Fr. Z finally speaks to the Missal Mess

Many of us had been wondering when Fr. Z would comment on the “Missal Mess” – the name of his blog, after all, is What Does The Prayer Really Say?. Now we’re happy to see Fr. Z’s commentary – including some very good advice for the Vatican liturgy office. Excerpt:

If quod Deus avertat – the Congregation makes a hash of the new translation, they will quite simply be a laughing stock.

And I welcome the folks from the Congregation reading this who are now paying much closer attention.

This is a fast communication age. Information now gets around the globe in less time than a Vatican mandarin can stir sugar into a demitasse.

For those of you in higher roles in the Roman Curia, there is something called “the I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T.”  To learn more about this “internet,” stop the first 19 year-old who walks by the big open door to the piazza out there and ask him to show you his phone. If he is busy, talk to your 10 year old niece.

If the Congregation itself – or those to whom work is farmed out – make a mess of the new translation, everyone whose opinion they care about behind closed doors will hold them in derision.

Think about it: Latin might be on the ropes, but even if only a half dozen people who read Latin as well as I do start comparing their versions to the crowbar of a “slavishly literal version,”  the Congregation will lose its moral capital.

That’s not all.

Eventually the names of everyone involved will come out.

There is plenty of derision available, by the way.  Consider.

This is no longer an age in which shoddy work goes unnoticed.  Do a hatchet job on the new translation and your deeply held ideological conviction about what the translation ought to have been apart from the norms will be but cold comfort when the blogosphere and journals are done with you.

Therefore, I gently suggest everyone try to do their very best.

Another thing.  People might begin to wonder which official in the Congregation would be in a place to coordinate the grunt work and, if necessary, ward off potential embarrassments… or not.  It is possible that someone who believes he knows better has turned this into his own project without adequate consideration for the possible contributions of others?


  1. The excerpt above misses the best line from Fr. Z’s post:

    “If I find that I detest what is going on, I will do my best not to throw a nutty or allow a frothy squealing about it on this blog.”

    Sounds like a good idea!

  2. Oh and I forgot the two lines that preceded this:

    “Eventually I will address myself to this with some focus. When I get to it, in my own time, I will do so in my own name.”

  3. Yes, this Xavier Rindfleisch pseudonym is not a good idea — why cannot he follow Trautman, Ryan, and Zuhlsdorf himself in standing over his views and analyses?

    1. Hey Joe, think about it …. maybe old Professor Rindfleisch has been around the Church long enough to see what happens to people like … oh … well … like Trautman and … uh … Ryan …. Or isn’t lucky enough to have his own farm and be part the “Diocese of Velletri-Segni” (without even visiting said diocese, and with his own Amazon wish-list, blogging constantly about exotic food dishes which the poor people of Velletri could never afford!) and chime in a month or so after the expose has begun …

      What difference does it make who Professor Rindfleisch is if his analyses are accurate?

      Surely it’s more important to find out who’s responsible for the 2010 Received Text Mess – and make sure they don’t get their useless hands on the other liturgical books which need to be translated from the Latin – rather than who it was pointed it out.

  4. I was glad to read Fr. Z’s commentary and strong words of advice. The only place that I’ve read about this translation mess with the 2010 revision is here on Pray Tell and then based on Pray Tell, the very good article by Jerry Filteau in the NCR. Not that I want to denigrate PrayTell, but it is nice to have a balance from different perspectives on this topic. I’m not always sure that the new found concern that the translation follow scrupulously the dictates of Liturgicam Authenticum isn’t a bit sarcastic and a poke in the eyes who wrote it. But many are taking PrayTell seriously so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. But if the debacle that has been illustrated between a rather good 2008 and a poorer 2010 comes about, then there will be derision for those who tinkered with it and thus the possibility of what Fr. Z suggests, that we use the superior Latin instead.

    1. +JMJ+

      I am a supporter of the use of Latin in the liturgy… but the ends do not justify the means. People who want a good vernacular translation will not be satisfied by a choice between a crappy one and the Latin. People who just want a vernacular translation will go with the crappy one and not the Latin. The people who want the Latin will probably not find it at their current parish anyway. Using a crappy English translation as a means of pushing a completely Latin Mass on people is despicable.

      I can always go to the Byzantine Rite on the other side of town.

    2. That possibility is fancied by few, especially since the superiority of the latin is not a general consensus, shall we say.

  5. “Not that I want to denigrate PrayTell, but it is nice to have a balance from different perspectives on this topic.”

    Sorry, but there’s a difference between having a choice of wines, red or white, and eating food fresh or spoiled.

    1. The only other interpretation is that PrayTell is spoiled, and I KNOW Mr. Flowerday couldn’t have meant THAT!

  6. I think Pray Tell gives a lot of really sarcastic church people a place to vent so they don’t bother the people around them in real life. Some of you guys must be a real challenge in person.

