CNP Logo Home
Online Catalog
Musical Musings
Liturgical Planners
Submit Your Music
Contact Us
Company Description
CanticaNOVA Publications
Bookmark and Share

CNP Feedback -
New Translation — All Set?

Q. Dear CNP:

Have you found Mass settings that work particularly well for the new texts? I am interested in learning of settings that work with this cumbersome translation.

Wade Downe

A. Dear Wade:

As congregations, we've been using the new English Mass translations for a relatively short time. As composers and publishers, for perhaps a year or two longer. Have they met expectations?

Certainly, the dire predictions of some critics, much like the Y2K scare, have not come to be. People are not walking out of Mass or leaving the Church in toto as a result of the new translation. To analyze the value of the new English, we do perhaps need to look at the goal of both this 2010 translation and the earlier 1970 translation, which it replaced.

The "dynamic equivalence" model used for the 1970 translation had as one of its primary goals clarity and an informal style. Paraphrasing was used quite abundantly, often to the exclusion of words and even phrases in the original. The social revolution of the 1960s made its way into the Church, and often the resulting translation contained a skewed theology — one that found acceptance in the iconoclasm of those times, but one that has become suspect forty years later.

A quick example of this. The first of the brand new "Memorial Acclamations" in the 1970 Sacramentary, as it was then called, was easy, succinct, and very popluar:

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

If clarity and informality are your top priorities, this fits perfectly. However, it really doesn't translate any of the three Latin acclamations given in the Missale Romanum 1969! It truncates, paraphrases and modifies the Latin into something unlike what the rest of the world was using. Spanish, Italian, German, even Chinese Missals were happy to simply translate the Latin.

And that brings us to the 2010 English translation, which replaced "dynamic equivalence" (translating broad meanings) with "formal equivalence" (translating actual text). The highest goal now became translating the actual words of the official Latin edition. Some of the Mass texts, particularly the iconic Collects (Opening Prayers), are well over 1000 years old. The beauty, formal structure, eloquence and Scriptural imagery of these ancient Latin prayers were often missed in an attempt to be succinct. Blessed John Paul II, and later Pope Benedict XVI, hoped to regain this literary beauty and, in so doing, to enrich the liturgy with a sacral language, one as unlike our every-day jargon and street-speak as is the vernacular from the Latin. This new translation has taken some corrective steps - attempts to recapture the awed and respectful communication with the Almighty that is our role in liturgy.

Many in the Church see the early ICEL (International Committee on English in the Liturgy) translators as having gone too far in a rush to make things overtly intelligible, often squeezing out meaning and beauty to arrive at a convenient "packet" prayer. A fecitious example: suppose I thought that the doxology ["Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."] was just too wordy and theologically high-falutin. My new "dynamically-equivalent" translation:

Glory to the Trinity; before, now and always. So be it.

It has some "advantages," in a 1970s mindset. It's short and memorable. It eliminates redundancy and theological abstractions. And it translated that pesky Hebrew word, Amen. But how dull. That's not really too far from some things that were done in the first ICEL translation in 1970.

You mentioned "cumbersome" as an adjective for the new translation. Personally, I don't see this at all in the congregational parts of the Mass. The place where most readers, or "listeners," note a thickness in the language, a rather circuitous journey toward the period, is in the new Collect translations. Here are where the most liberties were taken in the 1970 translation. The format and grammar of a Latin Collect has always been quite stylized, with an abundance of subordinate clauses. This is part and parcel of the literary genre — the Roman Collect. To ignore this is to ask for haiku with more than three lines, or sonnets with less than fourteen. We shouldn't go there.

So, as the formal equivalence method of translation was used in forming the 2010 texts, the "structure" of the Collects were maintained as much as possible. This often leads to a series of clauses, which can be quite profound in relation to each other. The problem lies in the priest's making them sensible, not only to himself, but to the congregation. Off-hand tripping through the Opening Prayer is no longer possible with the Collects — they now require preparation, a notion foreign to many priests, unfortunately. Most egregious in this fault, perhaps, are those veteran priest ordained in the 60s and 70s, who learned so well those old terse prayers, most of which required no more than minimal attention to rattle off.

But what about the congregational texts, particularly those meant to be sung? A few have not changed — they were obviously well-handled in the 1970 version:

  • Lord, have mercy.
  • Lord's Prayer [even with its Victorian "art" and "Thy"].
  • Lamb of God.

The text with the most changes is the Credo, but that is not often sung in English. The changes most affecting sung congregational music are the three settings of the Mystery of Faith (as the old Memorial Acclamation is now called) and the Gloria. The changes in the Mystery of Faith, which are not major, simply reflect a more precise translation of the three Latin acclamations. The Gloria has some interesting history.

After Vatican Council II, with its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that allowed a vernacular liturgy, there was a period of some five years when a "hybrid" Mass was used. Some parts, like the Canon [Eucahristic Prayer], remained in Latin; some began to be sung and prayed in English, like the Gloria [Glory to God]. Even before the Gloria was sung in English, however, there existed Missals [1965] and hand missals for the people that offered a non-singing English translation, merely for understanding the text.

Gloria translations

Latin 1965 English 1970 ICEL 2010 ICEL
Gloria in excelsis Deo
et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te,
benedicimus te,
adoramus te,
glorificamus te,
gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam,
Domine Deus, Rex cælestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.

Domine Fili Unigenite, Jesu Christe,
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,
qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis;
qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus,
Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu: in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.
Glory to God in the highest.
And on earth peace to men of good will.
We praise you.
We bless you.
We worship you.
We glorify you.
We give you thanks for your great glory.
Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty.

Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.
You, who take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
You, who take away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
You, who sit at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.

For you alone are holy.
You alone are Lord.
You alone, O Jesus Christ, are most high.
With the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Glory to God in the highest
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
Almighty God and Father,

we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

One can see that the 1965 translation, offered simply as a means of understanding the Latin text, follows that Latin most closely. The newest translation, from 2010, returns almost exactly to the earliest version, except for the rather PC use of "people" for hominibus, rather than the more poetic (and succinct) "men."

Regarding your inquiry about the most successful settings of the new Mass text, I and many other Catholic musicians would argue that those which treat the text in a non-metrical fashion have much merit. Using a chant-like melody, or even using a quasi-psalm tone can be effective. We've sung the King David Gloria in the parish, as well as a setting that uses an Old Scottish chant found in various hymnals.

The ease of use is remarkable. In my opinion, this format can replace the "responsorial" style from which the Church is trying to move away. This style has become popular because it quickly allows for a congregational setting of the text, with minimal new material for the people.

The CNP Mass settings, both the new ones and the newly-revised ones, are good music, allowing the congregation (and choir, where applicable) to sing well with this elevated and true-to-the-Latin text.

  1. Mass of Our Lady, Help of Christians (Richard Connolly)
  2. Mass of Saint Agnes (B. Andrew Mills)
  3. Mass of the Angels (Richard J. Clark)
  4. Mass of the Redemption (Calvert Shenk / Adam Taylor)
  5. Missa Deus Genitor alme (Harry McMurray)
  6. Modal Mass (Calvert Shenk / Adam Taylor)
  7. Wondrous Love: A Mass for Lent (J. William Greene)

While it may take many years for our priests and congregations to be completely comfortable with the new translations, I believe they are a decided improvement over the 1970 ICEL version, and we're well on our way to praising God in a fitting language .

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
09 July 2012

CanticaNOVA Publications / PO Box 1388 / Charles Town, WV 25414-7388
Send website comments or questions to: