Well put, Jerry

This piece on the new missal translation is by Jerry Galipeau at WLP from his fine blog , “Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray.”

Welcome to another installment of “New Translation Tuesday.”

This past Saturday, while waiting in line for refreshments during a break in my presentation to ministers of care at Addolorata Villa here in suburban Chicago, a woman in line with me began to ask some questions about the upcoming translation changes. Her first question: “How do you think the regular people in the pews will react?” I told her that my hopes were that there would be solid preparation and explanation of the changes beforehand so that people would not be caught unaware. She then began to comment about how she thought that people would generally react negatively to the whole thing. She explained that she has been involved in some kind of parish ministry since the early 1970’s. She said that in the past few years she has witnessed a series of backward steps, unravelling the intent of the Second Vatican Council. She mused that this new set of translations is another backward step.

I did not have the time to engage in a conversation about such deep issues. I wanted to ask her what she perceived as the “backward steps.” I could guess that she was talking about the restoration of hierarchical terms in Roman documents and documents we receive from the USCCB. She may have been talking about the tightening of rubrics around the celebration of the Eucharist. She could have been talking about the whole issue of reporting “liturgical abuses.” In a sense, it doesn’t really matter what issues have led her to come to her conclusions. The fact is that she has come to the conclusion that, in her view, there has been a so-called “retrenchment” taking place.

Folks, we have to be prepared not only to implement a new translation of the Missale Romanum. We have to be prepared to engage a person like this woman; a dedicated parish minister whose viewpoints may differ from our own. For her, it’s not just about a translation change; it is something far deeper. She sees the Church going in the wrong direction and sees the new translation as symptomatic of that change. I know there are some who would simply brush her perceptions away; telling her that she is the one who is going in the wrong direction. There are others who would agree with her wholeheartedly; people who would organize picket lines in front of parishes denouncing the new translation and calling for a return to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Those of us entrusted with the pastoral care of all of those God entrusts to us have a difficult job ahead of us. We need to care for those who will see this new translation as a move in the wrong direction; we need to care for those who will see this new translation as move in the right direction. And, we will need to care for those whose viewpoint falls somewhere in the middle; these are, I believe, Catholics whose engagement in liturgical matters does not mean as much as perhaps our own engagement does. My great hope is that the new translation will be a time to wake up those who have settled into the great malaise. Perhaps this will be the opportunity to help them engage in what is actually being celebrated week in and week out: the paschal mystery.

Well, enough of my musings for now. Feel free to comment. [Ed: he means at his blog, but you’re free to comment here too!]

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


  1. Thanks you for your thoughtful article. I think need to get going being specific with people about things like this:
    LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
    Maiestatem tuam, Domine, suppliciter deprecamur,
    ut, sicut nos Corporis et Sanguinis sacrosancti
    pascis alimento,
    ita divinae naturae facias esse consortes.

    LITERAL TRANSLATION: (by Fr. J. Zuhlsdorf)
    We suppliantly beseech your majesty, O Lord,
    that, just as you feed us now
    upon the provisions of the most holy Body and Blood,
    just so you may make us to be the partakers of the divine nature.

    ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
    Almighty Father,
    may the body and blood of your Son,
    give us a share in his life.

    An article should start appearing in every bulletin pointing out the nature of the present translation and the rich language we are all missing out on in the experience of our worship. Not neccesarily with Fr. Z’s extremely literal translation, but possibly with the new translation, so people can start to get a sense of the difference.

    I think once people see that the reason for the new translation is something new and exciting, something mysterious and beautiful, they will begin to come around. We should show pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling before and after the latest restoration, and make the comparison that we are getting the original intent of the Church (who has the mind of Christ) with this new translation. Yes, there are a few surprises, but it will take a vision the good, the true and beautiful to overcome people’s fear of the unknown.

    1. The cause for disillusionment is not that Liturgiam Authenticam detractors want to retain inferior translations. We had a translation approved by bishops more than ten years ago, a translation of the quality seen in the funeral rites, the pastoral care rites and RCIA. And that translation was deep-sixed so we could “enjoy” another decade of what everyone concedes was more or less a rush job to get something in print.

