“About to do great damage to the heart of our church…”

In my mail today was what appeared to be this season’s first Christmas card. It was not. Rather, it is a Thank You card along with the letter reprinted below (person unknown to me, personal elements deleted to preserve anonymity). I have no idea how widespread in our Church the writer’s sentiments are. If these are the concerns of only a few, our Bishops can count on a relatively smooth implementation of the new Missal. If the concerns are held by many Catholics, I pray that our Bishops take account of it.   awr

November 14, 2010

Dear Fr. Anthony,

Thank you for your postings on the Pray Tell blog concerning the new Missal translations. I am praying that those of you who are liturgical leaders and educators can somehow persuade our bishops to halt the implementation of this translation, as I believe they are about to do great damage to the very heart of our church. I have no faith at the moment that the bishops will listen to the voice of the laity.

I have been an oblate of [deleted] for several decades. I was blessed to have the monks of [deleted], and the sisters from [deleted], as my teachers for part of my education. I am so grateful for the spiritual foundation they gave me, and for many wonderful experiences of liturgy in their midst. It is heartbreaking for me to think of going into those beloved monastic churches in the future and hearing these mangled words of worship that Rome is planning to force on the English speaking world.

I am now in my 60’s. In my lifetime, I have lived on both coasts of our country, and several places in between. I have endured parishes where the clergy clearly didn’t bother to prepare their homilies, music that was badly done, untrained lectors, the recent scandals in the Church, and much more. I have continued to be there in the pews because I am part of the Catholic “tribe” we belong to, good or bad. But, nothing has upset me like this upcoming Missal. The process seems dishonest. I question how I will manage to go forward if this language is dumped on us. Words matter…

Many of my Catholic friends, and some of my family, have left the Church. They are part of that one third of the Church who have just quietly walked away….our “silent schism” …a loss that seems largely unacknowledged by those in leadership positions of the Church. These people who left are not bad people, or people who somehow don’t know their faith. There are a variety of issues that finally drove them away. My husband says if the new Missal is used, he isn’t sure he can go to church with me anymore. That causes me a great deal of pain. My brother-in-law is trying to convince himself that maybe it won’t be too horrible. Some of my friends are looking for “house church” possibilities. One friend quit her job as a parish liturgy coordinator, rather than lead parish education on the new Missal.

Two weeks ago, I heard a young priest of the [deleted] Diocese tell a congregation that the new Missal translation was coming, and how it was going to be more holy, lofty, and faithful language. It sounded like a dishonest ploy. I know he has been instructed to say such things, but I didn’t know whether to scream it him…..or sit there and cry. I just sat there in profound sadness. The “People of God” deserve better.

Thank you for your work for the Church.




    1. Probably not many. At least it was in their own native tongue. Now, it will still be in english but just be plain silly to read and comprehend.

    2. Well, for starters, one difference is that (at least as far as I know) the last one wasn’t implemented, as this one is being, through a barrage of bitterness and lies on the part of

      . the Bishops
      . the Congregation for Divine Worship
      . the writes of the translation documents
      . (some of) the translators

      nor did anyone back then put untrue words into the mouth, and an unfinished Missal into the hands, of the reigning Sovereign Pontiff!

      and that’s just for starters.

      1. No, I think you are. It was nothing like what is happening now, which is quite frankly disgraceful.

      2. Read through old editions of the Tablet about the hullabaloo caused by ICEL’s trnaslation of the canon. To this day we see different translations of the Roman canon in Britain/Ireland and the US. Archbishop Dwyer of Portland in the USA spoke out forcefully against the existing translation. I think the fuss we see today is far less contentious than what we saw then.

