Language and liturgy meet – Cardinal Pell on the new English translation

In an article on the website of his archdiocese, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney briefly discusses the new English translation of the Roman Missal, the texts used in the Mass. He points out a few of the good reasons there have been for this new translation: “Not surprisingly therefore the new texts are more formal and less like the everyday speech used at a barbecue.  They strive more effectively to evoke the mystery of God, while the translations from the Latin are accurate and precise, occasionally causing listeners to pause and think”, and puts to rest some of the concerns that some people had about perceived ‘difficult’ words: “People can and will learn a new word or two”.

In my own experience of the new translation, which may be heard in my own parish every vigil Mass on Saturday evening, is that the new translation (not ‘new texts’) are incomparably rich in sentence structure, vocabulary, and as such in meaning. For now, while the translations are still new, I often find myself taking in the words and sentences; not necessarily very prayerful, but on the other hand, it does let the ‘weight’ of the texts sink in, and that has its influence on how I experience the Mass. A positive influence, to be sure.

Cardinal Pell ends his article as follows:

“A single English Mass text […] is an important achievement; appropriate too because English is the new Latin, the new universal language.”

I think we may read this as an invitation to read the new English translation as exemplary for our own translations.  Like Latin, English serves as a universal language and therefore a touchstone for how we say things in other languages. That cause for the worlds of media, politics, culture, and certainly no less for the liturgy.

And, I must say, Cardinal Pell’s conclusion is also cause to wonder what is keeping a new Dutch translation from seeing the light of day.

Photo credit: Archdiocese of Sydney

Cædmon’s Hymn

For a student of English with a fondness for (language) history, this is akin to a slice of fried gold:

Cædmon’s Hymn is the oldest English poem by a named author, related to us by St. Bede the Venerable. In the 7th century, the time in which the poem was created, English didn’t really sound the same as today…

Tip of the hat to Mark Shea.