Archbishop Gregory: Time to Review Missal Translation

In an interview just published in America, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, chair of the US bishops’ committee on liturgy, said this about a reexamination of the 2011 Roman Missal translation:

Let’s have a review. I don’t believe that the American bishops have the stomach to start from ground zero. But I do believe that given the right structures, which would include the pastors, the guys on the firing line, a review of how these texts are being received, what’s problematic, what’s working, what’s better, what’s not better, would be helpful.

Archbishop Gregory is known as one at least somewhat critical of the Missal translation, which was carried out according to the controversial Roman document Liturgiam authenticam of 2011. Pray Tell reported earlier on Gregory’s statement that the Missal has “flaws and difficulties” and “needs correction.” When asked about the new Missal at a conference in March, 2014, Gregory said this:

Certainly the new translation is not… [pause] … without its difficulties. How’s that for being diplomatic? [laughter] I think that what we need to do with that translation, to be perfectly honest, its imposition, [correcting himself] – it’s in possession, we need to live with it for a while before we take up the task of saying, “This is not adequate to the worship needs of our church, for this reason, for that reason, for this reason,” the pastors of the church have said, “This is a difficulty, that is a difficulty, let’s look at it.” I think what we had to do was receive it, try to live with it, and come up with a much better and informed review of its flaws and difficulties. …

What we need to do now, after a period of time of living with it, come back and say, not: “We told you so!” – which I think a lot of pastors want to say – “We told you not to do that!” [laughter] – but to say, “It’s inadequate for this reason, that reason, this reason; we’ve tried it, we’ve lived with it, we think it needs correction.”

Pope Francis issued the document Magnum Principium on September 9, 2017, rolling back some of the Roman centralism of the 2001 guidelines and following the decisions of the Second Vatican Council to entrust bishops’ conferences with translation, as Pray Tell reported.

Other Pray Tell stories on this issue include:

After the Motu Proprio, Can Liturgiam Authenticam Stand? by Michael Joncas.

German-Speaking Bishops Take Control of Translations

On Things Liturgical, The Gap Between Francis and Cardinal Sarah Just Got Wider

Pope Francis Corrects Cardinal Sarah on Translation

French Missal Translation to Undergo Modifications in Light of Magnum Principium

Cardinal Mueller Goes Against Pope’s Magnum Principium

Bishop Crispian Hollis Apologizes for Missal Translation; and Another English Bishop Apologizes for Missal Translation; and Another UK Bishop Comes Out Against the New Missal

New Zealand Bishops Committed to Exploring Alternative Missal Translation







  1. Inviting input from clergy and laity? Does everyone recall the 15 year long process which resulted in the unanimously approved 1998 translation? We can only pray that should the bishops actually approve some kind of review that it would result in a fruitful outcome. Why not learn from our Anglican/Episcopal brethren and adopt two different translations? We live with more than one approved translation of the Bible, why not the missal. One Latin text would stand beneath both so there would still be just one Roman Rite. At the same time, maybe it would be time to insist that the traditionalists adopt the ecclesiology of the liturgical reform by adopting its calendar, lectionary, and translation. This would result in just one Rite with three different expressions. Nothing wrong with dreaming.

    1. What would a community be expected to do when a new pastor comes in and orders the other translation to be used?

      1. I imagine so long as they don’t touch the people’s parts but only touch presidential texts (the tenor of Abp Gregory’s comments is solely directed to reconsideration of presidential texts), it won’t matter functionally, because the priest will say what he wills….

      2. The bishop could require consultation with parish leadership or you could take your tithe to the nearest parish where you can find your preferred rite.

      3. Unfortunately, “parish leadership” is pretty weak tea, as it’s typically reflective (over time) of whoever the pastor attracts and repels. I would never confuse a pastoral counsel or finance council or any committee with being representative in a broad and deep way of the flock at large. A large lottery choice system would probably yield better representation if that’s considered a value to embrace and cultivate (and, if it’s not, let’s not pretend it is).

        Of course, Abp Gregory only refers to consulting pastors. It’s all quite clerical – because clerical is *easy*. Actually engaging in ground-up consultation – and not in a gamed way (watching in real time how consensus decision-making processes in Catholic contexts could so easily be gamed by the facilitators, I came to realize that we have a long way of formation to undergo as laity to do this well; Catholics in parish contexts are not suddenly going to become cultural Quakers – we is who we is, even if we need and want change).

