America on the missal translation

America magazine has consistently given us thoughtful contributions to the missal problem. “For you and for who else,” for example, by Fr. Paul Philbert in the January 3rd issue. Excerpts from his conclusion:

The new English translation of the liturgical texts, which some claim to be more accurate and more faithful, is in fact expressed in English that is stilted, verbose and (as in the present case) theologically inadequate. …

In general, the new Missal’s language is of no help here. At a conference … the presenters offered as an example of a supposedly significant improvement in the translation of the Mass the following Collect (for Dec. 17):

Filled with the divine gift, Almighty God,
we beg you to grant our desire that,
enkindled by your Spirit,
we may blaze like bright torches
before the face of your Christ when he comes.

The Latin teacher … might well say to the translator, “Come on now, you can do better than that. Who talks like that?” Well, it appears we all will have to in a matter of months. Unless…

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The current issue of America has another important reflection, “Bringing Liturgy to Life” (subscription required). Steven P. Millies suggests that big risks are involved in using a “sacral vernacular” different from “everyday speech.” He writes,

If parishioners are aliented from the action of the Mass by lanugage that seems strange to them, then the church risks encouraging Catholics to isolate their faith from their lives at work, at school, at home and in the public square. …

Catholics in the United States have spent a long time climbing out of a ghetto imposed by an immigrant past. It would be a shame if the coming approach to liturgy became a new ghetto of the church’s own choosing, one that encloses us in a language so precious that we hesitate to use it outside the church.

Clearly Millies is talking about deep connections, not superficial cause and effect. We all know about Dorothy Day and many others who did great things in the social realm, nourished by the Latin liturgy. Of course it’s possible. Millies’ important question is whether the new translation could foster, unintentionally, a message that the ‘holy’ is to be kept pure, untainted by the modern world.

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Keep it up, America. Why do I have this feeling there will be more coming? As in, February 14th  issue, “Signs of the Times”? Sometimes one gets these funny feelings.

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Let’s return briefly to the conclusion of Fr. Philibert’s article quoted above. What do you suppose his last word means?


  1. +JMJ+

    Unless… the people with the power to legitimately revise the translation come to their senses and take seriously the comparative analysis put forward by X.R. (or whoever it is).

    As for Steven’s article, I don’t see why a religious vocabulary needs to be regarded as an obstacle to evangelization and daily witnessing to Christ. Otherwise… how long will it be until we are forced to give up words like “Eucharist” and “sacrament” and “ordination”, and other such terms?

    Do parents speak baby-talk to their young forever, or do they teach them big words and what they mean?

    1. Jeffrey

      For me, religious vocabulary isn’t the issue really.

      But English syntax that mimics the Latin and makes the Mass ridiculous sounding is a huge problem.

      We are in effect violating the dignity of the Mass – committing very ironic and quite unintentional sacrilege – by making a pompous joke of the English language used in the Mass.

      1. +JMJ+

        Not having access to Steven’s whole article, I cannot tell if his issue is with religious vocabulary or with the peculiar syntax of the translation.

        Whether this is sacrilege or not, I don’t know.

  2. In another thread, Bill deHaas characterizes a diocesan presentation on the new translation as “a sales job.”

    That’s because it is.

    Everyone involved with the liturgy on a professional or academic level knows, and may even have been told by the people producing the materials, that the principal purpose of the missal preparation catechesis is to insure smooth reception . . . by the clergy! Almost no one is concerned about “the folks” getting used to “the people’s parts,” They did in 1964 and again in 1969, and will this time, too. The same number will “leave the Church” in 2011 over “consubstantial” as left in 1964 when “Lord, have mercy” replaced “Kyrie eleison.”

    But the clergy are another story. Clergy fans of “high church” tone and style, or Latin, will enthusiastically embrace whatever replaces what their blogosphere gurus describe as “lame-duck” and “dumbed-down.” These believe (without having seen) that the 1998 version was just the current text more radically neutered. But enough of the clergy know what all the professionals know: the translation’s history. It’s a history of bare-knuckled, backroom ecclesiastical politics, a saga of clerical ambition and score-settling, a tale of secretly drafted authoritative documents, then compromise and contradiction of the same. And most of us know the names of the players. At first, opposition was dismissed as liberal ungraciousness in defeat. But as draft after leaked draft revealed gaffe after embarrassing gaffe, and ecclesiastical bureaucrats swiftly terminated the services of faithful and erudite scholars who had worked on the translation but dared question last minute anonymous revisions, an inevitable conclusion formed in many clerical minds: such a deeply dysfunctional process could only produce a seriously flawed product.

