What to Look For in the New Translation

Did you know that the new Missal translation is controversial? People have widely varying theories on how to translate liturgical Latin into English, the extent to which liturgical vernacular should be comprehensible and accessible, the extent to which it should be elevated and distinctively ‘sacral,’ and what counts as poetically high-quality English.

There are also strong feelings about the translation process itself, given the twisted path this translation has taken. Nearly two decades had been spent on a revised translation, which was completed in the 1990s and approved by wide margins by all the English-speaking national bishops’ conferences. Rome rejected this translation in its entirety and in 2001 issued completely new translation guidelines.

The bishops’ conferences, working through their translation agency ICEL, developed several drafts these past eight or nine years following the new rules, with widespread (but secret) consultation at each step. ICEL now sends drafts to Rome as well at every stage, and the changes called for by the Congregation for Divine Worship and its advisory committee, Vox Clara, have been incorporated. The deadline for the national conferences to submit their final version to the Holy See for approval was last December (2009).

This summer the story began to leak that Vox Clara, or at least a few members of Vox Clara, had radically revised the final text without consulting the national conferences. In fact, it seems that their revising began already last September, meaning that the revisers worked from a draft earlier than the final one and largely ignored the last round of consultation from the national conferences. You probably have seen the number 10,000 – or at least 10,000 – batted around on the blogs in regard to the extent of the revisions. The Holy See gave final approval to this radically revised version on March 25. Then the final text continued to be revised behind the scenes until a final version was received in the US a few weeks ago. Cardinal George announced on August 20 that this would be the Missal text and it would begin being used in the U.S. on the First Sunday of Advent 2011 (November 26/27). Some national conferences are pleading for further changes to address major problems in the final text, but nobody knows where this will go.

The text of the Order of Mass is at the USCCB website. The rest of the Missal will be sent to publishers when its final editing is done. Then publishers will prepare altar Missals and congregational resources.

*          *          *

What should you look for when you see the final text? For what it is worth, here is my list of what I will be looking for.

Accuracy. Rome has set a high standard for itself regarding accuracy, and one will hold Rome to its own standard. When Rome rejected the 1998 translation, it used rather insulting and demeaning language to critique the work ICEL had done for the national conferences. The new translation rules are quite fierce in stating that the original text “must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner.”  It gets this specific: “The connection between various expressions, manifested by subordinate and relative clauses, the ordering of words, and various forms of parallelism, is to be maintained as completely as possible in a manner appropriate to the vernacular language.”

My preliminary analysis of the Order of Mass shows that the final (Vox Clara) text deviates in surprising ways from the Latin. To be sure, one’s loyalty to Holy Church probably doesn’t hang on such things as whether in primis means “above all” or “firstly.” But the larger question is whether Rome has principles it applies consistently, especially after Rome was so heavy handed in using such principles to reject the 1998 translation approved by every English-speaking national conference. It seems that many of the deviations in the final version are in a “pastoral” direction. This is probably for the sake of greater comprehension or more natural English or the preservation of familiar texts. If the rest of the Missal deviates in a similar way, the same people who welcome these “pastoral” changes will at the same time have very good reason to ask, “So what was the reason again why the 1998 translation was thrown in the wastebasket?”

One sees how Rome has managed to paint itself into a corner. Its credibility will probably take a hit now no matter what it does. Either Rome loses points for failing to be pastoral; or by being pastoral, Rome loses points for having no principles it applies with consistency. Or, from the other side of the question, Rome will alienate its own most staunch defenders, some of whom have put themselves on the line by strongly defending translation literalism, if it now freely abandons that literalism. This has already happened in the Order of Mass. It will be very interesting to see how accurate the rest of the Missal is.

Consistency of “register.” This term refers to the overall aesthetic tone of a text – whether it is colloquial or more elevated or contrived or antiquated or something else. Sometimes the English word which corresponds most exactly to a given Latin word can’t be used because it is too colloquial or too archaic to fit well with the rest of the text. The bishops in the national conferences and ICEL have worked hard to develop, as called for, a “sacred vernacular” with a register which is elevated while still being accessible and natural-sounding. Of course, appraisals of their work have varied widely.

The final text will be judged for its consistency on this point. It seems oddly inconsistent that the Order of Mass uses a phrase in a Eucharistic Prayer as stilted as “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall” (replacing “Let your spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy”), but then changes the absolution of the Penitential Act back to the user-friendly current version, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgives us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life” instead of the more literal previous final version, “May almighty God have mercy on us and lead, with our sins forgiven, to eternal life.”

