Cardinal Arinze speaks about Latin, music, and translation

His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, address a liturgical conference in St. Louis in November.  His talk has been published on ZENIT in three parts.

Cardinal Arinze on Language in Liturgy, Part 1
"Latin Is Concise, Precise and Poetically Measured" [2008-01-11]

Cardinal Arinze on Language in Liturgy, Part 2
"Good Music Helps to Promote Prayer" [2008-01-13]

Cardinal Arinze on Language in Liturgy, Part 3
"No Individual Has Authority to Change the Approved Wording" [2008-01-14]

Each of these articles has good points.  I will present a few of interest.

Here is something from the first section.  My emphases and comments.

[T]he Latin language has a certain stability which daily spoken languages, where words change often in shades of meaning, cannot have. An example is the translation of the Latin "propagare". The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples when it was founded in 1627 was called "Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide". But at the time of the Second Vatican Council many modern languages use the word "propaganda" in the sense in which we say "political propaganda". Therefore, there is a preference in the Church today to avoid the expression "de propaganda Fide", in favour of "the Evangelization of Peoples".

Latin has the characteristic of words and expressions retaining their meaning generation after generation. This is an advantage when it comes to the articulation of our Catholic faith and the preparation of Papal and other Church Documents. Even the modern universities appreciate this point and have some of their solemn titles in Latin.

Blessed Pope John XXIII in his Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, [NB: This was an Apostolic Constitution, the highest form of a church document.] issued on 22 February 1962, gives these two reasons and adds a third. The Latin language has a nobility and dignity which are not negligible (cf. Veterum Sapientia, nn. 5, 6, 7). We can add that Latin is concise, precise and poetically measured.

Is it not admirable that people, especially well-trained clerics, can meet in international gatherings and be able to communicate at least in Latin? More importantly, is it a small matter that 1 million young people could meet in the World Youth Day Convention in Rome in 2000, in Toronto in 2002 and in Cologne in 2005, and be able to sing parts of the Mass, and especially the Credo, in Latin? Theologians can study the original writings of the early Latin Fathers and of the Scholastics without tears because these were written in Latin.  [A corollary to this is: It is NOT admirable that clerics, etc., cannot use any Latin.]

It is true that there is a tendency, both in the Church and in the world at large, to give more attention today to modern languages, like English, French and Spanish, which can help one secure a job quicker in the modern employment market or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their country.  [Use of the vernacular can be expedient, but is it really good in the long run?]

The documentary basis for the use of Latin is strong and its usefulness is obvious.  We therefore have lots of questions to ask of those who resist or, it must be said, hate Latin.   There is another issue here.  His Eminence brings in the element of what is admirable.  There are many clerics in positions of power in the Church who look down on Latin.  The think that somehow Latin (or anything that is too precise, or accurate, or which requires intellectual distinctions – calling for consequences) is contrary to "pastoral".   Effectively, an anti-intellectualism militates against Latin, but maybe we can boil it down to this: "Since the main job of a cleric is to be a nice guy, you don’t want to be too discerning."

In the second section, we find some other helpful points.  Here are some excerpts:

5. Did Vatican II discourage Latin?

Some people think, or have the perception, that the Second Vatican Council discouraged the use of Latin in the liturgy. This is not the case.

Just before he opened the Council, Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962 issued an Apostolic Constitution to insist on the use of Latin in the Church. [Again, Card. Arinze has brought us back to this important and purposely ignored document.] The Second Vatican Council, although it admitted some introduction of the vernacular, insisted on the place of Latin: "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (SC, n. 36).

The Council also required that seminarians "should acquire a command of Latin which will enable them to understand and use the source material of so many sciences and the documents of the Church as well" (Optatam Totius, n. 13). The Code of Canon Law published in 1983 enacts that "the Eucharistic celebration is to be carried out either in the Latin language or in another language, provided the liturgical texts have been lawfully approved" (can. 928).  [Okay: 1) Apostolic Constitution of John XXIII; 2) a document of Vatican II; 3) 1983 Code of Canon Law.  How hard is this?]

Those, therefore, who want to give the impression that the Church has put Latin away from her liturgy are mistaken. A manifestation of people’s acceptance of Latin liturgy well celebrated was had at the world level in April 2005, when millions followed the burial rites of Pope John Paul II and then, two weeks later, the inauguration Mass of Pope Benedict XVI over the television. 

