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Grammar for the new missal translation

is this a sentence?

Grammar for the new missal translationIs the following a complete, formal sentence?

“Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

IMO it is not. As far as I can spot, in the new English translation of the Roman Missal the collect in every case is composed of two “sentences” (actually, IMO, one sentence and a fragment masquerading as a “sentence”).

Eg. for Palm Sunday:

Almighty every-living God,
who as an example of humility for the human race to follow
caused our Saviour to take flesh and submit to the Cross,
graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The second “sentence” throughout the Missal appears to have two forms. The one above, or

“Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Again, I do not think that is a formal, complete sentence.

I had a lot of reaction (onsite and offsite here and even on other sites) to my suggestion that “O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son,…” is awkward, poor English. No one has managed to fulfil my challenge to find a contemporary, non-liturgical Second person Vocative (no “you”) + “who have…” (even in this royal Diamond Jubilee year). One person thought he remembered such a sentence in a novel from early last century – but he was unprepared to quote it since he said he feared breaching copyright!

On some sites, questioning the quality of the new translation is tantamount to sacrilege. To do so “effectively scatters the flock.” Clergy, are not to “criticise the translation in public”.

Bishop Colin Campbell of Dunedin is strongly critical of the new missal translation. He writes about “big question marks over what is proposed and the process by which it came about.” He is clearly disappointed that, despite the way the process is intended to go, “what [the English-speaking bishops] finally voted for will not be the end product.” Bishop Colin has written about this nationally and internationally, and expressed his concerns to the Pope.

The sites and individuals that are so ebullient about the new translation and deprecating of any criticism are effusive about the quality of its grammar and readily mock any criticism as a need to get books like English Grammar for Dummies.

In researching for this post I emailed many such individuals, placed the question (“is this a sentence?”) on facebook pages and private messages, and in comments. The result has been fascinating. I received not a single response. The questions were removed from facebook pages and I was blocked. The question did not pass moderation of the websites and so never appeared on the blog thread.

Either the previous translation was seriously defective and the new one is “objectively” a better translation, or the current translation is received with respect as a Vatican directive, and the previous translation is treated with similar respect having had the same authority previously. If one critiques the previous translation on the basis of quality of translation then, consistently, one can criticise the current translation in the hope that in the future there may again be improvements.

So I repeat: are the following complete, formal sentences, as they are presented in the new Missal translation:

“Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

“Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

The Anglican tradition is to have the collect in the form of one sentence (not a sentence and a fragment). Eg.

Almighty and everliving God,
in your tender love for the human race
you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ
to take upon him our nature,
and to suffer death upon the cross,
giving us the example of his great humility:
Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering,
and also share in his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

IMO this is formally grammatically correct, and the RC Missal translation is grammatically incorrect. What do you think?

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36 thoughts on “is this a sentence?”

  1. If I were to give you a full response it would take many pages, so basically I’ll just say that I agree with your analysis.

    I could probably reword bits of them so they’d be grammatically correct modern English; but no-one would want the rewordings anyway.

    1. Thanks for your agreement. A small reminder – I love your pseudonym, but normal practice on this site (yes, there are some exceptions for particular reasons) is to use our ordinary name. Blessings.

      1. Fair enough. I’ll try to avoid commenting again, then (although my memory is fallible); or maybe just send you a comment directly should that be possible.

        Best wishes for the Paschal season, and good luck in dealing with grammatical failings in liturgies (I fear you’ll need it).

        1. Commenting like this is fine, Chris. So do keep being part of this community. Using our ordinary name appears to help us be respectful towards each other – even when we disagree. I have no problem with disagreement when we are respectful. Blessings.

  2. Wendy Lynne Efird

    YOU, are correct! All of that work to “Perfect” the translation, and they didn’t look at the punctuation. The Catholic Church I go to is “Old” Catholic (Ecumenical Catholic Communion) and they are still using the older translation so, thankfully, we do not have to deal with this. Thanks for this. I will forward this to our priest who is a precision grammar fanatic. Blessings!

