The fourth “highlight” of the new Roman Missal I will give for our reflection regards the manner of translation itself.
In composing the new missal, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) embraced the school of translation known as “formal correspondence” over the “dynamic equivalence” school, which had been employed in crafting the 1973 Sacramentary. The result is that the thoughts, words, and sentiments of the original Latin are captured and conveyed with tremendous fidelity in the new English texts. This fidelity has revealed a wealth of theology and traditional piety in many of the new prayers that was either less clear or missing altogether in the former translation.
I shall present only two of the abundant examples—one from the Proper of the Mass, and one from the Ordinary of the Mass. The Proper prayers are those that change so as to pertain to the particular feast being celebrated. In the following table, compare the Latin original of the proper prayers for the memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus with the two different English translations:
As I prayed these prayers from the new missal for the first time on January 3rd, I was struck nearly dumb, literally. Not only their intrinsic elegance captivated me, but also the fantastic manner in which they demonstrate a form of traditional Catholic piety that is too often ignored.
What I mean is this. If you look closely at the Latin, you will notice that the prayers nowhere include the name, Iesu. This brilliant reservation of the Divine Name on its very feast is an expression of the piety that has inspired generations of Catholics to be solicitous in their use of the only Name that saves (cf., Acts 4:12). The prayers, themselves, teach us by their nuance to revere the Holy Name.
The translators who created the Sacramentary (actually, in this case, its companion “Supplement”) chose, as you see, to insert the Lord’s Name in each of the three orations. While there is nothing heinous nor heretical about this decision, it unfortunately did not allow the piety so beautifully intended by the Latin to be appreciated at English Masses. The 2011 Roman Missal, contrariwise, has carefully withheld the usage of the Divine Name in its translation of these prayers and so restored the practice and piety of so many years. I find this effort (and all such efforts) to reclaim our Catholic heritage praiseworthy.
The second example I shall present is a response that occurs as part of a dialogue with the priest (or bishop or deacon) five times during the course of Holy Mass. It is an ancient exchange, recorded at least as early as the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus in AD 215. In its original Latin, the response is:
Et cum spiritu tuo.
In the former Sacramentary, the phrase had been translated:
And also with you.
Now, in the newly translated Roman Missal, the response is given:
And with your spirit.
Herein, one can see a clear illustration of the difference between “dynamic equivalence” and “formal correspondence.” As small as this change in English may seem, it is a very important change.
By greeting the people with the words, “The Lord be with you,” the priest makes a profound statement. He expresses his desire that the dynamic activity of God’s Spirit be poured out on the people of God, enabling them to go about the work of transforming the world, which God has entrusted to them through Baptism.
The response of the people, “And with your spirit,” is equally profound. It refers specifically to the unique gift of the Spirit given to a bishop, priest, or deacon at ordination. This, then, is a prayer of the people for the celebrant. It asks that the priest might use the charismatic gifts he received at ordination and, in so doing, fulfill his ecclesial, prophetic role. Notably, therefore, this exchange is addressed only to an ordained minister. Whereas it may have seemed appropriate to respond, “And also with you,” to a lay person, the fidelity of the new translation helps to clarify that this call and response has always been and continues to be reserved for situations between an ordained minister and a congregation.
The orations for the memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and the response, “And with your Spirit” are fine examples of translation by “formal correspondence.” This method of translation, we have endeavored to show, carries the benefit of preserving the wealth of theology and traditional piety inherent in the prayers of the Roman Rite. In these and similar instances, it is remarkably true that fidelity of translation reveals subtlety of theology.