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New Catholic Mass Translation Raises Doubts

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I’ve studied Latin for decades. I am not Catholic but have attended Catholic masses and witnessed how readily people speak the words of the liturgy. The new translation is more faithful, in the most literal sense, to the Latin original. In response to the priest saying “The Lord be with you” (Dominus vobiscum), the congregation is now to say “and with your spirit,” which almost word for word follows the Latin et cum spiritu tuo (in Latin, word order is not as crucial as it is in English, so the adjective tuo can be placed after spiritu).

Most of the changes are within the prayers the priests say, but there are some notable differences in the responses by worshipers. The Nicene Creed, the central profession of faith, now starts with “I believe in one God” instead of “We believe in one God.” Jesus is now “consubstantial with the Father” rather than “of one Being with the Father.” Communion begins with the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” instead of “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.”

The Latin phrase from the Nicene Creed credo in unum Deum indeed says “I believe in one God.” Saying “consubstantial with the Father” might seem a bit of a tongue-twister. The Latin reads consubstantialem Patri and “consubstantial” is about as literal a translation as you can get to consubstantialem. ”Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” is definitely much more literal a rendition of Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, with intres the Latin word for “enter” and tectum meum meaning indeed “my roof” — though, in some ways, “roof” is itself a far too literal rendering of tectum whose basic definition is “roof,” but which is often used to mean “house.”

That is, some aspects of the translation of the new Roman Missal are too literal. Translating a text word-for-word is the most basic kind of translating; it is what you often get when you use Google Translate. Just converting the words of one text into the equivalents of another is not necessarily a translation or, that is, a translation that is more than basic “translatese,” a clunky-sounding text that rings odd in the language it’s been translated into, while still missing something from the original. Latin is a very different language from English in its sounds and its syntax and capturing the sound and sense of the original Latin requires more than just offering the English equivalents of Latin words.

Consider again the determinedly literal translation of  consubstantialem Patri as “consubstantial with the Father” rather than “of one Being with the Father.” The word consubstantialem itself means “of like essence, nature or substance.” A literal translation of the phrase  consubstantialem Patri could indeed be “of like essence with the Father”: Which version does this sound closer to?

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152 comments

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4:03PM PST on Dec 21, 2011

Noted.

12:17AM PST on Dec 4, 2011

Thanks for the article.

10:52AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

Mumbo-jumbo.

5:24AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

The Catholics did not need a new bible to raise doubts about them. They have been doing that just fine all by themselves. Last edition, this edition, next edition - none of that will improve their standing. They are still just a bunch of grumpy old men who molest children and repress women. Hypocrites all.

7:03PM PST on Nov 30, 2011

I am not Catholic but I wish I could read Latin. Todays educational system omits the finer things and prepares students to get a broom pushing job. I am disgusted in how the English have to Anglicize every word, even the names of people. Mathius is not Mathew, Heinrich is not Henry etc. The English think anyone who does not speak English is uncivilized. Why is it so hard to learn what the Latin words are stick with the original?

11:17AM PST on Nov 30, 2011

Thanks for this information

11:31PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Noted. Thanks.

5:05PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

I believe that unless people understand Catholicism from first hand experiences, they are unable to make a proper observation nor a reliable judgement. It would be expected that members of the church can speak of church life. The outsiders may have no experience of a church life from member's stand, so this makes it impossible to make correct and educated decisions about what language to use.

4:43PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

There's a reason that Latin is a dead language and the fact that Church Latin was a bastardization of Classical Latin to begin with begs the question why try to take a more literal translation of something that isn't pure to being with (says the Catholic girl from California)?

3:42PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Someone explain why this is important to anyone other than a Catholic?

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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