Monday, 28 June 2010

The Mystery of Faith

I thought I might start a little series looking at a few details of the new English translation of the mass. The current English translation has been widely attacked as being inaccurate as a translation and has been widely defended for being accessible. I’d like to concentrate here on the theological aspects of the old and the new translations. In particular, I’d like to highlight places where the theological symbolism of the Latin original is obscured by the old translation and revealed by the new. I will also consider whether there are places where the new translation may “obscure by accuracy” compared to the old translation.

I thought that I’d start with “the Mystery of Faith”, just after the consecration of the precious blood in the ordinary form. Even in the Latin, there was some controversy when the ordinary form first came out, as the words “mysterium fidei” were moved from their position in the words of consecration. Compare the Latin of the older extraordinary form and the newer ordinary form.

Extraordinary Form: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti: mysterium fidei: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Haec quotiescumque feceritis in mei memoriam facietis.

Ordinary Form: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes: hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti, qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum. Hoc facite in meam commemorationem.

New Translation of the Ordinary Form: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, (the mystery of faith) which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.

I’ve inserted the phrase “the mystery of faith” in the translation of the ordinary form to indicate where it comes in the extraordinary form. Note that the Latin texts of the ordinary and extraordinary forms are the same apart from the final sentence and the moving of the mysterium fidei, so that the translation is good for both forms up until the final sentence.

The ordinary form continues (rubrics in red) with the new translation and with one of the choices of acclamation:

Calicem ostendit populo, deponit super patenam, et genuflexus adorat. Deinde dicit:
Mysterium fidei.

The Priest shows the chalice to the people, places it on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration. Then the Priest says:
The mystery of faith.

Et populus prosequitur, acclamans:
Quotiescumque manducamus panem hunc et calicem bibimus, mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, donec venias.

And the people continue, acclaiming:
When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.

The structure here is that the priest makes a proclamation “the mystery of faith” to which the people respond in acclamation (which is made clear by the rubric). There’s a clear sense of the people approving and applauding the proclamation of the priest. We might also note that “and the people continue” for “et populus prosequitur” is a bit weak; “prosequitur” better rendered with a sense of following or accompanying.

However, when we look at the old translation we find

Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:

Memorial acclamation of the people

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.

The fragment “let us proclaim” is an invention of the old translation, not found in nor implied by the Latin original. We might also note that it is also somewhat inconsistent with the following rubric! The effect is to totally lose the proclamation-acclamation, priest-people, head of Christ-body of Christ structure. In the Latin and in the new translation, the priest has simply made the proclamation to which the faithful join in acclamation; in the old translation, the priest is inviting a joint proclamation with the faithful as though he had not already done it.

The general effect of the old translation here appears to be a weakening of the theology of the priest acting “in Persona Christi Capitis” (in the Person of Christ the Head) and therefore a weakening of the theology of the Church as the Mystical body of Christ. As such, the new translation is a welcome improvement.


  1. Surely the point here is that the words Mystery of Faith refer to what precedes rather than what follows. They Mystery of Faith (as the Extraordinary Form makes clear) is the consecration. The words Christ has died, or whatever are not. That is where the current translation is so deficient. It would be better if it said: Let us acclaim the Mystery of Faith. Or better still if it were not there and we had a silent Canon restored...

  2. Hi Ben,

    I agree that in the extraordinary form, the words "the mystery of faith" occur in their natural position.

    The ordinary form (in the latin) moves these words to the end of the prayer of consecration, creating this little ceremony of proclomation-acclamation (of what has already taken place). I don't know what the reasoning was for this change - perhaps to involve the lay faithful in the ceremonial at this point. The current translation then manages to obscure the point of this ceremony!

    I'm not sure that having the priest say "let us acclaim..." would be an adequate solution. Perhaps it might be appropriate for a deacon to say these words, leading the congregation in acclamation, or perhaps saying it in the imperative ("Acclaim the mystery of faith!") But for the priest to say them still, I think, obscures his being in persona Christi Capitis.