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‘The word of the Lord’

03 November 2017

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or to add to the answers given below


Your answers

Both the Old and the New Testaments are clear that “the word of the Lord” is something “out there”, out in the ether, it would appear: e.g. “the word of the Lord came to Solomon” (or Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jonah, etc.), and “In the beginning was the Word.” “The word of the Lord” is, therefore, not something that can be contained or controlled by human beings, but is far greater than that. We could reasonably say during the liturgy, “In this is the word of the Lord,” but we don’t. So, why is it that we routinely repeat a piece of perfidious nonsense, if not idolatry?


The query is simply answered. The appearance in the liturgy of the statement “This is the word of the Lord” is a rendering of the original Latin declaration at the end of a reading “Verbum Domini”, which really means simply “The word of the Lord,” unconfined by “this is”. This was the 1973 English version produced by the International Council on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which followed a characteristically 1960s (to be precise, 1969) direction to use “dynamic equivalence”, which one might also characterise as “flagrant mistranslation”.

Other examples in the text include, “And also with you” in response to “The Lord be with you,” a mistranslation of “Et cum spiritu tuo” meaning “And with your spirit” (BCP: “And with thy spirit”); “We believe . . .”, a mistranslation of the Latin “Credo”, which is first person singular, i.e., “I believe”; “of one being with the Father” for “consubstantialem Patri” (“consubstantial with the Father”, or BCP: “of one substance with the Father”); “sin of the world” for “peccata mundi” (“sins of the world”); “Pray, brothers and sisters” for “Orate, fratres” (“Pray, brothers”); and uncounted others. There are further instances of mere strangeness: for example, from the Nicene Creed, “all things seen and unseen” for the Latin “visibilium omnium et invisibilium” (rendered more naturally in the BCP as “all things visible and invisible”).

This is an example of where the English doesn’t seem right, idiomatically speaking: for instance, my students, and colleagues accept that, as a university lecturer, I am entitled to set candidates an “unseen” examination, but I would be subject to justified criticism all round if I set an invisible one.

ICEL has now produced a much better translation, following the principle of “formal equivalence” (which we might call “reasonable accuracy”). The Roman Catholic Church has now adopted this new and better version, approved by the Vatican in 2010, but the Church of England persists in using the old mistranslation, hence the questioner’s puzzlement.

Incidentally, it would seem that the rubrics of Common Worship permit use of any accepted version of liturgical texts in any service; so an otherwise Order One communion, for instance, might take the Gloria, Credo, Agnus Dei, and so forth, from the BCP or from the new ICEL translation, instead of the 1973 ICEL version.

(Dr) Richard Austen-Baker



How often have I wanted to respond to the statement “This is the word of the Lord” after some bloodthirsty and hardly edifying Old Testament, or completely impenetrable Pauline epistle, passage, by saying “No, it isn’t”!

In New Zealand, the statement after these readings is “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church”: much more satisfactory, this allows one to make one’s own judgements about them.

Richard Ashby

Emsworth, Hampshire


Your questions


Back in the 1700s, was “the Holy Ghost” used rather than “the Holy Spirit”?

J. M.


Churchmanship at my parish church is high Anglo-Catholic: though the priest, when saying mass, follows Common Worship, the pages have been stuck into the Roman Missal; the Roman Catholic collect is used instead of the collect prescribed in Common Worship; and a stone tile has been set into the high altar, thus, if my understanding is correct, transforming it from a communion table into an altar in the Roman Catholic sense. Do these practices accord with canon law?


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