WHAT DOES THE PRAYER REALLY SAY? Introduction Originally printed in November 2000 in the The Wanderer For some time in the Catholic Online Forum in Compuserve and on the web ( I posted a weekly offering in which I took one or more prayers of the proper of a Sunday or Holy Day Mass, usually the "Collect" (see below), explained some of the style of the Latin, provided a literal translation from the Latin original, and then compared it to the English translation published in the Sacramentary widely-used in the English speaking world. In other words, I compared what the Church’s official Latin prayers with the version we are given to use in our parishes. It was intended originally as a tool whereby people could enter more fully into the prayers of the Mass. Over time, I began to see from feedback I received that people were indeed becoming more interested in the content of the prayers. They also began to discover that there was a significant difference between what the Latin prayer said and the corresponding English translation of the Latin prayer provided by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) published in all the missalettes in our parishes. It struck many that the Church gave us one prayer, and ICEL gave us another. That raised a lot of reactions ranging from anger at not being given a more accurate translation, to gratitude and renewed interest and dedication to listening carefully at Mass, to puzzlement: why are the English versions that different? That is how the series I posted each week obtained its title: "What Does The Prayer Really Say?" It was a fascinating adventure and fruitful exchange. So, I am doing it again and the Wanderer will reprint what I offer in the Catholic Online Forum each week. I think it is fairly well-known, and it is not tendentious to state, that the ICEL translations for the prayers of the Latin edition of the Roman Missal we have been given are both controversial (at best) and vulnerable to significant improvement. However, I do not think it unreasonable to suggest that the People of God who belong to the Latin Church have a right to have both Latin in their liturgy and, if the vernacular is going to be used, accurate translations of the Latin prayers. In a poignant way the present Holy Father spoke of this need:

"When so many people are thirsting for the living God (Ps 42:2) 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". Ad limina address to the Bishops of California, Nevada and Hawaii, L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition), December 15, 1993

The Second Vatican Council mandated that Latin remain the language of the Church’s liturgy. But the Council also indicated that the vernacular languages could be used for some parts of Mass for good pastoral reasons. On the other hand, something very different resulted: many people (even some members of the hierarchy) think that the Council abolished Latin and commanded that the vernacular be used in its stead. The fact is that, although the vernacular is unquestionably a great gift to us, Latin is the official language of the Church’s liturgy. The vernacular is now nearly everywhere dominant and practically the exclusive language used, but Latin remains the standard for all liturgical texts. Nevertheless, the Holy See publishes liturgical books and the these must be translated into vernacular languages for use by peoples throughout the world. In the case of English liturgical books used in the USA, ICEL was in charge of those translations. On October 26, 1999 a letter was written by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Jorge Card. Medina Estèvez, to Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, Scotland, head of ICEL. In that letter the Prefect said:

Problems with the English language translations of the liturgical texts assume a particular gravity in proportion to the prominence of the English language in the international community. Even while it remains essential that liturgical translations be made directly from the original texts into the various modern vernacular languages, the impact which the English language translation is likely to exert on certain other versions is an observed and unavoidable fact, which in turn must be said to place a significant responsibility on those charged with the translations into English.

It would take far too long for the short scope of this introduction to cite all the problems with translations in the last few decades. In the meantime, we know that a new edition in Latin of the Roman Missal will soon be released. The GIRM for that Missal has already been published. We don’t have an official translation of it either, and that is already resulting in some false assumptions that are requiring correction from the Holy See. The NCCB have been concerning themselves for some time with review of the translations of many liturgical texts. This is a critical undertaking and they need positive support for everyone’s sake. A prefatory note: What is a "Collect"? The prayer traditionally called the "Collect" is now called the Opening Prayer. Historically it is a short prayer said before the Epistle in the Mass (in its older, traditional, form) and it was used also in Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers. The word collecta is equivalent to the Greek synaxis. The Collect was used for the service held at a certain church or basilica in Rome on the days (for example during Lent) when there was a "station Mass" at a different basilica nearby. The people would gather together at the "collection" point, this first "collect" church. After saying certain prayers they went in procession singing litanies to the station church where Mass would be celebrated. Just before they began the celebrant would sing a prayer, the oratio ad collectam (ad collectionem populi) "The prayer at the gathering point of the people". This prayer, the collect, would be repeated at the beginning of the Mass at the station church itself . Long after Pope Innocent III, with a slightly different emphasis, said that this prayer was used by the priest to collect together the prayers of all the people. The Secret prayer of the older form of Mass (now called the "super oblata" or "Prayer over the gifts") and Post-Communion are also collects after the example of the Collect before the first reading. Now the name is only used for the first of the three. In this series I propose to examine the Collect of the Masses each week of the liturgical year. I will provide my own translation of the Latin prayer and make some commentary on it. I will include the ICEL translation for comparison. I do not intend that my translation should be considered definitive or the only possible way that the Latin could be rendered. I will provide explanations for my choices, however. People can agree with what I write or not: I am ready to hear other versions if they care to send them. The point of this undertaking is to build real interest and even dialog concerning the real content of the Latin prayers so that we can better promote having better translations in the future. If everyone is talking about this issue, it will be less likely that we will be given something less than optimal. If you disagree with what I write, say a prayer for the bishops, translators, and for me. Thus, I propose by this series to make some small contribution in fostering interest on the part of many so that they will support the bishops undertaking this review of liturgical texts both through prayer and through active encouragement. We must actively support them in finding good and expert translators who will be faithful to the texts the Holy See provides. Since we need to know where we have been in order to know where we wish to go, it seems opportune to review prayers from the present text of the Roman Missal in order to show both what is possible to accomplish and what, perhaps, we must avoid in providing English translations to be released in the future. The most important goal of this series, however, is to inspire a greater love of the riches presented to us by Holy Mother Church in our beautiful sacred liturgy, both in Latin and in English.