Catholic Rite of the Mass -The New English Translation
Posted on June 21st, 2012

Eymard de Silva Wijeyeratne

There is a recurring tide in the affairs of the Catholic Church that drives it to make changes that have little or no incrementally spiritual impact on the life of the faithful. As the young get older and the older get much older there is a natural tendency to cherish a way of life that is really not in need of change. If I may be given the licence to parody the poet, Dylan Thomas; the incessant urge to change, drives man’s green age to colourless dotage. This contrasts sharply with the naturally bestowed opportunity he has to be cheerful, content and enriched with the “ƒ”¹…”pied beauty’ of old age (G. M. Hopkins). Though some poets and scientists deride religion as being no more than a springboard for ambitious men to play God, religion does play an important function in filling a personal and cultural void in the lives of people, whether they are Christians or Buddhists or of another religion. Language conspires to play a vital role in the service of religion as long it is neither totally drained of emotive content nor filled with the gush of fanatic emotion or vain verbosity.

 Religion and the Social Milieu

The purpose of religion, apart from promoting adherence to the metaphysical features of its core beliefs, should be to promote and enhance the humane features of man’s estate, especially in his dealings with his fellowmen. It is common knowledge that the entire world is in a state of turmoil, with murder, rape, fraud, drug addiction and an assortment of perversions making the headlines in the media. In this context, religion should be directed towards the goal of providing a safe haven, where man can regain his birthright not in an idyllic Utopian paradise, but under the shade of his God-given personal identity. This yearning can be summarised in the following words:  “Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus” (“As pants the hart for cooling streams when heated in the chase, so longs my soul O God for thee and thy refreshing grace”(Psalm 42, Words of Hymn: by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate). I have used the Latin version and a free translation found in a hymn to illustrate the point that banal word by word translation (transliteration) from Latin to English only serves to stultify man’s understanding of divine purpose.

The New English Translation 

I will deal with some elements of the new translation that will stultify the slowly maturing process of spiritual realisation. The reasons attributed for the changes incorporated in the New English translation of the English Missal that has been mandated for the celebration of  the Eucharist (Mass) are trivial both in the matter of theology and language usage. Fr. Aloysius Peiris, the renowned Jesuit theologian has expressed his views on the new translation in the following words. “The first translation, which was made by a team in consultation with the Episcopal conferences of English speaking nations, had carefully removed all such theological deviations (“ƒ”¹…”And with your spirit’ “”…” my interpolation) when translating the Tridentine Mass. But the team that worked on the new translations violated the principle of collegiality by acting unilaterally (i.e. without consulting the English speaking episcopate and ignoring the protests of so many bishops) and also violated the intentions of the Council by translating the Tridentine Mass literally (i.e. without eliminating medieval deviations in conformity with the theology of priesthood and worship, which the Council had advocated on the basis of the ancient traditional sources of Christianity. A bad translation is bad enough; but resorting to sterile arguments to justify it, is an insult to the royal, priestly and prophetic people of God” (from “ƒ”¹…”Footprints January-February 2012, “And with Your Spirit” of the New Translation: Bad theology Justifying Meaningless Literalism “”…” Aloysius Peiris s.j.).    It is not my intention to denigrate the Latin language but to point out that it does not have the capacity to handle nuances of the human condition that is a part of God’s creation. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, Jesus spoke Aramaic and the New Testament that includes the four Gospels, the Acts, Book of Revelation and the letter of Paul, Peter, James and John were written in Greek. The standard Roman Rite that was established by Emperor Charlemagne stifled other Western rites, and assured that Latin would continue to be the liturgical language of the Roman Church. As a result the Kingdom of God was irretrievably but incorrectly tied to the Roman Empire. The conjoined twins that were in urgent need of surgery were judiciously separated by the Second Vatican Council, without harm to those who live in anticipation of God’s Kingdom. The document, Sacrasanctum Concilium, sets out the “ƒ”¹…”General Principles for the Restoration and Promotion of the Sacred Liturgy’ with great clarity; with emphasis placed on “ƒ”¹…”noble simplicity’ and the property of “being within the people’s powers of comprehension and normally should not require much explanation” (Art. 34). As I see it, the systematic attempt to dismantle the steps taken by Pope John XXIII of revered memory (a saint as far as I am concerned) for the renewal (aggiornamento) of the Church, is seriously flawed.

