Thursday, February 25, 2010

Q&A on the new translation of the Mass

One of the things I am working on today is a handout with "frequently asked questions" about the new and improved English translation of the Mass that is forthcoming in the next year or two.

I am aware of many questions people have, and also items of confusion or concern: "what does 'and with your spirit' mean?" and "why will the words of consecration be 'for you and for many' instead of 'for all' as we're used to?"

That last change, I predict, will generate a lot of questions, because the contrast of "many" and "all" leads to disturbing thoughts. But it occurred to me that wouldn't even arise--at least, not with the same intensity--if the translation had been "for many" from the get-go. Then, without any reference to "all," we might instead think of other contrasts...such as, "many" v. "few."

I'm not ready to publish it, but I've gotten started on it and just the exercise helps sharpen my own thoughts.

Perhaps you would care to help?

You can help two ways:

1) Suggest questions you think would be on the minds of ordinary folks, that it would be helpful for someone to answer, and

2) If you know of an article somewhere that provides some scholarly background on these issues--such as "and with your spirit" and "for many," etc., don't assume I know about them. I'd be eager to cite some scholarship, because I'm not in a position to do it myself as a pastor.


Jackie said...


Great project. Here is a question I have already been asked:

WHY do we need a new translation - and the 'it is a more accurate translation' wasn't good enough for them.

Good luck and I sure hope you put it on the blog when you get it done.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Father, I would be happy to email you a digital copy (PDF) of my book, Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People. It addresses the new English translation -- specifically the people's parts -- and explains the changes in the translation. (I'm still working on the book for the priest's prayers.) I can also mail you a complimentary copy.

People will want to know about "and with your spirit". They will want to know about things like "consubstantial" in the Creed, and probably also why we'll say "I believe" instead of "We believe". They'll want to know about the "not worthy that you should enter under my roof". My book addresses all those things and more.

Other resources: check out for explanations about "for many" (pro multis) among other things.

There are also some excellent video/audio resources (with transcripts) at that I recommend.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Oh, my book also address Jackie's question: why do we need a new translation. The Introduction of the book talks about the need for a "sacral vernacular". Elsewhere in the book I address doctrinal accuracy. Also, in certain places in the text, we're catching up in faithfulness to the Latin to languages like Spanish, French, Italian, and German: they all translated "et cum spiritu tuo" properly, actually translating the word "spiritu".

I would also recommend you read the (recently-released) Introduction to my book on the priest's prayers which addresses the need for a better translation as well, especially one which SOUNDS Latin, because it's a vernacular translation of the LATIN Rite! Read that introduction online here.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks! I'll get back to you!

Mama said...

I guess one of my questions would be - why at all? What I mean is, why is it SO important that the translation be "accurate"? The Mass is what it is - the sacrifice of Christ for us. Do the words change that? I can almost understand the words being changed to make me pay more attention to what I am saying, but even with the "correct" translation, who is to say that in 40 more years someone won't say that it isn't right?

Each time I say a prayer, they may have different meanings for me. One time "give us this day our daily bread" may mean thank you God for providing for me and my family. And, at another time it may mean "OK God, I really need you to tell me what to do".

Each prayer is subjective and I don't feel changing will make that big of a difference to me.


Dad29 said...

The 'many/all' question is a lot of fun.

"Many" is the literal translation of "multis", whereas "all" would be the literal translation of "omnibus" The Latin uses "multis" so 'many' is the better word.

However, Card. Ratzinger also made it VERY clear that "all" is a valid expression of Faith, as the Sacrifice most certainly is 'sufficient for all.'

"Many", on the other hand, requires us to remember the need for conversion, confession, and forgiveness.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

"why is it SO important that the translation be accurate?"

Because the "law of prayer" and "law of belief" are interwoven.

If the words we pray do not get across the sacrificial nature of the Mass, it's likely people will forget about it or come to believe that the Mass is NOT a sacrifice. If the things we profess about God in the Creed are inaccurate, we will start believing the wrong things about God; for instance, we might believe that Jesus only "became man" at His birth ("was born of the Virgin Mary and became man") rather than at His incarnation ("was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man"), which are two different moments in time (birth vs. conception).

"even with the 'correct' translation, who is to say that in 40 more years someone won't say that it isn't right?"

Any translation will suffer defects, yes, and there may be another, more finely-tuned translation in several decades, but this new translation is using a particular style of language which is not intended to require frequent tinkering to "keep with the times".

"One time 'give us this day our daily bread' may mean 'thank you God for providing for me and my family'. And, at another time it may mean 'OK God, I really need you to tell me what to do'."