When one sees the final text of the entire Missal, one will look closely at all the changes made by Vox Clara. Are they consistently in a pastoral direction? Or are they consistently in the direction of greater accuracy even if this is more stilted and unnatural? Or do the changes go every which way? It would be odd, not to say indefensible, if the final version were to introduce elevated words like “beseech” and “laud” in some places, while it cut and pasted the highly accessible current translation into the text at other places.

Poetic quality. This will be a somewhat subjective judgment, as judgments of aesthetic quality tend to be. The new translation rules call for both accuracy and beauty in the vernacular text. It is not always easy to achieve both. Sometimes one might choose a word for its accuracy even though it sounds rather stilted (i.e., lacking in beauty). Other times one might choose a word which is slightly less accurate because it is more beautiful. One might justify the latter decision because one realizes that no vernacular translation can ever be entirely accurate, and words like, eg. “substance” and “being” can have very different meanings for us than they did for people in earlier times. It will be especially interesting to look at the final lines of the Preface, for they are among the most lyrical and exuberant in the entire Roman liturgy. One hopes that the call to join with the angels and saints will be expressed in English which is at once beautiful and entirely natural.

Some judgments of the poetic quality of the revised Order of Mass in its earlier final version have been rather negative. It will be interesting to see how the poetic quality of the entire Missal text is judged.

Rhythm and musicality. As called for in the new translation rules, the bishops’ conferences and ICEL have collaborated closely with musicians the past eight years in developing texts intended to be sung. Translators have recast, if at all possible, passages which musicians judged to have difficult accent patterns. This has been especially important in the case of the Preface, because ICEL has developed a Preface tone which is slightly more ornate than the one currently in use and which has a particular musical formula at the concluding cadence. It will be very important to see how well the revised text works in its musical setting. Have the Vox Clara revisers taken into account, as called for in the Roman translation document, the sung rendition of the text? Have they consulted with the musicians at ICEL who developed the English chant formulas? It would be unfortunate, not to say disastrous, if the final revisions are unsingable in some places because the musical aspect was ignored by the Vox Clara revisers.

Pointing of orations. “Pointing” is the technical term for placing little marks to a text to indicate how it is to be chanted. A text might be pointed with gràve and acúte marks or with underlining. For simple, easily memorized musical formulas, these discrete marks give everything one needs to chant the text. ICEL has developed a system of pointing which allows the celebrant easily to chant the Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, and Prayer after Communion of every Mass. Those who attended the USCCB/FDLC workshops this summer have seen a welcome further development of this system. In addition to the acute and grave marks for the so-called solemn prayer tone (which is actually quite simple), there is underlining for the better known so-called simple tone. Modern printing technology makes it easy to develop a style of pointing which is both clear to the user and does not distract from the text for the priest reciting the prayer.

Of course such pointing marks are not found in the Latin Missal. Latin liturgical texts, rather, have accent marks to assist in accurate pronunciation for every word with more than two syllables. For those familiar with Latin, pointing marks are not necessary because the cadential accent patterns in Latin are so consistent. Because English has a wider variety of accent patterns, pointing helps the priest to be confident in chanting the English prayer text without having to make editorial decisions for himself.

The Roman postconciliar documents, starting with Musicam sacram in 1967, have repeatedly called for presidential singing of items such as the orations. The English-speaking Church (I’m speaking from my perspective in the U.S.) has already begun to follow the Roman lead, and it seems poised now to move toward even greater implementation of the Roman ideal.

It is hard to imagine that there would be any objections to the addition of pointing marks to the English-language Missal. To prohibit pointing because such is not in the Latin Missal would be a new high-water mark of Pharisaic legalism in our Church. One hopes that the Roman authorities will give their warm support to the proposed pointing system. Even more, one hopes that the pointing will help priests in the spirited and reverent chanting of the orations.

A particular issue: the qui-clause. Liturgical Latin quite often has subordinate clauses which begin with qui, “who.” The most familiar example is found in the Agnus Dei. In Latin, the text qui tollis peccata mundi does not tell God in a declarative statement, “you take away the sins of the world.” Rather, the petition “Lamb of God, have mercy on us” is interrupted by a subordinate clause modifying “Lamb of God”: “who take away the sins of the world.” (Some argue that contemporary English speakers no longer hear this in the second person and the verb form must now be “takes,” but that is another issue.) The new translation rules strongly advocate preserving this syntactical subordination, which is a major change from what we’re accustomed to in the current translation. However, it has already been decided that the English Agnus Dei will remain as in the current translation, though it violates the new translation rules.