  1. In my little corner of the Catholic world, our Pastor has given one sermon so far on the upcoming changes. He called the new translation “beautiful”, stated that it eschewed dynamic equivalence in favor of literal equivalence.
    Then he tried (and failed) to get some audience participation on a few common responses so as to demonstrate the changes. After that he concluded that it probably wasn’t going to make much difference to the congregation. He’s probably right.
    Most people in the pews at my parish will not know much of the process by which the new translation was made. They will have it presented as a “fait accompli” and will have to judge it from there. Of more concern will be the costs of replacing the hymnbooks, Missal etc.
    Most people will likely view it the same way they did switching from Windows XP to Vista..a hassle for a while, then it’ll be OK. We shall see.

    1. Marion,

      I think you will be disappointed. My guess is that we will see few lament the loss of the sill existing translation.

  2. Perhaps there will be a groundswell of protest, and the Vatican will have to restore the translation we have all grown to know and love. This happened recently in Germany with regard to the Rite of Christian Funerals.

  3. mangled words of worship that Rome is planning to force on the English speaking world.

    As Mr. Schmitt has already pointed out — what goes around comes around. Though there’s a story of Pope Paul himself weeping at the discovery of the way “ordinary time” was to displace the octave of Pentecost, few tears were shed, in 1965 or subsequently, for the sake of the faithful who’d never requested but were nevertheless compelled to accept, the successive unfelicities thrust upon them.

    I don’t doubt the genuineness of Fr. Ruff’s correspondent’s distress. What I do doubt is its reasonableness and its basis. I am confident that the corrected translation with all its imperfections will nevertheless be a vast improvement over the dreck I’ve endured my whole adult life.

    1. So is your argument that because “successive unfelicities were thrust” once upon a time, it’s acceptable to thrust unfelicities now? That seems like a strange argument! Why wouldn’t we want the best translation we could have, given the rules under which the translation was to have been completed? There seems to be little disagreement that there are translation errors in the “latest” text, and what is disheartening is that additional errors have been introduced in what should have been a simple review and acceptance process, or at least a refinement and improvement process, between 2008 and now.

      1. I wasn’t making an argument at all. I was declaring an opinion, in the last sentence of my post, that the new version will be better than what we have now. Because the version we have now really is that bad.

      1. Father Zuhlsdorf relates that the incident was recounted to him by a Papal Master of Ceremonies who was present at the event. I guess if you need videotape or something to “substantiate” it you’re out of luck, but really this incident is not an “urban legend” in the sense that no one knows where the story got started or how it got around.

      2. The fact that Fr. Zulsdorf said it was given to him via gossip doesn’t substantiate the story, no. It’s hearsay, and on the face of it so improbable as to be ridiculous (unless you already believe a raft of lies about the reform). Was Paul VI a weepy guy? No. Did he have oversight of the liturgical reforms? Yes. Do we have any corroboration of this story? No. Do we have it from the Master of Ceremonies himself? No. Even Zulsdorf says “Take it for whatever it’s worth.” It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on, if you ask me.

      3. To be strictly accurate, he was still only an Archbishop at the time he was Papal MC. Cardinals don’t undertake roles like that.

  4. Father,

    I entered your blog with the question: Does Praytell’s opposition to the new translation stem from

    a) being enamored with the current translation
    b) simply being disatisfied with what you see as an indadequately accurate ( and beautiful) new translation

    everyone who responded chose ‘b’. But I think your letter writer and Marion above [and probably Mr. Haas] would really choose ‘a’if they were asked.

    I agree that the bishops are to blame. They want to tapdance around the fact the current translation is deficient. So badly deficient that English speaking bishops are being ordered and bossed around like unruly 6 graders. No other bishops in all the world are getting this treatment. The Germans, you mention, are listened to. This is because their current translation is already much closer to the LA standards. You know this. Germans already say the things like ‘under my roof’ and 3x mea culpa, ‘with your spirit’, etc. etc. all the things with which praytellers seem to have a problem!

    The bishops need to address us like this:

    We gave you a trendy, banal, inaccurate translation. One that makes English speaking people pray like no other Catholics in all the world. The Church will not stand for this sin against her unity any more. We are sorry.

