God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

A Culture of Convolution

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops started their semi-annual meeting today, and among the topics up for vote is the new English text of the Missal. (Bishop Trautman has been vocal about the shortcomings of the new translation, as summarized here and critiqued here.)

So I took a look at some of the proposed changes. They include:


  • “accept this oblation of our service” (instead of “accept this offering”) — the choice of “oblation” has been criticized on the grounds that people won’t know what it means.
  • “order our days in your peace” (I think instead of “grant us your peace in this life”) — I have to admit that I don’t know what “order our days” means.
  • “chalice of my blood” (was “cup of my blood”)
  • “Mary ever-Virgin” (was “Mary, ever virgin,”) — though I understand the point, I don’t think English capitalization works this way.
  • “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.” (was “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”) — the punctuation needs fixing, and I wonder about “behold him who….”

All of these seem to be moving away from standard English syntax, vocabulary, and rules of punctuation and capitalization. (There is an exception. The change from “we celebrate this eucharist” to “we celebrate these mysteries,” though it seems odd to me, is a move toward understandable English.) This pattern is particularly surprising in light of Article 21 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which demands words that “express more clearly the holy things which they signify.” What we see here is a (probably deliberate) move away from that Vatican II position.

At any rate, in this context we can hardly be surprised that Bible translations, too, end up in non-English English — and that some people can’t even tell the difference. (“My Bible sounds just like my liturgy.”)

I think we also have to ask: at what point do we call all of this “non-English English” a separate but valid English dialect?

[Update: Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman has some thoughts on The Catholic Liturgical Controversy and Why We All Have a Stake in It (April 21, 2011)]

[Update 2: I just participated in a symposium about the Missal at Fordham University (“Letting Us Pray: A Symposium on Language in Liturgy”). There’s a participant’s review here. (April 18, 2012)]

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Off Topic, translation theory | , , , | 7 Comments