Letters to The Tablet about the new missal

This week’s print edition of The Tablet has four letters about the missal translation, three of them critical of it. Here is one of the critical letters.

As a former French teacher who also studied Latin for 10 years, I would not have let a pupil get away with the obtuse “new” translation that is to be foisted on us. Translation has two distinct steps. First, you have to understand, if possible, what the original meant to the people who wrote it. Then you have to express that meaning in the structures and cadences of your own language. European Union documents are a dire warning about leaving out the second step. Although English uses thousands of words from other languages, its structure is northern European, not Latin-based, and Latinate usages do not sound natural. Flowery language to the modern English person sounds insincere and antiquated, not a short cut to solemnity. I heard one defender of the Latin Mass say that he liked not understanding it properly, “because it was more mysterious.” This is religion as mumbo-jumbo, not as a vital way of life. The German bishops have politely rejected the Vatican translation, pointing out that they as Germans best know what the German language of worship should be. Can the English bishops not find means to do the same?

Jenny Tillyard
Seaford, East Sussex

Pray Tell reader Chris McDonnell writes to tell us that his letter to The Tablet is available online in Letters Extra:

The continued discussion in The Tablet of the issues surrounding the new translation of the Missal is to be welcomed. Without this steady pressure and concern from various sources the laity would still be largely ignorant of the impending difficulties. Following Fr. Philip Endean’s recent Tablet article, “Worship and Power,” his letter (November 6) summarizes succinctly the confusion we now face. After detailing the significant issues, his suggestion that we remain with the 1973 text and effectively start again, drawing on the ICEL and the recent work, is a practical way to move forward. There is still a startling silence from our hierarchy who should by now be aware of the real disquiet felt by many of us, yet have so far done little to help resolve our concerns.

Chris McDonnell


  1. Totally agree on both letters! Let’s pray that our bishops in the English-speaking world would take the cue from their German counterparts and put a halt to what would further divide the Church. Their silence in this issue is quite disturbing.

  2. I daresay I know more “defenders of the Latin Mass” than the writer quoted above, to whom the suggestion that they like “not understanding it properly” would be frankly offensive.

    And — since we’re talking about attention and sensitivity in English usage — I think she means to say not “obtuse” but “abstruse”.

  3. No, the writer did not criticize the Latin for being abstruse, which is not what is wrong with it. “Obtuse” is exactly what a teacher would say about the student (and by extension the translation) who would present such bad work. The student simply has not grasped the nature of translation and how to respect the native genius of the target language.

  4. The bishops’ silence more and more looks like a confession of guilt. They know that the buck stops with them.

    Moreover, those they have successfully convinced of the worthiness of the new translations will feel betrayed if the bishops now summon up the resolve to tell it as it is.

  5. I am still at a loss as to whether or not this particular blog belives in the saying lex orandi, lex credendi. It seeems to me that the blog is fosetering some sort of rebellion against Liturgiam Authenticmam and any steps to usher in the reform of the reform.

    The current translation is flawed and lacks any of the beauty, transcendence and majesty of the Latin original. The fact that the CDWDS put the skids on the 1998 translation of the Roman Missal should give us an indication that Rome was not going to tolerate more of the same tawdry stuff. We have a bad translation right now. we have composers who right tawdry music and take liberties with the texts. At least the manhandling of the official prayers of the Church should come to an end. Those who are wanting to derail the translation should take a good hard look at themselves and examine what their true motives are.

    1. Michelle, before you call the 1998 translation “tawdry” you really should read some of it, which you evidently have not done. It’s far superior to 2008 or 2010. In fact, many people consider that it was the answer to the problems of the earlier translation. It was also approved by canonical vote of the English-speaking bishops’ conferences before Rome pulled it.

      Also, consider the fact that lex orandi, lex credendi doesn’t mean Rome (or the CDWS) is always right. It’s touchingly naive of you to assume that Rome is always right, but it’s also a false consciousness, and no part of faith. In fact, the determination to hold to a false consciousness when you know the truth to be otherwise is actually a sin.

