Commentary on the new Mass translation by a Bible translator

I’m in favor of a form of the Mass which allows priests and local Bishops some latitude to change the form, within certain limits. I don’t see any reason why the 1 billion Catholics in the world must all say exactly the same words, must sit, stand, or kneel at exactly the same time, etc. Formerly, there was too much experimentation with the Mass, but now, there is too little.

I also favor having multiple forms of the Mass, not just the current Mass translation and the Latin Mass. I think that Anglican converts are permitted to use an Anglican form of the Mass still. I know that was formerly the case.

There is no principle of dogmatic or moral theology that requires only one or two forms, or that disallows any variation from place to place or time to time.

I believe that the Protestant Churches will repent and convert and unite with the Catholic Church. (The process begins in the late 2010’s and is completed in the early 2020’s.) When that happens, there will be at least several different approved forms of the Mass: one for Anglican Catholics, one for Baptist Catholics, one for Lutheran Catholics, etc.

I also find it disconcerting, and more than a little dishonest, when certain Catholic priests, lay leaders, and online commentators expound at great length about the glories of the new Mass translation (NMT), as if finally we have reached perfection in the Mass. They also tend to denigrate the previous Mass translation in the process. It is not true that the new translation is so much greater than the older one. They are simply cheerleading for whatever decisions the fallible temporal authority of the Church makes.

In my opinion, now that I have attended a number of new translation Masses, the new is a little better in a few ways, and a little worse in a few ways, than the old translation. And it is certainly not the vast improvement that some cheerleaders are making it out to be.

Here is a list of the changes in the people’s parts of the new Mass translation: People’s Parts [PDF]

NMT Greeting/Closing

And also with you
changed to:
And with your spirit

This wording is found in several different the Epistles. However, some persons might not understand what ‘spirit’ means. In some contexts, it can mean soul; it can refer to angelic spirits (good or bad). But typically in Scripture it refers to the close cooperation of body and soul in life. So the human person is body and soul, but these two things are united so thoroughly in life that when they work cooperatively together we use a third term: spirit.

[Hebrews]
{4:12} For the Word of God is living and effective: more piercing than any two-edged sword, reaching to the division even between the soul and the spirit, even between the joints and the marrow, and so it discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
So the new wording is somewhat obscure. If ‘with your spirit’ is claimed to refer only to the soul, then it is problematic for us to say that the Lord should be with the celebrant only in his soul. Therefore, I suggest that the above explanation, spirit as the union and cooperation of body and soul, is the correct one.

NMT Penitential Act (Form A)

I have sinned
changed to:
I have greatly sinned

Many of the changes to the wording are evaluated based on subjective criteria, such as how easily the wording will be understood by the average lay person. But this change to the wording has a theological problem. Not all persons at Mass have sinned greatly. Mortal sins are grave; they are great sins. But venial sins were called ‘light and daily’ by the Council of Trent. Theologically, it is not accurate or even correct to say that someone with only venial sins on his or her conscience has greatly sinned. And certainly some persons at Mass, despite the sinfulness of the current age, have only venial sins on the conscience. They have in fact NOT sinned greatly. So the problem is that this wording requires many of the faithful to utter a lie. And the teaching of the Magisterium is that lying is intrinsically evil and always immoral.

Now I’m sure that the cheerleaders for the NMT will invent some type of explanation as to why this new wording is the best possible. But their explanations are dishonest. They do not objectively evaluate the new wording. Instead, they unthinkingly assume that all changes made were the best possible choices, and then devise an explanation as to why it is so wonderful. But they thereby imply, and sometimes also state, that the older wording was deeply flawed.

My view is that both the older and the newer translations are imperfect. The only perfect Mass is eternal life with God in Heaven. The Mass is merely an imperfect reflection of that life.

through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;

These added words have the same problem. Some persons at Mass, having only venial sins, do not have a ‘grievous fault’. In fact, in order to obtain a plenary indulgence, a persons must be free from any attachment even to any venial sin. Since the Church often offers plenary indulgences to the faithful, She therefore believes (as I do) that many of the faithful are not attached even to venial sin. Such persons have not “greatly sinned” through a “most grievous fault”. The use of “most” with “grievous” makes this expression only fitting to mortal sin, or to a fault that leads to mortal sin. So some members of the Church cannot say these words in all honesty.

Penitential Act (Form B)

Priest: Lord, show us your mercy and love.
changed to:
Priest: Show us, O Lord, your mercy.

This form lacks the grave problem of requiring some persons to utter a falsehood. But it removes the word “love” from the penitential act. Why? The faithful should be contrite for any sins they have committed, ideally with perfect contrition: sorrow out of true love for God. Dropping the word “love” from the penitential act is a worsening of the wording, not an improvement.

Gloria

peace to his people on earth
changed to:
on earth peace to people of good will

This change is a minor improvement in the wording. The former wording might have been misunderstood as only referring to Christians and Jews. The new wording extends the offer of peace to all who are cooperating with grace, i.e. to all persons of good will.

The other changes and addition to the Gloria are not problematic. They are, in my opinion, neither an improvement or a worsening.

Nicene Creed

eternally begotten of the Father
changed to:
born of the Father before all ages

Now we return to the problem of changes in the NMT that have theological problems. Some of the changes to the translation of the Creed are a wash, neither an improvement nor a detriment. But this change is at best misleading, at worst a theological error. The Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, proceeds from the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, eternally. So procession in the Trinity is not a past event. It did not occur at a certain point, neither within time, nor before time began. It is an ever-present-tense event. The Son is eternally proceeding from the Father, not as an event stretched out in time, but as a timeless event that is always true. The term ‘eternally begotten’ expresses this dogmatic truth concisely and accurately.

The term ‘born of the Father before all ages’ makes it seem as if the Son were begotten of the Father at a certain point, before time began. If any of the faithful were to hold to such a view, it would be a serious theological error. Although we can charitably interpret this inaccurate wording so as to refer to eternal procession of the Son from the Father, that meaning is not so much stated by the wording as (perhaps) implied.

Perhaps the intention of the new wording was to make the phrasing more accessible to the general laity. But if so, that accessibility was obtain at the cost of a wording that suggests a grave theological error.

one in Being with the Father
changed to:
consubstantial with the Father

The new wording is theologically accurate, but so was the older wording. The substance of God is His Divine Nature; it is His Being. The Father, Son, and Spirit are consubstantial because they have one and the same Divine Nature. The difference between the two wordings is that the older wording was more accessible to the general laity. Most are not familiar with the theological term ‘consubstantial’. So they are uttering words that they do not understand. This is not an improvement.

acknowledge one baptism
changed to:
confess one Baptism

The older wording is more clear to the average lay persons. The use of the term ‘confess’ to mean ‘acknowledge’ is archaic. Some persons might be confused as to why ‘confess’ is used to refer to baptism, rather than to Confession.

Apostles’ Creed

He descended to the dead
changed to:
he descended into hell

Many persons claim that Jesus only descended to the deceased souls in Purgatory, not to the deceased souls in Hell. However, the ancient formula has always said Hell, as does Sacred Scripture. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich explains that Jesus visited both places. He entered Purgatory and visited the souls there, so that they would known Him by whom they were saved before entering Heaven. He also went to the gates of Hell, but did not enter. His visit to Hell allowed the souls there to know Him whom they had implicitly rejected.

“the gates of Hell were thrown open by the angels…. our Lord spoke first to the soul of Judas, and the angels then compelled all the demons to acknowledge and adore Jesus.” (Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, ebook p. 184)

This explanation is in accord with Sacred Scripture, which teaches that all will acknowledge Christ as Lord, even those in Hell:

[Romans]
{14:11} For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

[Philippians]
{2:9} Because of this, God has also exalted him and has given him a name which is above every name,
{2:10} so that, at the name of Jesus, every knee would bend, of those in heaven, of those on earth, and of those in hell,
{2:11} and so that every tongue would confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.

