Msgr. Moroney on the New Translation

Fr. Anthony has asked me to say a word about timelines and programs for formation that are underway for the new Roman Missal.

I’m happy to report that, following the last meeting of the Vox Clara Committee, the confirmation of the English-language edition of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, appears to be in sight. The realistic expectation is that confirmation will come this spring, with about a year’s worth of catechesis and printing of books to follow.

There are at least three major initiatives underway to promote catechesis of which I am aware. The BCDW and FDLC are sponsoring a series of workshops throughout the nation, the Leeds Group has developed a DVD resource for general liturgical formation (using the new texts in the process), and I have worked with others through Midwest Theological Forum to produce a simple DVD which introduces the process and the product of the new translations of the Roman Missal. The latter DVD should be available in early March under the title “A New Translation for a New Missal.”

In addition, I hear great things are happening at Notre Dame and elsewhere to use the occasion not just to foster the reception of new texts, but to embark on that liturgical formation which the Council Fathers envisioned as indispensable to an effective liturgical renewal.

Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 14 keeps coming back to me these days, along with its insistence that “it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing” authentic participation in the Liturgy without two things: pastors “imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy” and those same pastors prepared and willing “ to give instruction about it.”

These are challenging days for all liturgists and all who love the Liturgy. May God give us the grace to take advantage of all the opportunities he has provided for us!

–Msgr. James Moroney, Advisor to the Vox Clara committee


  1. After all of the work that goes into a new edition of the Roman Missal, it will be interesting to walk into almost any church that should be using it and hear the celebrant ad lib most of the Mass texts anyway, adding little wordy phrases here and there, as though the actual given text were just too boring, too something to be simply said as given. Or will that habit change when this new edition arrives?

    1. Scott – that’s exactly what has happened in many English-speaking parishes in South Africa since the people’s parts of the Ordinary were introduced in Advent 2008. The new introduction to the Our Father is a favourite for reworking. The new Nicene translation is avoided, many priests preferring to use the Apostles Creed instead. The new memorial acclamations are hardly used at all.

      And there are some parishes that have chosen not to use any of the new translation.

  2. Priests like myself will continue to make pastoral accommodations to the texts when needed. My duty to provide for “conscious participation” and a liturgy that does not “require much explanation,” as the Council mandates, trumps any other rules about saying things exactly as printed. I would refuse to use words in the liturgy that are unfamiliar to most people.

    1. The only addition you are allowed to make are “short directives”, as described at 35.3, “if necessary.”

  3. Fr. Larson, that seems to me an extremely troubling statement. Will you please show us all where in Scripture, the writings of the Fathers, Canon Law or anywhere else it is stated that you have the authority, let alone duty, to change the words of the sacred liturgy as you see fit for any purpose whatsoever, however laudable in itself?

    How do you even know which words in the liturgy are unfamiliar to “most people”? Do you use any objective criteria for determining this? Polls? User group evaluation? Anything?

  4. Thanks Fr. Moroney, it is up to the leaders of the Church to “foster the reception of the new texts.” These are in English and I think our laity will understand them. For more difficult words, like “gibbet” (which is not in my vocabulary) consubstantial and effable, we can provide good dictionary descriptions of these words and people can learn, we’re not dumb. At my parish, we have eliminated the “lame duck” responses and now sing and say the Latin parts–after one month, the laity are belting them out–no hysteria amongst them, although I did have to catechize at Mass and meet with one or two to explain in more detail why I was doing this. We will embrace the new English when it comes.

  5. Gideon;

    I don’t know where he might find the authority to so change the liturgy, but I know for sure where he can find the prohibition on doing so. Try reading SC (you know…the Constitution on the Liturgy?)
    A-22(3):. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

    Is there something unclear about the word anything here?

