Why Does the English Translation Have to be Closer to the Latin? A Further Comment

Further to the recent article giving some explanation on the move to Formal Equivalence in translation (or an “as close as possible” match between the English and Latin), one matter I did not go into was how the texts of the prayers we hear and use at Mass form us in faith.

If you lose a degree of meaning from the texts through the translation process (which many people argue did happen when the translation we currently use was prepared), then you also diminish the capacity of the prayers to convey the fullness of what we believe in.

Some would argue that to preserve that depth of meaning, and to continue to pass on the faith through our prayer texts as fully as we have done in the past, we need to faithfully translate the Latin texts as close as possible. Others would argue (see the comments in the blog post linked above) that Latin is not the “be all and end all”, and there are riches to be discovered in all cultures and languages. For now, translation of the Latin text according to the method of formal equivalence is how we have been asked in the English-speaking world to respond to the challenge.

Regardless of our own viewpoints, I think we can agree that given the ability of our prayer to shape us in faith, our prayer texts need to be the best they possibly can be. The question a lot of people are pondering now is “are we there yet?”

19/9/10 – Why does the English translation have to be closer to the Latin?

As we mentioned before, a new English translation of the Roman Missal is being prepared.  This will be used in English speaking countries throughout the Catholic Church.  To help us learn more about this new translation, we’re trying to answer some of the key questions here.

Why does the English translation have to be closer to the Latin?

Last week we mentioned that one feature of the new English translation of the missal will be a closer relationship between it and the Latin version.  The Latin edition of the missal is considered the normative form upon which the English version of the missal is to be based.

When the last edition of the missal was translated into English, a particular method of translation was used.  This method, which was referred to as “dynamic equivalence”, allowed some freedom in the choice of words provided the general meaning was retained.  Some scholars were in favour of this method, while others were not; often because they believed much of the richness of the original texts was lost.

In 2001, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments released a document, Liturgicam Authenticam.  This document focused on the use of vernacular languages in the liturgical books such as the missal.  It insisted on the original Latin texts to be translated as exactly as possible, mindful that languages like English have their own structural, grammatical and rhythmic conventions that are not found in Latin.  The Congregation’s hope is that the richness and depth of meaning that is found in the Latin texts is also captured in the English translation, as well as the examples of imagery in the prayers; many of which originate from the scriptures.