      Rather than helping to unifying the Church, the liturgical changes post-Vatican II were, in too many instances, divisive.

  • Michael PS

    The task of the translator is always challenging and sometimes impossible.

    How does one capture the allusions and resonances of one language in another? It would be like trying to translate a pun.

    To take one example, in the Book of Esther, when Queen Esther says “Let the king and Haman come today” (5:4), anyone reading the Hebrew will immediately see that “Yavo Hamelech V’Haman Hayom,” is an acronym of the Divine Name.

    This serves to remind us that the very name of the book, Megillas Esther, meaning the scroll or book of Esther, also means “the revealing of the hidden,” for the word Megillah, a scroll, comes from “galuy,” meaning “unwrapped” or “revealed” and the name Esther is from “hester,” meaning “hidden”

    Indeed, the whole story is about the hidden action of God, recalling Deuteronomy 31:18 “And I will surely hide my face” [hester panim]

    What is the translator to do with this?

    • TomD

      Michael, you are right, translation, no matter how well intentioned, is always an act of interpretation. For liturgical purposes, as literal an interpretation as practical seems most reasonable.

      As the experience with the new translation of the Missal has demonstrated, getting a committee of scholars to agree on what is “practical” or “reasonable” in translation is no easy task, especially if the task of translation is approached with conflicting objectives.

      In the example you cite from Esther, as literal a translation of the text as practical seems appropriate, with a note to the text explaining the uniqueness of the Hebrew sentence/grammar structure and the “back story” necessary for understanding the text, similar to the discussion you have provided above.

      • Michael PS

        To understand the task faced by any translator, look at a (hopefully) non-controversial example.

        Juvenal wrote:

        “Magnaque numinibus vota exaudita malignis”

        Literally translated, in the same order

        And great/by spiritual powers/vows/having been heard (agreeing with “vows”)/malign (agreeing with “by spiritual powers”

        This is plainly gibberish.

        “And great prayers that have been heard by malignant powers” reproduces the meaning, but is flat and pedestrian; it conveys next to nothing of the experience produced by reading the original.

        Dr Johnson translated it as “Enormous prayers, which Heav’n in vengeance grants,” expressing, not only the sense, but something of the rhythm and cadences of the original – hence, his elision of the last syllable of “Heaven.” Above all, it preserves the terse, epigrammatic style of Juvenal.

        Has any modern translation of the Missal approached Johnson’s standard? In my opinion, no. Cranmer, at his best, achieved it, in some of the Collects, but that can now only be appreciated by someone thoroughly at home in Elizabethan English.

        Genius, alas, is not to be had for the asking.