Solecisms and Exaggerations in the New Transliteration from Latin

I will deal with the some of the translations that border on the absurd in the order they occur in the rite of the Mass.

  1. Confiteor – The new translation serves to dramatise sinfulness as a serious pathological condition and not as a sincere admission of the recurrent need for genuine repentance. The repetition of “ƒ”¹…”mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ has little to do with what we call “ƒ”¹…”perfect contrition’. It is more suitable for use in a morality play. Since more attention is paid to match the English to Latin, it is matter of regret that the Latin used as a basis for the translation is poor. Dictionaries as well as books on grammar define “ƒ”¹…”nimis’ as “ƒ”¹…”excessively’ or “ƒ”¹…”too much’. The proper translation should therefore be “ƒ”¹…”I have sinned excessively or too much and not greatly. If one wishes to have confirmation of the proper meaning of the word, a good example of this usage it is found in Pope Paul IV’s papal Bull “Cum nimis absurdum” of 14th July 1555. (Catholic Encyclopaedia). Another good example of the translation of this word is found in Cicero’s “ƒ”¹…”De Legibus’, Book III: “Tu vero eum nec nimis valde umquam nec nimis saepe laudaveris” (As a matter of fact, at all times, you will have praised him neither too strongly nor too often).
  2. Gloria – “Peace to people of goodwill” (Luke 2:14). The earlier translation, which read as “peace to his people on earth”, was inclusive of all men and therefore in accordance with the Jesus Christ’s commitment to save all men; as found in the following statement, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19: 10). There is a debate as to whether the word for “ƒ”¹…”goodwill’ found in the Greek manuscript of Luke’s Gospel should be “ƒ”¹…”eudokias’ (genitive) or “ƒ”¹…”eudokia’ (nominative). The translators of the King James Revised Version have opted for “ƒ”¹…”eudokia’ with the translation reading as, “ƒ”¹…”peace, goodwill to men (sic). In any case I take the version authorised by Vatican II”, “ƒ”¹…”peace to people on earth’ as the final word on the subject. What has been collegially decided with the advice of experts cannot be cast aside by an ad hoc Committee
  3. The replacement of “only Son of the Father” with “only begotten Son” is trivial. It does not add a whit to our understanding of, or of belief in the relationship between Father and the Son. The substitution of the word “ƒ”¹…”adore’ for “ƒ”¹…”worship’ too, is trivial as far as English speakers are concerned. The rearrangement of the composition of the Gloria has robbed our praise of God, of the rhythm and music of good English prose.
  4. Creed “”…” The substitution of “ƒ”¹…”I’ for “ƒ”¹…”We’ is not justified. When the faithful gather together to celebrate the Eucharist they do so as a community. In these circumstances the use of “ƒ”¹…”I’ is a rejection of the important principle that has been emphasized by Jesus Christ himself in the following words. “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew, 18:20).
  5. The words “ƒ”¹…”seen and unseen” found in the Vatican II version have been replaced with the words “visible and invisible”. This type of trivial change gives the impression that the Committee entrusted with the task had no real understanding of the English language as well the language used in Scripture. Their task was evidently to change the Vatican II version at any cost. This is what Jesus told Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”(John 20: 29). The word “ƒ”¹…”seen’ refers to the things that we see as a part of our life in the physical world, whereas the word “ƒ”¹…”unseen’ refers to the spiritual realities that we do not see. There are many invisible things that we do not see directly but accept as a result of scientific investigation, namely: atoms, electrons and quarks. Why do we need to reduce theology to meaningless language?
  6. The use of “consubstantial with the Father”, in place of “one being with the Father” is an abstract theological conceit that makes no meaningful spiritual contribution to the participation of the faithful in the divine service. It is not good English. Similarly the substitution of “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, in place of “born of the Virgin Mary’, spoils the effect of Jesus Christ’s simple birth in a cattle shed in Bethlehem.  These changes amount to no more than a superficial Latin-based veneer that in no way adds to the solemnity and sincerity that should necessarily be a part of plea, thanksgiving and prayerful sentiment from which the faithful draw sustenance.
  7. 7.      Invitation to Communion “”…” In this section “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lord”. Has been replaced with, “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb”. This is a translation that reveals lack of understanding of language in general and the English language in particular. Two similes are used to describe the character of Jesus. The simile “ƒ”¹…”shepherd’ is used to describe his vigilant concern for the humanity, and the simile “ƒ”¹…”lamb’ is used to describe the absence of resistance to torture, crucifixion and death that he experienced. The extended use of this simile in the form of “ƒ”¹…”supper of the lamb’ cannot be applied to the momentous event, when Jesus Christ, celebrated the Passover with his apostles. That supper of the Lord refers to the austere diet of unleavened bread and wine. The immediate impression a person gets is that he is invited to a supper of lamb.                                                                                         In the noble and simple Vatican II version the faithful responded to this invitation to the supper of the Lord, with the response, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”. The attempt to incorporate the incident that Luke refers to in his story about the Centurion’s faith, when he said “Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof”, is inappropriately contrived. The humble people, who receive the Eucharist, do so in a Church or chapel and not under their roof. Furthermore their plea is not only that their souls but also their bodies too should be healed. Soul and body is an organic unity that lives by God and is responsible to God.


