13 June meeting: Translating the Mass: Language and Theology

Discussion leader: Dr. Phillip Eichorn

In 2011 English-speaking Catholics encountered a new English translation of the Mass of Paul VI.  There were noticeable changes in the prayers said by the priest (including the Eucharistic Prayers), but from the perspective of the people in the pews the most noticeable changes were in the words and phrases they’d become accustomed to saying over the previous 40 years.

One of the most noticeable changes was in the response to the priest’s invitation, ‘Let us pray.’  Instead of ‘And also with you’, the people were now expected to say ‘And with your spirit’—as in fact, they would have done in pre-1973 vernacular versions of the Mass.

But why these changes?  Why a new translation at all?

It may well be that the 1973 translation had certain shortcomings (which we will discuss), but not everyone has been pleased with its replacement.  Some have pointed out that another translation was prepared and finalised in 1998, but was never approved for use.

Background reading for this discussion:

General learning sites on the ‘Translation theory’:

  • A very quick introduction to this complex subject
  •  Two concepts to be familiar with are ‘functional’ and ‘dynamic equivalence’.  
  • When Martin Luther translated Romans 3:28 , he applied what today would be called dynamic equivalence.  He had his own  defence of his approach in his ‘Open Letter’, 
  • Primary sources:
    • For a concise table comparing selected portions of the 1973, 1998 and 2011 translations, see here.  Notice that the people’s parts are virtually the same in the 1973 and 1998 translations.  Unfortunately the original Latin text is not provided here—but see below.
    • The 1998 English translation, which was never put into use, is available in its entirety here.  This consists of 4 very large files, but I’d recommend at least looking at the Introductory Prayers starting at PDF p. 432 of Volume 1.  You’ll notice that some of these don’t occur in the Latin original at all:  they’re completely new compositions.  You may also want to read at least some of the explanatory text such as the Foreword (Vol 1, starting PDF p.15).
    • Of course, it’s difficult to assess translations without reference to the original text. The complete Latin text of the current Mass of Paul VI (2002 edition) is hard to find, but a link to the entire 1975 edition is here.  The Introductory Rites start at the beginning of the second file (which is p.735 of Volume 1).
  • You may also be interested in looking at this vernacular version of the Mass that was used in many English speaking countries between 1965 and 1973.  This was essentially an English version of the Mass of Pius V (the ‘Tridentine Mass’), with a few omissions.  How do prayers said aloud by the people, like the Confiteor, Gloria and Creed, compare to translations later used when the new Missal of Paul VI was issued in English?
  • For more additional reading please contact Dr Philip Eichorn