how language develops

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 07, 2006

Bishop Joseph Adamec of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania, has penned a fascinating explanation of the new Mass translation approved by the US bishops' conference. The key point, he argues, is "that there is nothing here over which to get upset."

Yup. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Put that envelope in that collection basket, and be careful in the parking lot when you leave.

The new translation was required, Bishop Adamec explains, because of the shifting usage of English. "Latin is much more precise, and it is that original text to which we Bishops must strive to be authentic as to the meaning and understanding." He adds, helpfully, that the new translations like "And with your spirit" are not novelties; they will be familiar to those who used a Latin-English missal in the old days.

True enough. But then how did we stumble across the inaccurate translations now in use?

Were the American Bishops wrong in adopting the translation of the Mass that we use today? No.

You saw that one coming, didn't you? American bishops-- excuse me, American Bishops-- do not make mistakes, although sometimes, due to sadly skewed media coverage, people with a less precise grasp of the facts might think they detect an error.

So when the new translation is put in place, will everything be hunky-dory? Ah, now don't move too quickly. There are nuances, you know:

Will Roman Catholics in the United States ever have to go through this again some day? It is most likely that they will. That is due simply to the fact that languages change.

Aha! We have been enlightened. Languages change. It's not the Latin that is changing, of course; it's the imprecise English.

Back in the 1950s, "Et cum spiritu tuo" meant "And with your spirit." That changed in the 1960s, and for a generation or so, it meant "And also with you." But now the English language has evolved its way back, and it means "And with your spirit again." Similarly, "Credo" meant "I believe," shifted to "We believe," and has now reverted to the old meaning.

Thank goodness that the American Bishops, so perceptive in noting the "signs of the times," have kept abreast of these changes in the English language. Funny thing is, the high-school Latin teachers never noticed.

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  • Posted by: - Jul. 08, 2006 7:33 AM ET USA

    Common sense says that this is not about language but it is about the heresy of modernism...of course that was left out of American Bishops formation so how could they know?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 8:38 PM ET USA

    I'd only known Mass in English. Then, we moved to Norway where I went to daily Mass in Norwegian. As a stranger in a strange land, I could have been completely united in worship with people who were different from me in grand and sometimes perplexing ways, if Mass were in Latin. Latin is foreign to the everyday life of all humanity. Latin is set apart and commonly used today only in Holy Mass. Let's see--set apart for the purposes of God--that's the definition of Holy. Holy Mass. Hmm.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jul. 07, 2006 5:27 PM ET USA

    I beg your pardon but when I advertised in the Latin websites needing a new Latin teacher, I received no fewer than 5 applications from people who already had a job. Does that mean that 30-50% of the nation's Latin teachers are looking to move? Not at all. In this city alone there are 30-40 Latin teachers, and they are in demand.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 4:32 PM ET USA

    If this continuing discourse on the translation of the Mass demonstrates anything, it is the folly of allowing the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular. Unity of worship--what was once a hallmark of Catholicism--has been destroyed and will never be restored unless the Church returns her mother tongue to prominence. At the very least, the Canon (the real one, not the fakes that are normative today), and the original words of consecration (including the “mysterium fidei”), out to be in Latin.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 3:50 PM ET USA

    I think that the real conflict takes place at a level that is deeper than Latin grammar. Take the mistranslation of "Credo" as "We believe". In the Tridentine Mass this simple verb introduced a personal testimony of belief, with the understanding that it is literally impossible for an individual to testify to the belief of anyone but himself. "I believe" is both correct Latin and is something an individual can actually affirm. "We believe" sounds nice, but carries in it a structural falsehood.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 1:48 PM ET USA

    Maybe the bishops should invite Bill Clinton to explain the variations in meaning a word could have. He made as much sense as some of their interpretations. Even better, simply go back to 1963 's version of the Mass. Forget about the tragic revisions that followed. Pick the liturgy up from that point as if nothing had happened.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 1:18 PM ET USA

    The "new" translations are important in themselves as a 1st step back towards the outward expression of the sacred in the Mass and the Sacraments. But there is also an underlying contest of wills and the USCCB is the one who blinked. A new day has begun.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 12:02 PM ET USA

    At a used book sale recently I picked up a copy of the 1966 "Peoples Mass" missal. The 1966 missal and the current ICEL proposal are very similar, even considering that the 1966 missal preceeds the Novus Ordo. And for the liturgical music folks... there already exists musical mass settings for the new (old) english translations. I found them in this 1966 missal. You can read the lamentations concerning mass musical settings at:

  • Posted by: Charles134 - Jul. 07, 2006 11:21 AM ET USA

    This isn't the worst thing Adamec's ever done. The post does make me wonder, "When does romanitas rise to the level of (sinful) lying?"

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Jul. 07, 2006 11:02 AM ET USA

    "What we have is a linguistic difficulty, particular to English." Of course, if we celebrated in Latin (the mother tongue of the Church) there would be no "linguistic difficulty." Leo, I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but in Richmond, Virginia, there is actually a very vibrant community of teachers and others interested in Latin. They have an annual convention that attracts upwards of 500 Latin students from across the state.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 10:23 AM ET USA

    I thought Bishop Adamec's piece was OK - no, it was good. Pehaps a bit apologetic (charitable) on the history, but certainly not out of spirit on the intent for restoration of authenticity. I am unfamiliar with this Bishop, so I've no idea whether he's consistent in his fidelity. I see no heterodoxy in this article.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 10:13 AM ET USA

    High school Latin teachers? There may be 10-15 left in the entire US. At least the Bishop of Altoona is defending the new translation, not sapping at it like that bishop from Florida.