There are two other important places where one will want to examine the translation of the qui-clause: the Collect (now called the Opening Prayer) and the Preface. Perhaps the Collect will be translated (and I’m using a text of my own invention to make the point), “Almighty God, who have given us your Son, grant…” Or perhaps it will be “Almighty God, who has given us your Son, grant…” Or perhaps it will be “Almighty God, you have given us your Son; grant…” Similarly, after the opening section of the Preface, the second major section often begins with a qui-clause. If the new translation rules are followed, this section will begin, eg. “Who, though he was in the form of God,…” Some have argued that this is poor grammar because you can’t use an element of a subordinate clause in English as if it is the subject of a new sentence. I don’t agree – I think the issue is the grammar and syntax proper to a liturgical Preface.  The question is what ‘register’ of language one thinks is most accurate and/or pastorally advisable.

One will examine all the qui-clauses in the new Missal as a whole. Are they treated consistently? If not, is there a convincing reason for varied treatment? English-speaking worshipers would have considerable difficulty praying with a Collect which uses the literal, now archaic “O God, who have…” – at least at first, because it is so unfamiliar. If the Collect is treated that way, then I think one should have treated the qui-clause of the Agnus Dei in the same way. There would be no better way to acclimate worshipers to the unfamiliar construction than by placing it on their lips three times at every Mass. It would be rather odd to argue that worshipers cannot relate to this construction when they are engaged actively in singing it, but that they can readily comprehend it when they are passively listening. Or doesn’t it matter whether anyone listens to a Collect?

*     *     *

Perhaps some readers are already objecting to my remarks because we should now put aside all possible objections and prepare for the smoothest possible transition to what is already a done deal. There is nothing to be gained, they are saying, by preparing to look so critically at the new Missal text when it comes. These readers should note that they are not presently reading a parish bulletin or listening to a Lenten adult education talk. They are reading a blog which does theology for a self-selecting audience which chooses to be part of discussions at this level. Were I speaking to a parish or a diocesan presbyterate, I would have different goals and say different things.

The vast majority of worshipers probably will not care about most of the rather arcane issues I have raised here, and that is probably as it should be. This is a blog post written by a scholar for scholars (whether or not they are in academia or have formal degrees). One might think that the People of God, the vast majority of people who sit in the pews and do not read blogs like this, are much more important than the scholars. Who cares what the scholars think? How important, really, are the scholars’ wounded sensitivities?

This line of thinking is short-sighted in the extreme. If it triumphs, it is the People of God who will pay the price.

If the Roman authorities take it upon themselves arbitrarily to revise the work that many, many others have carefully done over many, many years, and if they do so with incompetence, it will be exceedingly difficult to attract quality scholars to any future translation project. Who will want to waste their time on such a farce? What musicians will want to waste time developing chants which are rendered unusable by bureaucrats who either don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care? If the Church loses the brightest and the best from its work of liturgical renewal, we all will pay a high price.

Pope Benedict is well known for his writings on beauty and reverence and holiness in worship. He has made it a high priority to move the Church toward his vision of liturgical renewal. As controversial as the Pope’s liturgical views are, I for one would welcome greater beauty and poetic quality in our liturgical texts. Let us hope that the Pope’s closest collaborators in the Roman curia, along with  their cronies, do not succeed in thwarting the Pope’s ideals. If there is any danger that they might do so, let us hope that the Bishops rise up in protest.


  1. There is a lot in this article that I agree with, and I do wonder about the chantability of the texts revised at Rome.

    I guess my concerns about this piece are two-fold.
    1. Some of the recent revisions undertaken in the last couple of months seem to reflect concerns voiced about the translation, such as “with our sins forgiven” in the penitential rite, which is now rendered as “forgive us our sins.” Yes, perhaps the Vox Clara folks are being undisciplined and are violating rules, but it seems strange for those unhappy with the earlier version not to say, “Thank you,” but rather, “Gotcha!” Remember Emmerson’s words regarding foolish consistency.

    2. Re: notorious qui-clauses, all I could find in L.A. was the following at 57a.
    a) The connection between various expressions, manifested by subordinate and relative clauses, the ordering of words, and various forms of parallelism, is to be maintained as completely as possible in a manner appropriate to the vernacular language.

    There is clearly “wiggle room” allowed if such subordinate clauses don’t work in English. I suspect that they don’t.

