Why the new translation of the Mass?
Why change the translation of the Mass?
(Letter to Verne A. Kiular, continued)
Let's look at the actual text
and have fun mocking the
school of language translation.
in the glorious sixties, those heady days after the Second Vatican
Council when, at last everything was going to be just wonderful now
that the Catholic Church had come to its senses and shaken off the
torpor of almost 2,000 years of unbroken tradition, translators of the
liturgical and Biblical texts were, in general, students of the Dynamic
Equivalence School of language translation. I spent many years at
Bathsheba Bible College teaching dead languages to comatose
seminarians, and my students were all followers of the Dynamic
Equivalence School of language translation because most of them were
incapable of translating their way out of a paper bag.
tries to translate the thought of a text, not necessarily its literal
meaning. After all, we want to bring the thoughts of the ancients to
life, and since they were just folks like us, we should translate their
words into modern words and phrases that express their true meaning.
Thus, a Latin phrase like “bene optime” (literally, well best) should
be translated as “groovy.” Oh wait, no one says groovy anymore. The
dynamically equivalent translation of “bene optime” as groovy would
have been dynamic and equivalent for about three hours sometime in the
autumn of 1967. Now it just sounds ridiculous.
translation silliness involves the use of the word “to” instead of “at”
as in the phrase “to hand” instead of “at hand.”
“To hand” was
all the rage for a while because it sounded vaguely British and thus
sophisticated. The problem is that “to” transforms the noun “hand,”
something with fingers, into a verb, having to do with useful things
like duct tape,
“Have you any duct tape at hand?"The
second example leads you to stand there waiting for the person in need
of duct tape to finish the sentence. You may well ask. “To hand to
whom?” as in “Hand duh’ @#$#!@ duct tape to me, you jetrool, so’s I can
shut up ‘dis stool pigeon poimenantly!” as one might say in Chicago.
(“Jetrool” is a colorful local dialect word implying that someone has
the brains of a cucumber.)
..... Is quite different from.....
“Do you have any duct tape to hand?”
Herein lies the first problem with dynamic equivalence.
changes, and American language changes faster than Liz Taylor changed
husbands. (Seven husbands, eight marriages. Richard Burton, ever the
optimist, married her twice.) What was “groovy” then is totally lame
now. And I have the feeling that “totally lame” is soon to be totally
Another fine example of the tendency of American English
to change faster than a two-year-old’s britches is found in that
beloved old Christmas carol that bids us. “don we now our (festive)
apparel... Fa-la-la-la-lah, and mind your own business.” You see, words
change meaning. Dynamic equivalence is a useful translation method for
about two weeks.
When you are trying to translate a document
that is universal and meant to be read for more than two weeks (like
the Bible or the Mass), it is necessary to translate what the words
actually mean. It may take people a little work to find out what words
actually mean, words like “forbear” and “deign.” Scholars thinks that
the unwashed multitude has the brains of a cucumber (c.f. above
“jetrool”) and cannot look anything up.
So herein lies the
second and greater problem with dynamic equivalence. Because they think
you are as stupid as a vegetable, scholars will tell you what the text
means. And surprise, it means what they want it to mean! That’s why
dynamic equivalence was so popular with my students. When one of them
would present me a translation of Cicero’s oration against Cataline
that involved three clowns and a mule, they would say that it was a
“loose” translation and that they were going for what Cicero actually
meant. I am sure that some of my students ended up as liturgical
A whole lot of theological revisionism went on
under the guise of dynamic equivalence. A glaring example is found in
the Gloria: “You take away the SIN of the world: have mercy on us.” The
text should read “You take away the SINS of the world, have mercy on
us.” You will notice, not being cucumbers, that the correct translation
is SINS (plural) not SIN (singular). Plural, shmural? What’s the
difference? Oh, the difference is huge.
I can remember some
theologians waxing eloquent in the glorious sixties about the Cosmic
Christ as elucidated (look it up, jetrool) by Teilhard de Chardin
(1881-1955). Chardin held that humanity is converging toward an Omega
point, a “Christ-consciousness" which will result in the Cosmic
Christ.” Allow me to quote Fr. Chardin, “The world (its value, its
infallibility and its goodness) - that, when all is said and done, is
the first, the last, and the only thing in which I believe.” He
believed in that and apparently believed in the Piltdown Man an
anthropological hoax that tried to prove the bones of the missing link
had been found in England. Fr. Chardin was rather heavily involved in
that particular hoax. I hope things worked out for him.
the Cosmic Christ with Karl Rahner’s Anonymous Christian and you stop
believing in the reality of sins. (Rahner’s concept of the Anonymous
Christian hinted that everybody is a Christian, at least all the nice
people. They just don’t know it. I suspect that a few Jews, Muslims and
Buddhists might take issue with that)
Thus we were led to
believe that there is clearly sin, but there are no sins. That was the
spin put on things by some of my educators. We are all saved because “In Adam all die, and in Christ all are made alive”
(1 Corinthians 15:22 ) There is no personal sin or personal
responsibility. (Well, maybe Hitler and Stalin and all bank vice
Quite a few theological axes were ground under the
banner of dynamic equivalence and what we are doing now is making sure
that the text is genuinely universal and says what the writers said,
not what they supposedly “intended” to say. How do I know what they
intended to say? Have I a crystal ball? When someone declares, “ that’s
what the author meant to say.” I want to ask said translator, “Oh, did
you know him?”
Politically correct language finds a happy home
among the followers of the dynamic equivalence school of translation.
The assumption is that no good person in the past was a racist or a
sexist or any other kind of -ist and definitely not any kind of -phobe.
is always fun to watch people try to explain away the fact that St.
George Washington owned 316 persons of African descent at the time of
his death and that St. Abraham Lincoln actually said “I am not, nor
ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and
political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor
ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of
qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people;
and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference
between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid
the two races living together on terms of social and political
equality.” ( Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas)
modern, and to my lights, humorous, example of the idiocy of political
correctness is to be found in a very beautiful church in the better
part of the Diocese of Frostbite Falls. It was built just when
ecumenism was in its first flower and it was important to make our
Separated Brethren feel comfortable in a Catholic “worship space.”
make things easier for Protestants to swallow and to make Catholicism
more “biblical” the role of Our Blessed Mother had to be de-emphasized.
She needed to discreetly disappear, like some member of the Russian
politburo who was suddenly absent among the dignitaries atop Lenin’s
tomb, waving at the Mayday parade. In the sanctuary of the Church there
is Christ crucified, Christ, the Sacred Heart, and St. Joseph the
Carpenter. Our Blessed Mother was relegated to a hidden side altar, and
the rather discouraged looking, small beige image, was hung to one side
of the altar, to emphasize the unimportance of Catholic devotion to
Mary, the Mother of God. She was demoted from Mother of Church to crazy
old aunt who lives in the attic.
That was the political
correctness of the times. Thank god, that Marian devotion has come
roaring back in the 21st century. Now I look at the sanctuary and,
guess what? No women in the sanctuary. This is, of course, a horrendous
violation of the political correctitude of our the present era. Who
knows what the next course correction the church will have to take in
the never ending quest of theologians to prove that we really are nice
We are a universal church in both time and space. A
universal language, whether it be Latin or Greek or Standard English is
important symbolically, though it may sound a bit quaint in its
vocabulary and phrasing. The liturgy is more than who we are. It is
also who we were and who we will become, because “He is the same yesterday today and tomorrow.” (Hebrews 3:18)
Here To Ask The Reverend Know-It-All A Question
Why the new translation of the Mass?