It is remarkable that young people welcome the Mass celebrated sometimes in Latin. Problems are not lacking. So, too, there are misunderstandings and wrong approaches on the part of some priests on the use of Latin. But to get the matter in better focus, it is necessary first to examine the use of the vernacular in the liturgy of the Roman Rite today. [We need to get Latin into parishes, Your Eminence.  International gatherings are not enough.  But he knows this and speaks of this elsewhere.]

6. The Vernacular: Introduction, Extension, Conditions

The introduction of local languages into the sacred liturgy of the Latin Rite is a development that did not occur all of a sudden. After the partial experience gained over the preceding years in certain countries, already on 5 and 6 December 1962, after long and sometimes impassioned debates, the Second Vatican Fathers adopted the principle that the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of advantage to the people. In the following year the Council voted to apply this principle to the Mass, the ritual and the Liturgy of the Hours (cf. SC, nn. 36, 54, 63a, 76, 78, 101).  [Did the Council not actually say "occasionally"?]

Extensions of the use of the vernacular followed. But, as if the Council Fathers foresaw the likelihood that Latin might lose more and more ground, they insisted again and again that Latin be maintained.

As already quoted, article 36 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy began by enacting that "particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite". Article 54 required that steps be taken, "enabling the faithful to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass belonging to them". In the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, "in accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, clerics are to retain the Latin language" (SC, n. 101).

But even while establishing limits, the Council Fathers anticipated the possibility of a wider use of the vernacular. Article 54 indeed adds: "Wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Article 40 of this Constitution is to be observed". Article 40 goes into directives on the role of Bishops’ Conferences and of the Apostolic See in such a delicate matter.

The vernacular had been introduced. The rest is history. The developments were so fast that many clerics, Religious and lay faithful today are not aware that the Second Vatican Council did not simply introduce the vernacular for all parts of the liturgy. [And I think the supression of Latin was purposeful, not just a consequence of circumstances.]

[Some good history follows here.  This is very useful.] Requests and widenings of the use of the vernacular were not long in coming. At the urgent request of some Bishops’ Conferences, Pope Paul VI first allowed the Preface of the Mass to be said in the vernacular (cf. Letter of the Cardinal Secretary of State, 27 April 1965), then the entire Canon and the prayers of ordination in 1967.

Finally, on 14 June 1971, the Congregation for Divine Worship sent notice that Episcopal Conferences could allow the use of the vernacular in all the texts of the Mass, and each Ordinary could give the same permission for the choral or private celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours (on the whole development, see A.G. Martimort: The Dialogue between God and his People, in A.G. Martimort: The Church at Prayer, I, p. 166).

The reasons for the introduction of the mother tongue are not far to seek. It promotes better understanding of what the Church is praying, since "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy… (and which) is their right by reason of their Baptism" (SC, n. 14).

At the same time, it is not difficult to envisage how demanding and delicate the work of translation must be. Even more difficult is the question of adaptation and inculturation especially when we think of the sacredness of the sacramental rites, the centuries-old tradition of the Latin Rite, and the close link between faith and worship encapsuled in the old formula: lex orandi, lex credendi.  [There is a reciprocal relationship between the way we pray and what we believe.  Change the prayer, we change belief.  Consider that in the light of "inculturation".  Inculturation is always taking place.  It is unavoidable and it is desirable.  However, in this ongoing process, what the Church has to give to the world must always have logical priority.  When that gets reversed, and the Church takes a back-seat to the world, unaccepaptable and damaging distortions result.  Back to translation and inculturation.  With the translation of a Latin prayer be sculpted for this or that culture?  I think that is a bad idea.  The style of language used should cut across cultural lines.  Thus, the model (as suggested by Liturgiam authenticam) should be from the canon of English literature, not from ephemeral and colloquial language.]

The translations of the Missale Romanum must reflect the content.

During my trip to New York I met with a priest friend of mine who said a very intelligent and useful thing.  It is simple and it cuts the Gordian knot we often tie around the preparation of translations.

It is okay for a text we know to be a translation to sound like a translation.

All this time in my columns in The Wanderer I have presented slavishly literal translations of the Latin prayers without any pretext of making smooth, liturgically appropriate prayers.  My idea, and that of others, has always been that liturgical prayer has to be somehow smooth and elegant, and that elegance might somehow override accuracy.  Liturgiam authenticam calls for both, but the emphasis is on the content.  I am starting to rethink my position on whether or not slavishly accurate translations are appropriate for use in the liturgy. 

If you don’t, or won’t or can’t use Latin (and let people pick what book they want to follow), at least let the translation not try to hide that is a translation.

I still have to think through this.

