Defending the New Roman Missal

This well-written piece is by Peter Stavinskas in America, responding to the recent article by Fr. Michael Ryan asking that we “Just Wait” and consult more people before moving forward. Against Fr. Ryan’s claim that the Roman curia is dismantling Vatican II, Fr. Stravinskas writes: “In my view, present efforts are precisely seeking to reclaim ‘the great vision of the council’s’ constitution.”

There are two petitions you get to sign –  this one to “just wait” and  this one because “we’ve waited long enough.” Take your pick. The former went over 10,000 signatures last week, the latter had trouble hitting 2,500 but finally made it. No, I don’t think the side with the most signatures wins. Rather, the higher either petition goes, the more it shows that this is controversial stuff and the implementation could be rocky.



  1. The qualifier “In my view” is the all-important point in that quote. This will, no doubt, be beaten to death in ensuing comments here. Whether you agree strongly or disagree strongly with Fr. Stravinskas’ assertion depends on what you believe the “great vision of the council’s’ constitution” is.

    I see a “hermeneutic of continuity/ hermeneutic of rupture” debate…

  2. Whatever your views on the New Roman Missal, time will tell if it is going to be useful.

    Will it become as popular and prayable as the Grail psalms, and many of the songs of the St Louis Jesuits for example?

    1. The older I get the more amusement I have from mis-readings of things (I must get some new lenses). In this case I didn’t see the second letter of ‘prayable’, so that I read:

      Will it become as popular and payable as the Grail psalms, and many of the songs of the St Louis Jesuits for example?

      Now there’s another topic I expect to be aired …

  3. Does the average person in the pew (or organist / guitarist) know, or give a flying jump what ‘hermeneutic’ means?

    1. Does the average person have or need much of an understanding of theology? Probably not. Is theology central to the formation of the Church’s belief and worship? Without doubt.

  4. John,

    In one respect at least a hermeneutic is like a theology–everyone’s got one whether they know it (or want it) or not. The question is, are we self-aware of what our personal theologies and hermeneutics are and how they connect to that of the Church?

    So, no, the word doesn’t need to be used, but I think it’s hard to have a mature Christian faith and spirituality without at least engaging the concept.

  5. Stravinskas’s article ignores a major point. The new translation of the Mass is different, but it’s based on an assumption that is not in evidence: the closer the English version is to the Latin version in all respects — including vocabulary, grammar, and syntax — the more appropriate it is.

    Such schoolboyish touches as literal translation of the ablative absolute, as is present in the absolution prayer in the penitential rite, do not lead us to an English text that conveys the cognitive and affective substance of the Mass in any kind of effective manner.

    The text we’ve used the last 40 years is in no way artistic, but neither is this new version. This whole project needs to back to the drawing board, with our best artists in English prose fully involved.

    1. And who, pray tell, are our best artists in English prose? Care to cite a couple of names? Simon & Garfunkle, perhaps? Could I nominate Ralph McInery?

      1. An interesting suggestion. Paul Simon (not Mr Garfunkel) is the songwriter of the two, and while excellent at his craft, wouldn’t be my first choice. Sr Genevieve Glen is probably one of the foremost hymn writers in the English language today. Contemporary writer of the quality of Richard Wilbur or Flannery O’Connor, perhaps.

    2. RP Burke,
      You’re not accurately portraying Fr. Stravinska’s points. He never mentions grammar or syntax. His pointts are all lexical. As a classicist and linguist myself, I have to say that I’ve never read a translation of a Greek or Roman (Syriac, Hebrew, Old English or Sanskrit either, for that matter) that uses this bizarre “dynamic equivalence” method. A translation must convey information, thoughts, ideas, content. The problem is that in the current translation, information of the same specificity is not being conveyed. Lit. Auth. is not as worried about the constructions or mechanisms that convey the information as I think perhaps the recent translators were, but they have rightly improved the quality and quantity of information that the translation conveys. The point is not appropriateness, the point is content.

      Look, “and with your spirit” is clunky in Greek and Latin too. Greeks and Romans didn’t go around using this phrase. It has theological significance that needs to be translated, and clunkiness is okay.

      Human beings are noteworthy for adapting the environment to themselves rather than conforming themselves to the environment. Haven’t we conformed the liturgy to ourselves enough? When will we start transforming ourselves in response to the challenges that the sacred liturgy poses? Don’t we really need to know accurately what these challenges are?

