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Letters Extra

The battle for the soul of the liturgy
26 June 2014

Tiernan MacNamara quotes F.M. Cornford's Preface to his translation of Plato's Republic (The Tablet, 21 June). The battle for the soul of liturgical language is far from new. Fifty years ago Archbishop Francis Grimshaw of Birmingham penned a trenchant Preface to the 1964 Small Ritual published as a result of the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy.

The Archbishop praises the quality of modern translations from one European language to another and compares such skill with the apparent desire for literal translations in vogue among ecclesiatical translators. The tendency to copy Latin syntax is, he claims, justified by some on the grounds that this is the solemn language of prayer demanded by the majesty of God. Others, he points out, insist that prayer, whether private or public, should be expressed in the simple language of ordinary people.

He suggests that whatever has become the accepted form of address to one whom we respect yet love should be the form to adopt when we speak either to God or about him. Slavish, ad literam translation will not do any more, he says. We must avoid anything that makes the language of prayer unreal. Tiernan MacNamara thinks it's significant that no one is prepared to publicly admit ownership of the present so-called translation. I find it significant that the combined hierarchy of England and Wales are not confident enough to stand up to Roman officialdom in defence of good translation. Where is the Grimshaw of our times? I ask. In the meantime I can only suggest that "we await the blessed hope".

Kevin Hartley, Stourbridge

I am sure the Irish clergy are not alone in wishing for the new translation of the Roman Missal be scrapped. One only has to try and make sense of the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for Trinity Sunday to realise that what we now have is not fit for purpose.

Fr Peter M Sharrocks, Stockport

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Comment by: Dr Mark Coley
Posted: 03/07/2014 12:06:04

I feel most sorry for those priests who have to use this translation every day. At least as a lay person I can vote with my feet. Cardinal Vincent Nichols said recently 'bishops should be servants of their congregations.' They might do well to listen to their priests and people on this issue. Until an intelligible translation is reinstated that authentically communicates what the last translation did I consider those in authority to be guilty of perpetuating a theft. Strong words, perhaps, but remaining silent would be to become complicit. 'Not fit for purpose' seems a perfectly reasonable description of what we have had imposed.

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 27/06/2014 23:15:02

As a layman I do not find anything particularly challenging - theological or linguistic - in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for Trinity Sunday referred to by Fr Sharrocks. In fact I find it helpful in re-stating the nature of the Holy Trinity. Perhaps Fr Sharrocks has become too accustomed to the jargon of business and politics - in phrases such as 'not fit for purpose'.