The new, corrected translation and deaf people


Even a bait-less hook will sometimes snag a catch.  The National Catholic Fishwrap has a somewhat interesting story about deaf communities getting ready to receive the new, corrected translation of the Missale Romanum.

Stop and think about it.  If the text of Mass changes, they too will see changes when it is “signed”.  Right?

You can read the article there, but here is an interesting bit from the end:


Like the spoken words at Mass, some of the changes for deaf Mass-goers will be subtle, others more profound. For example, in Eucharistic Prayer I, at the consecration of the wine, the words change from “the cup” to “this precious chalice.”
“Cup” is a relatively simple sign that could also mean glass or pint, but “chalice” has a more formal connotation to it, so one sign for “chalice” outlines the shape of a chalice.
Pictured are the changes, also in Eucharistic Prayer I, where the priest used to say Jesus’ blood “will be shed for you and for all.” The new translation says Jesus’ blood “will be shed for you and for many.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I wonder how you sign “ineffable”?

  2. isnowhere says:

    @Tony… nice… I actually want to know now, but could not find it on google.

  3. isnowhere says:

    I was reading through the comments on the article. Someone from New Zealand wrote in to mention that they were currently translating the New Missal. The interesting quote:

    One aspect which has been particularly revealing is that we have found it much easier to translate from the Latin directly into NZSL as Latin tends to contain a richer, broader spectrum of meaning than the English.

  4. I don’t understand TL’s point. Is he trying to be funny? If so, well, let’s just say, jokes about Deaf people and not-speaking are in pretty poor taste.

    Anyway, to Fr. Z’s more interesting question: “Stop and think about it. If the text of Mass changes, they too will see changes when it is ‘signed’. Right?”

    Sort of right. (And no need to put “signed” in quotes; it’s just signed.) If the signing is based on the English translation, then yes, if the translation changes, so will the signing. But if the signing is based on the Latin (as is the larger project on which the NCOD is focused) then the signing is no more dependent on the English than it is on the French or the Iroquois or the Swahili. What NCRep is reporting on is a short-term service rendered by experts in sign to INTERPRETERS for the Deaf who will be hearing new text come Advent. It is not a report on the wider ASL translation project for the DEAF, although some of the signing in the NCRep links is taken from that project, as several people (like Dcn. Graybill) have worked on both projects.

  5. tzard says:

    From a practical standpoint, if a word is used for which there is not a sign, it is often finger-spelled.

    However, in liturgical use, a sign probably would be developed for such words.

    Oddly enough, finding a way to express the concept of “ineffable” in signs is slightly ironic. Probably best to finger spell it, in my unqualified opinion.

  6. capchoirgirl says:

    Tzard: Yup, exactly–finger spelled, or a sign is developed for use within the community, if the Deaf community doesn’t have a consensual sign for that. (There are, for example, four signs for ‘computer’)

    Another note is that ASL isn’t Signing Exact English, so not all words are translated, and it’s not in English word order. So a lot of the sentences will have to be revised to reflect ASL grammar, as it were.

  7. Tony Layne says:

    Actually, Dr. Peters, I am interested in languages, although I’m not fluent in anything other than English. It occurred to me that “ineffable” might be a hard concept to sign; as much as it has been joked about here — jokes, I might add, that are normally aimed at those who have resisted the new translation — it’s not a word that gets used in everyday conversation. I agree with you that jokes about the deaf are in poor taste, and I apologize if I didn’t completely make myself clear the first time around.

  8. Tony Layne says:

    tzard & capchoirgirl: Thanks for the information!