  6. Pastoral accommodations are a part of good pastoral ministry, and are here to stay. Canonists will explain that prohibitions about unauthorized changes are to be interpreted, and are not normally absolute. For example, priests distribute Communion from the tabernacle at Mass, the pope adds nice touches to his liturgies that are not prescribed in the liturgical books, like waving to people as he enters and presenting children in the procession of the gifts with rosaries and other mementos. Many bishops wear their crosses over their chasubles and priests wear their stoles over their chasubles, and some folks genuflect before receiving Communion or recieve Communion kneeling instead of standing – these are unauthorized changes, for better or for worse.

    1. Well, part of the issue is whether changes are chronic and intentional, versus inadvertent or ad hoc to deal with a immediate pastoral need, and whether they try to create a norm out of an ad hoc exception – the latter is not in the authority of one to whom that authority has not been expressly given. Pastors trying to play liturgical canonist to find loopholes to chronically do something different are themselves engaging in a form of legalism.

    2. Full participation was the underlying principle for the REFORM of the liturgy. But it does not trump every rule of that reformed liturgy; where did that idea originate?

      It is not prohibited to distribute Communion from the tabernacle during Mass.

      I don’t see the pastoral value of a bishop wearing his pectoral cross on the outside, nor of a priest wearing his stole outside his chasuble. (Given the sign value of the stole and chasuble, the former being a symbol of authority and the latter of charity, it seems fitting that the chasuble covers the stole.)

      Who is qualified to interpret prohibitions about unauthorized changes (esp. very strongly-worded ones, such as those in Redemptionis Sacramentum)?

      1. What’s the value of a sign that you can’t see, like a stole worn underneath other vestments?

      2. To RP Burke:

        The sign of the stole is known by the priest, and it wouldn’t hurt for him to make it known to the people. Also, most chasubles I’ve seen do not completely obscure the stole.

        Not every sign must be seen by everyone, just like not every prayer said at Mass must be heard by everyone; the priest has prayers he says in a “low voice”. Some people want such prayers either removed or said out loud, because either the people should hear them or they shouldn’t be said at all. I think that shows a lack of understanding about what the liturgy is and what participation in it entails.

        There is value in hidden signs, they just need to be explained, not laid bare.

  7. I am saddened by Fr. Jan Larson’s comments. As a layperson in the pews, I find unauthorized changes to the liturgy, particularly changes to the wording, very distracting – however well intentioned they may be. It’s difficult to enter into the prayer if you don’t know what change will come up next.

    Also changing texts because you think people won’t understand is self-defeating. No one understands everything from the start. There are plenty of things in the gospels which I do not understand, but I do not for that reason want anyone to change them for me – they are an occasion for reflection. I don’t understand why the priest adds water to the wine, or why he washes his hands – should they be eliminated?

  8. Interesting to reflect how we have come 180° from the practice of the early Church. Then, everyone knew the basic structure of a Eucharistic Prayer. The better a presider improvised on that structure, the better a presider he was thought to be. If he improvised badly, he was thought to be a lousy presider. The Prayer of Hippolytus was simply there as a model, not to be repeated word-for-word. That would have been unthinkable.

    Today, if you deviate one iota from the prescribed text, you are condemned as heterodox.

    All this speaks volumes about how we view exactly what it is we are doing in liturgy: the exact performance of a ritual, or a lifegiving enactment of the worship of a community. I congratulate Fr Larson on his stance.

  9. (Continued) It is instructing to re-read (if you can get hold of it ─ it has been out of print for a number of years) Jean Lebon’s little book How to understand the liturgy, in which he states that we need to be able to admit that rites get worn out. When they do, we need to tweak them to bring them back to life again. (I’m not talking about doing violence to the rite or to theology, but the subtle pastoral modifications that are being discussed here.) This has in fact been a constant practice across the centuries. Those who do not understand this may risk becoming “liturgical robots”.

    1. Dear Paul, as I read your comment, I felt like I was back in the seminary in the years 1976-80.They taught us that the early “presiders” knew the structure of the Eucharistic Prayer, but prayed it in their own words. We were taught that we needed to get back to the early Church in all things, well before any Church Councils were called, liturgy developed, and our understanding of things changed as the Holy Spirit guided the Church. Well, it is not the 2nd century, and it is not 1976; its 2010. We need a new hermeneutic that is in continuity with our nearly 2000 year history.