  3. Of course, the two are not complete sentences, Bosco. Since you’re not a priest in the RCC, you’re not bound by the no-criticism rule, but you are silenced by those who feel bound by the rule.

    Bishop Campbell may feel freer to criticize than a lowly priest, but I wonder if he may yet find himself in trouble.

    June Butler

  4. The yoohoo argument has been around, Bosco, for a while now. But, I do agree with you that the Anglican language about our relationship with God sounds a little more felicitous – especially if English is supposed to be one’s native language.

    Euphony is as important as the written word.

  5. No, IMHO they are not sentences.
    “Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever” could be read as a question, with the “?” missing!

    A simple way to ‘update’ “O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son,…” would be to omit the ‘have’:
    “O God, who commanded us to listen to your beloved Son,…”

  6. Hugh McCafferty

    From my vague memories of school days (not the happiest of my life I add) those supposed sentences are in fact subordinate clauses.

  7. Let’s see:

    Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering,
    and also share in his resurrection;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord,
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    I’ll agree with you that “through Jesus Christ our Lord…” on its own isn’t a full sentence (and, happy that I am that *something* was done about the translation I grew up with, I’m not particularly happy that *this* was done about it).

    On the other hand, the function of a semicolon, in this context, appears to be “to join together two independent clauses — in other words, it joins two clauses that could be sentences” (see http://web2.uvcs.uvic.ca/elc/StudyZone/410/grammar/colons.htm). The other function a semicolon has is to join an independent clause with a related subordinate clause; however, “through” in this case is clearly a preposition, not a subordinating conjunction. But if the “Through Jesus Christ…” fragment is not a grammatical sentence (a formal independent clause) on its own, then the Anglican version is not “join[ing] together … two clauses that could be sentences,” and thus is not grammatical either — at least, it’s not using the semicolon appropriately. So what *is* the correct approach? Perhaps simply “We ask this through …”?

      1. The semicolon has several uses, not just the two. Is there anywhere a formal, agreed and universally accepted definition of all the varied uses of a semicolon? I doubt it!

        One of its uses is to function as a stronger comma when the text either side already has its own internal commas. One might argue that the Anglican use follows this, because the surrounding clauses include commas; therefore the use of the semicolon is to be a stronger separator than the existing commas.

        Note also in the Anglican use the earlier colon. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture; observe how both the colon and the semicolon function in the context of the complete collect.

        But trumping any detailed personal pedantry about punctuation is the overriding purpose: punctuation is there to serve the existing text, not the other way round.

        These collects are spoken text. The primary purpose of their punctuation is to nudge our navigation of the text, for the understanding not only of the speaker (note, not reader) but also of the listeners. The text that it is punctuating is much more akin to a play or script than to a textbook on urban demographics or the socio-political expansionism of ancient Greece (or Rome).

        So I will agree fully about the craziness of the R.C. example, but I will defend the Anglican use.

        Finally, I would strongly, strongly recommend the book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. She takes a brilliant balance between the tensions of bookish grammatical punctuation and the pragmatic considerations to its actual use in the rough and tumble and real-life usage.

        1. Thanks, David. This makes sense to me.

          As an aside, especially noting your website, one might add to your point that the “collects are spoken text” the tradition that they are sung. I am not sure when singing the liturgy gave way to reciting it, but it is of interest that Maori still tend to sing it here.

          There is a new tendency in NZ Anglicanism, one I don’t condone, of the whole community reciting the collect together from a pew sheet. It is very popular and growing.

          Also sadly, we have long ago abandoned any agreed collect.


          1. Sure; the detail of my “spoken text” includes sung! My main point is that these texts are intended to be used aloud, and in the context of the community, so its punctuation is there to support that public “performance”.