    1. I’m sure some monks think I’m easiest to deal with when I’m alone in my monastery room! These are the ones who say they enjoy sitting next to me at table… at the non-talking meals with table reading! 🙂

      1. Professor Rindfliesch, God love him, last time I was in Rome, told us a great story over pranzo at Da Roberto in the Borgo Pio, about a monastic infirmarian and the weekly arrival of the ‘happy candy’ (prozac) which, according to the infirmarian himself, is all that keeps his monastery (NOT Collegeville, nor is it Sant’Anselmo) from imploding!

  7. I suspect that Father Z’s public spotlight on this issue in a mainstream forum—thereby bringing it forcefully to the attention to a broad range of decision-makers in the Church–raises it to the level of a problem that cannot be ignored as a harmlessly isolated concern of assorted scholars and cranks. So perhaps those of us who have been aching so long for a beautiful and faithful translation to revitalize the liturgy can breathe a bit easier now. All’s well that ends well (if indeed it does).

  8. Mainstream for decision makers in the church? That many leaders in the Vatican interested in old fashion robes and gormet food? Wow. Plus how can priests afford that monks coffee he’s always pushing forget seminarians who have to pay for school. Cant figure that one out. Stevens family’s lucky to have Dunkin Donuts ha ha.

  9. Actually, Jeremy, I much prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee, which I buy cheaply in bulk and use exclusively. On Father Z’s recommendation, I ordered several bags of Mystic Monk coffee, didn’t like the first one I tried, and wound up giving the others away as gifts to the unsuspecting.

  10. Now that’s a great idea. Very funny. Tape a Christmas For Our Pastor card to the bag of coffee and it’s good to go. Excellent CHE!

  11. Fr. Zuhlsdorf does indeed make a number of really important points. But toward the end, he makes a couple of comments that were a bit disconcerting:

    “If the translation is unsatisfactory, many of the young men being ordained will be happy to use more Latin. People can use whatever translations they prefer. That worked before. It will work again.”

    Because, of course, the only thing that matters is the private preference of the priest-celebrant: after all, it’s his mass, and the people are just along for the ride to fulfill their obligations by hearing it (not understanding it, and certainly not praying it!) They can follow along in whatever unapproved missal they wish. . . or better yet, pray their rosary.

    [That’s me being cynical, by the way. . . . A few lines before, he asserts:]

    “If the English version is goofed up – not at all certain – imagine my grief were people simply to opt for Latin because English has been shown by ecclesiastical authority yet again not to be a liturgical language.

    Yet again? Hmmm… from where I stand, English is a perfectly lovely liturgical language, able to convey both theological nuance and ambiguity (as both are needed whether it’s a missal or systematic treatise you’re translating) such that Latin can only wish for in its wildest dreams. It is more than sufficiently poetic to capture the meaning of the tersest collect or the most florid preface. . . and has been so for the last 461 years. (The first Book of Common Prayer appeared in 1549.)

    1. After all the hyperbole and outright vitriol expressed on this blog about one version of English vs another over the last few weeks, surely Fr. Z’s contention that Latin might be preferred is not unreasonable.

    2. I love Latin. I read it, understand it, can translate it, appreciate its cadences. . . I revel in Cicero, Vergil, the early Latin fathers, ancient liturgies, etc., etc.

      As an historian, I will stand by the assertion that those who first framed liturgical texts in Latin (it being the vernacular of their day) would be horrified by some of what is claimed for the language today; and

      As a liturgiologist but also as a priest and pastor, I will stand by the assertion that the prayer of the people of God must be customarily (not necessarily always or exclusively) addressed in their own, living language — which each step in the evolution of the BCP meant to address.*

      Neither of which is to say that liturgical language should be foppish or sentimental, trendy or ‘relevant.’ It should be elevated, dignified, worthy of use for sacred purpose. . . none of which qualities I’m finding in the 2010 missal text (and few of which are evident in the 2008 version).

      Yes, change is needed — absolutely: anyone who has prayed with the 1970s Missal can tell you that. Simply stated, a bald face return to Latin won’t solve today’s problems.

      *Give me a few days and I can pull the Latin Collects and the BCP translations of them and, in every case, illustrate that the BCP is both more literal and better English than the 2008/2010 translation. Of course, Rome had the good sense to approve those translations (along with most of the rest of the BCP) for the Anglican Use parishes in the US.

  12. “…because English has been shown by ecclesiastical authority yet again not to be a liturgical language.” (Father Zuhlsdorf)

    What exactly constitutes a “liturgical” language? Are the only legitimate ones those which happened to have been around at the time of the apostles?

      1. NOT for the liturgical views – for the anti-ecumenical spirit. Nobody calls non-Catholic Christians “fake” on this blog.

