“What does it even mean?”

Thanks to Amy Welborn for the following… at least I think, thanks.  Not sure, really.  I was more than a little irritated when I first read this, but I am over it now. 

In the The Floridian there is a gushy piece by a pious member of the faithful, AMY HOLLYFIELD, victimized by the decision of the meanie bishops who have submitted their new English translation to Rome.  You can almost imagine Thomas Reese, SJ, and His Excellency Donald W. Trautman as ghost writers. 

Let’s get to the piece.  This is entitled "Lost In Translation", thought I suspect the authoress would be lost in pretty much any translation if you come right down to it.  Here goes…  I will annotate.

I haven’t been saying the words all my life.

Just 16 of my 35 years.

Sound familiar?   This is the Chair’s argument!  "We’ve been doing this for SIXTEEN WHOLE YEARS! We CAN’T change now!"

But I am as confused, disappointed and, well, angry, as any devout Roman Catholic I know.

Hmmm… "Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience…."  etc.  Just savor that word "devout" here.  That provides justification for all the emotion that follows.

Mass is the starting point for my week. A renewal that I participate in. The words, the music, the people – they ground me.

Aaaaaaaaand…. the Blessed Sacrament? Jesus? And is there also a Sacrifice to participate in?

So I was crushed when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted last week to change some wording in Mass to more closely match the original Latin. It wasn’t so much the idea of changing some words. The problem was the specific words they approved changing.

There is one point in every Mass that is pivotal to me. It is when my heart opens and I feel myself at the feet of God, praying for his mercy.

Alright… it’s about you.  I get it. 

It is during the Communion rite, as the priest is holding up the host, the body of Christ. We parishioners, in preparation for receiving this sacred rite, say, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

Tears form in my eyes every time I say these words. Every time.

Then you will probably get tears in your eyes from reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church which reminds us that this phrase is from Scripture:

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Article 3: THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST VI. The Paschal Banquet):

1386 Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: "Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea" ("Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.").217 Roman Missal, response to the invitation to communion; cf. ⇒ Mt 8:8.

My world could be upside down, as awful as anything, but when I say those words in anticipation of Communion, I feel the hand of God in my life. I feel his forgiveness. I feel his love.

And now? Now, the church wants to change these words to, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof."

My roof? Where is the emotion in that? Where is the feeling? What does it even mean?

And there you have it folks!  No one has ever explained to her what this means in the context of Mass at the time of Holy Communion.  And thus it came to pass in recent times that His Excellency The Chair spake unto us and said:

 “It’s a literal translation, and it doesn’t mean anything to Americans,” Bishop Trautman said.
“The ‘dew’ of your Spirit — what does that mean?”

And its all about my emotion… my emotion… how it makes me feel.  Never mind that the present translation is WRONG and does not convey what the Church has given us at that moment of Holy Mass, words which are from the Gospel itself, words which a good former Lutheran will remember are "God breathed" (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Amy of The Floridiam continues with her experience as a Luthean convert.  Maybe that’s why… no… hey wait…. I’m a former Lutheran too, so that can’t be it:

But the truth was, I was embracing my spiritual history. Just in a different form. A form that meant something to me because of the rules, the pageantry, the structure. I was swept up by the emotion of Mass. By the interaction and the inclusion. I knew in my heart that my grandfather would approve.

Golly… sounds like me.  However, before we were half way into that first Mass I ever attended I was asking the question: "What do these people believe that makes them do this???"  You see, faith seeks understanding.  The so-called "hermeneutical circle" is part of the process of true conversion to Christ.  Faith goes before understanding, and, understanding goes before faith.  Emotions lead to thought, and thought leads to emotions.  You cannot remain in the affective, emotive part of your experience and think that you are really getting somewhere.

There was a priest at my college campus, Father John, who empathized with my struggle. He counseled me through a rough period with my parents.

Eventually, they accepted my decision. There was no issue six years later when I married my husband in the Catholic church. They have no problem with my daughters being raised Catholic. They accept and understand who I am.

This is a perfect example of the favored approach of young people today.  It is all part of their emotional/cultural landscape.  This what I call "psycho-geography".  Do you hear it?  Think of phrases like "I know where you are coming from", or "I am in a good place today".  These don’t really mean very much on a deep level, of course, but people say them all the time when they don’t know what else to say.  And so, the ultimate, the paradigmatic qualifier of the modern relationship is… "I’m there for you!"  So long as "You are there for me", wherever that is, I am in a good place. But back to our heroine.

But now I am in turmoil again. How could the church take these words from me? What will I get from "under my roof?"

I know it’s wrong to think that my entire faith will crumble over three words, and I’m sure in the end it won’t. But I wish someone had asked me. I wish they had asked any of the common parishioners before they approved such a change.

This is excellent.  Whom should they have consulted?  People who probably don’t know that that whole "under my roof" thing is from HOLY SCRIPTURE? 

They say it will be two years before the Mass is affected, because of all the process and paperwork.

I hope they’ll realize before then what a mistake they are making.

