“O God, you are so big!” Maronite English liturgical translations: Devastation!

For decades we Latin Church Catholics in the English speaking world suffered from hideous liturgical translations, prepared by ICEL.

Remember what they were like?  Here is the quintessential, typical, emblematic, prototypical,  illustrative, archetypal, representative Obsolete ICEL prayer:

O God,
you are so big.
Help us to be big like you.

Thank be to God, the Obsolete ICEL prayers were replaced, according to new principles of translation laid down in Liturgiam authenticam.  While the current translations are not perfect, they at least resemble the Latin originals.

Today a friend sent me this.

Looks like the Maronites have discovered dynamic equivalence!  The “reformed” version is apparently in their new Missal (2013 in US).

Attached to the email was this:


I don’t know Syriac, so I can’t compare these to the original, but… dang, this wouldn’t be good at all.

If this is accurate, and if this is representative of how Maronites might be praying if they use English, and if they stick to this, then their identity will be devastated.

“Enriched” Reform Version?  REALLY?!?


I hope this a) isn’t true and b) is only one (little used) option.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    When will these bishops learn? I am glad I wasn’t fully aware of what happened with the promulgation of the OF going through RCIA. Now I have a hard time reconciling the fact that a single man had the power to change how almost a billion people (at the time) prayed.

  2. RafqasRoad says:

    Fr. Z.,

    ‘Reforms’ began to creap into the Maronite English mass towards the back end of 2013 in the Maronite congregation I attended/that received me into Catholic Christianity two years prior. As there is no Maronite congreaation in my newish place of residence, I attend a Roman Rite church (more often than not actually finding my way to a Roman Rite EF mass whenever back in Sydney).

    It would be heartbreaking if the good folk of my beloved rite ditched 1700 years of beauty and heritage (even in English revisions made around 1990).Other Maronites may wish to chime in.

    St. Rafqa pray for us,
    St. Charbel pray for us,
    St. Maron, pray for us.

  3. Traductora says:

    They (VII central) have been working very hard on destroying the Eastern Rite liturgies as well, but this has rarely been noticed. These rites were “reformed” at different times and with little fanfare a few years later than the Roman Rite. Other distinct but non-Byzantine rites, such as the Visigothic Rite in Spain, were also destroyed…I mean “reformed.” Generally this meant that their liturgical texts, which were very theologically rich, were reduced to utterly meaningless blandness.

  4. David in T.O. says:

    I am a Maronite by canonical right, it was the rite of my grandparents, though the traditional Latin Mass is the rite of my choice.

    The Maronites have been suffering from Romanisation since the Crusades when the French came through Mt. Lebanon and told them that they were doing it, the Qurbono – Sacrifice/Offering, wrong.

    There has been a slow movement by some priests to restore the liturgy. Unfortunately, it is fraught with difficulty due to bishops and people who want to be like their neighbours.

    They have been novus odourised.

  5. Matthew Gaul says:

    The Maronite church didn’t just discover this sort of thing, there is a long history of shedding identity, unfortunately.

    My perception is that the Syriac churches’ “high church” movements do not have the same organization or lay backing that the Latin Church’s movement does, nor do they have the natural conservatism of the Greco-Slavic churches.

    Thank you, Fr. Z., for this tidbit from the East.

    Perhaps a Maronite can speak to it more precisely than I.

  6. Grumpy Beggar says:

    With face firmly in palm, I tried to research this one a bit on the net , and quickly ended up at an old Monty Python skit entitled Oh Lord ! You Are so Big !”. Nuff said – not providing the link on this one. :(

  7. I’m not a Maronite, but I have been under the impression that this rite has been under attack for decades. Many changes from their traditions have been wrought there over the years. This isn’t a new thing sadly.

  8. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    So bad that it is hard to believe.

  9. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    *if* this is accurate, the current “English” translation is not in English as to its syntax, idiom, or even grammar (“Intercede to us for He”?!?). If this gibberish is the current “English” of the Maronite liturgy they definitely need a new version. *If* the right column is the new version, they need a newer version. Why do translators seem unable to turn a text into real English idiom and style that also truly reflects the original language. And why don’t we Latins have such a text yet?