Let’s more to the third part of Cardinal Arinze’s talk:

7. On Translations into the Vernacular

The translation of liturgical texts from the Latin original to the various vernaculars is a very important consideration in the prayer life of the Church. It is a question, not of private prayer, but of the public prayer offered by holy Mother Church, with Christ as the Head. The Latin texts have been prepared with great care as to sound doctrine, exact wording "free from all ideological influence and otherwise endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High" (Liturgiam Authenticam, n. 3).  [I cannot admit that the translations presently in use were "prepared with great care" and are "free from ideological influence".  That is clearly not the case.]

The words used in the sacred liturgy manifest the faith of the Church and are guided by it. The Church, therefore, needs great care in directing, preparing and approving translations, so that not even one unsuitable word will be smuggled into the liturgy by an individual who may have a personal agenda, or who may simply not be aware of the seriousness of the rites.  [Another point is that the Church must take great care that no word be smuggled out of the texts.  The present lame-duck translation is a case in point.  However, this also the problem in the Latin text of the Novus Ordo, isn’t it.  The older prayers, from previous editions of the Roman Missal and from the ancient sacramentaries were edited for content.]

Translations should, therefore, be faithful to the original Latin text. They should not be free compositions. As Liturgiam Authenticam, the major Holy See Document that gives directives on translations, insists:  "The translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language" (n. 20).

The genius of the Latin Rite should be respected. [Let us not forget that the older form of the Latin Rite conveys that genius, and has done so for a very much longer time than the Novus Ordo.  Card. Arinze has left a lacuna in the talk which we must do our best to fill.] The triple repetition is one of its characteristics. Examples are "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"; "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison"; "Agnus Dei qui tollis…", three times. A close study of the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" also shows "triplets". Translations should neither kill nor flatten out such a characteristic.  [Again, I am back to my earlier point: perhaps it is best to leave a translation sounding like a translation.]

The Latin liturgy expresses not only facts but also our feelings, our sentiments, for example, in front of God’s transcendence, majesty, mercy and boundless love (cf. Liturgiam Authenticam, n. 25). Expressions like "Te igitur, clementissime Pater", "Supplices te rogamus", "Propitius esto", "veneremur cernui", "Omnipotens et misericors Dominus", "nos servi tui", should not be deflated and democratized by some translating iconoclast.

Some of these Latin expressions are difficult to translate. [Yes… but not that hard.] The best experts in liturgy, classics, patrology, theology, spirituality, music and literature are needed so that translations beautiful on the lips of holy Mother Church can be worked out. Translations should reflect that reverence, gratitude and adoration before God’s transcendent majesty and man’s hunger for God which are very clear in the Latin texts.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Message to the meeting of the "Vox Clara" English Committee on 9 November 2005, speaks of translations which "will succeed in transmitting the treasures of the faith and the liturgical tradition in the specific context of a devout and reverent Eucharistic celebration" (in Notitiae, 471-472, Nov.-Dec. 2005, p. 557).

Many liturgical texts are steeped in biblical expressions, signs and symbols. They resonate with prayer patterns that date back to the Psalms. The translator cannot afford to ignore this.

A language spoken by millions of people today will undoubtedly have many shades and variations. There is a difference between English used in the Constitution of a country, that spoken by the President of a Republic, [With all due respect and with consideration of his good speech writers, perhaps we might make an exception for President Bush’s extemporaneous style.] the conversational language of dock workers or students and the conversation between parents and children. The manner of expression cannot be expected to be the same in all these situations, although all are using English.

What form should liturgical translations adopt? [My question from above.  This is the huge question.] No doubt liturgical vernacular [This calls for a special and identifiable style which we call "liturgical vernacular"?  Each field has its argot.  Why not liturgy?] should be intelligible and easy to proclaim and to understand. At the same time, it should be dignified, sober, stable and not subject to frequent change. It should not hesitate to use some words not generally in use in everyday conversation, or words that are associated with Catholic faith and worship. Therefore, it should say chalice and not just cup, paten and not plate, ciborium and not vessel, priest and not presider, sacred host and not consecrated bread, vestments and not dress. 

Therefore, Liturgiam Authenticam says:  "While the translation must transmit the perennial treasury of orations by means of language understandable in the cultural context for which it is intended,… it should cause no surprise that such language differs somewhat from ordinary speech" (n. 47).  [I think this is a very very tricky issue.]

Intelligibility should not be pushed to mean that every word must be understood by everybody at once. Just look carefully at the Credo. It is a "symbol", a solemn summary statement, on our faith. The Church has had to call some General Councils for an exact articulation of some articles of our faith.

