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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Malpractice in translation

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 15, 2020

Did you hear the Stabat Mater today, as a sequence for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows? The latest translation is a spectacular piece of butchery.

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The rhyme scheme is simple and consistent, so that you can’t help but notice it:

  • …keeping
  • …weeping
  • …last
  • …sharing
  • …bearing
  • …passed
  • …distressed
  • …blessed
  • …One
  • …hangs
  • …pangs
  • …Son

And so on, until the old translation calls for the use of a word that the compleat contemporary liturgist cannot make himself use. So the result is:

Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.

And then later:

Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request!
Let me share your grief divine.
Let me to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death,
Of that dying Son of yours.

[Emphasis added in both cases, since the reader’s eye won’t necessarily see the loud “clunk” that the listener’s ear can’t miss.]

Here the compleat contemporary liturgist is faced with a choice: He can use the words “thee” and “thine,” or he can suck the beauty out of the poetry. It’s no contest. Beauty loses; ideology wins.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 20, 2020 7:01 PM ET USA

    Trouble is, there are many more words that rhyme with "thine" than rhyme with "yours".

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - Sep. 20, 2020 2:20 PM ET USA

    I don't know about you, but I sing the songs as they should be sung, to heck with the hymnal. That includes "Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel," and "Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth."

  • Posted by: margaretinvirginia - Sep. 16, 2020 1:32 PM ET USA

    This bothered me so much yesterday! The translators must think we are stupid, and could not understand "thee" and "thine." The same thing was inflicted on the Pentecost Sequence; annoys me every year.

  • Posted by: wacondaseeds4507 - Sep. 15, 2020 1:03 PM ET USA

    This has always bothered me, since it serves as a distraction first from the flow and then from the sentiments of the poetry. I have assumed this was due to some liturgical mandate forbidding the thee, thou, thy, and thine that had been commonly used in the past. At a retreat in the 1990s, a priest insisted that the Hail Mary be thus reworded into modern English. At first I went along, but then it seemed too ordinary. The old English sets prayer off as a special devotional use of the language.