    1. Nobody calls non-Catholic Christians “fake” on this blog.

      I made no such remark, Father. As a newcomer, I may have misjudged my host’s tolerance. Would I have done better to say that my interlocutor “displays a complete ignorance”? That would appear to be acceptable practice here.

      1. RBR, I’m happy to be corrected if I misread you. Here is what you wrote:
        “It’s no use judging Catholic liturgy according to how closely it matches a protestant paradigm. For those who insist on the latter, there will always be protestant communions who manage it far better than Catholics. To them I ask — with theological nuance and ambiguity — Why settle for the fake, when you can have the real thing?”

        I thought this meant that Protestant liturgy is fake. I welcome any clarification.


      2. As the interlocutor intended, I should say that I prompted Fr. Ruff to revisit the comment.

        Yes, paradigmatically, as one moves farther along the continuum between “catholic” and “protestant” liturgical styles, the liturgy does become more didactic the closer one moves toward the Reformed traditions. The manifestations of the BCP over the last half-millennium or so are the anomaly: the First Book was arguably quite Catholic; the second was certainly very Protestant — theologically and stylistically. The present American book is quite Catholic (else the Holy See wouldn’t have approved all of it save for the postbaptismal rites and the material from the Offertory to the Lord’s Prayer). The recent British book, Common Worship has rescued much of the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary from the recycling bin of history, and I think there are quite a few on all sides who would take umbrage at that material being called “protestant.” (Of course, there are those who would apply that label without hesitation, before or after the CofE made use of the material.

        I think the bigger issue in this case is how one views the church. By the standards of Vatican II, subsequent decrees, the efforts of Popes themselves, and various bi- and poly-lateral dialogues (in descending order of authority, I know), there is no little acknowledgement of various degrees of “validity” or “catholicity” in the various Protestant churches. To suggest therefore that Protestant Christians or their liturgies are somehow fake when compared to Catholic worship is to paint black-and-white what is clearly accepted as grey (or polychrome, depending on the lenses one chooses to employ).

        I really don’t like to play my credentials card, and I usually feel no need to do so here. But to assert that one’s interlocutor ‘displays a complete ignorance’ of the issue at hand rather displays the same on the part of the one making such an assertion (not to mention an unfortunate degree of intolerant anti-ecumenical spirit), both with regard to the individual in question, and more broadly, with regard to the substantial contribution that Protestants and catholic-minded Anglicans (and I’ll thank you to keep the two separate) have made to the field of liturgiology and to the Catholic Church’s understanding and appreciation of its own liturgy.

      3. Thank you Father, for restoring a portion of my post. As you can see, it addresses itself to the authenticity of liturgy, specifically protestant liturgy, and to those who prefer it. It suggests, among other things, that to such persons, real protestant liturgy should be preferable to fake protestant liturgy. As a beloved friend (who happens to be an ECUSA rector) puts it: “for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they will like”. I have not and would not ever suggest that non-Catholic Christians are “fake”.

        It’s tiresome to have to explain one’s efforts at wit, but in this case I appreciate the opportunity. Let me hasten to add to Fr. Unterseher that I have no credentials of my own to proffer, that I am sure his are first rate, and that in mentioning “ignorance”, I was making reference not to Fr. U, but to the personal remark of another poster whose rudeness so far has escaped rebuke.

        With that, I hope to return to the topic of this thread.

      4. I thought RBR was talking about the Eucharist. Protestant orders are not valid to Catholics unless a bishop with valid orders gets involved in a Protestant ordination. I know that this happens at times but that action testifies to the Roman position on the matter. Is that not a true expression of the Catholic position in Dominus Iesu and similar teaching documents? Then we have to ask what is a “Church” as opposed to a “ecclesial community”. Can we honestly discuss any of these important matters when we ignore the Church’s position as articulated in DI?

      5. Jack, there are more church documents with these, and on complicated issues like valid orders, there is much theological reflection going on. Vatica-approved ecumenical dialogue groups are working at renewed formulations. Lots of rich ground for a discussion which stretches all of us. I’m wondering whether you already have the entire truth in your own mind. In line with that, is it your goal is to shut down discussion because there’s nothing to discuss?

  13. “Latin is the iconostasis of the Western Church, a veil cast over her rites to inspire a decent reverence. Straining to understand what’s ineffable isn’t really the point.”

    Robert, with this sentence you show a complete ignorance of the history of the liturgy.

    1. Rita, I’d gladly respond, but my original post on this thread appears to have vanished, or in any case is invisible to me.

      I stand by my original point, which is that it’s unwarranted, if not impertinent, to suggest that Catholic liturgy be judged according to a non-Catholic view of what liturgy is and does.

      In another time, I might have said that we cannot judge the liturgy, for the liturgy judges us. I dare say the Orthodox still feel that way.

    2. Hmmm … not so sure that you are right on that Rita. The topic Robert raises is more complicated than your dismissive would imply.