Not every Catholic at Mass will immediately understand in full such normal Catholic liturgical formulae as Incarnation, Creation, Passion, Resurrection, Consubstantial with the Father, Proceeding from the Father and the Son, Transubstantiation, Real Presence, Transcendent and omnipotent God. This is not a question of English, or French, or Italian, or Hindi or Kiswahili. Translators should not become iconoclasts who destroy and damage as they go along. Everything cannot be explained during the liturgy.  [Liturgy is not a didactic moment.]

The liturgy does not exhaust the entire life activity of the Church (cf. SC, n. 9). There is also need for theology, catechetics and preaching. And even when a good catechesis has been delivered, a mystery of our faith remains a mystery.

Indeed, we can say that the most important thing in divine worship is not that we understand every word or concept. No. The most important consideration is that we stand in reverence and awe before God, that we adore, praise and thank him. The sacred, the things of God, are best approached with sandals off.  [The image is of Moses before the burning bush.]

In prayer, language is primarily for contact with God. No doubt, language is also for intelligible communication between us humans. But contact with God has priority. In the mystic, such contact with God approaches and sometimes reaches the ineffable, the mystical silence where language ceases.  [More needs to be done with this.]

There is therefore no surprise if liturgical language differs somewhat from our everyday language. Liturgical language strives to express Christian prayer where the mysteries of Christ are celebrated.  [A "liturgical vernacular" must convey "mystery".]

As if putting together these various elements needed in order to produce good liturgical translations, let us quote from the Address of Pope John Paul II to American Bishops from California, Nevada and Hawaii during their 1993 ad limina visit to Rome. He was asking them in translations to guard the full doctrinal integrity and beauty of the original texts:  [Consider this: Cardinal Arinze is reminding Americans that the Pope himself said this to American bishops.  Did the those American bishops do anything substantive after that?  What follows is from 1993.]

"One of your responsibilities in this regard is to make available exact and appropriate translations of the official liturgical books so that, following the required review and confirmation by the Holy See, they may be an instrument and guarantee of a genuine sharing in the mystery of Christ and the Church: lex orandi, lex credendi. The arduous task of translation must guard the full doctrinal integrity and, according to the genius of each language, the beauty of the original texts. When so many people are thirsting for the Living God – whose majesty and mercy are at the heart of liturgical prayer -, the Church must respond with a language of praise and worship which fosters respect and gratitude for God’s greatness, compassion and power. When the faithful gather to celebrate the work of our Redemption, the language of their prayer – free from doctrinal ambiguity and ideological influence – should foster the dignity and beauty of the celebration itself, while faithfully expressing the Church’s faith and unity" (in Insegnamenti of John Paul II, XVI, 2, 1993 [!], p. 1399-1400).

From the above considerations, it follows that the Church needs to exercise careful authority over liturgical translations. The responsibility for the translation of texts rests on the Bishops’ Conference, which submits them to the Holy See for the necessary recognitio (cf, SC, n. 36; C.I.C., can. 838; Lit. Authenticam, n. 80).

It follows that no individual, even a priest or deacon, has authority to change the approved wording in the sacred liturgy. This is also common sense. But sometimes we notice that common sense is not very common.  [The question is begged: What do we do when present translations are simply dreadful?  Still use them?]

So, Redemptionis Sacramentum had to say expressly:  "The reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy" (n. 59; cf. also General Instruction on Roman Missal, n. 24). [And when the translation itself manifestly distorts the texts?  That is the case with the lame duck translation we are using.]

8. What is expected of us?

As we seek to conclude these reflections, we can ask ourselves what is expected of us.

We should do our best to appreciate the language which the Church uses in her liturgy and to join our hearts and voices to them, according as each liturgical rite may indicate. All of us cannot be Latin speakers, but the lay faithful can at least learn the simpler responses in Latin. Priests should give more attention to Latin so that they celebrate Mass in Latin occasionally.

In big churches where there are many Masses celebrated on a Sunday or Feast day, why can one of those Masses not be in Latin? In rural parishes a Latin Mass should be possible, say once a month. In international assemblies, Latin becomes even more urgent. It follows that seminaries should discharge carefully their role of preparing and forming priests also in the use of Latin (cf. October 2005 Synod of Bishops, Prop. 36).  [If people don’t hear Latin in their parishes, how can they be expected to use Latin when they are in larger or international celebrations?]