  9. TL. Okay.

    As you get better at other languages (and it is an interest you should pursue) you’ll see how different languages handle these issues differently (or the same!). We can use this situation as an example: The Latin word “ineffabilis” dates back to Pliny, who certainly did not invent it. iow, it goes back in Latin several hundred years before English was around. So, anyway, at some point, the Latin word “ineffabilis” was met by someone putting texts into English and he asked, “Gee, how do you say “ineffabilis” in English?” Answer? You don’t. There is no such word in English. Solution: English simply punted, and just transliterated the Latin word into something like English spelling. The process did not imply to anyone that English was not a language, etc., or that it couldn’t handle just about any concept capable of occurring to the human mind. Ditto for ASL. [“unspeakable”? From Middle English speken and Old English specan? And we have joked around a lot about “ineffable” in the life of this blog, even having from time to time “Ineffable Sightings”!]

  10. PrairieHawk says:

    Could the Eucharist be confected using sign language, or does it require the spoken word? That is, if the priest were deaf and spoke using signs.

  11. PrairieHawk: See Edward Peters, “The ordination of men bereft of speech and the celebration of sacraments in sign language”, Studia Canonica, 42 (2008) 331-345. (University of St. Paul, Ottawa).

  12. Dr. Peters: Thanks for jumping in. Could you give us a few bullet points on the issue of valid celebration of sacraments in sign language?

  13. Nicole says:

    I’m kinda at a loss as to how interpreting the prayers of the Mass in sign language at Mass is getting people closer to the primary purpose of the Mass: the act of the celebrant priest in persona Christi offering the unbloody sacrifice of Christ to the Father for our redemption…but then again, I’m kinda at a loss as to how saying the Mass in the vernacular helps in that direction either. It seems to me that the fruit of this endeavor is to make the Mass appear to those who attend to fulfill their obligations as a bare sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving…(which notion the Council of Trent has bound to be anathema in its 22nd Session, 3rd Canon).

  14. Nicole says:

    When I wrote “unbloody sacrifice of Christ” above, I meant to say, the sacrifice of Christ in an unbloody manner. Sorry…

  15. capchoirgirl says:

    Nicole–wee bit confused about the question…can you clarify? Then maybe I can help ya out? :)
    I *think* you’re asking why it’s not translated from the Latin? Or are you asking why is it translated at all?

  16. Nicole says:

    capchoirgirl, I’m asking why it’s interpreted into sign language AT Mass, like during the Holy Sacrifice…why does it seem that people think there is a need for it to be interpreted during the Mass?

  17. capchoirgirl says:

    Nicole: it gets translated so that deaf peole can have the same experience as the rest of the congregation. It wouldn’t make much sense to sign the rest of the Mass and exclude the most important part.

  18. Banjo pickin girl says:

    capchoirgirl, If the Mass were not signed then deaf people would be getting a silent canon as well as a silent everything else! I am losing my hearing fairly rapidly (the banjo is loud enough still) and am interested in subjects like this one.

  19. capchoirgirl says:

    Exactly. It’s so they know what’s being said at Mass. It’s highly frustrating to not be able to understand what’s happening around you!

  20. Rich says:

    I am a special education teacher who has taught hearing impaired students. Allow me to assure the folks at the National Catholic Reporter that deaf people are not stupid. A vast majority of them are able to read. Once they read what the words of the new translation are about one or two times, and correlate them to what is being signed (if an interpreter is even there to sign them), they will know what the words to be signed are, having read them, and there will be very likely be little confusion. All of this assumes there are interpreters handy at all the Masses deaf people go to. I am sure that interpreters are not present at the vast majority of Masses deaf people go to, and so they if they wish to follow the Mass, do so by reading along anyway. The fact that interpreters most likely are present at about 2% of the Masses deaf people attend makes the whole issue about having to sign new words moot.