        By “say what he wills” I meant, rather functionally, is that if the choice is being made by the priest, and it only touches his parts, he is saying what he wills without particular regard to any congregational choice.

  2. For better or worse, nothing new here. The archbishop has been a critic of the new translation and he himself notes that the conference doesn’t have the “stomach” to tackle the issue. If the same statement was made by a bishop who had not previously expressed a view on the subject of translation or if a similar statement was made by a bishop who had previously defended the translation, then that would be something newsworthy.

    1. That’s not the impression he created in the early days of this translation. Your argument doesn’t stand up.

    2. He says they don’t have the stomach to start from scratch. That’s different from saying they won’t “tackle the issue.”

      For the chair of the committee on divine worship to see this is timely is — BIG news. Sure, years ago he said things like that, but that was then.

      If you followed his statements to the conference when they voted for the new baptismal ordo last fall, it was clear he had become an apologist for ICEL and Liturgiam authenticam, and emphasized Magnum Principium’s status as “not retroactive” — not with any regret, but as a reassurance.

      So for him to say, yes, now it’s time to review and revise the Missal, this is news. Put your finger to the wind; he would not have said this even a few months ago. The weather is changing.

      1. Time will tell. The center of gravity of the American prelatial bench still seems largely waiting for Pope Francis to pass, and while there’s been some less regression out of the USCCB (mostly out of what would have been a natural allergic reaction to Trump), I’ve yet to hear of the earthquake that will shift things sufficiently in the national chancery, as it were, as some of the people who’ve been in the catbird seats to have the staff listing starboard in recent years are still in said seats.

      2. First, I would welcome a revision in a more proclaimable direction though I suspect I would disagree with quite a few commenters here on the specifics.

        The main point is since the time of Francis, Gregory has already made statements suggesting significant problems with current the translation. I don’t think this interview will do much to move his brother bishops toward a revision. And this interview is very short, so it doesn’t add any insight into what a potential revision would look like or what the Bishop’s thought process is. Really it could be summed up in a tweet.

        The bench has not changed too much. Nor is the Pope pressuring the conference to make changes. Also I don’t know how many of the new bishops in the Francis era would support a relook? I think Cupich would though he has been mum? I haven’t heard anything since the fall that suggests a change in the Conference’s outlook.

        Perhaps with enough new appointments that could change. But that assumes the new appointees would be significantly more likely to be intersted in a revision. Which to my knowledge has not been demonstrated yet.

  3. KLS: “I imagine so long as they don’t touch the people’s parts but only touch presidential texts (the tenor of Abp Gregory’s comments is solely directed to reconsideration of presidential texts), it won’t matter functionally, because the priest will say what he wills….”

    Karl Liam, but if there were two different authorized translations in use: one in colloquial and one in formal English, as Father Feehily is suggesting, then there would be different parts for the people in each translation, for instance: “and with your/thy (nothing wrong with dreaming) spirit.” vs. “and also with you./back atcha! (for the hip crowd).” But you are right, there are priests (and deacons) who made it up with the 1973 translation, and make it up now with the 2011 translation, and will make it up in the future, no matter what translation is in their missal. There’s an old Polish saying: Każdy kapłan jest jego własnym papieżem! which basically means that each priest is his own pope. Truer words…

    1. I of course wasn’t taking Jack’s idea as seriously fully in play, but rather constricting it within the apparent scope of Abp Gregory’s remarks. Any attempt to simply reverse out 2011 for 1998 will likely just deepen the cycle of dysfunction; triage and focus will be necessary. And patience. If we pray for patience, of course, what we get is … more opportunities to practice it!

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how individuals can read the worst into what others say. Of course the people’s parts would be left untouched. As for priests saying what they will, as opposed to what? Saying only what the bishop says? Saying only the black? For the record, I favor whatever changes can be made to canon law and in seminary formation that would put an end to absolute rule by clerics.

  5. What’s wrong with the word ‘imposition’? After all, it began in the 4th Century with Constantine, was fully endorsed in the 10th Century by Charlemagne, and then corroborated by Trent in the 16th, We’ve become a tradition of mindless impositions, none with any theological justification, merely political expediency. It’s interesting to hear +Thomas McMahon and other English bishops say how they regretted voting in the new missal (since when we’ve never referred to it as a sacramentary). Perhaps we ritual composers could have the opportunity to constructively lend our voices to any substantive debate, but only it had the assurance of leading somewhere.

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