All those responsible for vernacular translations should strive to provide the very best, following the guidance of relevant Church Documents, especially Liturgiam Authenticam. Experience shows that it is not superfluous to remark that priests, deacons and all others who proclaim liturgical texts, should read them out with clarity and due reverence.

Language is not everything. But it is one of most important elements that need attention for good and faith-filled liturgical celebrations.

It is an honour for us to be allowed to become part of the voice of the Church in her public prayer. May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh whose mysteries we celebrate in the sacred liturgy, obtain for all of us the grace to do our part to join in singing the praises of the Lord both in Latin and in the vernacular. 


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  1. danphunter1 says:

    Yes Father, but how is all this going to be enforced.
    If left to just an “instruction” as to the correct use of Latin in Holy Mass, many bishops and pastors will simply ignore yet another instruction fron Rome, due to either their pride or moral shortcomings.
    What is needed is some kind of punitive task force that makes sure that these instructions are carried out to the letter.
    Or else the faithful will continue to suffer at the hands of all the “little pontiffs” who make up what suits their prideful agendas.
    You rarely hear about, “Veterum Sapientia”.
    If it is an Apostolic Constitution, why doesn’t it get the attention that it demands.
    Every ambiguous document gets beaten to death, but we rarely hear about documents from before the V.Council II

    In art 36 you quote: “PARTICULAR LAW REMAINING IN FORCE the use ofthe Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rite.”
    Why couldn’t this just have said:” the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rite”
    This could have gone a long way in preventing this statement to have been abused in justifying the use of massive amounts of the vernacular in the Holy Mass.
    What “particular law” would stand in the way of conserving the sacred language of adoration in the Latin Rite?
    Was this an oversight on the part of the schema framers or something more diabolical?
    Ut Prosim.

  2. RichR says:

    When they had hand missals for the laity to follow along in the Mass, was there such a fuss about translations? I don’t know, I’m just asking. Because, if someone goes to a TLM, they aren’t reading the Latin, they are reading the translation. Though one may say that doctrinal purity is maintained by using the Latin at the altar, the average pew-sitter may be reading translations that are inaccurate, agenda driven, additive or subtractive from the original, etc….. The difference is that in the vernacular NO, the translation is spoken instead of read.

    Just thoughts. I’d change over to a Latin Mass Community in a heartbeat if it ever came to town, but I don’t think that by simply going to a TLM, you will be free from the “dangers” of translators.

  3. TNCath says:

    Bravo, Cardinal Arinze! Perhaps His Eminence needs to deliver this address to the next meeting of the USCCB in place of one of those general meetings where they discuss “the discussions discussed earlier in the sub-committee of the committee that was so ably headed by Bishop X, who took over from Bishop Y, who is now heading the other sub-committee of the committee that approved the original norms now considered guidelines so that a recognitio need not be sought.” Would that require a 2/3 majority?

  4. danphunter1 says:

    You are completely free from translation mistakes if you use one of the aproved 1962 Missals, Church aproved.
    The Canon in the 62 Missal is almost identical to the Canon in the missal that St Ambrose of Milan used in the 5th century.
    Use an Angelus Press or Baronius Missal and you are getting the exact translations.
    I would think it extrmely improbable that a priest offering the Tridentine Mass would make up his own Canon.
    He would just offer the Novus Ordo if he wanted to do this…
    God bless you.

  5. jack burton says:

    I understand and appreciate the dignity of liturgical texts et cetera but as long as the GIRM itself promotes ad libbing and there are rites within the liturgy such as the improvised “prayers of the faithful” presided over by stand-in lay priests and priestesses these kinds of discourses will seem confusing and/or contradictory. The haphazard and arbitrary approach to liturgical music that dominates these days is also a contradiction to this in my opinion. Improvisation and mutable horizontal liturgy is a part of the spirit of the “reformed” Mass. While I consider it admirable to strive to restore something of the authentic spirit of the liturgy to the novus ordo I don’t see how it can totally succeed without a serious reform of the reform.

  6. Nathan says:

    + JMJ +

    Cardinal Arinze: “What is expected of us?

    In big churches where there are many Masses celebrated on a Sunday or Feast day, why can one of those Masses not be in Latin? In rural parishes a Latin Mass should be possible, say once a month. In international assemblies, Latin becomes even more urgent. It follows that seminaries should discharge carefully their role of preparing and forming priests also in the use of Latin (cf. October 2005 Synod of Bishops, Prop. 36).

    All those responsible for vernacular translations should strive to provide the very best, following the guidance of relevant Church Documents, especially Liturgiam Authenticam. Experience shows that it is not superfluous to remark that priests, deacons and all others who proclaim liturgical texts, should read them out with clarity and due reverence.”