    1. George, you should know that this is much, much more than an a or b issue. People who have framed protest along those lines have not delved deeply enough into the matter. Very few serious liturgists choose (a).

      Speaking for myself, I’ve awaited a replacement of the temporary MR1 since 1983, around the time I began studies in liturgy. I remember twenty years ago being advised not to buy new Sacramentaries–a second edition was on the way.

      I think there are serious flaws in the Latin edition of the Roman Missal, primarily a lack of harmonization with the Lectionary, and a lack of input of vernacular prayers from around the world. So I would be disappointed even if MR3 was translated under Comme Le Prevoit principles. It’s been 45 years since Vatican II. Time enough for a serious upgrade.

      Additionally, I think Liturgiam Authenticam is poor theology and shows hideously impoverished notions of translation.

      Then top it off with the sheer incompetence of the CDWDS and Vox Clara. Although I will confess sharing many laughs at the expense of the so-called liturgical hierarchy of the Church.

      So if you get the sense I’m deeply disappointed and want to attach some letters to that, please offer me choices (c), (d), and (e).

  5. After months of reading this and other blogs about the new Missal translation, I find myself wondering whether those who complain about the “process” and how “flawed” it was are really reflecting the Zeitgeist’s current preference for collaborative leadership styles and decrying the Holy See’s current lack of grooviness concerning keeping up with the styles of the day. The vagaries of translation will give them plenty to get hepped up about, but to me most of it seems like so much blather (with the exception of guys like Fr. Ruff and the esteemed Dr. Rhindfleisch who really know what they are talking about). Is most of the blather a smokescreen for the real source of disappointment, namely that the Church promised them lo these 40 years ago has failed to materialize? That in fact the leadership of the Church seems to be leading us to be a less up-to-date, less groovy, less popular institution?

    Sounds like a crisis of faith in which the real question becomes: Does Christ still lead his Church through its appointed leaders? Have the gates of hell prevailed against the Church?

    1. +JMJ+

      Ben, I think my viewpoint / perspective / background / etc. are pretty clear from my comments, my blog, and the rest of my activity on Catholic web sites. I’m also under 30, if that makes any difference here. With that preamble out of the way…

      I am not particularly fond of the 1973 translation, am 50-50 on the 1998 translation, very pleased with the 2008 translation (at least what I saw of it), and distressed about the variations since then. I am not a member of the “if you don’t like the new translation, there’s always the Latin” camp. I believe we deserve a vernacular translation that is faithful to the Latin without being painful to the ears.

      I do not think we would be in the situation we are currently in if the channels of communication had been more open… or open at all! I wish our leadership (specifically our bishops) and those tasked with this translation were more equipped for the task, willing to listen (as much as they wish to be listened to!), and ready to stand up for something.

  6. Father
    It seems that your letter writer knows many who have ceased coming to Church. This is before implementation of the proposed new translation. It is a nonsense to say that is a result of the new translation that is not yet introduced.
    Presumably the fact of change will upset some: it will be harder to say how many. It may draw back some.
    The most telling point of the letter is the observation that she feels the leaders of the church have not acknowledged the loss of numbers. Perhaps this would be a good line of enquiry.

  7. For heaven’s sake this is nonense – if a defective translation, even if admitted as being such, is still a valid Mass then there is no excuse for a Catholic to miss his or her Sunday obligation. At least these people in their 60’s are old enough to have been properly catechised – they must know this. If they no longer believe what this Church teaches, that’s their affair. I’ve had to suck up enough ‘technically valid’ Masses – I don’t like them but the rule isn’t to like them -it’s to attend them on a Sunday. It seems such people may be more comfortable in another denomination – the beauty of the free religious marketplace.

    1. That’s the way.

      “Pay, pray and obey.”

      Lurching headlong into the past with Jozef Ratzinger’s “leaner, meaner Church” – the leaner and the meaner all sorted, but not much of the Church.