      I can’t let go of one of the critical flaws in the Roman Missal–the lack of a “Book of the chair” that harmonizes with the three-year lectionary cycle, and would be more in keeping with what the world’s bishops discussed at the Synod of the Word in 2008, a deeper connection between the Word and the Eucharist.

      Many of us realize that the 2011(?) translation is gravely inferior to 1998, so pardon me if I don’t take up the pom-poms for Vox Clara, ICEL, and their “slavish” bedfellows on this one. I’ll implement it, sure. And my parish will do a better job of it than most. But I’m still waiting for the day when we get an English text worthy of the Mass.

      1. I submit that “inferior” is your opinion, Todd. The new translation more clearly describes Catholic truths. One example is “became incarnate of the Virgin Mary” as opposed to “born of the Virgin Mary”. Becoming incarnate happened at the Annunciation. Being born happened at Christmas.

        This new translation fills me with ineffible joy. 😉

  2. “My great hope is that the new translation will be a time to wake up those who have settled into the great malaise. Perhaps this will be the opportunity to help them engage in what is actually being celebrated week in and week out: the paschal mystery.”

    I had to requote these lines, because this is exactly what I have been trying to say but I couldn’t find the words to say it! I am pretty sure that I will love parts of the new translation, and that I will hate parts of it. In either case, I look at the new translation as a gift to grow into. Whether you look forward to the new translation, or you dread its advent, I think we can all agree that it will cause an awakening in the Church. We will all be paying attention.

  3. A reply to Tony Miller.

    As one who has studied and translated the Latin language, I must correct you on the matter of the inferiority of the new translation. It is very poorly written English, bordering on a transliteration in its exclusive use of Latin syntax — which is nearly the opposite of English syntax — and cognate forms. The one benefit is the attempt to make scriptural references in the text more apparent, but it is far overcome by its nearly comical text that is nearer to a rote transliteration than to a real attempt to convey the rich cognitive and affective content of the Mass. Remember, too, that it is to be read aloud, and not merely sit on a page on which the reader follows along while the real action takes place in Latin on the other side of the rail.

    No, it is not “opinion,” but considered judgment based on core translation concepts that have been worked out over the decades in the new versions of the Bible, for example. It may be a different text, but it is not an improvement — it is bad for different reasons than the text we have.

    1. In my opinion, syntax takes a back seat to clarity of meaning from the Latin texts (which form the basis of our understanding of God). If you can maintain both, fine. When you cannot maintain both, you must err on the side of clarity of theological concepts, even if you have to take time to teach the faithful what those concepts are.

      1. The Latin text of the ordinary and presidential prayers of the Missal is not neither Scripture nor Revelation, as it is not the basis of our understanding of God in the Roman Catholic Church.

        And I write that as someone who is not agitating against the new translation of the Missal. Overstating the importance of Latin syntax provides perfect fodder for people who are so agitating. Reminds me too much of the “If [the King James Bible/Latin] was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

      2. But, Tony, the meanings will not be clear when the tangled pseudo-English of the new Missal is proclaimed aloud. It fails at both levels.

  4. When confronted with someone, like the woman mentioned, who says that something or other “goes against Vatican II” or “violates the ‘spirit’ of the Council,” I simply ask him or her what specific action violates what specific paragraph of the Council documents. Unfortunately, even among men and women who have worked in parishes, they have never set eyes on the documents of the Council and only know “what they have heard.” I think we have an opportunity here to catechize not just those in the pews but also those on parish staffs. These are the men and women who can turn the tide against the translations by their negative attitudes and comments toward the parishioners.

    1. Good point Fr. Christopher. The Second Vatican Council Documents written by the Council Fathers was written with a clear sense of the continuity they desired for the Church as she moved out of the post-reformation defensive period as well as the post-modern defensive period. But there is no hint in any of the actual documents of Vatican II that a rupture of doctrine, church discipline (canon law), morality or liturgy was to take place. All progress was to take place within the context of the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

      How many can quote this from the Second Vatican Council’s Liturgical Document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which makes clear in no uncertain terms the following: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites….Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”?

      All people can quote who are opposed to Latin and in favor of a discontinuity are people who speak of the “spirit of Vatican II” that in no way can be objectively quantified. Or they hold up as equal, subsequent documents from the Holy See. These while valid and authoritative are not on the same level as the Council documents themselves.