  14. Mr. Ramirez,

    Where does ‘accessible’ fit into your paradigm? Or does it? I have to surmise that it doesn’t, since ‘transparency’ is relegated to tertiary importance. So, if I understand correctly, as long as the meaning remains utterly identical across time and space, it’s perfectly fine if only a select few have any idea what the meaning is and what they’re praying. Just be deeply reverent in your ignorance.

    That’s probably not going to work all that well in the 21st century. It might have in the past, but maybe it only looked like it. In any case, those icky laypeople out past the rail are much more literate these days than they used to be. Many of them are educated at least as well as, if not better than, the priests who [in an increasing number of cases] think of themselves as a better grade of human being for their ordination. More likely, thinking folk will find another way to live and express their faith.

    1. Dear Lynn — Speaking as an icky layman myself, I confess I’ve met relatively few priests who think of themselves as a better grade of human being. Even the most tiresome priests and bishops are usually just overworked, lonely, and stressed from trying to meet too many impossible and irreconcilable demands. Not unlike a great many lay people, come to think of it.

      Accessibility is certainly part of the picture; the hierarchy has been officially behind that goal since Pius X at least. But ultimately it’s a goal to be approached, not an attainable destination. Even for the saints who enjoy the beatific vision, there is always more, and always will be. Inability to comprehend infinity is what moves us to worship in the first place. What God’s revealed of himself to us is infinitely small compared to what lies beyond the veil, so that if in our liturgy we fail to encounter mystery, we have failed to encounter God. To purge mystery from our liturgy is to foreclose ourselves from the possibility of true worship.

      1. “To purge mystery from our liturgy is to foreclose ourselves from the possibility of true worship.”

        I certainly agree with this point, and presume just about all of us would. I would submit, however, that mystery does not depend solely on language, and that mystery can be retained even when the rite is celebrated in the vernacular. I guess to me the question is not “either vernacular or Latin” but how the two can be used together in the liturgy (of the Latin Rite) to balance accessibility and reverence, that gift of the Holy Spirit which permits and fosters the acknowledgment of mystery.

        “Inability to comprehend infinity is what moves us to worship in the first place.”

        I cannot submit to this statement as it has been presented. Love draws me to worship, firstly and lastly, for God is love.

        To know, to love, and to serve God (in this life): why I have been created. Knowledge (creed) draws me to love (sacrament) which fits me to serve (mission). The Catechism of the Catholic Church orders its books nicely along these lines. This of course is just a simple construct. The terms are certainly not mutually exclusive one to another.

      2. Mr. Ramirez,

        I’m a fellow icky layperson/musician who HAS met some of those priests. All of the specific examples that I can think of are recently ordained, and comprise a distressingly large fraction of our new ordinands. One of them, within just s few weeks of his ordination, corrected a fellow priest who addressed him “Hi, FirstName, I’m MyFirstName”, with “It’s Father LastName”. Fr. FirstName was ordained before this twerp was born. He’s the worst, but not the only example.

        My reference to accessibility was not aimed at completely comprehending the mysteries of the Almighty. I had in mind the somewhat more modest aim of grasping the meaning of the words used in our prayers. Puzzling over definitions distracts me from contemplating God, and I’m pretty sure that’s not such a good thing in liturgy.

      3. Lynn, that Fr. Twerp you mention sounds like he has a lot of growing up left to do. I’m happy to say that I know about a dozen or so men now in seminary or ordained in the last decade — one recently deceased, RIP. My experience has been happier than what you report. Indeed, I am strongly encouraged by what’s now in the pipeline and have more than once congratulated them on their good timing to be young and Catholic just now. The Church is in for a spell of terrible clarity, but that must be better than the waffle and mush served up to baby boomers like me.

        Am I to understand that you’re upset by the syntax and vocabulary of the pending translation? I agree that most English-speaking Americans do seem to manage on a meagre vocabulary, but that has not always been the case. Seeing that belief is the source of culture, I welcome the prospect of the Church’s liturgy raising the bar somewhat. John and Mary Catholic will be just fine.

  15. In this post Fr Z falls back on a trope that is both unscriptural and unchristian: ‘the biological solution’. He uses this repeatedly on his blog; any Christian, let alone a priest, should be ashamed to write in this chilling manner.

    Setting that aside: in various posts on his blog he asserts that Latin acts as ‘a verbal iconostasis’ that hides the meaning of the prayers at Mass and thus increases the worshippers’ sense of wonder and mystery. To me this seems utterly idiotic on historical, theological and liturgical grounds.

    Elsewhere he says that the Latin of the liturgy was, from its introduction in the 4th century, a special language, distinct from vulgar day-to-day Latin, a sacred language from the start. I suppose the analogy would be with Cranmer’s English in a modern Anglican liturgy. I don’t know enough linguistic history to know whether this claim about the Latin liturgy has any basis in fact. Can anyone shed light on this?

