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Failed 1998 English Missal translation

Most Roman Catholics appear not to be aware that in 1998 there was an excellent new English translation of the Roman Missal. The first translation had been released in 1973. In in the mid 1980s translation work began again. It was to be more accurate. There was international cooperation among bishops, scholars, liturgists, Latinists, and other experts. It received the approval of all the English-speaking conferences of the world; in ten of the eleven conferences, its approval was unanimous or near-unanimous.

The 1998 Missal translation is available here.

First, there was no response from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship. In the next decade, when a response was received, it was rejected, and work began anew.

This is from the Foreword of the 1998 translation:

The presidential prayers have been translated afresh in the light of thorough research and critical comment upon the 1973 Missal. The texts of the Order of Mass, on the other hand, which are more familiar to the people, have been changed only where necessary for greater clarity in the light of the Latin or to avoid language increasingly perceived as discriminatory. Several texts in the Order of Mass are used in common by most English-speaking Christians; these were prepared and revised by an international ecumenical body, the English Language Liturgical Consultation, and are included in this Sacramentary as recommended by the ecumenical directives of the Apostolic See.

I notice some highly significant points that express what I have been saying quite independently:

1) In the failied 1998 translation, people’s familiar responses are kept as they are “by heart” – they “have been changed only where necessary for greater clarity in the light of the Latin”.
[The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.]

2) There is particular attention “to avoid language increasingly perceived as discriminatory.”
["Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth."
"For us and for our salvation"]

3) The ecumenically-agreed, English language texts (ELLC) continue to be used “as recommended by the ecumenical directives of the Apostolic See.”

In the latest translation, now being used instead of this Vatican-rejected 1998 translation, each of the above three principles has been rejected, and this latest text in fact goes in the opposite direction of the points enunciated in the episcopally-approved Foreword and 1998 text.

You can read the story outlined by Bishop Maurice Taylor, chair of ICEL from 1997-2002, in It’s the Eucharist, Thank God. And also from Commonweal (2005) John Wilkins’ “Lost in Translation: the bishops, the Vatican & the English Liturgy”.

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17 Responses to Failed 1998 English Missal translation

  1. Chase says:

    Thank you so much for writing on this. As a Roman Catholic, I cannot tell you how much it pains me to read the 1998 Translation, knowing what we’re in for come Advent. It’s truly sad.

  2. Heather Keith says:

    I am trying to rewrite the setting of the Mass I have composed. The new words don’t fit easily, and change the balance of the phrases. Very frustrating. I’ve listened to David Haas and Marty Haugen (composers) on line. They are much more gentle and positive in their approach than I feel! If I were more fluent with the Sibelius programme it probably wouldn’t be so difficult.
    My Anglican/Episcopal original remains in tact…

    Hi Bosco. Don’t print this if it adds nothing to the thread. It is taking me hours longer than I anticipated. Having got used to one version of the words, the new ones feel awkward. I guess if I’d started with the RC one and moved to the Anglican I’d be saying the same thing!

  3. Parts of the 1998 translation are very good, and should have been used as a basis or starting example for the English translation of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal. The propers and prefaces are, on the whole, quite wonderful. (It is a shame that we did not receive this quality of liturgical prayer back in the 1970′s, given that this translation was made using the same instruction, Comme le prévoit, as the previous one.)

    Some parts, however, are less acceptable; the shying away from masculine pronouns in referring to God (thus resulting in a piling-up of God, God’s, Lord, Lord’s, etc.) is one such example, in my opinion. This is seen on a small scale in the 1998 Gloria and encountered in some present settings of Psalms; I remember once singing “We are His people, the flock of the Lord”, but more recently remember it as “We are God’s people, the flock of the Lord.” (Ps 100) And sometimes (although not necessarily in the 1998 translation) this results in rewriting the text: “His right hand has won the vict’ry for Him, His holy arm” becomes “Whose right hand has won the vict’ry for us, God’s holy arm.” (Ps 98) The 1998 translation also does it for the Suscipiat: “May the Lord accept … glory of God’s name … good of all the Church.” I’ll come back to this response in a moment. They removed “him” from “It is right to give him thanks and praise”, but they could have done just as well by translating it more simply: “It is right and just” or “It is proper and right” or “It is right to do so”, taking a bit of liberty with that last one.

    The extent to which this avoidance can go is seen, sadly, in some breakaway communities (many of which are led by women bishops and priests), where they are so opposed to the word “Lord” that they have changed the Sanctus-Benedictus: “Holy, Holy, Holy God, God of [some word I can't make out], God of light” and “Blessed the one who comes in the name of our God” (@ 2:30 in the video). Such changes do not respect the liturgical text, their traditional and/or scriptural context, and the meaning and purpose of the prayers themselves.

    The 1998 translation also included some surprising alterations to the Order of Mass (such as the selection of either a Penitential Act or a Gloria). It continued the trend of usually putting the “Latinate” option last (as in the invitation to the Penitential Act). It relegated the “Mysterium fidei” to the deacon (and made it one option among many); I think I know the reason for this, but it still seems to be an unnecessary change.