    It would be legitimate to treat relative pronouns in subordinate clauses differently from those in independent ones. I vehemently disagree that it is good English to use a relative pronoun to begin an independent clause, regardless of register. After all, in Latin such “connective relatives” are not archaic and do not belong to the religious register.

  2. Thank you for spending the time and energy to develop this post, Fr. Anthony. You help put things into perspective and help me with seeing things through a wider lens. These next few months and years will be exhilarating, confusing, maddening, and engaging. I, for one, am looking forward to a very strange ride.

  3. I thought this was an excellent article too as well as your disclaimer that this is a theological blog meant to foment discussion in an academic sense, not pastoral sense. However, when one opens his blog to comments and those of us with varying academic and pastoral skills, one has to expect that those reading the blog will react in a variety of ways. Whispers in the Loggia is a very good blog, but no comments are possible. There’s no blood pressure problems there. I like Ioannes concerns above. It seems that someone has been listening to concerns about the translations and has made changes that are a bit more compatible with the way most of us would phrase things in English. Rather than denigrate that, we should applaud it. I cannot speak Italian fluently, but oddly enough understand it fluently. When I watch an Italian movie that has English captions, I go crazy by what I see in English knowing that what I’m hearing is not the same thing. I understand Italian for what it is, I don’t translate it to English. The English translation is different, but it does capture the meaning but not always precisely. I think we’ll have to live with that. For example, Fr. Addison Wright a Biblical scholar in explaining the “institution” narrative and the term “for many,” made it clear that this means, for the masses, the multitudes. In the 1970’s he thought the Mass should be more biblically precise in this important part of the Mass but that we priests should make clear what “for many” means, that it is for the masses or multitudes. That takes pastoral education.

  4. I think it’s important in the eventual runup to MR4 (no one is seriously pretending MR3 is the last edition of MR) that we be attentive to how shifts in translation are not only made but also received, and Fr Ruff’s suggestion are helpful and constructive points of focus in that regard.

    When I used to train people, I would ask them to be attentive to what about the process of learning was unclear, unhelpful or even counterproductive, et cet. I wanted them to engage in some metathinking, because consciousness of their unfamiliarity with what they had to learn was the most vital gift to help improve it for the future, as people who have already learned something tend to develop epistemic closure about ways to have learned it better.

  5. I agree with many that the inconsistencies (at least the ones discussed here) are a pastoral improvement. Like Karl and others, I find myself looking towards MR4 (especially as an academic training future academics as well as pastoral leaders). What worries me most about the process of the late-stage, secretive revisions is precisely the idea that the translators making the revisions cut themselves off from many opinions that might have been beneficial to them. They did so, initially, in the name of a literalistic attitude towards the text that does not correspond to the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to the Bible (where the context in which the words were 1st used is taken into account). They corrected this attitude at some point, for which I’m grateful. But in the process they sacrificed the partnership of the experts that should have been able to assist – and the relationships that might allow such cooperation in future translation projects.

    Compare the staff and consultants of Oxford English Dictionary, a similarly Herculean task dealing with language nuances and development and usage in many different global regions. Similarly, the American Heritage Usage Panel evaluates words that are changing with a panel of writers and editors to pick up regional valences.

    For the best translations, we need to be able to recruit teams like that as well!

  6. Thanks, Fr. Anthony…..well written with concise points and concerns.
    “Pope Benedict is well known for his writings on beauty and reverence and holiness in worship. He has made it a high priority to move the Church toward his vision of liturgical renewal….”

    Prescinding from concerns about translations, words, etc.; your ending brings us back to what all of this means – it leads to ecclesiological questions and am reminded of my high school moral theology class – “The ends never justify the means”.

    Would suggest that curia/episcopal folks need to beware of unintended consequences. This project only weakens the current credibility and trust that the people of God have in curial/papal/episcopal folks…..the means have been secret; conspiratorial; authoritarian; and opposed to many of the highest principles of VII.

  7. The approx. 18 translation concerns put forward in the provided chart seem minor & few compared to 103 major errors that Professsor William J. Sullivan finds in ICEL’s existing translation [Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 1995]. At least, it shows that the new ICEL/Vox Clara have brought about a significant corrective.