      Last one out, turn off the lights.

      1. I think the pay, pray, and obey was the refrain many heard when they sought to continue with the 1962 RM
        after 1970. Today the Church is much more pastoral, we can celebrate with 1962 or the existing translation in full equality. We should be giving thanks not complaining. Pope Benedict is extremely pastoral and generous.

  8. The letter reflects an important difference between the liturgy of 1960 and that of 2010. She identified with the text of the liturgy as something that is important to her spiritual life, while the pre-1960 liturgy barely called for such participation. The liturgy was an event one attended, but you did not need to be attentive. Pray the rosary instead of praying the Eucharistic prayer.

    Those who were catechised to participate are more threatened by change than those who were not. (did somebody say something about bad catechesis?) Their relationship with God is rooted in their participation in a way that it was not in the days before the liturgical movement started calling for change. Those who had committed themselves to the liturgy by the late 60s were the ones who were bothered by the changes, but these people were rarer then than they are now. Participation was not routinely taught.

    We need to give people hope that their relationship with God will grow, not that it must be repudiated. It will not help to have bishops stand up and say “[Bishops} gave you a trendy, banal, inaccurate translation” unless you want people to say that todays bishops are giving us a trendy, banal, inaccurate translation. Complaining about bishops is always easy, especially if they start the process.

    What is missing is a rationale that will help people grow in their relationship with Christ. I have heard nothing as compelling as the promise of full active participation with Him in His Great Work, the promise that accompanied the translation in the ’60s. I suspect this letter came from someone else who has heard little to think this translation will lead them closer to Our Salvation, and heard a great deal that distances us from being intimate with Christ. I can understand her anguish.

  9. Again, Read Fr. Peckler’s book, The Genius of the Roman Rite: On the Reception and Implementation of the New Missal.(2009,Liturgical Press) This book should clear up any misconceptions of the translation process and it will clearly explain the evolution of the Roman Rite, the translation process, Recovering Tradition, the conciciliar reforms of Vatican II, and Post Conciciliar Liturgical Renewal. the 2002 GIRM,The Implementatation and Reception of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, and The Future of the Liturgy is the Future of the Church.
    An important quote from Fr. Pecklers who quotes Robert Taft’s article, ‘ Translating Liturgically” which stated that the first interpretation of a passage is always the translation. Robert Taft said that liturgical English is NOT a detective story, nor one of a scholarly translation. It is not the English of a narrative dialouge, but also not the English of Hopkins or Eliot’s poetry. And he added that if we are doing translation for the people of today, and doing it, presumably, so that so that they will understand it, since the only reason we are doing it is because they no longer understand Greek or Old Slavonic, that it should be in the English of today and not of the sixteenth century.(P.57)
    I should note that the book mentions that there were translation disagreements when the language changed from Hebrew to Greek, and from Greek to Latin and Latin to English. So what we are experiencing is nothing new in Church history.

  10. Todd Flowerday :
    Me either.
    Though I think there are a few texts more suitable than the centurion’s acclamation.

    Although scripturally that is what is in Matthew’s Gospel, so it is biblically and doctrinally correct and that is all that matters. It needs to follow that guideline according to LA.

    1. +JMJ+

      Tim, Todd is recommending (I think) not to replace the translation of “Domine, non sum dignus” with the translation of some other phrase, but rather providing alternatives in the Latin (and thus in the vernacular) for that phrase.

  11. Jim McKay>>> It will not help to have bishops stand up and say “[Bishops} gave you a trendy, banal, inaccurate translation” unless you want people to say that todays bishops are giving us a trendy, banal, inaccurate translation. Complaining about bishops is always easy, especially if they start the process.

    What is missing is a rationale that will help people grow in their relationship with Christ. <<<<<

    Alec Guiness’ reaction to the 1973 translation was that it very much reminded him of a ‘BBC broadcast for tiny tots’. The exodus of the faithful after the Church’s attempts to demystify -what is essentially mysterious- is well documented.