    1. Dear Jonathan and all,

      I think the claims about liturgical Latin being elevated and noncolloquial from the outset are probably right – it’s what Christine Mohrmann claimed, I believe. I have a vague memory that Nathan Mitchell relativized it somewhere but didn’t overturn the claim.

      But whatever the case, precedent is not necessarily binding for Christians. We believe in inculturation, which means taking seriously contemporary culture also when it’s very different from the past.

      Until [pick your marker here] the Reformation or the French Revolution or the 1960s, society was extremely stratified and obedience to authority was rather unquestioned. Now we all relate to each other in very different ways, obviously. This has to affect how we relate to the priest-celebrant and to the liturgy as a whole. It is not obvious to many people today, as it would have been in the past, that the liturgy should use language understand by some strata but not others.

      We have to sort out the extent to which elevated/sacral language is a part of our tradition worth retaining, or an anthropological norm to be headed in all cultural situations, or an obstacle to our mission.

      We’re in new territory. I expect it will take us a good long time (think generations) to sort this out.


    2. +JMJ+

      Jonathan, can you cite an instance of Fr. Z speaking of Latin as “a verbal iconostasis”? I see the phrase used by Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler, SDB (RIP), and a Lutheran (LCMS, former Catholic) used the phrase here. But a cursory search of WDTPRS didn’t produce any hits.

      As for the quality of the Latin in the liturgy, I have read Christine Mohrmann’s book on the subject (a collection of three lectures) where she makes that claim and supports it.

      1. Jeffrey, I have searched under ‘iconostasis’ and — in case he misspelled that word — ‘verbal’, but I can’t find the phrase on Fr Z’s blog. I am reasonably certain he used that exact phrase, though, and I’m guessing it was on one of his recorded talks.

        Thanks to you and Fr Ruff for the pointer to Christine Mohrmann’s work.

    3. Jonathan, you are not the first, but I’m puzzled every time I see the so-called “biological solution” described as “chilling”. Wouldn’t it be quite a bit more chilling if, for instance, the pope simply promulgated as Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Christ a direct order that every parish offer a Sunday Mass in Latin beginning on a date certain. Rather than waiting benignly for nature to take its course until older pastors not so inclined are replaced by younger ones who are. Perhaps you or someone else can tell me what about the latter solution might be considered “chilling”. Or justifies any expression or sense of alarm at all, real or feigned.

      1. I don’t think it’s ever nice to casually mention the dying of any person, or group of persons, suggesting that progress will not happen until they are out-of-the-way. And I am glad that I am young enough that I most likely will, God-willing, live to see the day when such a callous remark on human life will have proved itself neither charitable, nor correct.

      2. Fr Z (and he is not particularly young or fit) loves to mock old people; here’s a recent example from the blog:

        The National Catholic Fishwrap published an encomium of Fr. Hans Küng written by the former editor of The Tablet.

        It’s kinda sweet, actually.

        Rather like overhearing three spinsters muse about halcyon days when a cup of coffee cost a nickel and the boys still looked.

        One of them absently pats her bluish hair into place behind her ear and gazes with a little smile at the street beyond the window.  The other two watch her from under their big hair dryers.

        Evelyn Waugh he isn’t. But apart from that, what’s wrong with this?

        1) It is factually incorrect. There are plenty of young people who are on the ‘modern’ side of liturgy and theology, and plenty of oldsters who are more ‘traditional’.

        2) It sets up an artificial and unedifying division within the body of Christ.

        3) The specific term ‘biological solution’ has unpleasant similarities to ‘final solution’; along the lines of Michael Podrebarac’s comment, it seems to me that Fr Z is pointing to an evil means in order to achieve an end that he thinks good.

        As to the pope ordering a Latin Mass, as unlikely as that would be, it would be foolish but not evil — and, by the way, it wouldn’t change a thing in my parish, since we’ve had such a Mass for years. Looking for others’ decrepitude and death to solve your perceived problems, mocking older people — that’s wrong.

  16. “Latin is the iconostasis of the Western Church, a veil cast over her rites to inspire a decent reverence.”

    According to my Orthodox sources, the purpose of the iconostasis, in its genesis, had absolutely nothing to do with ‘veiling’ the rites. The veiling that took place over time is now seen by many Orthodox liturgical scholars as a liturgical aberration. In fact, a good number of modern day Orthodox churches have a much more permeable version of the icon stand which allows people more easily to see what is going on. Of course, the lay members of the royal priesthood are usually more active during the Divine Liturgy than their Western counterparts, at least in my more recent encounters with Orthodox liturgy.

    The reverence that is owed during the sacred liturgy is to be inspired by an understanding of the mysteries we celebrate, or else it is not really reverence, but perhaps a more sophisticated way of saying “Dude! That’s so cool!” while remaining ignorant of why one should be experiencing awe. Thus one is just as likely to be adoring art, ritual and language, instead of the Living God, which makes the extraordinary form fetish (and it is this for many of its fans) a form of idolatry, not logike latreia.