At least, for me.

Right.  And this is about you.

I am proud of my church. Proud to have converted. Proud to serve as a Eucharistic minister.

Ehem… well… I am going to take that as an affirmation of love of Holy Mother Church and not just her own faith community.  Also, while Amy’s dedication and willingness to serve and help is admirable, she is most decidedly NOT a "Eucharistic Minister".  Only the ordained are truly Eucharistic Ministers.  She can be an "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion", however.

Lord, help me understand.

Well… we don’t have to wait for the Lord to do this.  I can help you right away.  I suggest that you get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a good Catholic Edition of the Bible.  For the notes and the inclusion of the Latin text I like the wondeful editions of the Navarre series.  Read this blog, too.  Now that I am well into explaining "dew", I might just start on "under my roof".

In Luke 7:1ff we have the episode:

1: After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Caper’na-um.
2: Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death.
3: When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave.
4: And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him,
5: for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue."
6: And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;
7: therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.
8: For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes; and to another, `Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it."
9: When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
10: And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.

The abovementioned Navarre commentary has this:

"This episode is a very good example of the faith and humility needed in one’s approach to Jesus. The account contrasts the praise given the centurion by the elders ("He is worthy to have you do this for him" v 4) with the man’s own sense of unworthiness- vv 6-7; also the faith of this Roman official, which he has already show – v 5 – is now seen as nothing less than remarkable vv 8-9. The Church’s liturgy uses the Centurians very words to express our own feelings just before receiving Communion to help us have similar disposition.

And here we leave our heroine, tied to the railroad tracks in the face of the train chugging its way around the bend, the mean men in black twirling their moustaches archly.

I will now brace myself and get back to real work.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Penitens says:

    The St. Petersburg Times has an online forum for comments on Ms. Hollyfield’s article may be left at

  2. ooo the fisky goodnewss of it all. Linked to it :)

  3. The author of this article is the news design director at the St. Petersburg Times, who can be addressed at ahollyfield@sptimes.com. The following is the text of a letter that I e-mailed (thus deferring for a few moments my real work of the day).
    With recognition of your time and effort in writing to express clearly your personal view of the matter, let me confess that I’ve spent untold hours during the last several years, praying daily for an authentic and faithful new English translation of the Roman Missal. To the limited extent that I know precisely what our bishops recently approved, I believe it will yield a significant improvement in the beauty and reverence of Catholic worship in the U.S.

    Having followed this issue closely throughout the several years this new translation has been in progress, I believe that almost everyone involved agrees that the current English translation, which dates back to a very hasty job done in 1973, falls far short of preserving the elegance and beauty of the Latin original. Worse is the fact that it often fails to preserve the scriptural or doctrinal meaning of the original prayers.

    For instance, the words “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” are those of the centurion in Matthew 8:8. But without the word “roof” the scriptural reference is lost, even to a Catholic familiar with the Bible.

    Aside from seemingly very rare comments like yours, almost everyone on every side of this issue appears to agree generally with such criticisms of the current translation, and thus with the need to fix it. The only substantial disagreements, on the part of the bishops or anyone else to my knowledge, have been on details of the best way to fix the English missal so as to make it both beautiful and faithful.

    Perhaps you would be interested in the blog http://www.wdtprs.com/blog/ that for some time has been devoted largely to this issue.
    If I had been willing to register with the St. Petersburg Times, I could have posted such remarks as these at http://www.itsyourtimes.com/?q=node/1284.

  4. Jeff says:

    Henry Edwards!

    So great to see you back! I’ve missed you in the precincts of Blogonia lately.

  5. Catholic Lady says:

    You made my day.

  6. Jeff says:

    “Being there for you.”

    I’ve always hated this phrase. And then I noticed that Pope Benedict XVI, a Living Saint and a Breathing Doctor of the Church, used it in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est. (And in the Latin, German, and Italian too from what I can tell…)

    So I observed, “Kantor, maybe you’ve got another think coming to you…”

  7. Kevin says:

    Poor dear. Maybe she might not be so distraught if someone were to explain to her what a TRANSLATION means. Alas, I’m sure her Latin isn’t too good either.

  8. Tomislav says:

    I can assure the poor lady she’ll have even deeper understanding of what she’s saying after the new translation is accepted.

    In Croatian we have the literal translation:

    Gospodine, nisam dostojan da uniđeš pod krov moj,
    Dòmine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum,

    nego samo reci riječ
    sed tantum dic verbo

    i ozdravit će duša moja.
    et sanàbitur ànima mea.

    I’ve always thought how I should be more like the centurion Jesus commended when speaking those words and I don’t see how the connection with the Gospel will take anything away from the “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
    It can only become more meaningful.

  9. Mike says:

    I am also a Lutheran convert. I’m continually amazed that people seem to
    want to conform the Church for themselves rather than conforming themselves
    to Christ’s Church.