    Let’s hope and pray that this next effort is not ‘trendy, banal and inaccurate’! (I don't think there is anyway this 2010 version could be termed 'trendy!)

    How’s this for a compelling rationale?:

    We need to pray as we believe! To pray as the rest of the Catholic Church throughout the World prays! As the saints prayed!

    Having the bishops own up to the shenanigans behind the 1973 translation – which have made that translation the unique focus of the Church’s efforts to correct the Liturgy – would be refreshing in the same way being forthcoming about clergy sexual abuse was a necessary first step. Refusing to recognize the central truth of the matter necessitates the formulation of half-true explanations. Let’s be done with sugarcoating and lies.
    If a used care salesman had a crisis of conscience and suddenly offered to exchange a lemon he has sold you for a more valuable and better functiong automobile, does he not also owe you an honest explanation?

    1. I am so far beyond being sick and tired of the all-out bashing of the 73 translation.

      Here is your chance. Let’s see PROOF – let’s see the “well documented” evidence that this translation has caused people to stop attending Mass and leave for other denominations.

      1. The evidence is not hard to find, though I have no illusions that the evidence won’t be denied. Interestingly, the decline inside Latin Catholicism after 1965 occurred at the same time that other conservative US denominations grew and after years of consistent growth within US Catholicism. The most telling statistics to me are those that show that the areas of US Church life that were most devastated after the introduction of the new missal are precisely those areas most involved in liturgical renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s.

      2. One has to construct an immense series of coincidences to dismiss the claim out of hand. Sure, there were other issues, all connected to modernity and the popularizing of the Church. They were all mistakes in retrospect, but perhaps mistakes that we can correct. The claim that had vatican II NOT HAPPENED even more would have left is perhaps the most unsubstantiated claim of all, but we’ll never know.

    2. George, our parish has grown steadily since its dedication in 1960. It really flourished in the 70’s and 80’s as most did in our diocese. The only time we noticed a change in attendance is after a Pastor molested boys in the Rectory. Of course, the Bishop totally mishandled the situation, causing many to leave. It certainly wasn’t because of the 1973 translation. Provide for us some of this documentation you are referring to.

    3. George, don’t forget the bishops who objected to the post Vatican II reformed missal. Over 60% of the bishops assembled by the 1967 Roman Synod responded unfavorably to the new missal. More than twenty percent had a highly negative reaction. I think the offertory prayers and other private prayers on the part of the celebrant may have been reintroduced due to these episcopal reservations. There were all kinds of negative reactions to the early post V2 GIRM leading to the publication of a new and corrected GIRM that contained more traditional language, all before 1970.

    4. We need to pray as we believe! To pray as the rest of the Catholic Church throughout the World prays! As the saints prayed!

      I think that could be a start toward a good rationale, if only you could explain WHY we need to pray as the rest of the Church prays. The communion of saints can inspire great numbers of people!

      But it is not as good a rationale as participation with Christ in His saving acts. Any comparison of today with 1970 is going to fail if it does not talk about our relationship with Christ.

      And I am not talking about the quality of translation, but the reason why the earlier one was accepted and even cherished. Implementing a new translation needs to build on the strengths of the earlier one, not ceaselessly attack it. (This is what B16 meant when he talked about the hermeneutic of continuity.)

      And yes, I think LA is VERY trendy, essentially a fad. I do not think it has survived even 10 years of criticism. It will soon be modified to represent a more rational policy on translation, though soon in Roman years can mean centuries.

      1. It was stated recently at a conference that the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome has asked ICEL for feedback on the translation principles in LA. Obviously they realize in Rome that those principles have to be refined further.

      2. When I was working as a programmer, we test-drove, so to speak, new programs and processes on minor, non-essential projects, not the mission-critical ones central to the business.

  12. “The evidence is not hard to find, though I have no illusions that the evidence won’t be denied.”