So the new wording emphasizes Christ’s visit to Hell. But since he visited all the dead souls, in Purgatory and in Hell, the former wording is perhaps a little better.

Preface Dialogue

It is right to give him thanks and praise.
changed to:
It is right and just.

The former wording is a little better, since we explicitly state what is right: giving thanks and praise to God. The newer wording seems redundant. Are some acts only right, and other acts right and just? Perhaps the redundancy is for emphasis. But the new wording not only transfers the term ‘thanks’ to the priest’s part, it also entirely drops ‘praise’. While right and just are synonyms, thanks and praise are not; these are two different obligations: to thank God for all that He has given us, and to praise Him, not only because of what we have been given, but because He is infinite perfect Goodness. Dropping the word ‘praise’ is a worsening of the wording.

Preface Acclamation

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.
changed to:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.

The term “hosts” is more obscure than “power and might”, while “power and might” are redundant, and “hosts” is not. The heavenly hosts are all the angels and souls in Heaven. The heavenly hosts are different from God’s own power and might. This change to the wording is perhaps a wash; it is realty not much better and not much worse.

Mystery of Faith

dropped:
Dying you destroyed our death,
rising you restored our life.
Lord Jesus, come in glory.

The above older wording is theologically accurate and somewhat poetic. It was not an improvement to omit it from the Mass.

Invitation to Communion

Happy are those who are called to his supper.
changed to:
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

The newer wording is, subjectively, a little better; it uses the theological and Biblical term ‘blessed’ instead of the more common term ‘happy’. The new wording also uses ‘Behold’ rather than ‘This is’, which has the same advantage.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
changed to:
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

The new wording is intended to evoke the meeting described in the Gospels between the Centurion and Christ.

[Matthew]
{8:8} And responding, the centurion said: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.”

I should note that the above Scripture translation is my own work, translated prior to the new Mass translation. The similarity between the NMT and my translation of Matthew is probably due to the fact that I am translating the Latin Vulgate in a fairly literal manner, and so was the committed that developed the NMT.

However, I’m not convinced that using the wording of Scripture is necessarily an improvement. The figurative use of the term ‘roof’ in reference to the reception of Communion is awkward. But what is much more problematic is the substitution of ‘soul’ for ‘servant’. The Eucharist is Christ, under the appearances of bread and wine. Our Lord is certainly capable of healing body, as well as soul. He did so frequently in the Gospel accounts. He does so even today in miracles around the world. The NMT wording suggests that reception of Communion only heals the soul; a lack of faith in healing for the body (and even the spirit) seems suggested by the wording. There is no good reason to limit the healing offered by the Eucharist to the soul.

The older wording “I shall be healed” references the whole human person (“I”). The new wording narrows the healing unnecessarily. The use of roof makes the wording adhere closely to the Gospel wording, but then the wording needlessly departs from this close adherence by saying soul. A closer wording would be: “but only say the word and your servant (or ‘I, your servant’) will be healed”.

Summary

The NMT is not a vast improvement over the older wording. It is said to adhere more closely to the Latin text of the Mass, but that text itself is not infallible Sacred Scripture. The fact that a wording is found in the Latin text does not establish it as the best wording. The NMT is also — speaking in general — too literal in its translation of the Latin text. As an experienced translator of Latin, I can tell you that the most literal translation is not always the most accurate or the most eloquent.

The NMT is an imperfect version of the Mass. So also is the Latin Mass and the older vernacular translation. The Mass on earth will always be imperfect. Only the “Mass” of eternal life in Heaven is perfect. Therefore, it is dishonest to pretend as if any one form of the Mass were perfect, and all other forms were deeply flawed. My objections to certain points in the new wording are well-grounded. But I do not believe that the new wording is much worse, nor much better than the older wording.

Ideally, I would like the Church to continue to experiment with various changes to the form of the Mass. I would like the Church to allow the development and use of a set of different forms, which dioceses, parishes, and religious orders could use at their discretion, with ecclesial approval.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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