      1. I think it has to be granted that the new translation has “improved the quality and quantity of information that the translation conveys.” But I also think that form and content cannot be easily separated, particularly in spoken texts.And, honestly, I think much of the new translation is, in terms of form, often just plain ugly: convoluted syntax, unbalanced sentences, etc. The meaning, of course, is sublime, But, clothed as it is in awkward, stilted English, I fear that that beautiful meaning will get lost.because it is conveyed is language that seems to take no account of the aesthetic possibilities of the English language.

        I would love to see someone take the new translation and give it to a writer like Ron Hansen or, better still, Seamus Heaney with the instruction to put it into the most beautiful and powerful English prose that he can, while preserving every nuance of meaning. The result would have to be better than what we are about to be offered.

      2. Maybe, just maybe, the Church had it right when the “liturgically significant” prayers were said in Latin. Translation always is an imperfect art/science. I am beginning to believe that some parts of the Mass should be in the vernacular, but the “significant” parts should retain the Latin . . . and then we should catechize the faithful to more fully comprehend and spiritually understand the Latin text. This would have a unifying effect within the Church and reduce the problem of imperfect translation within those keys parts of the Mass. Just a thought from a neophyte.

      3. Maybe – but I don’t think so! Neither do the bishops of every single country in the world, who approved and approve an entirely vernacular liturgy – all with the approval of the Pope, by the way. I’m trying to respect your opinion on Latin, but you’re setting yourself against the whole college of bishops around the world with it. I hope you can love the Church you’ve joined as it is, and I hope for your sake that you haven’t joined a Church which exists only in your mind or in the blogosphere. Christ is acting, I believe, in the Church as it is right now. (And of course the Church right now is semper reformanda and will keep on evolving.)

      4. +JMJ+

        Fr. Anthony, I’d really like to know what the general sentiment is toward SC art. 54/2: “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

        Is it obsolete? Opposed to FCAP? A monastic ideal not appropriate for normal parish life? A compromise sentence which was never meant to be taken seriously?

      5. Fr. Anthony, thank you for your thoughts. I assure you that I have not joined a Church which exists only in my mind. I have joined the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the Church of the living Christ. And we all should aspire to love the Church as it is. Entering the conversation at mid-stream (always a dangerous undertaking, I will admit), my comments were really intended as an “innocent musing” on all the turmoil around the issue of an “accurate” translation from Latin into English. If the English translation is never fully adequate, then perhaps Latin is the form we should consider, in key parts of the Mass, while fully recognizing that Latin is not the original language. I recognize that, as a lay person, and a neophyte, that this is way above my pay grade, but I thought I would simply broach the issue. Is Latin now an impossibility for inclusion in the Mass in any form, at any point in the Mass, ever? Was that the intent of VII?

        Was the bishop’s approval in every single country in the world, with the approval of the Pope as you point out, of an entirely vernacular liturgy, an exclusion from that point forward of the use of Latin in any portion of the Mass? Is the antipathy for Latin in today’s Church so intense that there cannot be even a discussion of a mixed vernacular/Latin Mass, a liturgy which recognizes the local culture within the Church through the use of the vernacular and the universality of the Church through the use of Latin?

      6. Translation always is an imperfect art/science. I am beginning to believe that some parts of the Mass should be in the vernacular, but the “significant” parts should retain the Latin . . .

        This might be more convincing if much of the Latin were not itself a translation. Following this logic, we should do the Our Father and Creed in Greek, the Sanctus in Hebrew, etc. I see no reason to think that the translators who put those parts of the Mass into Latin had any special privilege, such that their translations should be preferred to English translations.

        A stronger argument can be made for those things that were originally composed in Latin, particularly when they are wedded to music. Thus I am all in favor of singing the Pange Lingua in Latin, or the Sequences.

      7. Oh, in my ideal world the people in every Catholic community would sing all the Latin chants of the Ordinary with reverent gusto! I’m not sure all readers of Pray Tell realize how traditional my ideals are. I favor something quite different from what we see all around us – more Latin, more polyphony, a stronger “sacred” feel to newer churches, probably priest facing eastward. In some ways I’d prefer a 2-year lectionary based on 1962, keeping the link to the proper chants there, and expanding the alt. Gospel readings without wrecking the old cursus. Adding an OT reading could/would be OK. Keep the ’62 graduals, make our one-year cycle of resp. psalms match up with the gradual psalm. And on and on.