      We need to read the documents of Vatican II through the lens of those who wrote the documents of Vatican II.

  5. Well, I find that people who are unable to quote or allude to the Vatican II documents are just ignorant of them. Being progressive or traditionalist or whatever is a separate issue.

    That said, I think there’s a great deal in the conciliar and post-conciliar documents at odds with the current movement in the upper hierarchy. Msgr Marini’s recent talk is an illustrative example of it.

    “We need to read the documents of Vatican II through the lens of those who wrote the documents of Vatican II.”

    The historical-critical method does have its usefulness. But better is reading the documents in light of the current needs of the Church.

    1. The genius of Pope Benedict is that he is calling the Church, clergy and laity, to read the documents of the Second Vatican Council in light of the needs of the Church today, needs that indeed are great. But the Holy Father does so as one who attended the Council, knows the Council and knows the Church, past and present. He knows what the dictatorship of relevatism has done to our cultures and is doing to our Church especially from those who promote this relevatism within the Church.
      Yes, the current needs of the Church are great indeed and thank God we have a Pope who knows that.

  6. The problem has been that many people have not read the documents but developed their opinions, and then their concrete actions, not on what the Council said, but on some made- up “spirit of Vatican II” where they could decide what they Fathers probably meant and then act accordingly.

  7. In response to some of the above posts, I venture to suggest that the multitude of liturgical modifications and changes that Bishops’ Conferences all over the world requested in the wake of Vatican II – all of them copiously and precisely documented – will form a rather useful adjunct to determining not only what the Fathers of the Council (those very same bishops) actually meant but also what the spirit of the Council actually was. If further evidence is required, the testimonies contained in books such as Voices from the Council provide a wealth of insights.

    The Council documents themselves are insufficient, in my view; they need to be interpreted through the lens of the requests and books cited above. I see the documents as a firm foundation on which bishops throughout the world proceeded to build a fine edifice – an edifice which is now steadily being demolished. What will we be left with, one might ask? If you prefer another analogy, the documents were in the nature of position papers, which were then followed by action plans and actual implementation. To imply that the thinking of the Council Fathers was frozen in time on December 8 1965 is not a seriously tenable position.

    1. More precisely, I would add that many people in the Anglosphere assume that SC is analogous to a written constitution in civil law (especially because it has that Constitution in its very title), a fundamental law from which subordinate law is derived and by which subordinate law is limited or bounded.

      That, however, is not the nature of Roman law. SC was for the most part not self-implementing or executory in nature; moreover, the maximalist approach to defining papal power over Church law means that the pope is bounded by nothing other than divine and natural law, a situation that liturgical progressives did not conspire to create.

      Another common legal culture confusion is a tendency among some to treat liturgical law like moral law: that is, something with a fairly wide scope for the subjective or internal forum. But liturgical law is designed to be overwhelmingly objective (the issue of consent in matrimony being a necessarily notable exception, for example), black-and-white, to avoid problems such as that created by things like Donatism.

