The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

I feel suffused with ignominy

Because I had to look up that last word in the headline to find out what it means.

Evidently, it pops up in the proposed new translation of the Roman missal. And one bishop used a lecture last week to speak up about what he thinks is wrong with the new translation:

Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee, sharply criticized what he called the “slavishly literal” translation into English of the new Roman Missal from the original Latin. 

He said the “sacred language” used by translators “tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable” and could lead to a “pastoral disaster.”


The vast majority of God’s people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the new missal like ‘ineffable,’ ‘consubstantial,’ ‘incarnate,’ ‘inviolate,’ ‘oblation,’ ‘ignominy,’ ‘precursor,’ ‘suffused’ and ‘unvanquished.’ The vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic,” Trautman said. 

The [Second Vatican Council’s] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated vernacular language, not sacred language,” he added. “Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension? Did Jesus ever use terms or expressions beyond his hearer’s understanding?”

There’s more at the link. Bring your dictionary.

Comments read comments(18)
post a comment

posted October 26, 2009 at 10:50 am

God forbid that we learn some new words and expand our vocabulary.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 10:51 am

And, if “incarnate” is not understandable by the average Catholic then we have a problem.
I feel insulted by Trautman.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

As someone who doesn’t need to look up any of those words in the dictionary, I am much more concerned that this translation makes a mockery of the liturgy. In English-speaking cultures, flowery overwrought language is perceived as ridiculous, and is an everyday target of mockery. (And it’s not just modern and English-speaking — check out Aristophanes savage take-down of Socrates in The Clouds in 423BC Athens. In that play, the actors who play Socrates and his students sport giant strap-on big toes as props, a sight-gag of what happens when your head is in the clouds and you keep stubbing your toe. Perhaps clown shoes in the appropriate liturgical colors will become the de rigeur accessory to vestments in the new translation?)
Not to mention what we are going to end up with in practice — as the song says And They’ll Know We Are Catholics By the Way We Pronounce “Contrite”

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 12:11 pm

I like the translations and don’t find the language to be elistist or flowery. The words are richer, more meaningful and are closer to the original Latin texts.
I think that if the clergy do their jobs right, it will be a teachable moment that has the potential to bear great fruit.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I wonder if cathyf has actually read the revised translations? They are not perfect, but they are a significant improvement over the banal prose currently in place.

report abuse

mary martha

posted October 26, 2009 at 1:10 pm

What a snob! Does he really think that the Catholics in the pews are illiterate? That we are incapable of looking up words?
Does he think that we are medieval peasants who have no access to education? If yes… then perhaps he should educated us – not talk down to us.
We are the most educated laity in the history of the Church. Perhaps it’s time to stop acting like we are idiots and to start treating us with respect instead of condescension.

report abuse

RP Burke

posted October 26, 2009 at 1:44 pm

I’ve said this elsewhere and I’ll say it here, too.
The new ICEL has made a dreadful mess of this translation, completely missing the point.
Change is not necessarily improvement. I don’t disagree with the point that “Bill” and others make, that the current translations are simplistic to the point of banality. But the solution misses a major opportunity to make God present here and now in the art of the spoken word. (Note, by the way, the use of the “spoken” word — the texts that I’ve seen look like the lugubrious texts of pre-Vatican II devotional prayer books. Angelicaism rides again!)
Where are the writers, the poets? The same place where the good composers are: someplace else. Instead of Vaughan Williams, we now have Haugen; much the same is happening to our texts.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Yes, I have read the new translations. If you want to see side-by-side comparisons, check out this link at the bishops’ web site.
My very favorite story of liturgical translation gone horribly wrong was told to me by a friend who had gone to Germany and was watching a Passion Play there. The people putting on the tableaus had prepared translations of the narrations in multiple languages and so my friend picked up the English sheet. The narration for Jesus’ Entry Into Jerusalem, in someone’s very best high school English: “As the people of Jerusalem strew palms at his feet, Jesus sat on his ass.”
Another hilarious example of words which “are richer, more meaningful and are closer to the original Latin texts” would be the perfectly proper theological technical term “ejaculatory prayer”. When is the last time anybody has heard that term used in a sentence? I mean other than as the punch line to a dirty joke — I heard that one, too!
I know, from life-long personal experience, that you don’t talk to people the way the new translations do if you expect them to take you seriously. I’ve watched this unfold with a certain amazement. I would think that the non-native speakers, no matter how high their position in the hierarchy, would defer to the native speakers — no matter how low a position — when it comes to protecting the liturgy from being made into a laughingstock.
When I was in grammar school, the school I went to was about 1/3 Spanish speaking. Every once in awhile we would get a new Spanish-speaking student who spoke little or no English. During the transitional immersion experience, the other Spanish-speaking students would help the new kid out. The kids who spoke no Spanish would ask the bilingual kids things like, “tell me how to say ‘welcome to our class’ in Spanish.” A short phrase would be memorized, then delivered to a look of puzzlement, then understanding, then laughter. Because the bilingual practical jokers had just taught you how to say “your head is a motorcycle” in Spanish. This was all hilarious on the playground in 5th grade, but the liturgy is not the schoolyard, and practical jokes are not welcome.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 2:35 pm

