And so, on an August afternoon last week, the Dutch bishops announced the first fruits of a 2001 request from Rome to realise a new, more accurate translation of the Roman Missal. The process has long been in apparent limbo, although work must have progressed behind the scenes. There was little way of knowing it did, though, and as late as February of 2012, Cardinal Eijk stated that a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer – to be the same in both the Netherlands and Flanders, as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments desired – would still be a long way off. But the differences are now overcome, and the Congregation gave its permission for use and publication on 10 June of this year. The bishops are still to announce exactly when the new texts may be used in the Churches.
As the process took so long and information about progress was so scant, there are still many questions. How exactly will the changes be introduced? Will the faithful simply be presented with a fact, or will there be suitable catechesis? Looking at a similar effort – the new English translation of the Missal – and some of the initial responses to the new text of the Lord’s Prayer, the need for catechesis seems obvious. It is perhaps a characteristic of the Dutch mentality that any change is looked upon with suspicion. What’s more, in matters of faith, one’s own feelings and experience of the new is contrasted with what is known, and the known is usually clung to. “I am going to keep praying the Our Father in my own words, because that’s the way I like it.” With a change of this kind, people not only need to know the reason for it, but also the reasons of these texts, in whatever translation, in the first place. Why do we pray the Our Father? Why does the Mass have the structure it has? Why use one word and not the other?
Words convey meaning, obviously. The words we use in prayer reflect the faith we have, and in that sense it goes both ways: we address God, but the words we utter also teach us. Words, the Word, is central to our faith. Christ speaks to us in the Gospel, the liturgy and even our own prayers, and what He tells us must be translated well. Translation can’t muddle up the original meaning. It’s too important for that.
I hope that the announcement of the new translation, as well as the publication of a first “small Missal” is a first step that is followed by a program of catechesis and education about the word we use and their meaning.
The Lord’s Prayer has existed for decades in both a Dutch and Flemish translation which differed in various places. These differences are by now ingrained in the collective consciousness of the faithful, so finding acceptable changes was a long and slow process. Not only did the new translation need to be more faithful to the Latin source, but it also needed to remain understandable. The words and passages that were the same in both versions were not changed, but the differences were. Here follows a brief look at what was changed. I’m offering English equivalents of the relevant Dutch translations, so this overview serves more as an explanation of the problems and their solutions, and not as an accurate reflection of the text.
The Latin text is as follows:
Pater noster qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum;
fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a malo.
1. in caelis: In the Dutch version this was translated as in heaven, while the Flemish used in the heavens. The plural used in Flanders is more accurate, but was deemed to be archaic. The Willibrord translation of the Bible also generally uses heaven in the singular, and this translation is most often used in the Mass. The choice was made to retain heaven in the singular.
2. sanctificetur nomen tuum: Translated as Your name be holy (or hallowed) in The Netherlands and Holy (or hallowed) be Your name in Flanders. The version of the Netherlands was retained in order to retain the structure of the first three supplications of the prayer, which all end with verbs (hallowed, come, done).
3. sicut in caelo, et in terra: Here the issue centered around the word as (sicut). The Netherlands use zoals, while Flanders uses als. Both words are close in meaning, with zoals something like like as, and als meaning as. The word sicut appears twice in the text and is translated the same both times in the Dutch and differently in the Flemish text. The choice was made for zoals, to keep both instances of the word the same in translation.
4. dimitte nobis debita nostra: Translated as Forgive us our trespass/mistake/guilt (singular) in the Netherlands and Forgive us our trespasses (plural) in Flanders. Debita is also plural, so the choice was made to retain the Flemish translation.
5. sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris: Here the translations differed significantly. The Netherlands had As we forgive others their trespassing, while Flanders used As we forgive our debtors. As mentioned above, sicut was translated zoals. The Netherlands translations translates the noun debitores with a description (others who trespass), while the Flemish also employ a noun (debtor, albeit not strictly in the financial sense). For this reason, and although the equivalent of debtor in this meaning is not very common in Dutch, the Flemish version was retained.
6. et ne nos inducas in tentationem: Here, no difference existed between the Dutch and Flemish versions: And lead us not into temptation. The reason to nonetheless change this lies in the Greek source text of the Gospels in which the Lord’s Prayer comes to us. A more correct translation of tentationem is not so much temptation as it is today generally understood, but with the added meaning of being put to the test. The old translation also seems to imply that it is God doing the tempting, while we ask Him not to lead us into it. This is incorrect, as we, for example learn from James 1:13: “Nobody, when he finds himself tempted, should say, I am being tempted by God. God may threaten us with evil, but he does not himself tempt anyone.” The new translation uses the Dutch beproeving, which may be translated as test, but also as ordeal or tribulation.