  21. Rich says:

    …there will be very likely be little confusion…

  22. Nicole says:

    capchoirgirl – I’m not trying to be contentious, but deaf people can read and know what is going on right along with the rest of the parishoners who follow Missals. I’m not trying to upset people, either, but I do not understand why there has to be a double standard for deaf people DURING the Mass. I can completely understand catechesis interpreted into sign, or a demonstrational video of the changes of the Mass…but this seems to be moving off the course of the purpose of the Mass when you have interpreters signing what is going on in front of all the parishoners. It’s totally up to the Bishops to regulate, however, and so be what they choose to do…

    This is just like saying you’re going to have an English translator interpret the Tridentine Mass for the parishoners WHILE the Mass is going on, though…or perhaps have a large projector screen onto which is projected the English interpretation of what is going on at the Extraordinary Form. In my opinion, it’s best to stick to observation of the Missal…

    People were not slighted by the Church in ages past (or in the Eastern Catholic Rites) where they could neither hear nor see what is going on in the sanctuary. The only thing that the laity are bound to, to my knowledge, as regards Mass is that they attend as per the precepts of the Church and receive Holy Communion at least once a year…

  23. capchoirgirl says:

    Nicole: It’s more than just “hearing”. It’s understanding, it’s participating along w/ the rest of the congregation. Imagine if you were surrounded by a few hundred people singing, praying, speaking, listening, and you had no idea where they were or what they were doing. It is very, very difficult and extremely frustrating, especially for parts of the Mass that cannot be “read”, like the homily.
    Yes, we can read–I’m post-lingually deaf, and I have a cochlear implant. I can follow, because I lost my hearing when I was 23. But I have trouble knowing sometimes when the congregation is responding, where we are in the creed, what exactly is the Eucharistic Prayer we are using.
    In the Latin Mass, everyone, in a sense, is lost “together.” And since you can hear, and read, you can follow. The preist says this, then you say this. That doesn’t apply to deaf people at a non Latin Mass. We deserve to know what is going on just as much as you do.
    It appears you have never been in any place where an interpreter was present. It is not intrusive. Usually the interpreter is off to one side of the sanctuary, and people know that, so if they require his/her services, they can go sit there.Signing is not some big thing–it’s no more distracting to everyone else than a fidgety altar boy, or a crying baby. It’s silent for starters.
    I don’t see how having an ASL interpreter is not “sticking to the missal”. Also not sure how it is a “double standard.” If the Mass was in Latin, it would be signed for the benefit of the Deaf. Pope Benedict XVI has had interpreters present during his trips–during his U.S. tour he has an ASL interpreter during his talk to young people.
    And you have an English translation of a Latin Mass in a missal, if you so choose. That doesn’t really work for ASL.

  24. Capchoirgirl, I am frankly appalled at some of the views expressed by “Nicole” and I admire your patience in responding to her. You might like this by me, and some things linked therein:

    If you’d like a copy of some of my more detailed studies, like, my “Canonical and cultural developments culminating in the ordination of Deaf men during the twentieth century”, Josephinum Journal of Theology 15 (2008) 427-443. (Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus OH), just contact me through my website.

    Best, edp.

  25. Nicole says:

    capchoirgirl – I don’t think you’re quite getting my point. :) I do not mean that having an interpreter present at Mass is not an observance of the Missal/rubrics; I mean that subjectively, people can look to their Missals to see what is going on.

    I have been to many Masses where there were interpreters for the deaf. I understand how they can be very helpful to those who need them, and like I said, that is up to the discretion of the Bishop to allow them or not. If he chooses it, so be it. I know from my personal experience, however, that my eyes and those of my childhood friends were often drawn away from the sanctuary and our thoughts away from the sacred mysteries to the interpreters due to the novelty of it. While I am not blaming the interpreters for that, it is still my opinion that the placement of the interpreters lessened the solemnity of the Mass.

    I know that there is provision in the GIRM (105, b) for a commentator of the different parts of Mass, so perhaps an interpreter could fit in that category as well? Probably, but not in the way they’re used currently. The way the interpreter was used in my experience, was not as an announcer, but rather, they signed everything at Mass…and in Canon Law (907) it is forbidden for any lay person to offer the prayers proper to the priest…and it doesn’t say in his place, either, it doesn’t make any distinction or division over whether there is a priest present offering or not offering the prayer at the same time.