The bishop’s argument doesn’t thrill me. But clearly, the Catholic Right shifts its analysis of what the laity can and cannot comprehend depending on the issue. On politics, we’re all confused nitheads, especially if we vote blue. On translations for Mass we can all talk the college cocktail talk.
Any good poet will make excellent work of common words, and indeed, where were the great English writers of today when this translation was concocted?
I’d prefer the bishop tackle the more important issues of competence, artistry, of English where it is a second language, and the notion of progressive solemnity applied within the Mass itself. Perhaps a good case can be made for a certain High Language during the Eucharistic Prayers, but is the same standard good for optional and less important moments of the liturgy? And even for those who have the college vocab to keep up with the non-native English-speakers in the curia, it does demand attention and effort to focus the mind and ears on an hour of exalted English.
Did ICEL consider not only the vocabulary of common folk, but the need to pick and choose within liturgy where this sort of language is more distraction and subtraction from the Mass?

report abuse

Your Name

posted October 26, 2009 at 2:56 pm

The simple the words the better. I don’t care to know about those elitist words because God’s words are very clear to me: “whatever you to the least of my brethren,you’ve done unto me.” The purity of my heart and my intentions are what matters to God.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I also am insulted by Bishop Trautman. THAT comment (being unable to know the meaning of certain words) and moreso the attitude behind it is MUCH more harmful for people in the pews that the new translation.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 2:59 pm

We in the Church in South Africa have been using the new translation of the people’s parts of the ordinary of the Mass for the last year, with very mixed results and a lot of anger on the part of English speakers – laity, priests, religious and even bishops.
As a first-language English speaker I wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Trautman. But most of the English-speaking bishops just don’t realize how truly unproclaimable and inferior the new texts are.
For a sample of the sentiments and thoughts on both sides, and a foretaste of what is in store for the rest of the English-speaking Catholic world see

report abuse

Deacon Moore

posted October 26, 2009 at 3:32 pm

One of my favorite lines whenever someone is extolling the new translations is that they are closer to the original latin texts. I always wonder if that’s the original latin from the 15th century or the original latin Jesus spoke at the Last Supper.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Especially in American culture, plain speaking is associated with vigor, action, respect and honesty, while “high-falutin talk” is associated with dilettantes, condescension, manipulation and dishonesty. Florid talk is for eggheads and we look at them with suspicion. This is not necessarily a great thing, as it makes us easy marks for populist con artists, and these attitudes are certainly stereotypes, but on the other hand if you want to represent yourself as being a particular kind of people with particular values, cloaking yourself in the stereotype characteristics of the opposite kind of people is just plain foolish.
Back in my Catholic high school we had a biology teacher who made excellent use of that great theological teaching device, the sarcasm-dripped rhetorical question. Typical usage: a student would be standing there watching passively as her lab partner did all of the work, and the teacher would walk up and bark out, “what are you doing, posing for holy cards?!?”
I have a great fondness for the current ICEL translations. Just as you would expect from something that was done in urgency, there’s not a lot of standing around posing for holy cards. And Jesus was constantly tusseling with the holy-card poseurs of His day!