  8. It strikes me as hilarious, Bosco, that you and I, two Anglicans, repeatedly find ourselves compelled to take positions, and apparently always contrary positions, on the liturgical texts of another Christian Communion. 🙂

    What will be obvious to you, but perhaps not to other readers, is that this villainous crime against grammar is in fact a typographical convention of venerable parentage that has in this case been copied directly from the 2002 (Latin) Missale Romanum:

    Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
    qui humano generi, ad imitandum humilitatis exemplum,
    Salvatorem nostrum carnem sumere,
    et crucem subire fecisti,
    concede propitius,
    ut et patientiæ ipsius habere documenta
    et resurrectionis consortia mereamur.
    Qui tecum.

    The words “Qui tecum”, of course, designate the conclusion that is to be added (from memory in the Latin books) to collects addressed to the Father in which the Son is mentioned near the end: “Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.”

    The clause “Qui tecum” is just as much a sentence fragment in Latin as it is in English. But the full stop indicates where the proper text of the collect ends and the formulaic Trinitarian conclusion begins. This simple typographical convention is thus also a visual aid for the priest, and it is used in every Latin missal and breviary that I have ever inspected.

    The use of a full stop also reflects how the collects are musically declaimed. When collects are chanted to the traditional Gregorian tones, the variable text and the Trinitarian conclusion are treated as two distinct sentences, each with its own flex, metrum, and conclusion. (The several tones for the collect at the Mass may be found in the 1974 Graduale Romanum, pp. 800-802, and, more fully, in the 1962 Liber Usualis, pp. 100-102.)

    In liturgical books expressly intended for the sung performance of the liturgy, the musical inflections of the collects are explicitly marked, as in my trusty 1884 Breviarium Monasticum:

    Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui humano generi, ad imitandum humilitatis exemplum, Salvatorem nostrum carnem sumere, et crucem subire fecisti: * concede propitius; + ut et patientiae ipsius habere documenta, et resurrectionis consortia mereamur. Per eundem Dominum.

    (Notice that here, as in the 1962 Missale Romanum, the prayer ends with the “Per eundem Dominum” formula, not “Qui tecum”. The latter appears to have been introduced only with the 2002 revision of the Missal. In my 2000 edition of the Liturgia horarum, this collect ends with the standard “Per dominum” ending, which certainly needed correction.)

    The flex is marked by the asterisk (*) and the metrum by the cross (+). The same signs are used, but in reverse order, in the Liber usualis (+ for flex, * for metrum), where this collect is identically pointed and punctuated (p. 592).

    But these are, in a way, superfluous signs added for the ease of the priest. Why superfluous? Well, does the semicolon after “concede propitius” raise anyone’s blood pressure? Its function here is not grammatical, but formal or musical. It shows where the metrum goes. A colon usually indicates the flex. Thus, the very punctuation of the prayer in the older missals is conceived to assist the intelligent declamation of the text by the priest. (It’s in an odd place here because this collect doesn’t follow the more familiar pattern of “O Lord, who… * grant us … + so that…”.)

    So if I have a complaint about this translation of the collect, it’s not that it puts a full stop before the concluding Trinitarian clause, but that the remainder of the punctuation doesn’t follow the same conventions (a colon for the flex, a semicolon for the metrum). Only commas are used.

    But again, this is not a deficiency in the translation, but in the Latin original that underlies it, which likewise retains only the conventional full stop, ignoring the other conventional punctuation marks. No doubt someone in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was trying to be “contemporvant” (or, as seems occasionally to be the case, was just ignorant).

    So, in short, the punctuation of the translations operates according to the principles governing the Latin originals: the punctuation is not grammatical, but liturgical. And we must bear in mind that these translations are , in many ways, a kind of “icon” of the Latin originals: the translations have no existence or power separate from the originals to which they point.

    We may doubt the value of that approach (and we may certainly stand agape at the bizarre machinations of the Vatican bureaucracy that applied it). But I for one find the new Missal’s prayers refreshing in comparison with the earlier versions, which were certainly “dynamic” but only tenuously “equivalent”.

