Review: Lost in Translation: The English Language and the Catholic Mass

Lost in Translation: The English Language and the Catholic MassLost in Translation: The English Language and the Catholic Mass by Gerald O’Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If one does not fully grasp the author’s position on the 2010 translation of the Roman Missal after reading this book then one hasn’t read this book.

Examining the process that lead to the 2010 translation, both in terms of internal church politics and the fight for control over both translations and the basis of translation, the advent of the 2010 translation, exhibiting what O’Collins identifies as ‘half-way’ English, has not been universally welcomed by the author. I dare to suggest that he is not alone in this; the 2010 translation, with its “sacral” English and “elevated” style, has proven to be a headache for many presiders and many faithful Catholics, and entirely contrary to the Second Vatican Council’s call for ‘full, conscious and active participation’ in the liturgy.

Comparing the 2010 translation to the 1998 translation that was summarily dismissed by the head of the Vatican congregation responsible – who was, as O’Collins points out, not a native English speaker – is like comparing a 4 year old’s writing to that of Shakespeare. The language of the 1998 translation, as O’Collins highlights in the appropriate chapter of this book, both beautiful and easily to proclaim and comprehend. The criticisms of the 1998 translation, including that it contained originally composed prayers not found in the Latin version of the Roman Missal, are both acknowledged and answered in a way that shows the strength of the shelved 1998 translation.

The book ends with a repeated of O’Collins previously given open request to the English-speaking bishops of the world to revisit the 1998 translation, to insert the necessary new feasts, and then once again ask for the confirmatio of Rome that would permit English-speaking Catholics around the world to pray in language that is both clearer English and clearly English – rather than the transliterated Latin that we have now.

One can only hope that in light of the motu proprio of Pope Francis from 2017, Magnum Principium, English-speaking Bishops’ Conferences might now feel empowered to take up O’Collins call.

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