    The minor adjustments made to the congregation’s parts is rather unsatisfying to me. We’ve had these words for forty years… does that mean we are stuck with them in perpetuity? Neglecting small and simple corrections (restoring the word “holy” to the Suscipiat: “for the good of all His holy Church”) because the responses had worked their way into our memory seems to me to be a cop-out. The priest can receive a better translation, even in the Order of Mass, but not the laity?

    The degree to which the Order of Mass was revised seems arbitrary to me. In the embolism after the Our Father, the priest would say: “keep us free from sin and protect us in time of trial, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior…” Why revise “from all anxiety” and not revise the scriptural allusion obscured by “wait in joyful hope for”?

    I note that the 1998 Nicene Creed used “was incarnate” — where is the outcry against it?

    Okay, that was a lot all at once. Sorry.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks, Heather, yes as a musician you underline one of my points.

      Thanks, Jeffrey for your points. The English language is still developing in its use of non-discriminatory language. [Might I remind you that by far the majority of communities led by women bishops and priests have not solved the issues in the manner you suggest]. What is interesting is that the RC bishops had the principles I quoted on this and on retaining texts known by heart, and then a decade later have completely abandoned those principles. I do not think that texts such as “Children of man, how long will my glory be dishonoured” (Psalm 4:3) will wear well. [Do you really want to have a discussion about why it is easier & more appropriate to alter the priest’s text which he is reading from a book than the people’s responses known by heart?] You appear to be misreading the rubrics – Sunday Mass (outside of Advent and Lent) would have had the penitential rite and Gloria. I have already noted the arbitrary nature of the Received Text in not revising the Our Father – to echo you: why can that not receive a better translation? Blessings.

  4. 1. I agree that it is harder to change the people’s parts, but I also think that the change is necessary. And I did not address only the propers when I mentioned the priest’s prayers; there are also prayers in the Order of Mass for the priest that were changed in the 1998 translation.

    2. I do not think I have mis-read the rubrics. From p. 415:

    The opening rite may take one of the following forms.
    I. Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Water (page 416)
    II. Penitential Rite (page 420)
    III. Litany of Praise (page 422)
    IV. Kyrie (page 426)
    V. Gloria (page 428)
    VI. Other Opening Rite (see page 430)

    This means that on any given Sunday, if the Gloria is sung, there will be no sprinkling with water, nor the Confiteor, nor the Kyrie, nor any other option. In this regard, the PRAYERS of the Missal do not coincide with the GIRM provided in it (pp. 19-20) which assume a Penitential Act followed by the Kyrie (unless it was part of the Pen. Act) followed by the Gloria (except in Lent/Advent).

    The “Introduction to the Order of Mass” is meant to supplement and not replace the GIRM, but when it describes the “Opening Rite”, it does so in contradiction to the GIRM: “One of the following opening rites is selected” (p. 108), so you cannot do the Kyrie and the Gloria. If it does not “replace” the GIRM, perhaps it supersedes it?

    3. The “Our Father” translation (with “art” and “trespasses”) is more than forty years old. While I do think it could be revised, I think it would be the hardest prayer to revise.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks, Jeffrey – I read “may” to mean “may” not “must” and regard the understanding of “may” as a very important word in liturgical rubrics. I do not see this over-riding the GIRM and if there is confusion in American English about this, I imagine that could have been sorted in a final approval of 1998. But that never happened.

      As for the Our Father – I do not see why you have a cut-off point for revision time. As you yourself say, “does that mean we are stuck with them in perpetuity?” The rest of the Mass is an attempt to translate into contemporary English, the Our Father now stands out in discontinuity with the rest of the text. Furthermore, RCs use the ecumenical English international contemporary revision in NZ as part of the newly approved text, so I do not understand your point.

  5. Bosco, the Introduction to the Order of Mass does not use the same language as the Missal itself (“One of the following opening rites is selected” — no “may” there), and even if “may” means “may” and not “must”, it remains clear that the authors intended an “Opening Rite” with only one of those elements.

    I agree that the vocabulary of the Our Father is different from the rest, and this issue either requires a special exemption or a sensitive solution.

    My point was that, of all the prayers in the Order of Mass which the faithful pray aloud, I think the Our Father is the one known best by heart, and so it would take the most getting used to (and might be the hardest to receive). How long has NZ been using the ecumenical English revision?

    Then again, if the faithful can accept a new translation of the Our Father, what’s preventing them from accepting a new translation of the rest of the Ordinary?

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Jeffrey, the faithful, being faithful, are being given no choice about “accepting a new translation of the rest of the Ordinary”. Nothing and no one is preventing them. NZ has both versions of the Our Father in use, and both are in the new Mass translation here.

  6. Mark says:

    It is interesting to note how groups of people respond to different versions of the Lord’s Prayer in situations where it isn’t obvious which will be used (e.g. not in church services, or in funeral serveices etc where a wide cross-section of people, especially elderly, will be found). It is reasonable to plan to use what people will most likely be comfortable with, of course, but when there is confusion it usually begins at the third word and doesn’t last for long. People tend to “re-sync” or work out what most others are doing and go along with that.

  7. Bosco, because I don’t know about the liturgical practices in New Zealand, I feel like I’m commenting blindly. I asked how long the “ecumenical English international contemporary revision” of the Our Father has been used by Catholics in New Zealand. Has it only started with the new English translation of the Missal, or have they used it before?

    I bring it up because you’ve mentioned several times on this page (in your post and in your comments) that the 1998 translation, by and large, did not alter the people’s prayers, a principle which was not followed in the 2010 translation. The point I’m trying to make is that if people seem to be having no trouble adapting to another translation of the Our Father (a prayer I would expect to be the one best-known-by-heart), then I don’t see why the principle of avoiding altering the people’s prayers deserves such attention.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      I’m sorry, Jeffrey, I do not know how widespread the use of the ecumenical Our Father is – one or two diocese use it solely, in other diocese it may be mixed. Nor do I know how long this has been the case. To some degree you are right I cannot have it both ways – showing concern for altering people’s parts unnecessarily and seeking consistency in translation for the Lord’s Prayer. I note that the 1998 allows both versions of the Lord’s Prayer, just as NZ does. You also cannot have it both ways: accepting changes to the well-known people’s parts, but arguing against altering the Our Father.

      I wonder why you haven’t commented on Revised Grail Psalms 2 where the Vatican has departed from translating the Latin Mass texts, altering the English presented by the bishops, in order to use the now-public revised Grail psalter.

  8. Where am I “arguing against altering the Our Father”? Here are the comments I’ve made about it:

    > The “Our Father” translation (with “art” and “trespasses”) is more than forty years old. While I do think it could be revised, I think it would be the hardest prayer to revise.

    > [T]he vocabulary of the Our Father is different from the rest, and this issue either requires a special exemption or a sensitive solution.

    > I think the Our Father is the one known best by heart, and so [a new translation of it] would take the most getting used to (and might be the hardest to receive).

    I brought up the age of the Our Father translation simply because it is older than the existing Missal translation. It’s been in our collective memory longer than the current English translation of the Roman Missal.

    I don’t think I’ve argued against its retranslation. I think “debita” would be better translated as “debts” for many reasons. I have nothing against the use of “thy” and “art”. I don’t think a new translation should gloss over “qui es”, though.

    I would point out that a 2002 letter from Cardinal Medina to the English-speaking Bishops said the following:

    “The Congregation in the course of its various contacts and consultations has encountered widespread ­– indeed, virtually unanimous — opposition to the institution of any change in the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. More than one reader cited poignantly the experience of having seen this prayer coming to the lips of Christians who had otherwise appeared unconscious, its familiar wording having been learned by them from infancy. By contrast, the Mixed Commission’s justification for its changes, in its Third Progress Report on the Revision of the Roman Missal, seem inadequate and somewhat cerebral.”

    Perhaps perceptions have changed in the past decade.

    I haven’t commented on your Grail psalter post because I’m not a regular reader of your blog and didn’t see that post. I saw this one through your Twitter feed. Does it suffice to say I’m not a fan of the alterations and deviations made in the RGP project? A lot of the translation work being done since the 2008 Gray Book seems to be arbitrary, in contradiction to the norms established by L.A. and the Ratio Translationis, and inexplicable!

  9. I do remember seeing that post. I’m curious why you translate “Panem nostrum…” as “Our daily bread give to us today” which sounds so stilted. Surely LA 57a provides more flexibility than that.

  10. Michael Jones says:

    I’m trying to find out some info on the new translation of the Roman Missal and I can’t believe how much negative, bad-spirited “12 year old girl” whinging is going on by self-proclaimed liturgists. The writer of this piece can’t understand why the 1998 translation was not responded to by the Vatican, when his own example should make it obvious: use of ideological feminist language which emasculates God’s Fatherhood. eg “It is right to give GOD (shouted out by the femofascists) thanks and praise.”

    As to an ecumenical Our Father, I don’t know what strange things the 500,000 Catholics in New Zealand are doing but I have been involved in ecumenical serves in Australia for years and have never had a problem with the traditional Catholic one that I have heard used in Uniting Churches and Anglican.

  11. Michael Jones says:

    I’m sorry, but I thought this was a Catholic blog/website. But I just read a part of a book Celebrating Eucharist by Bosco Peters and I realize it must be Anglican or Calvinist or something. Sorry, it’s just that there are a lot of Catholics who are criticizing their own Church. I understand when protestants do so. That’s why we believe different things: We are different churches

    • Bosco Peters says:

      You are welcome here, Michael. The first words on this website make it clear, this is “an ecumenical site of resources and reflections for liturgy, spirituality, and worship, for individuals and communities.” Thank you for calling “Anglican or Calvinist or something” “different churches” – the Vatican explicitly teaches that is not the case. Also, I think it is often a sign of love to critique things that are not right – so this site will continue to critique Roman Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist, and somethings’ decisions. I guess your “12 year old girl” whinging comment explains why what you call “feminists” still have so much more work to do. Blessings.

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