Pray Tell recently posted an interview with Swiss liturgist Martin Klöckener on the significance of the 27 new members named to the Congregation for Divine Worship by Pope Francis. Klöckener speculated that some of the Pope’s appointments could be connected to his desire to reexamine liturgical translations:

What this Congregation [for Divine Worship – ed.] would need, in my opinion, is more understanding of the scholarly field and more opening. This is apparent in the conflict about the liturgical books. Since 2001 the Vatican demands a retranslation of these books according to narrow prescriptions in the sense of greater literalness. This led to quarrels. Only the English Missal is completed. The German-language bishops’ conferences have put a stop to the process after the translations were completed. They held that such a literal translation of the liturgy would ultimately do damage to the life of faith. At the time it is an open question whether the CDW and the French-language bishops’ conferences can come to agreement around the French translation, where similar difficulties have come to light.

Perhaps this is also a reason why Bishop Charles Morerod from west Switzerland and the French bishop Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin were called to be members of the congregation. Aubertin is president of the French liturgy commission. The nomination of both of them could certainly stand in connection to the open question of the future of the new French translation of the missal. The pope would then be strengthening the role of the local churches in this process.

It seems likely that Pope Francis would be interested in reexamining the issue of  liturgical translation, given his interest in decentralization and greater respect for local and national churches.

Andrea Grillo, in “Evangelii Gaudium promotes authentic liturgy. A turning point toward a sixth Instruction on the Reform of the Liturgy?”, noted that the basis for a revisiting of Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2011Roman document on translation, is found in Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. He concluded:

After a troubled fifteen-year reign, Liturgiam Authenticam has reached the end of its line. Not only have legitimate criticisms been raised from the start, from both doctrinal and pastoral points of view, but the facts have demonstrated it to be, throughout these years, both flawed in theory and virtually inapplicable in practice. And where the matter has been forced despite these problems, the result has been liturgical texts that are technically “correct” documents – that is, consistent with poorly conceived norms – but which lack, as a result, any relationship with living language, real life, and the lived faith of those for whose use the texts are intended. At the root of everything is not a philological problem, but a theological and anthropological one: a rigid tradition and the presumption that the experience of the liturgical subject is unimportant.

Pray Tell contributor Rita Ferrone has raised the question, “What Should A Sixth Instruction Contain?”, and Pray Tell readers gave many thoughtful suggestions for a successor document.

In “Liturgical Translation: The Road Ahead,” Rita Ferrone helpfully recounted the history of liturgical translation since Vatican II. She concluded,

Tension exists between the decentralized model of oversight for translations (described in Sacrosanctum Concilium), and the tightly controlled, centralized one (as imposed upon ICEL, and reinforced by Vox Clara). How will this tension be resolved? Pope Francis has encouraged bishops to take initiatives on behalf of their local churches, suggesting fresh openness to decentralization. Might the balance change for translations as well?

What follows is a piece I originally wrote two and a half years ago. I still stand by the suggestions I then made. I am at pains to find a solution that promotes peace and harmony, with no winners and losers but a Church that is built up. And since the liturgical texts I quote are from the upcoming Mass of the First Sunday of Advent, this seems like a good time to reprint this piece.

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A Unifying Solution for the Missal Situation

There is a solution to the Missal situation which is surprisingly easy, and the result would be, as we say in Minnesota, not half bad. It’s this: keep the revised Order of Mass of 2011 with its congregational parts, and plug in the priest’s parts from the 1998 translation.

That might sound like an odd hybrid, and there would be just a bit of inconsistency, but I think it would be workable. And to put it in crassly political terms, it could be a unifier because, when the dust had settled, there wouldn’t be clear winners and losers. Isn’t it high time we think about bringing reconciliation and unity to an area marked by so much rancor and division?

Quick review: 1974 Sacramentary is the previous translation, rather flat with its simple language. 1998 Sacramentary is the one experts worked on for some 17 years and all the bishops’ conferences of the English-speaking world approved, but Rome rejected. The 2011 Missal is in part the product of ICEL’s work in accord with the controversial 2001 Roman document Liturgiam authenticam, but much of 2011 is scarred by the 10,000+ changes which Rome (and its committee Vox Clara) made at the last minute.

1974: (Collect, I Advent)

All-powerful God, increase our strength of will
for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.


Almighty God, strengthen the resolve
of your faithful people
to prepare for the coming of your Christ
by works of justice and mercy,
so that when we go forth to meet him
he may call us to sit at his right hand
and possess the kingdom of heaven.


Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth
to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy
to possess the heavenly kingdom.

As you see, the 1998 presidential texts are quite formal and elevated, making them much closer to 2011 than 1974. Most everyone would agree that the English in 1998 is poetically better than 2011.