    That’s the real problem.

    Francis Thompson expressed it this way in The Hound of Heaven: “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

    1. These believe (without having seen) that the 1998 version was just the current text more radically neutered.

      Because you can read their minds or do you have some evidence to back up what is otherwise a slander.

    2. 1. The accusations are that 1998 is a) inaccurate like the current translation; b) more radically “inclusive” than the current translation.

      2. You can read 1998 in its leaked form here, there, everywhere online or at Wiki-whatever.

      3. A reading of 1998 by anyone familiar with the Latin reveals it to be extraordinarily faithful to the Latin and nothing at all like the current translation.

      4. Wherever the Latin has “Pater,” the 1998 renders this “Father,” and “Pater sancte” as “Father most holy,” which the forthcoming translation also opts for since “Father holy” doesn’t work in English and “Holy Father” sounds as if you’re speaking of or to the Pope.

      5. The original collects, however, based on the Lectionary scriptures of the given Sunday or Feast, very frequently use “Father” if God the Father is so referred to in the scriptural text of the day. Hardly a radical inclusivity.

      Hence my conclusion. With which you are free to disagree. Without being fired, since this isn’t ICEL and I’m not Vox Clara.

      But easy it does it with the “slander” routine, please. I’ve read YOUR pontifications on this blog, and you’re hardly in a position to serve as anyone’s ecclesiastical tribunal or examiner of conscience.

      1. “Hence my conclusion.”

        Hence your conclusion?

        You argued that either “Clergy fans of “high church” tone and style, or Latin,” or “their blogosphere gurus” (it’s somewhat ambigious which is “these”) “believe (without having seen) that the 1998 version was just the current text more radically neutered.”

        Can you provide any evidence that they believe this? Let alone that they believe this without having seen the 1998 version. If you can’t, then you’re slandering these priests and blog writers.

        This has nothing to do with whether or not the 1998 version is or is not more or less radically inclusive or more or less accurate in translating the Latin, it has to do with your accusations of bad faith or negligence on the part of supporters of the new translation.

        If you have criticisms of what I’ve written, feel free to make them, but simply asserting tu quoque is not an argument, but a fallacy.

      2. Are you familiar with the history of the new translation?

        Have you tracked its gaffes and revisions, the critiques and subsequent firings?

        Oh, I’d say there’s plenty of bad faith and negligence to go around, not among the supporters necessarily, but apparently with the producers.

        But I’ve got a swell idea: how about we both get off the computer, forget about the implementation of the new translation, and see what we can each do about implementing Matthew 25:35-36 in our separate (Deo gratias) corners of the planet?

        Have a nice life.

  3. But America, we have the example of the living sacred vernacular used in our own Eastern rites, the living vernacular used by traditional Anglicans might also be mentioned, if millions of Eastern Catholics can worship in joy & peace with an elevated vernacular than we Latins can do it too. Certainly America magazine should agree that the educated thinking Catholics of today can handle elevated language (big words) in their liturgy.

    I wonder if there might be something deeper that bothers these writers about the new translation that is being left unsaid. If not, I think they would have expressed concern about what they might presume to be similarly “stilted & verbose” (big words) translations used in the Catholic Eastern rites and the millions of Catholics who are subjected to what I fear America might presume to be “theologically inadequate language” in their parishes.
    More seriously, however, I am concerned that the writers difficulties are with the text of the Roman Missal, not its translation. Might this be the result of years of poor formation provided by the old ICEL translation?

    1. Jack, do you think that when someone says “elevated language” it means big words? Similarly, when someone says a text is verbose, is it “big words” again?

      You see, I would say these are different things. Verbose is the excessive use of words to say something which could be said in fewer. It’s opposed to concise or elegant. Elevated language can of course include big words, but in this case, perhaps what is being pointed to is the problem of obfuscation, as opposed to clarity.