The Word of God is an apt summary of the will of God and man’s desire to be absorbed into God’s Kingdom. It is a matter of irony that 2012 has been declared the Year of the Word of God in Sri Lanka. In the sphere of creative writing, Gustav Flaubert referred to “le seul mot juste’: the exact and precise word to be used in a given context. The Word of God is unique in a more solemn   context. It is “ƒ”¹…”Le seul mot juste’. What we have in these superficial changes found in the new translation, is an endless stream of words, words, and more words.

Eymard de Silva Wijeyeratne


  • A cup for drinking in Greek is “ƒ”¹…”kulix’. The word chalice is derived from it. Jesus used a cup used by the people. We use the word to indicate a sacred vessel. Yet, we have no reason to change the word “ƒ”¹…”cup’ used by Jesus in his fellowship with his apostles, disciples and people.
  • “ƒ”¹…”Those who have gone to their rest in the Lord is now translated as those who are sleep in the Lord. All genuine Christians live in the Lord during wakin hours and sleep in the Lord in the night.

4 Responses to “Catholic Rite of the Mass -The New English Translation”

  1. Wickrama Says:

    Isn’t it high time that people with intelligence realise that there is no such thing as “god” and the “creation” is a complete myth?

  2. AnuD Says:


    Recently , Pope agreed with Human evolution.

    In the USA, it is still not allowed to teach Evolution in the school. Because, it is a different denomination.

  3. AnuD Says:

    Another point, Instead of preaching same old thing over and over again, some where this article talks about peoples problem, it does not talk about any solution to the problems within the church itself.

    It does not talk about the human mind. Teachers can teach things. But, human mind attaches to something and goes behind that. What is the solution to that ?

  4. Ratanapala Says:

    This church has abused humanity for over two millennia and continue to abuse to this day. Just today another high priest was convicted of child abuse in the US and sent to Jail – for hiding child molesters by other priests. The Alibaba who hides among the stolen wealth from all the nations world lives in the Vatican and continue to hide pedophile priests.

    The church preaches ignorance and it is fighting hard to identify with the latest scientific findings thinking that is the ultimate truth. They have no idea that they are chasing one mirage after another for these models the science seems to discover are proven wrong or are replaced by seemingly more alluring models.

    The Church’s adherents are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and identifies with the oppressors in their helplessness. This is the story of Christianity the world over. The church sides with the Western Christian Imperialism to convert and make more slaves who too will eventually suffer from the same syndrome. They go on to become their foot soldiers.

    No amount to ‘mumbo jumbo’ in whichever wording at the Christian mass and its pagan rituals are going to save the ignorant who flock to their congregations. The time for the Christian Church and in fact all Abrahamic religions to disappear from the face of this much abused world is now. The bloodshed in the middle east bears ample testimony to this truth. Now they are killing each other – Christians killing Christians – Christians and Jews killing Islamists, Islamists killing Islamists and Christian and Islamists killing anything and everything they can lay their eyes on.

    The present turmoil – religious, political and economic – the humanity is witnessing around the world is a result of this madness.

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