  17. I found myself rather concerned over Fr. Z’s assertion that the Pope, through a motu proprio, can trump a constitution created by an Ecumenical Council. I may be mistaken, but my understanding is that the principle of regional councils of bishops governing liturgical translations is written in Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, and then reaffirmed in subsequent canons. How, then, can a Pope, on his own initiative, change that? Any canonist out there want to chime in?

  18. Here, from a 9/14/2007 sermon on the traditional Latin Mass by Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP is a traditional view of Latin as virtual iconostasis:

    “Latin is, in effect, our iconostasis. It serves as a ‘verbal’ curtain drawn over the mysteries being carried out at the altar to remind us that, yes, there is a wide and fathomless gap between the incomprehensible majesty and holiness of God on the one hand, and our human sinfulness and smallness on the other. It is a gap which cannot be breached by human presumption or initiative. It is a gap unbridgeable by anything we DO and is overcome only by what GOD does and which we RECEIVE from Him.”

    I do not see any attempt to hide the meaning of prayers, but rather an indication of that in liturgy which may not be fully comprehensible on a purely human level.

  19. If I recall correctly, Christian Mohrmann says that the Latin into which the Greek liturgy was translated in the 4th century (to make it accessible to simple people) was specifically liturgical Latin, which from very ancient times is marked by an abundance of pleonasms (and non-limiting adjectives). This did not function as a blinding iconostasis for the faithful — it was normal liturgical language for them. But it is not so for us today, and it is alien to the native spirit of the English language. Pleonasm is used only by extravagantly Latinate authors like Dr Johnson.

    1. Much of what you say is true, but I don’t draw the same conclusions. First we wish we had more “liturgical” Latin from that period. In terms of prayer form (as opposed to vocabulary) there are marked similarities between the form of the Christian Latin prayers and the prayer to Mars found in Cato’s De Agri Cultura and in some of the prayers found in Livy. One problem as I see it is that English has lost the language of supplication because we have lost the cultural phenomenon of supplication, where one in need requests a boon from another who is recognized as being superior. Latin and Greek prayer language have similarities the language of supplication. Our egalitarian society no longer admits such a system and thus our language has no social dialect reflecting one. But we still need to address our Father as being our superior upon whom we are dependent. The everyday language with which we converse among our equals in a democratic society won’t suffice either.

    2. However, English in the past has not always shied away from pleonasm, so your comment about the “native spirit of the English language” is mistaken. Remember that we have no English that predates the encounter of the Latin Christianity with Anglo-Saxon Britain, so your “native spirit” is a canard anyway. Old English loves wordplay, kennings, pleonasm, and alliteration. Remember Chaucer’s Middle English “holy blissful martyr”. What about the Declaration of Independence? “Light and transient,” “abuses and usurpations,” “it is their right, it is their duty.” Should our prayer language be limited to what is encountered on Fox and MTV or can it be ennobled by earlier models?

      Perhaps after rhetorical devices such as pleonasm are purged from the mass, other popular prayers will be on the chopping block. One can only guess what will be left of, “O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.”

  20. Mr. Ramirez, You might be interested to know Paul VI, held Anglican liturgy, the hieratic English found therein, and Anglican spirituality in general in very high regard. He had the habit of playing Byrd, Tallis, and performances of Evensong on his hi fi regularly while working in his study.

    If we’re going to have an English liturgy at all, let us find the most beautiful expression of it. I don’t think the late pope Paul would have objected, nor do I believe Pope Benedict will either.

    1. Mr. Harding, is it Fr. Rutler who tells the joke of the Anglican convert, asked what he most misses from his pre-Catholic days, replying: “the Mass in English”?

      I have attended a great many BCP and Anglican liturgies, and one very impressive Anglican Use Mass. In all of these I found the linguistic quality well above the impoverished texts still prescribed for Anglophone Catholics. Though I happily worship in Latin, I remember with reverent fondness the hieratic English of the 1965 missal, which I’d heartily recommend if anyone were consulting me. We could have been done with ICEL, Vox clara, et al. a long time ago.

  21. Responding to Mr. Ramirez above, quoted below:

    Fr. Twerp does have a lot of growing up to do, but many who saw him are not optimistic that he will do it. He lasted one year of his rookie tour at my parish before the best priest in the diocese [brilliant liturgist and the primary source of my belief that the current translation can in fact be done with great beauty and reverence; former vocation director also] sent him on his way. To a rural area much closer to his home and family. A small number miss him, the vast majority do not.

    Yes, I do object to the syntax and vocabulary about to be foist upon us. I object at least as much to the abusive process that brings it to us. My vocabulary is far from meagre, and I can invert a sentence with the best of them, but enough already! The present result doesn’t deserve to be called English. It’s Anglicized Latin at best. Call it Latlish, maybe?