    2. There are some who indeed question the legitimacy of the official documents coming from Rome concerning the Liturgy after Vatican II. That is an error to say the least. To say that the Roman Missal of 1970 or 2002 is not the standard missal is to lie. The standard Missal, though, (this means Ordinary Form, normal usage) is the Latin Edition. The vernacular translations are the exceptions. To say that the 1970 English Missal with its flawed translation is set in stone is truly off the wall. To say that the process just completed to give us the new translation is bogus is just as much off the wall! Most people who used their “St. Joseph Missal” for the older Mass had beautiful (non-official) English next to the Latin to help them in their “active participation” which many people did even prior to the council–yes, some prayed their Rosary and day dreamed, but not all. When they heard the lame excuse for an English translation from ICEL in 1970 (a mere committee and not like the entire bishops of the Church at Vatican II) and looked at the very good translations available in pre-Vatican II missals, they were appalled.
      In addition Pope Paul VI was very alarmed at the manner in which many were taking liberties with deconstructing the 1970 missal–that was the problem–its actual implementation in a very sloppy, casual and sometimes quite irreverent way. He demanded that those doing that stop and “do the red” and “read the black.” That’s not too much to ask.
      We can debate the advisability of random selection of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and “eating on the run” as reception of Holy Communion went from kneeling to standing. These are somewhat minor, but these two changes did make a shift in attitude, not always beneficial, concerning the reverence due Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. To kneel for Holy Communion is not an outrageous throw-back, but so many oddly think it is.
      Finally, the only way the 1970 missal could be “imposed” on the people, from the top down, I might add, was to basically outlaw the 1962 missal, because given a choice back then a significant and more than likely, majority of Catholics, if given the choice, would have remained with the 1962 missal. Once outlawed, it became a cause. Now that Pope Benedict, in his many genius acts, has done away with that silly attitude in the 21st century, we have it and it is not cloaked in the mystery it had when outlawed. Brilliant I would say. And so what if half the Church uses the 1962 missal? You call that a step backwards. I guess many must really despise our Eastern Rite rites, not to mention the valid Orthodox ones. So much for ecumenism within the Church.
      Finally, many progressives in the Church placed on the exact same level of authority subsequent documents from mere “Bishops’ Committees” of national conferences, such as music documents and environment and worship documents, as though these were equal to Sacrosanctum Concilium or the GIRM. These committee documents are not on the same level of authority as the GIRM and some of these national guidelines came from sub-committees and thus have even less authority. Most of these guidelines are what need to be thrown out and ignored when these promote rupture in tradition rather than continuity that the Second Vatican Council envisioned for subsequent development.

      1. A few problematic things in this last comment …

        First, I can think of no serious liturgist advocating the 1970 English translation be set in stone. To the contrary, most of us (myself since 1984, at least) see it as far less than ideal. Let’s all concede that detractors of the 2011(?) effort are just acknowledging a new set of flaws (if not errors) and move the discussion from there.

        Aside from noting the many caricatures in paragraph 3 of comment #16, I’ll end my commentary with that.

        Lastly, many liturgical practitioners adopt a proof-texting approach when it comes to virtually any document. Pick a favorite because it supports a particular practice or viewpoint. The truth is that my pastor does not have the same level of hierarchical authority as my bishop or the pope. But he can hire and fire me. They can’t.

        That church documents have “ghost writers” hasn’t ever been forwarded as a serious quality for authority. Jesus didn’t write the Gospels–does that abrogate their centrality?

        Bishops delegate committees–including bishops!–to do work for them. Certain post-conciliar liturgical documents were indeed written by committees, only later to be endorsed by the (then) NCCB, and promoted to a greater or lesser degree in dioceses and parishes–the places that actually hire liturgists and musicians.

        MCW, for example, has the advantage of being more readable and practical than SC. It’s not a surprise that an accessible document got more attention, though to be honest, I read them both before I was a full-time grad student. And so did a lot of other people.

        Liturgy is a practiced craft as well as an academic discipline. As craftspeople, even rubric-minded clergy get into habits that vary from the red-n-black. They usually don’t do so from a sense of disobedience or rupture, making their own statement about God and themselves. The challenge, I suppose, is how to continue a serious discussion shedding as much of urban legend and misdiangosis:liturgy as we can.

  8. To Tom, apart from the “caricature” statement, which in itself is one and therefore both of us are in the same boat, I do think and I hope not intentionally, that you misrepresent my comments about the vernacular. I can decry all I want the poor translation of the 1970 missal into English. But I am in no position to put forward a new translation (either during the time it was constructed or now). I have to accept what comes. The new translation was developed and now approved (but not promulgated) in a very similar fashion as the old, except the Holy Father, first through Pope John Paul II and later Pope Benedict, both of whom) took the advice of their Committee on the Liturgy–the Congregation for Divine Worship. While we might disagree with the process, lament a “hermeneutic” that was chosen to the exclusion of another, what we will get is what we will get. Critique has be loud and clear, even before it was official. Once we have it, we’ll have to live with it and I will not criticize it until perhaps a new version is proposed and then I will point out the flaws in the form of a caricature, possibly.
    I will pray the 1970 lame duck translation today at all my masses except for the Latin Response we are instituting for the interim until the new comes. I won’t make any editorial comments about the current or future translations by changing any of it on my own authority, or our worship committee’s recommendations.

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