The Art of Pastoral Translation, Part Three

Some Results from Applying the Principles of Liturgiam Authenticam

Because of the limits on our time, I cannot offer for each of the principles I reported above an example of what is achieved by applying it. So, I have selected four that help us understand how applying the principles of LA yields what we will say or hear at Mass in the relatively near future.

  1. Let us take our first example from the first lines of the First Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon. That seems an appropriate place to begin.

    You and I are accustomed to hearing the first lines of the prayer in this translation: "We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice. We offer them for your holy catholic Church." The translation for these lines to appear in the next edition of the Missal runs: "To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you first of all for your holy catholic Church."8

    The contrast between the older and new versions is striking, and exemplifies the application of a number of LA's principles.

    1. There are elements of the original not accounted for in the current translation, but these are made present in the new one, as we earlier noted that LA requires.9 One of these elements is in primis, that the offering is made in primis "first of all" for the Church.

    2. Similarly, the current translation leaves illibata, in the phrase sacrificia illibata, untranslated, while the new one, as you heard, speaks of "unblemished sacrifices.10

    3. And a third parallel to the contrast between the current and the new translation on this point is that the new translation, unlike the current one, does not forgo translating clementissime, "merciful" as an attribute of the Father. Further, this move gives attention, as LA requires, to those "words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God's majesty, his power, his mercy and his transcendent nature."11

    4. In our earlier consideration of "Syntactical Principles," we noted that LA specifies that the connection between various expressions which are made in the original are to be preserved in the translation.12 The new translation meets this objective by translating igitur, "therefore," as the third word of the Canon, thereby disclosing that the sacrifice is made to the Father because of what the priest and the people have testified to in the Preface and the Sanctus. The current translation leaves this link in obscurity.

    5. Also among LA's "Syntactical Principles" is, as we said above, a call for the preservation in a translation of the repetitions found in the original.13 In this Latin text we are reviewing there is a form of repetition in the string of three synonyms for our offering: dona, munera, sacrificia. The new translation, as you heard, preserves this repetition in speaking of "gifts," "offerings" and "sacrifices." By contrast, the current translation turns this trio of nouns into a noun modified by a relative clause: " we sacrifice."

  2. For our second example, let's look at the Trinitarian formula that ends the first oration at Mass, the Collect.

    In the more typical of its two current forms it goes: "We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever." However, many other instances of this formula, instead of beginning with "We ask this through..." start with "Grant this through...". If the proposed new translation is accepted we would instead hear: "Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever."14

    1. The first comment I want to make about this text is that the current translation would not meet the standard of the sixth "Global Principle" mentioned above: "The translation should not restrict the full sense of the original text within narrower limits."15 In the conclusion of the Collect, the original Latin makes no specification about whether our petition is made through Christ or would be granted through Christ. By avoiding this specification the Latin text has us look in both directions simultaneously, to see that Christ's mediation works in two ways. The new translation, by following the original, gives us the same guidance.

    2. A second notable difference between the current translation of the Collect's conclusion and that of the new translation is that the former handles the Latin's mention of the Son living and reigning in unitate Spiritus Sancti by affirming the unity of the Holy Trinity: "One God, forever and ever," it says. According to LA's principles, the current translation would seem to be deficient in this instance by virtue of its "inexactness" and its "inventiveness."16 In failing to speak of the unitas Spiritus Sancti, the "unity of the Holy Spirit," the current text gives no hint of the truth evoked by the original: viz, that the Holy Spirit is the bond of communion between the Father and the Son, and that this communion, which is presented and opened to us through our unity in ecclesial communion,17 is the locus for the living and reigning of Christ. Important aspects of the mysteries of the Trinity and the Church are left absent by the current translation, but are presented to us by the new.

  3. For a third example, I want to turn to a short text which has received a great deal of attention in remarks about the new translation: "Et cum spiritu tuo." This is, of course, the people's response to the greeting of the priest or deacon.

    This change, perhaps because it so directly affects such a prominent element of the people's parts at Mass, has been the object of a lot of discussion. At the risk of over-simplifying, I will summarize the two contrasting views in this way: One group of scholars holds that "with your spirit" is a particular Hebrew turn of phrase and simply means that the speaker returns the greeting offered. According to this view "And also with you" expresses exactly what "Et cum spiritu tuo" means. The other group argues that the phrase has a deep theological significance.

    To show that this second view is not held simply for the sake of picking a quarrel, I note that the renowned theologian, Yves Congar, can be brought to bear to support it. In his magisterial study on the Holy Spirit, he cites approvingly the work of another scholar who, he tells us, claims that the words of the liturgical formula et cum spiritu tuo not simply mean: "And with you," which would be no more than an exchange of religious wishes helping to create the space of celebration. They mean more than this. The formula "The Lord is (be) with..." is frequently used in the Old Testament and is often concerned with an action that has to be done according to God's plan and is connected with the presence of the Spirit in the one who has to perform this action. In the New Testament and early Christianity, the Spirit is particularly active in prayer and the worshipping assembly. In the brief dialogue between the minister and the community recorded by Hippolytus (Apostolic Tradition, 4: 7; 22; 26), the presence of the Spirit has to be ensured so that the liturgical action can take place; hence, the words: "The Lord be with you," gifted as you are for that purpose with the charism of the Spirit. According to the Fathers, the necessary charism was conferred on the priest at ordination. Nothing, however, takes place automatically, and every spiritual activity requires an epiclesis.18

    According to this understanding, et cum spiritu tuo is, then, a sort of epiclesis; by it the people are invoking the Holy Spirit upon their priest so that he may effectively accomplish his ministry as celebrant.

    The new translation, unlike the one we now use, takes no side in this debate, but by a more exact translation it avoids restricting the meaning of the English text to limits that are narrower than those set up by the Latin.19 In this way the English does not stumble into jettisoning an important witness to the ecology of grace.

  4. As a fourth example,
  1. I simply want to report to you that in the translation of the Missal prepared according to the norms of LA, we will see the return of such important words in the Catholic vocabulary as "grace," "soul," and "charity."

  2. In connection with this point I would also add that the word consubstantialis – from that line in the Creed affirming the Son's relationship with the Father – is being translated as "consubstantial" rather than either of the proposed alternatives, "one in substance" or "one in being."


  1. The Latin original to be made present by means of these translations is: Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas hæc dona, hæc munera, hæc sancta sacrificia illibata, in primis, quæ tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica...
  2. See LA, 20; cited at 3.A.1, above.
  3. See ibid.
  4. LA, 25; cited at 3.B.2, above.
  5. See LA, 57; cited at 3.C.1.a ,above.
  6. See LA, 59; cited at 3.C.2, above.
  7. The Latin original to be made present by means of these translations is: Per Dominum nostrum, Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
  8. LA, 32; cited at 3.A.6, above.
  9. See LA, 20: cited at 3.A.1 and 5, above.
  10. See Lumen gentium, 1.
  11. I Believe in the Holy Spirit, trans. David Smith (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997). Vol. I: The Holy Spirit in the 'Economy': Revelation and Experience of the Spirit, pp. 36-37. The name of the scholar cited by Congar is W.C. van Unnik.
  12. See LA, 32, cited at 3.A.6, above.