    “Lynn, that Fr. Twerp you mention sounds like he has a lot of growing up left to do…. My experience has been happier than what you report…The Church is in for a spell of terrible clarity, but that must be better than the waffle and mush served up to baby boomers like me.

    Am I to understand that you’re upset by the syntax and vocabulary of the pending translation? I agree that most English-speaking Americans do seem to manage on a meagre vocabulary, … I welcome the prospect of the Church’s liturgy raising the bar somewhat. John and Mary Catholic will be just fine.

  22. Sorry to hear Fr. Twerp has been exiled; that will hinder his development. What sense is there in ordaining a man only to discard him? What do you suppose will become of him in 10, 20, 30 years? So disappointing to hear of a vocations director responding this way.

    As for the new Missal…well, modern English is a heavily Latinized language, so it’s hard to escape that influence, especially in using an elevated style. And as another poster has put it, sometimes Strunk & White simply won’t do (imagine the Gettysburg Address reformatted to suit 1930s Era-of-the-common-Man notions. Or don’t.) I don’t expect to persuade you to my views, but would like it to be noticed that they exist and can be defended.

  23. Fr. Twerp is happy where he is, and the parishes he serves seem happy enough with him, so I don’t think it quite qualifies as a ‘discard’. Back here, the parish was not especially happy with him. He gave off a profound air of “You are all doing it very wrong, but I’ll set you straight.” From a 26 year-old man who was home schooled before attending a very small Catholic college prior to seminary. The French cuffs in July, when the a/c on his Lexus was our, didn’t help, either. Our then-pastor was the _former_ personnel guy, not current. Their styles are dramatically different, and Fr. Twerp’s is not well suited to the overall nature of my parish community.

    I don’t mind elevated English at all. I do mind sentences twisted beyond all reasonable comprehension. English is fundamentally a Germanic language, yes, with a significant Latin overlay. Still, word order matters, and there are only so many things you can stuff into one sentence. Eventually, you have to punctuate and start another one.

    Regarding the Gettysburg address, it may not have fit the 1930s era, but from what [admittedly little] I’ve discovered about the spoken language of the time, it wasn’t all that elevated. Lincoln wasn’t a particularly well-educated man in any formal sense, so much of what he learned and how he spoke came from what he heard. And, he did it better than most.

    That your _views_ are valid, I grant. I still think the 2010 translation is trash, and 2008 may…

  24. Con’t.

    not be any better. Probably it is, but I’m not sure that it rises to ‘good’. It still seems too slavishly literal, and thus not good English. And that doesn’t even take up the question of is the Latin good in the first place. Nor the matter of translating from Latin something originally written in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or something else. I’m not a language major, but it seems pretty foundational that one should translate as much as possible from an original, or the closest thing to it. Each intermediate step introduces at least the opportunity for error, and on this scale guarantees it.

    Quality of English aside, though, I still have almost insurmountable problems with the way this whole process has gone. ‘They’ seem to have studied a textbook seeking for examples of bad leadership, and used every technique they found. In short, I have lost more of what trust in the shepherds I could still muster. I have more confidence in the notion that this is a power maneuver by ‘Rome’ than that it is genuinely meant for my/our/everyone’s salvation.

  25. That’s because you operate within a paradigm that views things from a political-power angle.

    I’m not even sure if this whole manufactured hysteria has much substance to it. I will just set faith in what God has promised to his Church around Peter.

    1. Simon,

      How do you know what paradigm I operate within? Do I do it all the time, or, assuming you’re correct in this case, is it possibly one that I have chosen as apparently the best fit to the circumstances as I understand them? Please provide details and examples.

  26. “Political-power angle” and there would never be any politics or power struggles in the Roman Curia or local dioceses right? And 36 pages by conservative translators pointing out mistakes in Latin translations English grammar and violations of Vatican translation rules and all the articles on here showing all that stuff in detail is all manufactured hysteria right? Don’t you think keeping faith sometimes means speaking up when some of the folks around Peter aren’t serving God or Peter very well? Simon doesn’t want to think about such things. Too disturbing I guess. Bury your head in the sand and hope for the best. I say thank God some people cared enough about the new Missal to speak up before all those mistakes got printed up.

      1. “There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know. ”

        -Donald Rumsfeld

  27. Actually, Karl, I can parse Secretary Rumsfeld’s sentence. I’m not at all a fan of his, and he compressed that statement way too much, but it’s an accurate statement. Unpacked a bit [and not as clumsy/funny]: “We have identified what we know. We have identified what we wish we knew but don’t. And there are things that we haven’t identified but would need or want to know if we did identify them.”