    Laments about Romes seeming heavy hand in requiring the new translation and the way she worked with the Episcopal Conferences in putting it together seems overdone when we recall how the existing Order of Mass was promulgated in 1969. Remember that in October of 1967 the Synod of Bishops was called together to witness the New Order of Mass “normative mass”. The episcopal synod promptly rejected this new Mass: 43 bishops voted non placet, 62 voted juxta modum, indicating significant reservations, and 4 abstained out of 187 bishop voters. After its rejection the new order was never submitted to the collegial judgment of the Episcopal Conferences but was promulgated, substantially identical to its form in the “normative Mass,” on July 3rd, 1969, less than two years later.
    The existing translation process seems highly collaborative, moderate in its speed & consultative in comparison. Complaining about today’s process appears out-of-place unless one also laments the more abrupt process in 1967-1969.

    1. John, you’ve said all this before, and others have responded to it – do you read the responses of others? Or is it all just stuff going out, nothing going in? I think your point (again) is that authority was really heavy-handed in the 60s, which is Really Bad, and therefore no one should object to authority being really heavy-handed now. Is that it?

      1. The point is that we cannot clearly discuss the current translation issue in a historical vacuum. Even your own but also others regular & often repeated remarks about the abrupt hand of Rome vis-a-vis the national conferences in bringing about the reformed translation has seemingly neglected the precedence we see in the history of the liturgical reform after the council.

  8. the same people who welcome these “pastoral” changes will at the same time have very good reason to ask, “what was the reason again why the 1998 translation was thrown in the wastebasket?”
    Although there was much to admire in the 1998 translation, it should not be forgotten that there was much more at issue in its rejection than style:

    – The 1998 contained a proliferation of originally composed texts, mainly alternate collects. The quality of these prayers, compared with the ancient texts they would inevitably displace, is questionable.

    – With the 1998 Sacramentary, ICEL was taking it upon itself to substantially alter rubrics; e.g., the Penitential Rite was not to be used whenever the Gloria was sung.

    – The 1998 had its own pastorally questionable changes; it shouldn’t be assumed that it was a high water mark of pastoral good sense. It already introduced changes to the “people’s parts”–in the direction of inclusive language. Inclusive language is at present a big deal in academic circles, but has nothing to do with the way English is commonly spoken, historically or actually. The results were sometimes ridiculous, e.g. “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of God’s name”.

    I agree that some of the collects in the 1998 translation are vast improvements over 1970 and as good or better than what is being proposed. Perhaps 1998 would have been welcomed by all, if ICEL hadn’t overstepped.

    1. Robert, sorry your final words got axed, would have like to read the rest. What is lost in all of this is the politics of why LA came about, which Robert touches on. No one here on this blog in any academic fashion has touched on these issues, which Robert has. When I worked in our Diocesan Liturgy Office in the early 1990’s I was a bit shocked that ICEL thought it could revise the Mass and its order to the extent it was doing so and having alternative prayers that were actually worse than the alternative ones we currently have. Certainly the Vatican reacted and took control. I’m sure this taking of control was not pleasant for those who had their own language agenda and power plays.

    2. Robert, I like your last sentence. I think 1988 overstepped. But it’s too bad Roman couldn’t make some distinctions, and maybe use that superior 1988 text as a starting point for revision.

      In terms of facts – you have to admit that the changes made to the people’s parts in 1988 were very small, compared to what we’re now getting. Huge difference.

      Also – it’s not just that “ICEL” was changing the Mass structure. They recommended this, and BISHOPS approved it before sending it to Rome. There is a difference, I think, in bishops’ conferences proposing structural changes – since SC provided for them to do exactly that. For the record, I don’t like at all the proposed multiple ways of re-doing the introductory rites. But one still has to concede that the bishops in the conferences approved it.


      1. I think I’ve said this before, but I wonder what would have happened if the translation had been sent to Rome and the structural/rubrical changes had been put on the shelf for submission at some later point. It probably would have still been rejected because of the inclusive language issue. but I can’t help wonder what might have been.

      2. Fr. Ruff, I take your points. I would suggest in response, though, that the historical record shows that many bishops in the 1990s were raising doubts about the process by which they were approving the ICEL texts. There were complaints that it was nearly impossible to withhold approval of what ICEL was putting forward; in the words of Archbishop Chaput in ’95, the “ICEL process resist[ed] emendation, which leads to frustration and interferes with rights of bishops.” Faced with this frustration, dissatisfied bishops brought their concerns to Rome: Cardinal Medina wrote at the time that “not a few Bishops have expressed concerns not only about the quality of the translations produced by [ICEL] but also about procedures which they felt limited their own ability to obtain corrections and improvements that they considered necessary . . .” The same letter mentions concerns about the proposed structural changes. Point is, it’s simplistic to suggest that it was ultimately bishops’ conferences rather than ICEL who put forward the structural changes, just because these were approved by a majority vote.