      As for “fostering some sort of rebellion,” I’m afraid the shoe may be on the other foot. Here you are tacitly approving the “rebellion” that caused the smash up of due process (which was being carried out in a collegial and open manner), when because of political machinations the approved 1998 translation was pulled. Or didn’t you know that?

      In sum, kindly stop calling people disloyal who oppose this translation. It’s just unfair.

      1. “In sum, kindly stop calling people disloyal who oppose this translation. It’s just unfair.”

        Indeed, unless one is willing to call Fr Z equally disloyal for his slavish self-promotion in attacking MR1, one treads dangerously close to hypocrisy. It might be that Liturgiam Authenticam deserves a rational and intellectual defense. But name-calling its critics would be a very weak approach in a serious conversation.

  6. Rita,

    Not everyone accepts your premise about the 1998 translation and large numbers of Catholics agree that the now shelved 1998 Sacramentary took too many liberties with the Latin originals, If you want to see where the problems were in the 1998 translation read LA again. No one says that Rome is always right about everything but the more relevant danger evident to me is the hermeneutic of suspicion toward the Holy See that we see from some. I do wonder if you would deem Archbishop Lefebvre or his fellows to have been disloyal in their opposition to the reformed rite of Mass after 1970? Are more traditionalist clerics disloyal when they refuse to use the Pauline ordo today or when they refuse to concelebrate on Holy Thursday. In terms of rebellion, clearly the traditionalists are on more solid ground than any cleric who refuses to use the translation promulgated by his bishop after Advent 2011, especially now that we know that the 1962 RM was never abrogated (SP).

    1. Jack,
      I am glad you acknowlege that Rome can be wrong, but sorry that you regard the traditionalist movement of SSPX a good illustration of it.

      When you say “large numbers of Catholics agree” that the 1998 translation was fatally flawed, where are you getting your data? Please share the source, because as far as I know 1998 was never published and “large numbers” never had the chance to see it.

  7. We can begin with the bishops who recognized the translations produced following the dictates of LA and lay groups like adoremus who’ve long championed a more accurate translation of the post V2 RM. Quibbling about numbers and definitions of “large” seems unhelpful to me but the consistent drop in Mass attendance since the introduction of the existing translation indicates a significant non-reception to me. Again, the drop off seems to be most severe in those places where it was most zealously embraced, e.g. certain religious orders.

    I noticed that you did not respond to me query about a certain reluctance to accept the existing OF on the part of a one late French archbishop & other traditionalist clergy juxtaposed to those clerics who seem similarly reluctant to accept the new translation approved by the same Holy See today.

  8. Yes, you are quibbling. You also are misrepresenting me when you suggest in #10 above that I said 1998 was”fatally flawed”. You are also avoiding the substance of my point which was that you spoke too broadly when you said that the 1998 translation is superior. By what standard? Certainly not by LA’s standard. It would have been better to say that “some” people or even “many ecclesiastical professionals suggest” than to presume that others accept the premise because the contemporary standard has to consider LA. Large numbers of Catholics do say that we’ve waited long enough:
    Of course, truth does not rely on plebiscite.

    1. Oh, so Jack, you are not saying that the 1998 translation was fatally flawed? Sorry to have misunderstood you. What then did you mean?

      When I said that the 1998 translation is superior, I was (quite obviously) saying what I think. Many people on blogs say what they think. It was you who spoke of “large numbers” but evidently without any data. The petition you cite does not concern the 1998 translation.

  9. The petition does concern the principles that made the 1998 translation deficient according to contemporary norms. Data…you were provided with a reference to groups like Adoremus and you said that wasn’t enough, then you were provided with nearly 5000 signatories to a petition agreeing with the principles laid down in LA and the need for the new translation replacing the 1973 translation and displacing 1998, now that is not enough. I guess that we will have to agree to disagree.

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