        For many reasons I don’t waste my energy attacking what we have now (I’m not saying you do, Jeffrey, but many others do), or attacking the motives of those who did the great work of reform, or claiming there is some great deviation from V2, or clamoring for a return to the real council. I find that whole reformist package unappealing – mean-spirited, uninformed, nostalgic, unpractical, escapist of modern culture.

        Let me put it this way: In my ideal world, all the bad parts of the 60s wouldn’t have happened, so that we could do the type of liturgy I idealized above, and it would feel natural and normal and evangelical and uncontrived and mainline for all of us. But that really isn’t an option. Culture matters – about 10 times more than the RotR people realize – and you gotta do Christianity in the culture you’re in. You don’t get to choose which century to be a Christian.

        I also know that we could put all these externals in place tomorrow and we’d still have all the same problems (falling attendance, abuse of authority, divided church, etc.) to deal with. And I would still have all the same inner struggles and weaknesses to deal with. RotR does a lot of pretending about this.

        So: given all the givens, how does God want me to be faithful amidst THIS blessed mess?


      8. I think the RofR crowd have a very good chance of seeing the reforms they champion put in place. The return of “for many” and “precious chalice” in the consecration is something few of us would have hoped for just a decade ago and the mp would have been a farfetched fantasy. Twenty-five years ago no-one would have thought a document like LA would be published and now we have it and our own bishops conference is on-board with it. Many of the composers and liturgical experts who post regularly here would have told us why something like the mp could never happen and why it could never work alongside tV2’s SC but here it is anyway. Changing “for all” to “for many” would similarly be described as hopelessly antiquarian if not “fundamentalist” just a decade ago yet every faithful priest of the Roman rite will soon be reciting these words. It seems to me that the RofR crowd is the future while those who resist these “signs of the times” risk being left behind in some sort of retro “60’s(ish) brand of nostalgic sentimentality.

      9. +JMJ+

        Fr. Anthony, thank you for sharing your perspective. You’ve shared parts of it before. It’s clear you hold SC 54.2 in high regard, placing it among the characteristics of your ideal Roman liturgy…

        But it’s not the experience of very many parishes at all. Compare that to the expanded Lectionary, the regularity of homilies, the Prayer of the Faithful, the presence of the vernacular, the partaking in the sacrifice offered at that Mass, Communion under both kinds, and a new rite of concelebration. Those reforms (cf. SC 51-58) are part of the typical parish experience, priest shortage notwithstanding.

        So why have the other reforms been so successfully implemented (and then some!) and, for the most part, well-received, but that pesky little sentence in SC 54.2 can’t seem to get its foot in the door? Why do Catholics who otherwise support the reforms they experience from SC 51-58 become indignant when mention is made of Latin responses at Mass? (Such a reaction can be found at NCR, for example.)

        What’s the problem with SC 54.2? People — at least SOME people — were making the responses in Latin before 1963. Why did it become impossible and undesirable?

        So I repeat my questions from the previous comment:

        “Is it obsolete? Opposed to FCAP? A monastic ideal not appropriate for normal parish life? A compromise sentence which was never meant to be taken seriously?”

        What does the rest of the readership here think?

      10. Helena – RofT might get all kinds of things they want, depending on where the hierarchy goes. How does that relates to any of the points in my comment?

  6. “Does the average person have or need much of an understanding of theology? Probably not. Is theology central to the formation of the Church’s belief and worship? Without doubt.”

    Good point, Ian. Trooping out “Lex orandi, lex credendi” regarding the second point seems appropriate now.
    As to the first point, substitute “Should” for “Does” and, I believe, we all benefit as 21st century believers and practicioners of the faith. It also mandates change from “probably not” to “ideally and eventually they will.”

  7. It seems to me if we want to honor the past we should look at the Gospels. Jesus came and walked among us as an ordinary person. He spoke to the people in their language in words and stories they could understand. The notion that reverence could be judged upon outward appearances and sophistication of syntax is beyond my understanding.

  8. It seems to me if we want to honor the past we should look at the Gospels. Jesus came and walked among us as an ordinary person. He spoke to the people in their language in words and stories they could understand.