      Your final point about having problems with the text of the Roman Missal itself is a vexing one. Many, many Christians have problems with the psalms in their literal entirety for instance, such as the end of 139. In liturgical use we suppress those verses. Does this mean the people who have a problem with the text, as it stands quite literally with no verse omitted, are not true Christians? In ways we seldom acknowledge, the task of translation is one of building bridges outward, to many people who would have a poor or antagonistic relationship to a text as it stands.

      Would it be a problem, for instance, if an English speaker loved the English translation of Hebrews in the New American Bible (before its latest revision) — which makes “sense” of some difficult passages — better than the more literal one now approved for liturgical use, which is awkward and impenetrable in parts? I’m not sure it would.

      1. In liturgical use we suppress those verses.

        In some liturgical use. But they’re still inspired scripture and some rites of the church (and forms of those rites) still use them.

        If you have a “problem with the text” the gravity of this depends on the nature of your problem. If you hold that they’re not inspired, you’re still a Christian, but you’re not an orthodox Christian.

      2. “If you hold that they’re not inspired, you’re still a Christian, but you’re not an orthodox Christian.”

        Good point, Samuel.

      3. Samuel Howard touches a neuralgic point which Vatican II shied away from. Leo XIII insisted that every corner of Scripture was inerrant and inspired (rapping Cardinal Newman on the knuckles for his claim that the obiter dicta of Scripture could be considered not inspired). But how can we say bloodthirsty texts about bashing Babylonian babies heads against the stones are inspired? We know that such practices are common in genocidal wars. Can be really think God blesses them? Is Scripture not in moral error here and in countless other places suchs as Numbers 31 and 1 Samuel 15. I propose that the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture reside in the prophetic and prayerful use of Scripture by the community of Christians; who must indeed select which texts to highlight, which to consigen to decent obscurity.

      4. +JMJ+

        Some of the founding fathers of the United States favored a miracle-less Gospel. Is there an expurgated version of the Old Testament, without the gannet— I mean, without the violence carried out by Israel? Is there an abridged New Testament without the “slaying in the Spirit” of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5?

      5. The “problem” goes back a lot further than Leo XIII. You have to grapple with St. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice”.

  4. From Cardinal Wuerl’s pastoral talk this week about “civil discourse: speaking truth in love”:

    “Someone once described a “gossip” as a person who will never tell a lie if a half-truth will do as much harm. When we listen to news accounts or read what is presented in the print and electronic media, we are too often reminded that spin, selecting only some of the facts, highlighting only parts of the picture, has replaced too often an effort to present the facts — the full story. We all know the tragic results of gossip against which there is little or no defense. In an age of blogs, even the wildest accusations can quickly become “fact.” Gossip is like an insidious infection that spreads sickness throughout the body. These untruths go unchallenged because the persons who are the object of the discussion are usually not present to defend themselves, their views or actions.

    Irresponsible blogs, electronic and print media stories, and pulpit and podium people-bashing rhetoric can be likened to many forms of anonymous violence. Spin and extremist language should not be embraced as the best this country is capable of achieving. Selecting only some facts, choosing inflammatory words, spinning the story, are activities that seem much more directed to achieving someone’s political purpose rather than reporting events. One side is described as “inquiring minds that want to know” and the other side as “lashing out in response.”

    (Whispers in the Loggia has the complete address)

    Post this to respond to both comments to this blog and to the liturgy director who gave the presentation to the DRE. Simplistically, there are always two sides to an issue. In listening to the presentor’s talk, one can easily see the “spin” – use of off hand stories to minimize questions/concerns; marketing techniques such as the little story comparing the 4 NZ bishops votes as equal to all of the US conference votes; his off hand dismissal of bloggers, writers, even…

  5. cont….

    his casual dismissal of academics/experts as not having much to do with this new translation….”remember, we are not going backwards”
    Sorry, using Wuerl’s words – too many of his examples sound like “half-truths.”

    As Cardinal Wuerl states: “….Selecting only some facts, choosing inflammatory words, spinning the story, are activities that seem much more directed to achieving someone’s political purpose rather than reporting events. One side is described as “inquiring minds that want to know” and the other side as “lashing out in response.”