    His Holiness Pope Benedict offers Holy Mass ad orientiem. Most Papal Masses now are largely offered in Latin.

    These are excellent words and wonderful deeds. What are the prospects for their widespread implementation in parishes?

    In Christ,

  7. Hung Doan says:

    Father, I must say that it is more of a Lemma than a corollary, but that’s the mathematician in me! Keep up the brilliant work and thanks for your analyses!

  8. Henry Edwards says:

    RichR: When they had hand missals for the laity to follow along in the Mass, was there such a fuss about translations?

    No, there was no need. The English translation in a given hand missal was contributed by a single individual — no agenda-driven committees involved — whose only objective was an accurate and faithful translation of that the Latin prayer actually said. The idea of an alleged paraphrase with a conscious intention of changing the meaning did not (so far as I know) predate the vernacular translations of the Novus Ordo.

    So I have four traditional Latin-English hand missals plus a Latin-English breviary that I consult to check (for instance) the daily collects. In looking at several different English translations of the same Latin prayer, I find interesting differences in the translations, using different English words and phraseology, but have never found any significant differences in meaning. The very idea would have been unthinkable. And, as Father Z often says, it’s not rocket science — If you want to translate a prayer accurately, you can do it. If a prayer is translated inaccurately, it was almost certainly deliberate.

    It may not be well-known that with the Novus Ordo there’s only a “fuss” with the English translations that are proclaimed from the altar. Translations solely for private use by lay people in the pews are not subject to the nonsense that afflicts official translations. Thus, the interestingly (if inaccurately) entitled red-covered Latin-English Novus Ordo Mass booklet “Mass of Vatican II” published by Ignatius Press ( — for use by people attending Latin Novus Ordo Masses (similar to the ubiquitous red-covered Latin-English TLM booklets) — includes on the right-hand side pages an accurate and literate English translation with the following disclaimer printed on the inside back cover:

    The English translation used in this booklet is used with permission of CREDO, an organization of priests dedicated to promoting an accurate, faithful, and beautiful translation of liturgical texts. It has not been approved for liturgical use and is printed here only as an aid to understanding the Latin texts.

    Thus, being for private use in the pews and not for liturgical use at the altar, it is free to be “accurate, faithful, and beautiful” and need not be banal and polemical like an officially approved translation.

    Occasionally I prepare leaflets with Latin-English propers and readings for Latin Novus Ordo Masses, similar to the ubiquitous Una Voce leaflets for use with the red-covered TLM booklets. For this purpose I am free to (and do) include as the English translations of the propers those provided by Father Z in his WDTPRS columns in The Wanderer (and which I have collected and posted at

  9. Brian Kiernan says:

    Cardinal Arinze speaks with such powerful, down-to-earth directness. There are few alive who can hit a nail more squarely on its head. Thank you for this excellent post.

    As to whether a prayer translation should “sound like a translation,” I do not know Latin grammar, but am familiarizing myself with Liturgical Latin as I gradually learn the Mass Propers in Gregorian Chant. Over time, I find that spending time with unsmooth, slavishly literal translations of the Propers helps me to pray and to chant the Propers as prayer and to better phrase the chant. Smooth and elegant English translations make for eloquent prayers in English; but have to be peeled away in order to learn the prayer in Latin.


  10. Mark says:

    in response to #7 your comment states:

    [I cannot admit that the translations presently in use were “prepared with great care” and are “free from ideological influence”. That is clearly not the case.]

    The text states “The Latin texts have been prepared with great care…free from all ideological influence…”

    I think you and the good Cardinal agree!

  11. John Paul says:

    I’m with Dan Hunter on this one. Great words from His Emminence, which we’ve
    seen and heard before in other settings. America is not unique in being “selective”
    in our listening and following Rome, but we must seem pretty far gone. I know
    this blog tries to show due respect to the successors of the Apostles, but it
    is difficult to watch so many attempts at correction from Rome get lost in the
    dead letter files of many Chancery Offices. Heck, we all know of the selective
    listening even from parish to parish within a diocese.

    We are told that Pope John Paul II suffered for the Church, and was especially
    worried about America. (Especially based upon Father John Hardon’s pleas to
    address the crisis that originated in Rome). But was he really powerless to
    take stronger action and regain control of the Church? How much of the crisis
    of faith, in the Mass and virtually every area of Catholic life is because many
    of these changes were deliberate, not “accidental” and out of disobedience?