    And don’t forget also that he challenged them, nay I would say warned them, to repent and believe in his words. Particularly in John 6, his attitude does not seem to be one of accepting all points of view…many left because they couldn’t understand his teachings.

    But more to the point…why do we want to “honor the past” as you say?

  9. It seems to me if we want to honor the past we should look at the Gospels.


    Jesus came and walked among us as an ordinary person.

    Did he?

    “And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes: and their net broke… Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

    He spoke to the people in their language in words and stories they could understand.


    “But while all wondered at all the things he did, he said to his disciples: Lay you up in your hearts these words, for it shall come to pass that the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this word: and it was hid from them, so that they perceived it not. And they were afraid to ask him concerning this word.”

    Sorry folks, the myth of happy hippie guru Jesus strolling around preaching peace, love & harmony has to fade. Jesus was a hard man to be around. He made people cower in fear because they realized how sinful they were and he said lots of things that was shrouded in deepest mystery. How could it be anyway else when He was the Word Incarnate; the King of the Universe, born in a stable; the One by whom all is created, born of a Virgin?

    Are you seriously saying we’re expected to understand this? Or is it not precisely intended to remain – as the Easterners also say of the Sacraments – Mystery?

  10. I wonder if the bishops really have any idea of what they’ve done by approving what is essentially an artificially manufactured dialect of English?

    Does anyone know of other examples of the introduction of a suddenly imposed hieratic or ritual language and how successful those have been? Or are we breaking new ground?

    1. The new translation owes little to the once pervasive and still living tradition of sacral English, but to the extent that it does it connects with a vital linguistic and cultural phenomenon.

    2. Actually, we do have a very good precedent here, which is the implementation of the Latin language in the early Church. The first liturgical Latin, according to new research uncovered by Fr. Uwe Lang and other scholars, was not vernacular Latin at all.

  11. It seems that the best thought-through and argued responses here rely on a sort of illegitimate debate because “Liturgicum Autheticum” has already closed the door on what sort of translation we are supposed to be using.

    1. Shouldn’t we be debating a document described by Peter Jeffrey as “the most ignorant statement on liturgy ever issued by a modern Vatican congregation”? We would, are after all, be debating translation fashion, not, for example, the humanity and divinity of Christ, but how best to express these in a translation that leads to full, active and conscious participation.

      Or should we simply accept that “curial doors” such as LA can only be opened from the inside, and that there is currently no-one at home ready to answer the door bell?

  12. Does anyone know of other examples of the introduction of a suddenly imposed hieratic or ritual language and how successful those have been?

    Er… the King James Bible? Its language was certainly not the prevalent speech of the day, but was rather intentionally ‘old-fashioned’.

    Pretty successful, it would seem.

  13. One could also cite the now-famous instance of the re-introduction of Hebrew in Jewish worship in the early 20th century. It was, prior to that time a seldom used language among the worlds Jews.

  14. Has anyone noticed the times when the new ICEL has NOT followed their or Liturgiam authenticam’s stated principles?

    For instance, in the absolution prayer of the Penitential Act, “eternal life” does NOT follow the word order of the Latin “vitam aeternam,” and is “eternal life” any more rhythmically beautiful than “life everlasting”?

    In Eucharistic Prayer IV, “Father most holy” is a paraphrase surely of Pater sancte, presumably to ensure that the prayer is not heard as addressed to the Pope! But I thought there were to be no such liberties taken with translating the Latin?

    Then there are paraphrases that seem to be chosen for the sake of the “conservative” perspective: for instance, “circumstantium” in the Memento of the Living in the Roman Canon is “standing around” not “gathered here” – the sto has disappeared in this new literal translation! As it has in Eucharistic Prayer II, where “adstare coram te” – literally “to stand before you” and currently “to stand in your presence” becomes, in the new ICEL version simply “to be here before you”.

    A bishop told me that “stand” had been removed or deliberately MISTRANSLATED in both instances to prevent people from using the text to justify actually standing at that part of the Mass during which the Holy See wants us to kneel.

    Are there more instances of this “fiddling” with the Latin text by the NEW ICEL to serve conservative preferences? And are Rome and the bishops OK with this – as they were NOT OK when the OLD ICEL allegedly did the same thing to favor liberal preferences?

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