Let Us Not Mourn the Passing of These Texts

I don’t know how many people have been keeping up with the forthcoming changes to the Roman Missal.  This has been a particular passion/hobby of mine lately.  At my home site, I am doing a weekly column of pieces explaining the new translations.  Thus far, I have discussed all the changes to the people’s parts and this Monday I will begin taking up the priest’s parts, starting with Eucharistic Prayer I.  (For those interested, the entire collection can be found here.)

Today at Mass the need for a new translation became crystal clear.  What follows is a comparison of the two prayers from the Mass.  First, the Collect.  What we heard at Mass just hour ago was,

Lord protect us in our struggle against evil.

As we begin the discipline of Lent,

make this day holy by our self-denial.

Not bad … at least there is some discussion of self-denial and discipline.  But listen to the new translation:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting

this campaign of Christian service,

so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,

we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

Holy fasting … campaign … battle against spiritual evils … armed with weapons of self-restraint.  That’s the kind of Lent I’m talking about!  However, what really got me going was the Prayer Over the Ashes.  Here is the current “translation”:

Dear friends in Christ, let us ask our Father

to bless these ashes which we will use

as the mark of our repentance.

Lord, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness

and bless all those who receive these ashes.

May they keep this lenten season

in preparation for the joy of Easter.

Before we get to the new translation, just for kicks, let’s look at the Latin:

Deum Patrem, fratres caríssimi, supplíciter deprecémur,

ut hos cíneres, quos pæniténtiæ causa

capítibus nostris impónimus,

ubertáte grátiæ suæ benedícere dignétur.

Deus, qui humiliatióne flécteris et satisfactióne placáris,

aurem tuæ pietátis précibus nostris inclína,

et super fámulos tuos,

horum cínerum aspersióne contáctos,

grátiam tuæ benedictiónis effúnde propítius,

ut, quadragesimálem observántiam prosequéntes,

ad Fílii tui paschále mystérium celebrándum

purificátis méntibus perveníre mereántur.

Now it doesn’t take a Latin scholar to know that something isn’t quite right.  I thought Latin was supposed to be a concise language.  How is it possible that 60 Latin words can be expressed in 53 English words?  The answer … it isn’t.  (The case is actually worse when you consider that articles are left off in Latin.)  This is yet another example of how the current translation is not really a translation at all, but a paraphrase at best.  With that, take a gander at the new translation:

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters), let us humbly ask God our Father

that he be pleased to bless with the abundance of his grace

these ashes, which we will put on our heads in penitence.

O God, who are moved by acts of humility

and respond with forgiveness to works of penance,

lend your merciful ear to our prayers

and in your kindness pour out the grace of your blessing

on your servants who are marked with these ashes,

that, as they follow the Lenten observances,

they may be worthy to come with minds made pure

to celebrant the Paschal Mystery of your Son.

Seriously, no further comment is needed.

Back in Advent, I wrote “A Funeral of Sorts,” in which I eulogized the passing of the current translation – texts that we will never hear again. It was not a mourning by any means, but rather a joyful hope in their rising as the new translation of the Roman Missal.  Those same words today seem quite apropos:

I feel like each Sunday this year presents a funeral of sorts … a passing of Mass texts that will never be heard again.  Rather than mourning this passing, my heart finds solace in the assurance that these texts will rise again in a more perfect form with the ‘advent’ of the new translation.  While we have a full year to pay our respects to the passing Ordinary, there is a rejoicing of sorts that the current Propers have reached the end of the proverbial line: their days are numbered, their time has passed, and blessed be God for that … All things considered, however, this should not distract us from the burial of these texts that we experience this year.  At least in terms of the Holy Mass, the 1973 [prayers for Ash Wednesday have] met their maker, kicked the bucket, bit the dust, bought the farm, breathed their last, and indeed … croaked.  This is not a cause for mourning, but rather a looking forward to the day of resurrection; for the Latin soul of these prayers is indeed filled with grace, so when it rises again as the 2010 Missal, it will be gloriously triumphant.

In fact, we might even say that in the new translation of the Roman Missal, the texts themselves will “rise again from ashes,” the ashes that are the current mistranslation.

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Jake Tawney


  1. I find myself eagerly anticipating the first Sunday of Advent and the rollout of the new translation. It’s amazing how truly different and much more elegant the prayers will sound.

  2. We should consider ourselves fortunate that ICEL didn’t change the prayer at the imposition of ashes to “All we are is dust in the wind, dude!”

  3. Good post, although the blessing of ashes in the 1973 Sacramentary consists of more than your listed 23 words. In addition, the Latin you posted includes both the Collect (opening prayer) and the blessing of ashes.

  4. Nathan,

    Thank you for the correction. I was originally going to post the Latin for both the Collect and the Prayer Over the Ashes, but decided against the former. In transit, I was simply lazy about my cut and paste. My apologies, and it has been corrected.

    – Jake

  5. Everything I’ve seen of the new translation looks like the whole thing has more meat, like it has more solid substance than the liturgy we’ve been living with for the last 38 years. 261 days to go ….

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