    Perhaps the new translation is bothering Anglicans so much because we don’t have a “dead-language” version of our prayers to serve as a benchmark for translations. The matter is as much ecclesiological as linguistic. Provincial autonomy will not countenance a global euchological standard. (I’d say that your project of producing your own versions of the traditional collects exemplifies our approach, Bosco.) For Latin-Rite Catholics, every vernacular prayer is largely an attempt to convey, in a local language, the content of the prayers of the local liturgy of the diocese of Rome.

    And on the subject of Anglicans’ way of doing things, we mustn’t forget that we inhabit a glass house on this question. The early BCPs didn’t even bother to indicate in most cases how the Trinitarian clause was to be applied, and so, when all the Mass-trained priests had died, we just assumed that a collect ought to end “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, as is seen not only in the text of the 1662 BCP, but also in commentaries on that revision.

    And in any case I find it dangerous, any more, to invoke “Anglican tradition” as exemplary. It strikes me that the verdict of pseudo-Churchill on “naval tradition” could be easily adapted to describe it — and, if I may risk being misunderstood, with even less adaptation nowadays than in former times…

    1. Thanks, as usual, Jesse.

      First, then, a brief apologia for my making comments about a translation in a Communion that has no oversight over me. The Roman Catholic Church dwarfs Anglicanism internationally and is the primary liturgical rite in the West. Numerically it is the primary Christian liturgical rite – full stop. In NZ it will have about 3-4 times as many people in church than Anglicans tomorrow. Its English-language will inevitably impact English-language liturgy everywhere. Furthermore, I am advocating that Anglicans (eg. in NZ where we don’t) come into line with RCs and pray the same collect on the same day.

      I understand your explanation, Jesse, and it certainly describes a problem for Anglican collects in NZ. As with the BCP, the NZ Prayer Book does not have doxological, Trinitarian conclusions, so that in my book Celebrating Eucharist I end up tentatively advocating

      Collects need to have a clear and consistent mediation (the final section) so that the congregation can respond with their “Amen.” When collects end abruptly without a clear mediation, the leader’s “Amen” often becomes the cue for the congregation’s “Amen.” This not only gives a disheveled effect, but usurps the congregation’s proper role in the prayer.
      A useful guide for this conclusion of the Collect is: “this we ask through Jesus (Christ) your Word/ our Redeemer/ our peacemaker … who lives (and reigns)/ who is alive with you … and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever.”

      NZ Collects, you will be aware, spin the bottle and address whatever random member of the Trinity the bottle stops at. A strong teaching in our province is that by adding the other Persons of the Trinity at the end of such a collect we have suddenly transformed it to a Trinitarian collect!

      You will have seen from a previous comment, that I am retracting the grammatical correctness of the Anglican paradigm – the semicolon is no more correct than the full stop.

      I think.


      1. Yes, I read a while ago that, even in England, on any given Sunday morning there will now be more worshippers in RC churches than in CofE churches.

        We may rejoice, however, that the RC translations, thanks to Liturgiam Authenticam, must now be firmly tethered to their Latin originals. The boat may drift north or south depending on the current, but it will never stray too far from the anchor. And as long as the traditional Prayer Books retain any sort of place in our collective Anglican memory, good taste will never be without some representation.

        As for the semi-colon, can we not agree that it does serve admirably as *liturgical* punctuation? It’s a part of the “Anglican Patrimony” that will, I hope, be part of the ongoing ecumenical exchange of gifts.

        1. “…it will never stray too far from the anchor.”

          Suppose the anchor has been dropped in the wrong place? Wouldn’t so-called “straying” actually become a good idea?

          1. A reasonable question. The Roman editors who produced the reformed Missale Romanum of 1970 did quite a lot of tinkering of their own. They resurrected some fine prayers from the old sacramentaries that had not made it into the Tridentine books, and they “improved” various traditional prayers that seemed, in the 1960s, to have lost some of their “contemporvance”.