      1. Allan, if you learnt this in seminary then why have you not retained it? You seem to be saying that 2010 is not in continuity with 1976 – or 1969, come to that – which is patently not a tenable proposition.

        Sacrosanctum Concilium precisely asked the Church to return to the earlier practices of the Church and strip away much of the accretions that had accumulated during the Middle Ages. This is what the Church has tried to do, and this is the hermeneutic that you seem to be struggling with.

      2. Thank you for your willingness to grow and reexamine what you were taught. As a teacher, I always try to explain that I am not the final word on what I teach.

        There is nothing in Sacrosanctum Concilium that asked that we return to the pre-Constantinian church, a time when extemporizing in the liturgy was quite prevalent. The document aks for some profound and dramatic changes, but returning to an idealized time for which our historical evidence is meager is not one of them. How is it that traditionalists are belittled for trying to set the clock back from 2010 to 1962 when progressivists who belittle them try–without any justification–to set it back from 2010 to 310?

      3. We should remember that, our idealization of the past (whether it be post-Tridentine or pre-Constantinian) is usually cherry-picked. The early Church where the anaphora could be improvised was also the same place where post-baptismal sins were usually treated with a harshness that would make most gasp today, and where ascetic practices might likewise. It also tolerated slavery and other things, even before Constantine. I have a suggestion for priests who want to chronically lone-ranger the liturgy in the name of pastoral solicitude: if you really believe in liturgy from the grass roots, submit your improvisations to garner a favorable consensus (not a mere majority) of your flock before you do them. And I don’t mean a cherry-picked subgroup. And resubmit them as the flock changes.

  10. To Paul, I’ve grown up since 1976 when I was 22 and so has the understanding of the Council which in ’76 concluded only 11 years earlier. Today I’m 56 and it has been 45 years since the Council. The 70’s promoted a liturgical style that was narcissistic for both the priest celebrant and for the celebrating community, closed in, look at me, etc. It’s way past time to do the red and read the black.

  11. Pastoral accommodations are a part of good pastoral ministry, and are here to stay

    Umm…OK, but since when is this sort of improvising on a proscribed text a “pastoral accomodation”, particularly when there is a very prominent prohibition on doing so. I’ve seen a lot of things done in the name of “pastoral need”, the great majority of which were neither pastoral nor needed. It is an often invoked principle that seldom needs to be invoked.

    It seems to me that to change a text to “better serve” the faithful, while at the same time undermining your own integrity by flouting very basic tenets of the faith you are trying to bring people to is a ridiculous proposition.

    1. Ridiculous may be unnecessarily harsh. But self-contradictory may be more to the point. A priest has no inherent authority to do this. If he doesn’t have authority from his bishop or the pope, I would suggest that, if he’s not seeking authority from his own flock in full*, then he’s probably engaging in another form of clericalism and rationalization.

      * Of course, this has no canonical weight whatsoever. But I often find that priests who are prone to lone-ranger resist not only their bishops but also their flocks when the flocks question them or are not persuaded by them.

  12. Perhaps as one of the younger people on this board, I missed the change. But could someone let me know when the word pastoral changed into “excuse to change anything and everything you want if you disagree with it or it may be hard for someone to understand”?

    Also, in response to the comment that from time to time the liturgy should be “tweaked” so that the rite “doesn’t get worn out.”–seems like a good reason to back the new translation, no?

    1. Also, in response to the comment that from time to time the liturgy should be “tweaked” so that the rite “doesn’t get worn out.”–seems like a good reason to back the new translation, no?

      I agree absolutely, on condition that the new translation is an improvement on the previous one. As we have already discussed in other threads, this one is a better translation qua translation, but it sadly fails in the area of linguistics. I see little point in backing a translation which sounds more like robot-speak than a living tongue.

      We had an improved translation in 1998, which would have satisfied people on both sides of the argument, but alas an ideology kicked it into touch. It is still there if anyone wants to use it.

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