To explain the win/win of this proposal, I will use the handy terms, however inadequate, “traditionalist” and “progressive.” Though I’m sure there are people who hold all sorts of combinations of positions that don’t fit into these two categories, I’ll use the terms here to describe the people who liked 1998 (I’m calling them progressives) and those who defend 2011 (I’m calling them traditionalists). I know, I know, there are people of quite conservative sensitivities who support 1998, and some progressives who had this or that problem with 1998, but go with it for the sake of my argument.

The win/win is this: the progressives who like 1998 would shout a cry of joy to see its presidential texts come in, but the traditionalists who have felt obligated to defend 2011 would concede that they are getting most of what they wanted in terms of more formal and elevated language. 1998 is a far cry from the 1974 which they (and not only they) disliked. And the traditionalists are also getting much by way of accurate translation of the Latin, for 1998 is generally very accurate. And if they’re honest (and have been reading Pray Tell), traditionalists know that Vox Clara introduced inaccuracies into 2011 all over the place. And of course the traditionalists are getting the revised Order of Mass with “and with your spirit” and “under my roof” and all the rest.

This sounds like a simple cut and paste, 2011 plus 1998, but there would be some decisions to make and a few details to iron out. This is why it would probably take more like three years than one. (I’ve already worked it all out and will be waiting by in phone in case anyone in Rome or DC wishes to ring me up.) The 1998 prefaces already begin nicely with “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,” which would preserve the lovely transition from the new congregational response “It is right and just.” But where 1998 leaves out some of the angels and powers at the end, it should be no problem to plug in the last bit from 2011 with a fairly seamless fit. I’d keep the new, more elaborate preface chant tone from 2011 and fit it to the 1998 preface texts, perhaps with some slight editing of the 2011 endings for normal English word order and good word accent distribution.

The heart of this proposal is the introduction into the 2011 Missal of four things from 1998: the Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, Preface, and Prayer after Communion. But there are nooks and crannies in the Roman Missal, various proper and particular texts in the course of the liturgical year. Solemn blessings, for example. These all would have to be dealt with, but it shouldn’t take that long.

One might want to adjust the 2011 Order of Mass here and there, e.g. by changing “consubstantial” to “of one substance” to throw a bone to the progressives, but I suspect most of them wouldn’t insist on this if it were the price to pay to be rid of the 2011 presidential texts. And I would settle for having just one collect option, the 1998 translation of the Latin collect, but the bishops might be feeling generous and re-approve the 3-year cycle of original collect texts they once approved many years ago which matches the readings in the 3-year lectionary. (Liturgiam authenticam allows for such original texts not based on Latin, by the way.)

Perhaps the 2011 Eucharistic Prayers would need to be smoothed out a bit, but their more formal tone could be preserved for the most part.

There might be some light editing of the 1998 presidential texts here and there, but I’m pretty optimistic it could be run through quickly. Maybe a word or phrase here or there in 1998 would have to be made more faithful to the Latin, but it would have to be without loss of the beautiful flow of the 1998 text. Some of the “inclusive language” of 1998 might need to be “un-inclusified” – and this might be advisable to appease the traditionalists and reassure them that their many and loud criticisms of the 1998 text were heard. I suspect progressives could accept some compromise on this front as long as 1998 is substantially preserved.

There is the issue of size and weight of the book. Though the Latin missal is a one-volume book, there is no reason, save extreme legalism of the pre-Francis curial variety, why a vernacular Missal can’t appear in two volumes, one for Sunday and one for everything else. Call it the “acolytes’ arms relief indult.”

If this thing took about 3 years to work out, it would mean that the 2011 Missal lasted about 5 to 6 years – which is still longer than some of those interim missals right after Vatican Two. There is precedent for the timeframe. And publishers like Liturgical Press wouldn’t mind at all a new press run! (They’re not paying me to make this proposal).

Pastorally, the transition to this new Missal would be quite painless. The people in the pews would hardly notice, since their texts aren’t changing. Priests would notice – and they’re the ones who dislike the new text and would be most happy to have better and more sensible and more beautiful English to proclaim. One would say as little as possible to the people – perhaps a brief notice that the new Missal has proven itself and the new texts have become known and accepted by people, and now some slight improvements are being made to the priest’s texts, without bringing up the whole sordid behind-the-scenes saga of what happened to ICEL under Cardinal Medina and all the rest. Or maybe one could get away with saying nothing at all to the people?

I’ve been around the block enough by now to know that when I make a grand proposal such as this, which is the high middle ground destined to unite everyone in perfect peace, with me as the hero who saved the day, the result rather is that I’m fired on from all sides.

I’m ready. Fire away.


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