    I lived in Japan for a time, also, and went through pretty much exactly what you are describing when attending Mass. However, because I could see well what was going on (observing the priest, his servers and the parishoners), I knew exactly where the priest was in the Mass, even with no benefit of a Missal.

    I know that deaf people have a much more difficult time “fitting in” than do blind people or others with physical deformities since hearing and speech are pretty much the central faculties used in communication and socialization. I’ve also been very close to many deaf people from my very earliest memories of childhood due to my uncle’s work with the deaf, they were all amazing in what they could get across in the words they were able to vocalize and gesticulations they could make up on the fly for those who couldn’t sign, but it still doesn’t change my opinion in regard to what is proper at Mass.

    People can be appalled at my position here, but I don’t believe my position is a bad one and I am not calling the use of an interpreter sin in and of itself. However, it is not necessary to participate or learn AT the Mass for one to fulfill his obligation of attendance. While the Mass in itself can teach doctrine, it is not necessary for a valid Mass that the people attending get the teaching (hence the example of St. Paul telling women to ask their husbands to teach them at home; 1 Cor. ch 14 vs. 35). The understanding of the parishoners is not part of the primary purpose of the Mass. Catechesis is the venue in which understanding of the one catechized is the primary purpose. Participation of the individual parishoners in the responses or gestures at Mass is also not necessary for a valid Mass, and while I imagine that some could gain spiritual benefit from the ritualized praising and thanking of God, I do not believe that most people even know what they’re doing beyond rote recitation at the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite Mass.

    I know that when I attend Mass in the Ordinary Form there is never any obligation placed upon me to recite what is called the ‘creed’ or any other responses.

    All I’m saying is that this issue with communal participation and understanding AT Mass seems to be a symptom of a MUCH bigger illness.

  26. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Anything that is audible in the Mass ought to be signed. Where is the homily in the missal?

  27. capchoirgirl says:

    There are many, many things that can distract from the Mass. Art can distract, and cause daydreams. People distract. The rain on the roof can distract. A bad choir can distract. People’s own thoughts can be distracting. That is not a good argument for not having interpretors so that others in the congregation can participate in the Mass and hear the prayers with everyone else.

    You keep emphasizing that they can read. Well, sure, so can the congregation. So why talk at all? Let’s just all read, and nothing will be said. I realize that this is a facetious, but it’s the logical extension of what you’re talking about. If we were just to read and not have active participation, then that is what we’d have. But no. There are dialogues in the Mass. You seem to think that all Deaf people cannot speak. I can speak just fine. I want to know when it’s time for me to talk.
    (and for the record–I do not need an interpreter, although one would be nice for the homilies, because I miss a lot of it)

    Vis-a-vis the Japan experience: You knew that it would be in Japanese, and you adapted accordingly. Interpreters are how we adapt accordingly.

    We do not need a commentary. We need words. You also seem to forget that sometimes, special readings are used that are not in the Missal–such as the anniversary of the dedication of a church, or other rite. We need the words, in a way we can understand them.

    I think your argument using canon law is an example of the letter of the law violating the spirit of the law. Certainly, no layperson can up and offer the prayers of the consecration on the altar. That is NOT what the interpreter is doing. The interpreter is simply relaying what the priest is saying. The interpreter is not offering the sacrifice.Deaf people are deaf, but they are not stupid. They know the interpreter is not the priest, and that the words being signed are being said and offered by him, not the interpreter.

    I’m appalled by your stance, but especially so because you have experience with the Deaf community. You seem to be very willing to relegate them to a lesser experience at Mass because you don’t want to be “distracted.” And I’m insulted by the way you suggest that all we need to fulfill our obligation–for ANY Catholic–is just to sit in the pews and dumbly recite. That is NOT what is required of us. We are called to enter into the mysteries. We are called to understand (as far as we are able, for we cannot understand everything) and say what we believe. No one understands every facet of Catholic doctrine, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t study it and attempt to understand.

  28. capchoirgirl says:

    edp: Thanks for the great links. I’m in Columbus, so the Josephinum is right near by!

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