            The latter attitude was probably not so helpful. The earliest Roman collects rank among the oldest Christian writings that we possess, after the New Testament. Just as we receive the scriptures as normative, even if they require ongoing study and interpretation, so it seems (to me anyway) that with the liturgy our basic stance ought also to be that it is safer to receive and to interpret what the earliest Christian centuries have bequeathed to us, and not to presume too hastily that we can “improve” it.

            That doesn’t rule out new compositions; but as Bosco informs me about NZ’s proliferation of new prayers, that makes for a lot of chaff to sift.

  9. No, imho those are not sentences. And I agree with Hugh; they are subordinate clauses. The flow from the sentence that precedes the clause is interrupted by incorrect punctuation. There’s not much we can do, beyond telling the authorities to correct it. I am afraid that this could become an endless discussion, and even with grammar being as entertaining as it is I think you guys have lots of better things to do.

  10. We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The translation is not a sentence, and most horridly, separates the prayer from its only source of petition. So of course you are right.

  11. The thing I don’t like about the pause before, e.g., “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, …” is that it’s simply a prepositional phrase – a fancily dressed one, but a simple phrase for all that. I feel that a pause (especially of the order of a full stop) before it makes the task of connecting it to the rest of the sentence much more difficult. Dare I suggest that the Latin was not well written? 😉

  12. Coincidentally, I’ve just seen a punctuation blooper. In this case it was in a printing of a passiontide hymn “Morning glory, starlit sky”. The incorrect punctuation completely changes the meaning of the text.

    This is what I saw:

    Here is God, no monarch he,
    throned in easy state to reign;
    here is God, whose arms of love
    aching, spent, the world sustain.

    Bearing in mind the crucifixion, look at the first two lines. Ugh! Now try this:

    Here is God: no monarch he,
    throned in easy state to reign;
    here is God, whose arms of love
    aching, spent, the world sustain.

    What a difference a well-placed colon makes!

  13. The only way “Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever” could be a complete sentence is if one ended it with a question mark — which certainly would be an odd way to wrap up a prayer, to say the least…

    1. Brilliant, Gregory – I can just imagine someone proclaiming the collect stressing “who” and/or ending the second “sentence” with a rising inflection! Blessings.

  14. Michael Godfrey

    Nevertheless, one of the main movers and shakers of that missal has just been appointed as (RC) Archishop of Brisbane … I’m sure that signifies something?

  15. An American RC priest here. The translation of our new Roman missal is just terrible. We ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon the gifts, “as the dew fall.” I have used it since Advent of last year and it’s next to impossible to read with any sense of meaning.In other words…I hate it. The priest who is mostly responsible for this terrible mess was just made rector of our seminary. “Lord JESUS, save me from your followers.”

    1. Thanks, Fr Lennie, for your comment from experience. Words like “dew” which have regularly-used homophones need to be used with great caution in liturgy. Blessings.

    2. “Dewfall” as a single word might make sense, similar to “rainfall”. There is even a song (or hymn) “Morning has broken” with the line “like the first dewfall on the first grass”, which seems valid enough to me.

      But if the text to which you refer really is “as the dew [space] fall” then it is surely just plain wrong…

  16. The phrase “Who live and reign forever and ever,” said by the priest right before the handshake of peace, has been grating on my ears since the first time I heard it. Some priests change it to “Who lives and reigns forever and ever.” That at least makes it a singular. But the fact is that, either way, it just does not make sense, as it is not a sentence. I talked to one priest friend about it and he now tells me he can’t say it the new way anymore because of me!

  17. I personally have a problem grammatically with “suffered death.” Once a person is dead, there is no more suffering. The former “suffered, died, and was buried” was correct. You cannot suffer death, because suffering occurs when you are alive.

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