    The trends you cite can’t be denied. However, these empirics merely tell us WHAT rather than WHAT and WHY. The numbers are still just numbers.

    I don’t understand how the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy doesn’t also apply to explanations about a crisis in priestly vocational response–are Gibson et al. “closer to the mark” simply because of the saliency of these data? Do extremes now elevate opining to the level of valid inference?

    Nevertheless you link post-missal devastation in particular “areas of US Church life” (read: priestly vocations?) with “liturgical renewal” as “the most telling statistics.” How? Isn’t this also speculation–correlation and causation conflated?

    Even if you’re correct that the 60s and 70s liturgical tumult bears some responsibility for a decline (I don’t think anyone reasonably argues that this is exclusively responsible), it doesn’t cut it to claim that places impervious or resistant to these trends produce vocations precisely because of their choice to do so–it ignores a myriad of other variables.

    It seems that many people use liturgical “renewal” as some kind of euphemism that approximately means “experimentation and abuse”…and when one invokes Christ’s dictum “you will know them by their fruits” it’s tempting to oversimplify and complete the syllogism, as it were.

    However, I’m reluctant to do this because we’re talking about entire decades rife with momentous upheaval in almost all walks of life–too many variables for a soundbite culture convenience.

    I wasn’t around for “liturgical renewal” in those years but, the more I read, it seems less like a smoking gun and more like a red-herring. Meanwhile, the truth evades us as we continue piling it on our whipping-boy: ICEL ’74.

    I’m surprised no one has blamed CLP indirectly for the sex abuse crisis–the logic I’ve…

    1. We would have to see whether the pastoral difficulties that occurred among RC’s in the US also beset non-RCs who did not introduce a new liturgical form at that time and whether or not the pastoral problems occurred among non Latin rite RCs.
      What we can agree on, reluctantly, is that the 1973 translation did not produce the pastoral benefit it promised. Those quarters of the Church where the renewal was most embraced seem to be the same places where the malaise seems most severe.

  13. I sincerely believe that these new changes will serve to be the final straw which will “breaks the back” of the Catholic church and send it into obscurity. The recent school closing and Parish combinings have basically eliminated the Parish Church which has long been a focal point in communities throughout this country. Sadly, one of my own (Catholic educated) sons has left our church for another religion. I do not believe the Church can sustain another blow.

    1. Anyone who has left the Church in recent years has left despite the CLP inspired existing translation. Religious communities have declined despite their embrace of the now dated 1973 ICEL translation. Maybe it is time to consider that a more exact translation will do us some pastoral good. This may not be another blow, instead it might be the proverbial “breath of fresh (Roman) air”.

      1. No, Jack, you have the causality all wrong. Everyone knows that people left the Church because of the simplification of rules for the cappa magna in 1969; and then the exodus was only made worse by the suppression of the order of subdeacon in 1972.

  14. Gregg>>>our parish has grown steadily since its dedication in 1960. It really flourished in the 70’s and 80’s as most did in our diocese. The only time we noticed a change in attendance is after a Pastor molested boys in the Rectory. Of course, the Bishop totally mishandled the situation, causing many to leave. It certainly wasn’t because of the 1973 translation. Provide for us some of this documentation you are referring to.<<

    Gregg, thanks for validating my post…propter… logic! I would concede here and declare you the winner if what you describe were true in general….but it isn't. However If you are not already convinced that the American Church has problems with vocations, schools, losses to other faiths that dwarf those it had prior to ..say…1965, then I won't be able to bring you around with a couple of paragraphs here.

    Do let me point out the huge controversies which have swirled around clerics like Cardinal Wuerl because of all the parishes he had to consolidate, and churches he had to close. I would wager that even your booming diocese has schools which have fallen into disuse (note Leona's post above) and parishes who get their priests from third world countries. To me, in my little world, these are indicators of a serious decline in the American Church's 'output'.

Leave a Reply

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