    Yes, that can simplistically be applied to either side but it should cause the church to pause rather than plow ahead as if the concerns are invalid.

  6. Can’t help but think this is all a tempest in a teapot. Advent will come and folks will have the same challenge with this that they do remembering to change the year when writing checks.

    1. “this is all a tempest in a teapot.”

      Not for the priests who have to pray and proclaim the new words.

  7. I personally don’t have a problem with “elevated language”. My problem with the translation is bad grammar. How do we reconcile ourselves with the bad grammar and awkwardness with our people, who aren’t idiots, and more importantly, how are we going to teach our kids good grammar when the language they use in liturgy is poorly formed. Can’t we get an elevated text that meets basic grammatical rules for the English?

  8. It may be the right time to insert this “old” link to a prior blog on PrayTell:


    How will the new missal serve to restore a sense of mystery to the sacred liturgy?
    Complicated sentence structure will make it a mystery what a pronoun might refer to, or which noun might go with the verb.
    What, then, is the primary reason for accepting the new missal?
    Obedience to authority apart from narrow considerations of competence or rationality.

    What can one expect to gain by accepting the new missal?
    The obedience proposed above is a rich source of grace. It is precisely in this sense that the new missal will contribute to the sanctification of clergy and lay ministers.

    What attitude on the part of clergy and lay ministers will be most helpful in the implementation of the new missal?
    A desire to serve the People of God by making the best of things, no matter what.

    Is that last answer intended ironically?
    No; it is, rather, the most serious response here given.

  9. The major problems with the original ICEL were theological – and mainly present in the US Creed – but not across the Atlantic. “One in Being” is in no way congruent with homoousios and can be made to accommodate several Christological heretical positions [whereas ‘Of One being with the Father’ is more dogmatically precise than even consubstantialem], ‘incarnatus’ is not ‘born’, ‘factus’ is not ‘became’. It’s very disappointing such recklessness was permitted.
    Had the US adopted the British/Irish ICEL – many of the minor issues over non-literal translation might not have been enough to lead to this.
    Yes the new translation is stultified – but you have only yourselves to blame.
    Perhaps you might prefer the normative language of the ordinary and extraordinary forms?
    Latin! [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #36,1]

  10. Bravo, Paul Priest.
    Never in my life have I seen this level of whining and sniveling among our enlightened progressive brethren.
    The wailing almost makes us forget that
    a. The ancient Liturgy was thrown out virtually overnight without a mandate from Vatican II, and then illicitly suppressed for 40 years– without a single thought about the effect it would have on the faithful.
    b. If a proper translation had been made and adopted in the first place, this one would not have to be implemented.
    For the love of God (and I mean that literally)–
    Bishop Trautman, various Irish bishops, Fr. Ruff, et al :
    Please grow up and do what the Church asks you to do. This is not a democracy. It is a Divine institution led by the Holy Spirit through the See of Peter. Man up, stop belly-aching, be obedient, walk the walk. Or feel free to walk elsewhere.

  11. Hey Chris, you’re on a roll with simple answers to complicated questions tonight!

    I’m really disappointed with the anonymous revisers of Vox Clara. At a time when the Church needs unity, they took the translation prepared by the newly-reconstituted ICEL in strict conformity with Liturgiam authenticam and the Ratio translationis and approved by all the English-speaking conferences of bishops and revised it, mistranslating the Latin in a number of places (watering down the teaching on virtues vs. vices as set forth in the Catechism and on Christ’s eternal Lordship) and badly botching English grammar and syntax in countless places, till so much ridicule over the leaked version caused at least some corrections to be made.

    When Fr Ruff called attention to these problems, first privately, then when no response was forthcoming (same as happened to Cardinal George when he asked for clarification of the new Grail Psalms, which miss Vulgate references in multiple places) on the Pray Tell blog, he was fired. Same thing happened to Fr Griffiths in the UK who had done years of work on the translation and had been sent to many dioceses by the bishops to introduce and support the new translation.

    So, all things considered, Chris, who’s more responsible for “sowing division and disharmony” and “harming the mission of Holy Church?”

    Maybe all the answers aren’t as simple as you’d like them to be.

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