  10. Benedict Joseph says:

    Exhibit “A” of the fraudulence riding rough shod over the Church. This is transpiring with emphatic deliberate intent.
    What does that say about us?

  11. dn.philip.mathew says:

    I’m not a Maronite and know very little about their rite, but I am an Orthodox Syrian Christian, so there is some overlap in the traditions.

    It would be interesting to see the Syriac text(s) because, to me, this looks like two entirely different hymns, not one hymn with a reasonably accurate translation on the left and a newer, less accurate translation on the right.

    The “enriched modern version” is clearly an attempt to replicate the heptasyllabic metre in which St Ephrem composed much of his poetry. It’s not perfect, but it can be sung as is according to the eight tones.

    The “traditional Maronite hymn from Syriac” is an entirely different hymn in terms of text (e.g., consider the third verse in each column: the person addressed differs) and probably metre as well (I have a guess as to which, but only a guess).

    Without looking at the Syriac text(s), I’m not sure it’s fair to criticise this as an example of “dynamic equivalence”.

  12. From a Maronite friend: Neither the original nor the reformed version are ephremiats. The original verses were each two verses in the meter of St. Jacob, so the right column verses should be about half the size of the left. The right column is also a (corrupted) yaqoubiat. The content is so vastly different even from the Arabic text, Salatouki Ma’ana (Your Prayers are with us), and instead the adapter decided to abandon the text in favor of the Hail Mary.

    The discrepancy of the last two verses is extremely easy to explain if one is a Syriac (Maronite). All hymns, whether Marian, Dominical, etc., end with a verse praying for the dead (and more often than not the second to last verse is also themed differently from the rest of the hymn because). The current liturgical committee however has decided to axe this traditional scheme and simply pick 3 verses.

  13. rbbadger says:

    I really hope that they did not mangle the hymns that badly, but it looks like they did. The Maronite Rite has many wonderful hymns and prayers which have a great deal of theological depth.

    I’m not Maronite, but I am familiar with the liturgy. One of the prayers which I often keep in mind, even as a priest of the Latin Rite, is “Remain in peace, o holy altar of the Lord and I hope to return to you in peace. I know not whether I shall return to you again to offer sacrifice.” This is the prayer the priest prays silently before leaving the altar at the end of the Liturgy.

    I understand that when the Maronites were revising their liturgy after Vatican II, one of the consultors was Monsignor Frederick McManus. Monsignor McManus taught canon law at the Catholic University of America for years. (One of my professors had him. He said he was a man so boring that he would even put himself to sleep.) Monsignor McManus was a member of the Concilium headed by Archbishop Bugnini which revised all the liturgical books after Vatican II and one of the founders of ICEL. Perhaps his spirit is still hovering somewhere.

  14. William Tighe says:

    I am writing what follows from memory, so correction would be gratefully received.

    The Maronites “reformed” their liturgical books in a Bugninian way in the early/mid 70s of the last century. On the one hand, the reform was more historically and textually true to their historical West Syrian tradition than the reform of the Roman Rite was to the longaeval tradition of the Roman Church (i.e., without fanciful obtrusions such as “the sign of peace” or “communion in the hand” and the like). On the other hand, as part of this “reform” the Maronite authorities mandated “Mass facing the people” everywhere outside their Lebanese homeland, where it was made optional – and by the mid 90s it had become almost universal in cities in Lebanon, but considerably less so in the countryside. The other disgusting feature of this “reform” was the manner in which prayers were ham-fistedly abbreviated. The West Syrian liturgical tradition has a plethora of anaphoras (Eucharistic prayers), at least 76 of which could be found in the liturgical books of that tradition (Maronite/Syriac Orthodox/Syrian Catholic) down to the 15th/16th centuries – but by the 20th Century this had been reduced to six among the Maronites.