  12. Deborah says:

    Cardinal Arinze has stated many good points to clarify misperceptions and restate the teachings of the Church. However, a major problem lies in the fact that the Congregation for Divine Worship, of which he is the Prefect, does not support some of these things in practice through their actions.

    For example, in Canada the Roman Missal is entirely in the vernacular, English – no Latin anywhere for the priest to use. So, if a priest wishes to say parts of or the entire Mass in Latin he has to copy and paste in the Latin texts..literally.

    There was some hope that the newly translated Roman Missal will have the vernacular and Latin parallel – wrong – I just found out there will be no Latin again!

    The question then is: Why does the CDW not mandate that all Roman Missals must have the Latin texts of the Mass parallel with the vernacular? Cardinal Arinze needs to not only talk about what is right but put forth even small actions which make a big difference to encourage what is right.

    Ultimately, it is the CDW who must mandate this to the bishops’ conferences otherwise the majority of them take great pleasure in leaving the Latin out to help ensure it’s not learned by their priests. Well, it has worked has worked so far.

    If anyone reading this has connections with anyone working in the CDW perhaps this could be mentioned to them.

    I will write as well since it may be still possible to have the CDW take some action on ensuring both Latin and English are in the newly translated English RM.

  13. EDG says:

    I am a professional translator (of several Romance languages) and I’d like to add my observations.

    Most of my work is legal. I translate law suits, legal opinions, texts, and a multitude of rather formal documents. And I translate them (a) formally and (b) with respect for the terminology.

    Do I translate them literally? Of course not. Spanish or Italian may have a four-word version of some legal figure for which English has a standard two word phrase. I use the English phrase, because otherwise no attorney or judge in the English speaking world would have any idea what it meant. But the phrase is always the standard English expression of a technical term, which was probably originally in Latin in any case, and not some term I have dreamed up to make the original “easier” to understand.

    I spend hours searching texts and the Internet to make sure that I have the most accurate and most commonly used English phrase for that particular legal concept. But I don’t sit around trying to explain it to the judge, or write something so stupid and simple that it could be understood by someone with no specialist knowledge. It is important that it be the correct, standard, entirely unoriginal phrase.

    I’d say liturgical translation is a lot like that. Should it be readable? Yes, because it has to make sense. But remember that original was written, to some extent, for a specialist audience, and therefore the translation has to be what would make sense to the specialist and would have all the terms that are accepted as the standard translation expressing the concepts of the original words. Of course there will be technical words, and it’s possible that some people won’t understand them.

    ANd that’s were religious ed comes in. Transubstantiation was not a normal part of anybody’s vocabulary prior to VatII, but I bet most Catholics, particularly those who had been through Catholic school, could tell you what it meant. That was because somebody taught it to them. Liturgical language is nowhere near as complicated, and even the humblest person can get the general idea, but I think it’s got to be taught again, including in adult religious education classes.

    Liturgical language is formal and structured and every word has its reason, and that’s how it must be translated. Legal documents, by the way, can be very beautiful. The precision of their language (if written by a good legal writer) becomes poetry. Granted, the subject is not usually very poetic, but that’s an entirely different matter.

  14. Mark says:

    Use an Angelus Press or Baronius Missal and you are getting the exact translations.

    These missals you cite are not exact translations – but they are much better than the current Novus Ordo Missal translations – by far!

    There are nearly always compromises in translating from one language to another – especially from an inflective to a non-inflective language such as Latin/Greek to English.

    This is messy stuff and has caused all sorts of problems because of the agendas propagated by the people in these committees (specifically the ICEL) – it’s not like translating the Iliad or the Odyssey.

    If ideologies were not in play here there wouldn’t be such a fight and it certainly would not take years and years to get a faithfully accurate translation.


  15. Deborah says:

    “It should not hesitate to use some words not generally in use in everyday conversation, or words that are associated with Catholic faith and worship. Therefore, it should say chalice and not just cup, paten and not plate, ciborium and not vessel, priest and not presider, sacred host and not consecrated bread, vestments and not dress.”

    This speaks well to maintaining/re-learning our Catholic identity.

    The litugical language needs to be addressed at the heart where these terms are being propogated. Most of the Catholic school systems. Read their textbooks!

    I cannot even count how many times I have heard words totally foreign to a Catholic sensibility from Catholic youth. When they are asked where they heard that word..the school (a Catholic school). Another common one is holy bread….. as in we receive the holy bread. Strange? Not the children’s fault of course.

    Again, I think the Holy See needs to look at the roots of these problems otherwise only good Catholics read their instructions and follow them. The others just keep doing their own thing…promoting dissent and distortion.