And yet, if some translator had decided 40 years ago to translate "panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie" as "thank you, God, for providing for us", then that might stop others from connecting with the TRUE intent of the ACTUAL words more deeply.

In other words, the translation should faithfully convey the words being translated so that the variation and depth of personal interpretation can remain.

BRCincy said...

I do hope that this is something that you would be willing to share with your brother priests and pastors Fr. Martin.

Also, I would be interested in having a look at the books about the people's and priests' parts Jeff.

Looking forward to the implementation of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal.

Fr. Reif

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Fr. Reif (and Fr. Fox), if you email me (author AT prayingthemass DOT com), I can send you a PDF of the book on the people's prayers. If you supply me with a mailing address, I'll ship you a complimentary hard copy. (I'd also appreciate a good word given to your parishioners if you like the book!)

The book on the priest's prayers will not be completed until closer to the end of this year.

Fr. Bryan T. Reif said...

Thanks Jeff.

Fr. Reif

Fr Martin Fox said...


I'd be delighted to have your book, in any format you want to send it.

You can send it to this email: (FYI, I don't check this regularly--I'll just check it for this).

Fr. Zuhlsdorf o{]:¬) said...

I wrote about all these issues extensively - years ago - in The Wanderer. Much of what I wrote is also online.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Father John:

Good reminder.

TomM said...

Adoremus Bulletin has a number of articles regarding the new translation. Here, for example, is a link to a letter from Cardinal Arinze specifically dealing with pro multis.

Anonymous said...

There may be some specific content questions, but I think the background questions are important, as some readers are noting:
--Why make any changes? Why now? Rebut preemptively the argument of the "What if we said wait?" petition.
--How did these changes come about? How long have the USCCB and other English-speaking nations been working on this?
--What is wrong with every day English? Explain that the quality of the language, while not everyday, is appropriate and elevates the liturgy and the mysteries of the Mass.
Well, you get the idea.

Good service for your parishioners. God bless you!

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

As someone whose first experience with the Mass was the old Latin one, I can testify that some of the examples of phrases in the "new" translation [many vs. few; and with your spirit; Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof...] are word for word what was on the English side of my missal before the current translation came out. And this is a much more accurate translation of the Latin.

BTW, I heard that Catholic Answers ( is working on a handout about the new translation, so they may have some info for you.

Theresa Dearie said...

Adoremus Bulletin has interesting two-part article on the implementation of English in the liturgy called “The Day the Mass Changed.”

I was born in 1968, but my parents and other members of my family recall that English was used in the Mass prior to the publication of 1970 Roman Missal. They recall using in English the words "and with your Spirit,"; "Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed"; and "through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault".

Many want to know "Why will we say 'and with your Spirit'?" The USCCB website offers an explanation :
W[hat] does the priest mean when he says “The Lord be with you”?
By greeting the people with the words “The Lord be with you,” the priest expresses his desire that the dynamic activity of God’s spirit be given to the people of God, enabling them to do the work of transforming the world that God has entrusted to them.

What do the people mean when they respond “and with your spirit”?
The expression et cum spiritu tuo is only addressed to an ordained minister. Some scholars have suggested that spiritu refers to the gift of the spirit he received at ordination. In their response, the people assure the priest of the same divine assistance of God’s spirit and, more specifically, help for the priest to use the charismatic gifts given to him in ordination and in so doing to fulfill his prophetic function in the Church.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

Remember that most people aren't even aware that a translation is coming.

Most of them are also not aware of the degree of controversy that has surrounded this event, ie. websites for stalling and all that. Most of them will either a) never be aware of it, or b) wouldn't believe it anyway.

For most people in the pews, the biggest hurdle will be using the new words--ie reading from a missal instead of using the words they already know. Period.

As a later consequent to that: It will take some time for people to delve into the comparative meanings between the two texts, I think, ie for many and for all.

Some of the differences will show up sooner than others too--probably precisely the ones that carry the most common-sense-framework baggage. Ie, Catholics don't get the word "hosts" in the context of worship, and Catholics won't get the words "for many" instead of "for all." I pick out these because out there on the street the church is understood commonly as a passive and pacific enterprise, and many people think everyone should be saved, even dogs. Ahem.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and people may accept the literal translation of "and with your spirit" rather smoothly, except for the fact they don't really have any idea what it means anymore.

Show the words "et cum spiritu tuo," "and with your spirit" atop each other. They'll see it. Then contrast "And also with you." It's different.

But then the real fun comes. Explain what "and with your spirit" means, and why it's in the Mass in the first place.