report abuse

Your Name

posted October 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Who says Jesus spoke Latin at the Last Supper?
Anyway as someone who is more than marginally bilingual I can say that the Spanish translations of the Missal used in the US are much bettter than the English. Also as someone whose introduction to the Mass was pre-Vatican II and who studied Latin so that I could better understand the Mass I was dissapointed somewhat in the ICEL translations … but I lived with it and learned it. I will also learn the new translation and will probably learn to live with it. I will also appreciate some of the changes. I find it refreshing that once again I will be able to say “I believe”. I don’t know about the rest of the congregation but I know that “I believe”.

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 6:37 pm

In looking over the comparison of texts on the bishops web site, I saw one use of the word “consubstantiation” and two uses of the word “oblation”. There was one use each of “incarnate” and “consecration”. Other than those, I didn’t see any words that would present much difficulty for the average Catholic. Most Catholics should already be familiar with “incarnate” and “consecration”, and they can learn “consubstantiation” and “oblation” if they’re not already familiar with them. I don’t find the new translations especially flowery, elitist or stuffy. I think we’ll get used to it. Let’s face it, we’ll all be worshipping with missal in hand for the next few years.
We’ve dumbed down our language for so many decades now, in liturgy, literature and, especially, in correspondence, that any sentence that uses more than one polysyllabic word is considered over our heads. Of course, one should use one’s higher vocabulary only parsimoniously. But in the liturgy, perhaps raising the standard may help to better raise our minds and hearts in prayer.
Hey, I just thought: perhaps our soon-to-be reconciled Anglican brethren can offer some advise on good liturgical English. Again, Benedict strikes just in time! 😉

report abuse


posted October 26, 2009 at 11:18 pm

This is just another skirmish in a war that’s been going on for about 150 years or so. One battle of which I have personal knowledge — back in the early 50’s when the chaplains at Calvert House (the campus ministry at the University of Chicago) got in trouble for “dialogue masses”. A “dialog mass” is the logical result of a Latin mass in a congregation where everyone speaks and understands Latin more or less well enough to pray in it. When the diocese shut them down, it became nakedly obvious what the issue is — people are not to be allowed to pray together during mass, and if ever they successfully do find a way to pray, the Church will come and put a stop that nonsense!
I think we should go back to the “low masses” of my mom’s childhood. 10-12 minutes of undifferentiated noise while staring at the priest’s back and you were done with your obligation for the week.
Remember, of course, we have a technological advantage that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have. Just download some edifying podcast into your iPod before leaving home, insert your ear buds, and the monstrosity of transliterated Latin goes away.

report abuse

Deacon Luis Doriocourt

posted October 28, 2009 at 7:52 am

Thanks to Cathyf for posting the side by side versions. Upon first looking what I saw was that the new tends to the multiplication of words. Scanning the new I wonder if the translators actually attempted to pray these words aloud. The cynic in me wonders if the whole purpose of this new translation is to make very expensive and serviceable Sacramentaries worthless. We went through this with the Lectionary.
Perhaps we can slide over into the Anglican rite(?) at least they know how to pray in English.
I do like that Credo is now translated I believe – in the vernacular translations of the missal since Vatican II I think that ours (English) is the only one to translate Credo as We believe.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

This blog is no longer active
This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz ...

posted 10:42:40pm Dec. 12, 2010 | read full post »

One day more
A reminder: "The Deacon's Bench" is closed! Please enjoy the archives! ...

posted 11:26:20pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Meet Montana's married priest
Earlier this week, I posted an item about Montana getting its first married priest. Now a local TV station has hopped on the bandwagon. Take a look, below. ...

posted 10:29:55pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Big day in the Big Easy: 10 new deacons
Deacon Mike Talbot has the scoop: 10 men today were ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This group of men was formally selected on the day the evacuation of New Orleans began as Hurricane Katrina approached. The ...

posted 6:55:42pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Gaudete! And let's break out a carol or two...
"Gesu Bambino," anyone? This is one of my favorites, and nobody does it better than these gals: Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade. Enjoy. ...

posted 1:04:10pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.