    The “reform” of the 70s brought a number of them back into use – but also mangled them. Take, for example – I am being a bit subjective here – that beautiful elegant (and rather long) anaphora, the Anaphora of St. James the Just, the “Adelphotheos.” This was once the anaphora of the Church of Jerusalem, arguably composed (or compiled) by St, Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), and adopted far and wide throughout the Greek and Syriac East.. In its Maronite “reformed” form whole paragraphs of that prayer are either altogether omitted or ham-fistedly abbreviated – so much so that it is distressing for me to hear it prayed at a Maronite liturgy, since it has been made, as it were, a euchological eunuch. And other prayers have been treated in like manner. I have been to Maronite Masses in the USA where there were choirs of young folk belting out hymns to guitar accompaniment, with the priest-celebrant crooning out tunes as well.

    I gather that a number of non-Byzantine Eastern Catholic churches rushed to introduce “Mass facing the people” in the 70s, among them the Maronites, the Syrian Catholics, the Ethiopians, and the Chaldeans. In their world-wide synod which met in Rome in November 2005 – eheu, fugaces! – the Chaldean Catholic bishops resolved to eliminate “Mass facing the people” (as “alien to our tradition”), but I gather that the implementation of that resolution has been patchy at best.

  15. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Augustine Thompson O.P. says, it “is not in English as to its syntax, idiom, or even grammar (“Intercede to us for He”?!?).”

    I only see two of what appear to be grammatical mistakes: “you have drank” for ‘you have drunk’, and this, “Intercede for us to He who”. Might something simply have dropped out in (re)setting the text, which, if restored, would turn this part of the text into real English – namely, ‘Him’? That is, could the (often plaguy) “He who” be in apposition to a preceding ‘Him’: ‘Intercede for us to Him, He who [….]’? Accepting this conjectural restoration, do we see a translator less bold than the Rev. Peter F. Sfeir, who in his 1953 translation of the “Hoossaya”, writes of giving “honor to Him Who being great […]” (The Syriac-Maronite Mass in English, p. 44, as scanned in the Internet Archive) – or simply a translator who want a bit more emphasis (even at the price of “He who”)?

    The rendering “blessed and purest One [sic]” may be compared, and contrasted, with his rendering of the Arabic “Salatookee Ma-ana”, where it reads, “Pray for us, O most pure of Creatures” (p. 45).

  16. QuietContemplative says:

    I am Roman by rite but am a parishoner at a Maronite parish. I’ve never seen/heard either of these hymns. While I can definitely identify “roman creep” in certain parts of the Qurbono, I’ve generally not seen anything at that level. Plenty of the mysticism the Syriac Liturgy is known for is still present in the books. Is all of it? No, and that is sad, but it’s not as bad as an NO mass.

  17. frmgcmma says:

    First what must be understood is that these two texts are NOT prayers to be recited. They are hymns with traditional meter and/or melody. That makes for a Herculean task for anyone to translate faithfully and fit the translation into a meter and meolody pre-determined. The translation in the left column is from Syriac and is NOT in meter or singable. The one on the right is based on the Arabic translation of the Syriac and is in meter and singable to a recognizable Maronite melody.

    The hymn on the right appears in the Book of Offering (“missal”) for Wednesday during the season of Pentecost. One advantage of the Maronite missal is that it is tri-lingual: English translation on one page and Arabic and sometimes also Syriac on the opposite page. This hymn only appears with Arabic opposite since it is a popular hymn in Lebanon in Arabic (not many use Syriac). The Arabic of “salatookee ma‘ana” is a translation of “slootekh ‘aman” in Syriac (or based on it) but it is not strictly metrical. It has an adapted melody, and in Arabic it is irregular.

    One translator told me that they translated the Arabic into English since “salatookee ma’ana” is an important hymn for Maronites. They chose to use the Arabic melody, too, but “regularized” it, because it is easier to sing that way. They combined vv 3 & 4 because attempts at 4 verses sounded too repetitive and because they know that the Arabic had just expanded 3 Syriac verses to 4 Arabic.

    And this translator humbly admitted: “It’s kinda tricky to put English to both of these melodies.”

    So let’s drop the charge of “dynamic equivalence” and realize what efforts have been made to be able to sing Maronite hymns for the first time in English to the traditional melodies.

    This may not be the best example of success in the effort, but I dare someone to do better.

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