    PS: It’s always bothered me in Mass to say, for example, “the Gospel
    according to Mark” instead of “the Gospel according to St Mark”. And yet
    the reading “according to St Paul” isn’t referred to as “according to Paul.”
    Is there any hope of this being addressed in the new translations? It seems
    to me the Gospel writers should be referred to as Saints.

    Thanks for your varied and enjoyable insights. JMJ

  10. Tim says:

    I agree with everything you say. But gosh, you’re just so . . . mean. If we’re to succeed in evangelizing miseducated Catholics, shouldn’t we be a little gentler? The general tone of many orthodox Catholic blogs recently is just so triumphalist and meanspirited. If the recent trend towards orthodoxy ends up becoming just a mutual admiration society, we’ll lose the fruit of the reform.

  11. I’ve got to agree with Tim. I am a Lutheran convert as well, and a classicist to boot (with a distinct infatuation for super-literal and nuanced translations), but familiar words are dear to all of us, and it can be hard for modern Catholics to get used to new translations of the liturgy. And new liturgical music, for that matter. We are a people of ritual and tradition, and we love what we know best. When what we know is changed, it must be done with a gentle and loving spirit — otherwise, many will not understand the changes and will balk at the prospect of learning to love them. Go ahead and translate more faithfully (the Lord knows we need it!), introduce better music during worship, move toward the old, symbol-rich rituals and practices of the Church…but make sure you don’t alienate the parishoners in the process. It’s not really their fault they are miseducated.

  12. GOR says:

    Well it could have been ‘worse’ if they had employed the translation used in the St. Andrew Daily Missal (c. 1945) I grew up with: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed.”

    And, back then, we knew very clearly the source of this. Sr. Joan made sure of that!

  13. GOR: I am not convinced that that “thou shouldst” would be worse. Consider that “thou” is actually the familiar form of address, while “you” is the formal style. “Thou” indicates an intimacy.

    I grant you that speech has its styles. Not many people as saying “thee” or “thou” these days. However, let us remember that words have meanings! Think about the meaning and not just your personal comfort level with words or phrases. The way we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe. Pray a certain way and you will come to believe a certain thing. Or… STOP believing things we ought, depending on the prayers.

  14. Kelly Clark says:

    Fr. Z, I believe GOR was kidding…I can tell by the way he put quotes around the word “worse.”

    And as for our heroine, let’s be kind…she’s only trying to think out of the box and undoubtedly has a lot on her plate.

    Now then…are we on the same page? ;)

  15. Kelly: Hey! Good examples!

  16. GOR says:

    Kelly was right (she knows me!), I was kidding about the Thou shouldst, Father. It wouldn’t bother me in the least to have that form – in fact I would prefer it.

    However I was confused by your saying that ‘thou’ is familiar and ‘you’ formal. I would have thought the opposite! Are you likening it to the distinction between ‘tu’ and ‘lei’ in Italian…? I wasn’t aware of that and thought of it more as an archaic form which is not in general use any more – except for prayers and among people like the Amish…

    And if we want to make our liturgical prayers something special – distinct from everyday speech – why not keep that form, as we do in other prayers: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

  17. Marysann says:

    Father, I don’t know what this woman is talking about! I just turned 59, and was in high school during Vatican II. Everytime I have assisted at Holy Mass in English, the translations have grated on my ears. For example I would hear “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof”, the translation that I read in my missal throughout my childhood. When I attended Holy Mass in Spanish while living in Argentina and Cuba, I noticed that the translation said “entres en mi casa,” which is better than the English. I was beginning to think that I would never see the day that we would get a better translation. Thanks be to God!

    Another comment on the use of “thee” and “thou.” I was always taught that these words were familiar forms, hence their use by the Quakers and other groups who use “plain speach.” When I began studying Spanish I was amused by their practice of using the familiar form to talk to God, but the formal form to talk to the maid!

  18. pedro says:

    In Spanish we say: “Señor, no soy digno de que entres en mi casa, pero una palabra tuya bastará para sanarme.” (Lord, I’m not worthy that you should enter in my house, but one word of yours will be enough to heal me).

    I say it in Latin. :P

  19. Clare Krishan says:

    Fr. can you tell write on what ‘illibata’ is, and does unblemished capture the sense?
    Since she was mentioned in one of the recent readings, I was reading up on the end prophesied for Jezebel at Jezreel, and found to my astonishment her name can be comapred to Agnes, meaning ‘no co-habitation’ or ‘pure,’ as in “no-one was under her roof”? I suppose the dramatic irony for Elijah being the Queen’s actions were the exact opposite of her name? So returning to ‘undefiled’ for the term above, should we not be thinking in the same metaphor ‘under my roof’ here also?

  20. The mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary says that illibatus, a, um is from in + libo (libo – “to lessen, diminish, impair by taking away”) and means “undiminished, unimpaired, uninjured, unharmed”. In respect to the offerings at the altar to be changed by transsubstantiation we can say “unblemished”. Blaise/Dumas indicates that even the Blessed Virgin is described in the Church’s prayers as illibata, that is “immaculate”.

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