        This is an issue I find is not being given due consideration here: When there are strong disagreements within bishops conferences and among the People of God, one can’t really speak of a unified local church whose will is being thwarted by Roman bureaucrats. Rather, in such cases, the only appropriate locus for settling these disputes is precisely the Holy See.

      3. But the bishops VOTED on it – did ICEL hold a gun to their heads and make them vote for it? In the US, 88% voted in favor of the sacramentary. I think the issue for bishops like Chaput (I have no idea where he was in 1998) was that they couldn’t stop things because they were in such a small minority, and the vast majority of the bishops saw things differently. So they went right to the top.

        I do wonder where this whole “intransigent ICEL” myth ever came from. ICEL changed and developed its translation procedure, and radically so, all throughout the 1980s and 1990s. ICEL’s 1998 collects are in an English more beautiful than we’re about to get. But the point is, in content it us much more like 2010 than 1974. On bringing together accuracy and beauty, they did much better than Vox Clara seems to be able to do.

        I think the power structure of our Church allowed a small minority to stage a coup, and that is what happened. Let’s not pretend.

        When a local Church is divided, might it not have the resources to resolve its own divisions? I don’t share your optimism that the Roman authorities always understand the local situation better, and always have the competence to do a better job. I think the coming Missal will show quite well that it can be rather disastrous when Rome intervenes too much – from a distance and with very limited resources.


      4. The bishops voted in favor of the new translation too and we see that their votes of approval have not made everyone here happy with the result. Of course, the majority vote of a local conference can be wrong and the minority can be right. We know that St. John Fisher was in the minority.
        ICEL did not produce a translation every conference would accept. We know that the funeral rites were slightly different in some conferences but we also see that the creed is different in Britain than it is in the US.A. “incarnate vs. born”. I don’t know if these variations will continue to exist.
        Liturgical coups are also brought up by the Traditionalists when they discuss the mechanisms of the consilium under its Secretary/Archbishop who later fell out of favor and was banished to Iran and by those who discuss the way the former ICEL maneuvered its earlier translation through bishops conferences including its use of Roman pressure on the bishops conference in England and Wales who held out for awhile.

      5. Robert, the review of texts I had started filtering to me from my bishop actually in the late 1980’s as I left the office of Liturgy in 1991. So the first texts offered to the bishops which were horrible, I suspect were eventually revised into a better form by 1998. I did not and do not have access to those, but if the bishops approved them in any fashion, I suspect they were much better than preliminary proofs I saw in the late 80’s which evidently were revised. But the politics of what occurred remains. I suspect many bishops threw their hands up in the air and were glad to get something that was better than what was first presented to them, thus the 1998 version was approved. And most bishops don’t have linguistic abilities or the time and relied on their liturgy offices to suggest to them what road they should take, that’s why my bishop gave me “secret” proofs of earlier translations. I’ve seen some of the 1998 translations and some of them are very good if not better than what we will get, but certainly not all of them. But there is an arrogance about power and authority, their own, in the circle of diocesan liturgy offices and committees on the liturgy formed by bishops themselves. The FDLC in the late 1980’s is a prime example of that and I experienced it first hand. They had an agenda and suggested policy to the bishop’s conference that would make most people today shake their head and God forbid that someone would question those recommendations because the so-called process that led to them was supposedly led by the Holy Spirit. Kind of like new math, its the process you go through to get the answer that counts, not the correct answer after the process. That could be wrong and you would still get an “A” for correct procedure.

      6. But studies have shown that well over 95% of the faithful welcomed the reforms in the 60s. Obviously we don’t have 95% of priests or liturgical ministers or people in the pews welcoming this new translation.

        And now I suppose you can say that democracy is really bad and we can’t go by that in judging whether authorities are heavy-handed.


      7. Fr. Anthony, you are absolutely correct about the laity and most priests accepting the reforms of the 60’s and the reform that was most appreciated at the time was English or the vernacular and I suspect even Mass facing the people, both of which were quite novel to us and created much excitement. No argument there. Even with the current translation which has some heresy too, like Jesus becoming Man at His birth, not at the incarnation in our Credo, which I just prayed, I think most rank and file Catholics are pleased with it, we’ve settled for mediocrity in this regard. Once things are settled with the new translation being implemented and again over a five year period, I think people will be content with it whether it turns out to be mediocre or magnificent. I think, depending on who is doing it, that you’ll get mediocrity or magnificence either with a democratic process or a dictatorship process. In essence in the Church, we really have neither of these extremes but something in the middle and what is produced by men and women will always be flawed no matter how the process that created it occurred.