    (I could talk for hours about this issue, honestly.)

  16. Andrew says:

    It is interesting that following the Cardinal’s (and Fr. Z’s) comments about certain unique attributes of Latin, all further remarks picked up the notion of translation. This thread was primarily not about translation. How about saying something about the merit of using untranslated Latin? Hello out there, catholics of the ROMAN rite … Now that we have figured out how to use the latest cell-phone, and the latest i-pod and the rss feed, and the Laptop … perhaps we can also learn a little Latin? Would that be so terrible?

  17. TJM says:

    For a Catholic to be hostile to Latin is like being hostile to your mother tongue. I also think some priests don’t like Latin because it doesn’t permit them to slop around with the liturgical texts. I rarely go to the English language Mass any longer because I am sick and tired of “Father Creative” who has the lingual skills of a typical 12 year old. Tom

  18. Henry Edwards says:

    TMJ: For a Catholic to be hostile to Latin is like being hostile to your mother tongue.

    Now that the Supreme Pontiff has ruled definitively that there are two fully acceptable and valid forms of the Roman rite, can it still be considered proper and acceptable for a Catholic to explicitly oppose one form or the other? If not, is active hostility to either form a sin? (Hmm … since my last confession I have expressed hostility to the Novus Ordo 73 times, and …)

    Sure, one might have and express a personal preference for one form over the other, and not only can but should oppose liturgical abuse in either form. But should not expressed hostility to either form be considered beyond the pale, especially for a priest or bishop who might arguably have obligations to fidelity beyond those of an ordinary pew sitter?

  19. Chironomo says:

    Dis anyone else notice that these are from the Gateway Conference in November of 2006? I thought they looked kinda familiar….

  20. BobP says:

    I think what Cardinal Arinze and Pope John XIII are really
    saying is that Catholic theology is best (and universally)
    expressed in Latin. While there is nothing wrong with a
    Church-approved translation, neverthess it is a translation
    and not designed for everybody. One may compare the English
    in his handmissal to a pair of training wheels; after a while
    the few glances at the Latin should evolve into routine reading
    of the Latin. However, it will take more than a monthly visit
    to a TLM to start the learning curve here. At least once a week
    to really “get it.” After all we should be seeking the Truth
    for ourselves and we may not find it if we just lay back with
    our comfortable vernaculars.

  21. Sean says:

    Father, regarding your comment on translation I have found my uptake of things like the Divine Office hymns heavily impeded by translations made to scan, rhyme, etc in English. An edition with unsmoothed literal translation would make this much easier as I would then not have to unravel a cryptic interpretive layer when mapping words and would be naturally quick to process the rougher English into a meaning. Not sure that this would convey full doctrinal accuracy in English in every instance however but as long as this is understood then what is the problem.

  22. Fr. W says:

    The biggest seminary in the United States does not require knowledge of Latin. Clearly the council wants priests to know Latin.

    Is there not somewhere in Canon Law a requirement that priests be able to offer Mass in Latin?

    Regarding translations: I think we had the way to translate down perfectly – in the 1950’s. Those hand missals, stations of the cross, etc. are just so beautifully done; and just enough ‘Thee’s and Thous’ to be beautiful but not Anglican. Too bad.

  23. kdpfam says:

    Cannot an argument be made that the use of a translation that “manifestly distorts the text” is an immoral act? Likewise as to the “official” approval of a translation that “manifestly distorts the text”? If the answer to either question is yes, what is a priest supposed to do from a moral point of view? Thanks. Kim

    P.S. When I speak of a “moral act” I am referring to St. Thomas Aquinas’ defintition.

  24. Royce says:


    I think having Latin-English side-by-side would have to make the missal double its size and therefore extremely unweildy. Though perhaps that would be a good impetus for altar boys to stop having to hold them up for Father …

  25. Mitchell NY says:

    Veterum Sapientia should be re-sent to all seminaries with an adendum from our current Holy Father with his own personal reflections over the last 40 years since its’ “ditching”. We need to hear Latin in Mass and in the age of internet technology many people are studying Latin and have the ability to research something if they do not know what it means. To take advantage of this resource for recipes, fashion trends, and news but ignore it when needed for a better undertanding of Mass is simply laziness. In today’s age most poeple can learn the ordinary of Mass in Latin in their lifetimes. The time has come to reclaim our scared language for use in Mass. Jewish people have Hebrew, Hindus have Sanskrit and we Catholics have Latin ! Come on people.

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