    That last one is the troublesome one, of course. You can’t find out something if you aren’t aware of its existence or your need……

    1. Agreed. What it has in common with Bryan’s mal mot is that both were designed to prevent further inquiries: they are statements designed to end conversation.

      1. That, they almost do. Rumsfeld’s comment certainly stopped THAT conversation, but it gave birth to lots of others, mostly derisive of him. Oh, well. The horse is dead and already into glue…..

  28. I’ve been reading this thread with interest, and have to confess that all the while I’ve been wondering “Why does anyone care what Fr Z thinks?” Is he a liturgist, or something?

  29. I second your point, Paul.

    I never knew Father Z existed before I joined this blog, even though I am regular a reader of NLM, America, Commonweal, First Things, Clerical Whispers, Whispers in the Loggia, NCR.

    If any of those places gave him any attention, I sure did not notice it.

  30. Paul – have tried to share links to Fr. Z’s history – he posts it – and have repeatedly provided statements such as: Fr. Z has NO liturgical expertise, no degrees in liturgy or theology, no scriptural or linguistic skills in his education. He is a convert later in life; ordained for a small diocese in Italy via machinations in Rome; and somehow supported financially so he can do his blog from Rome – thus, IMO, a free agent and catholic version of Glen Beck whose only purpose seems to be to reinforce polarizations and plant “old” myths, regurgitated EWTN stuff, and consistently underlines pre-VII theology, spirituality, etc.

    1. +JMJ+

      And yet, “Many of us had been wondering when Fr. Z would comment.” Maybe the editorial board of PTB could chime in with why that is.

      When you say Fr. Z has “no liturgical expertise,” what do you mean?

      Despite his not having degrees in liturgy, theology, scripture, or linguistics, might he have acquired some knowledge which is of value in discussing these matters?

      Is his being a convert (paging Todd Flowerday — isn’t use of this word for other Christians entering full communion with the Catholic Church frowned upon?) from Lutheranism a problem? A disqualifying trait? This blog is ecumenism-friendly!

      His ordination circumstances are peculiar, I’ll give you that. He appears to be financially supported by reader donations. I’m not sure he “does his blog from Rome” — he lives up in Michigan or Wisconsin, as best I can tell, on his “Sabine Farm”.

      What are some of his “old” myths? (And what’s with the quotes?) What’s wrong with pre-VII theology and spirituality?

      Does Fr. Z really have no other purpose than to be a polarizing force?

      Anyone else you’d like to do an exposé on?

      1. I can only comment on the first paragraph concerning PTB editors, since I didn’t write the things referred to in the rest of the comment.

        Of course I was wondering when he would comment – the very title of his blog, for Pete’s sake, is “What does the prayer really say?” He comments on everything under the sun – which is fine. But here is a pretty huge story about the missal being hijacked, Rome approving a crappy translation which is inaccurate all over the place, and he goes for weeks saying not a word about it? That seems rather strange to me.

        The guiding narrative for some people in liturgical guerilla warfare seems to be: Bad guys over here, Bugnini and Paul VI and the old ICEL and all the leaders in liturgical renewal; Good guys over here, Rome and Pope Benedict and the restorationist foot soldiers; Immanent victory on the translation battlefront under Pope Benedict. I have wondered whether people like Fr. Z. hadn’t commented for so long because the developments of this summer blew the guiding narrative apart so badly.

        But I’m happy that Fr. Z did speak to the translation scandal more recently. (Our report on it is here: )
        I hope Rome heeds his pointed remarks – they’re on target in my view.


  31. Folks – I’d really like to keep the focus on the issues and not the people who write about them. Even if it’s not an ad hominem, strictly speaking, it’s too close for comfort. Call it sympathy for a fellow blogger – or maybe it’s unease that people will start commenting on my many foibles! – but I’d rather we not bring in Fr. Z’s alleged this or that. Let’s talk about liturgy.

    1. Amen, Fr Anthony.

      When Fr Z is on form he can produce some good stuff — some of his expositions of the Latin prayers are first rate. He’s less spot-on, in my opinion, when he starts parroting some of those Republican radio commentators who seem so prevalent in the USA. I’ll take the best bits of his (copious) output and cheerfully discard the worst.

  32. +JMJ+

    Fr. Z comments on the election of the USCCB president:

    “I hope he asks the Cong. for Divine Worship for a clear explanation about what is going on with the corrected translation.”

  33. Verbal iconostatis

    To me, first of all, icons are about beauty. And that is not obscuring but illuminating.

    As I understand it, the Orthodox call icons “window into heaven.” Not, however, clouds, pink or otherwise.

  34. Learning to pray Mass in Latin happens over one’s lifetime. It is the attitude that everyone must understand everything instantly from 1 Mass is a different approach to Vernacular that has proved many a time over ill advided. It renders it mundane, often banal. Allowing the mysteries to reveal themselves over one’s life in Latin keeps it interesting, fresh, and new. That is my perspective.

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