      8. Fr McDonald, I can generally accept mediocrity under certain pastoral conditions. Like from volunteers who are still dedicated to learning and improvement.

        The problem is that your standard is dictatorial in a relative sort of way, so to speak. Are you personally satisfied with mediocrity from a music director, a DRE, a school principal, or your secretary?

        The elusive quality I expect more of from Rome would be competence. Sometimes I don’t get the idea they even care about liturgy. Unlike a 4th grade server who makes errors, a new lector who reads a little too fast, or the like. What they have over the CDWDS, Vox Clara, and ICEL is the desire to do better, to excel.

      9. Well, Todd, it really is an issue of control and I am not given to firing people too easily and sometimes, like Jesus when Peter, James and John kept falling asleep, I have to say, “it will have to do!” What we are talking about is control, isn’t it, and who has it and who doesn’t and the exercise of it, either with our words or actions to the betterment or detriment to whom our words and actions are directed. I don’t have control over the English translation, if I did, I would suggest the English translations that many people had in their pre-Vatican II missals, some of which were quite exquisite, non of which were created by committees, hierarchies or amateurs. Publishers found the best translator they could and went with him or her. I don’t have control, you don’t have control and that’s the way it is. “It will have to do.”

  9. It seems to me that Fr. Ruff has made an excellent start on the scholarly analysis needed as a good foundation for the new (!) English translation of MR4, which I suspect will come rather sooner than later.

    He also brings home (to me, at least) some of the likely and perhaps inevitable consequences of the manner of preparation of the present translation — probably the most widely consultative process by which any liturgical book of the Church that has ever been prepared. Back and forth, almost excruciatingly for us just watching and waiting, between hundreds of sundry experts, ecclesiastics, and functionaries. But I find it somewhat reassuring that, in the end, someone made a final effort to smooth out pastorally the effects of seemingly rigid adherence to mechanical rules of translation.

    I am reminded of an allegation that, when the Orthodox need a a new liturgical book or translation, they usually select (rather than a committee large or small) a single holy and learned monk whom all trust to do the job all by himself. I wonder …

    1. CHE, Thanks for the kind words. I hope it’s a small help to people.
      I haven’t seen all of the final missal yet. Let’s wait and see whether the last-minute zillion changes really do smooth it out, whether they have a consistent and coherent approach, whether the result is therefore a good one, and a better one because of their revisions. As you can probably tell, I doubt it. But I’m open to seeing what it actually is.

  10. Critics of 1998 are blowing a lot of smoke here. Keep in mind a few things:

    – ICEL was charged from the very beginning to compose texts, and other national language groups did this, including the Italians. From where do people think the alternate opening prayers came?

    – I’m amused that people seem to think there was a problem in not following Liturgiam Authenticam in the nineties. Remember the guiding document as late as 2000 was Comme Le Prevoit. LA was as of yet unpublished.

    – Criticizing ICEL or the bishops for writing and approving original prayers is sort of like belittling Red Grange for playing football in a leather helmet and no facemask.

    The truth is that the selection of presidential prayers in any of the last three Latin editions of the Roman Missal have been woefully inadequate.

    1. +JMJ+

      Todd, who, apart from Robert Bruce, has mentioned the 1998 translation critically here? He did not mention Liturgiam Authenticam at all, and the criticisms he did bring up (original compositions, rubrical innovations, awkward language) are not only worth mentioning post-LA.

      I skimmed Comme le prevoit just now (it’s been a while since I read it). It only mentions the composition of brand new texts at the very end, and with minimal instruction, which would certainly produce hit-or-miss results:

      “Texts translated from another language are clearly not sufficient for the celebration of a fully renewed liturgy. The creation of new texts will be necessary. But translation of texts transmitted through the tradition of the Church is the best school and discipline for the creation of new texts so ‘that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already in existence.'” (CLP 43)

      Why are translated texts insufficient?

      1. Thanks for replying, Jeffrey. The Latin edition of the Roman Missal needs revision in light of SC 1’s second principle, namely the adaptation to the needs of today.

        That there would be a ten-year resistance to a votive Mass for the Respect of Life is a minor scandal. And outside of the Mass, it’s long been conceded that ICEL’s best work was in the second editions of the OCF, RCIA, and Pastoral Care rites, all of which included texts and rituals especially composed for situations unforeseen in medieval times.

        As for the Mass, we need a better harmonization with Lectionary texts. Presidential prayers and propers on a three-year cycle would be a good thing for MR4. Best case scenario would have been allowing for MR2 to be used and the CDWDS mining vernacular compositions from around the world for universal use in later editions of the Roman Missal–a development that would be in keeping with historical practice.

        A missed opportunity like this is just another display of the hermeneutic of obstruction and its incompetent approach to the Roman Rite. I would just love to get into a discussion with Msgr Wadsworth, Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, and a few others about that.

      2. +JMJ+

        “As for the Mass, we need a better harmonization with Lectionary texts. Presidential prayers and propers on a three-year cycle would be a good thing for MR4. Best case scenario would have been allowing for MR2 to be used and the CDWDS mining vernacular compositions from around the world for universal use in later editions of the Roman Missal–a development that would be in keeping with historical practice.”

        That sounds reasonable to me.

  11. “Vox Clara” is an oxymoron when it comes to English translation…

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper & easier just for the Chruch to demand fluency in Latin before baptizing any person??

  12. Anthony Ruff, OSB :

    But studies have shown that well over 95% of the faithful welcomed the reforms in the 60s…

    I doubt there will ever be another time in history when 95% of the Church would welcome a particular liturgical change, regardless of quality. Also, I was given the impression that part of the reason we’re getting so much lead-in and preparation time for the new translation is partly to avoid some of the problems that happened in the 60’s when changes were imposed so suddenly and without a lot of explanation.

  13. I taught high school many, many moons ago.
    This whole “thing” reminds me of when I would “lay down the law” on one thing or another and all hell would break loose.
    Everybody knows better than the “teacher”.
    It’s human nature, wounded and broken, I’m afraid.
    And very adolescent.
    The authority of the Church, through all kinds of “consensus” (whether you like it or not) has gone through a very painful, laborious and quite extended process.
    As the line in Moonstruck says, “Snap outta it!”, seems most appropriate…just shut up, will ya?
    This is just moronic, adolescent and just plain stupid.

    1. It seems to me that the overarching message we are indirectly receiving is that the liturgy was given to the liturgists at one time (perhaps after VII?) and they run amuck with it, and the bishops did nothing to stop it. So now, Rome is basically saying, “We gave you a shot at it and you proved to us that you can’t do the job.” I think that’s a fair representation of what is going on. And I don’t blame Rome. You will find more bishops today who allow unprecendented inventions throughout the masses in their dioceses than bishops who are truly concerned with authentic liturgy and adhereance to church documents on liturgy. If someone couldn’t do the job right by me, I would do it myself, too.

  14. I think it’s telling that your image for the People of God is high school students. And they should just obey their strict teacher! I don’t think most people have this image of the Church.

    Also, your repeated calls to crack down and stomp out dissent are an unproductive strategy – it simply won’t work with educated adults today.

    1. “Educated adults” exactly…that is why we can handle words like “dew” “consubstantial” and “ineffable” in the liturgy.

  15. But, Father, while you disagree with Father John Mary, you yourself have not chosen a particular stance on either the present translation or the new one. In another post you gave them both a thumbs down. The point that I hear coming through Father John Mary’s post is that these threads are all too slow to yield to the decisions of others–such as those higher up in the Church. Obedience is a good quality and to be sought after. Even Christ, though he was in the form of God, didn’t deem equality with God something to be grasped at. He emptied himself and we are called first and foremost to imitate him. Let’s just give the new translation the chance to do what so many feel that it will do for the people of God.

  16. And as educated adults, everyone should read the FAQ’s on the USCCB Roman Missal website about WHY the changes are being made, and then accept the changes as the new deposit of faith regarding the liturgy. Our outgoing liturgy director pointed out at our meeting a few weeks ago that the reason for the changes is because in 1970 when the new translation came out, there were translation problems and when the the new editions of the same Roman Missal came out, these problems were never addressed.

  17. A good article, overall. A couple (important) points I didn’t see mentioned: the prayer of consecration that says “shed for many” (instead of “all”); and the complete and total dishonesty of the replacement of “…stand in your presence and serve you” with “…BE in your presence and serve you” when the Latin verb in question is “adstare”. Why was this done? Because a certain influential bishop thinks that the present (and Latin) text gives aid and comfort to those souls who think we should all stand during the Eucharistic prayer.

    Bottom line: This translation was done as a full and conscious attempt to undo changes of Vatican II that the Curia and various ‘conservative’ bishops did not and do not like — in other words, in contravention of an Ecumenical Council. A raw and abusive exercise of power. It is completely illegitimate. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *