German-language translation: Delay and controversy

The German-language equivalent of the Vox Clara commission for translation is Ecclesia celebrans. On February 21st the Catholic International Press Agency (Kipa) reported that the controversial bishop of Chur, Switzerland, Bishop Vitus Huonder, has been appointed to Ecclesia celebrans. Huonder recently instituted training in the 1962 (pre-Vatican II) Mass  for seminarians, removed the seminary rector, and removed a vicar general. Today two other vicars general issued a declaration expressing their concern for the state of the seminary and diocese.   – awr

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The commission Ecclesia celebrans has the task of coordinating the revision of the translation of the Roman missal (ordinary form of the Roman rite) into German. However, the work of this Vatican-appointed commission is not lacking in controversy.

Reservations in Germany

It is the will of the German bishops that the new German-language missal not be essentially different from the text now in use. The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, declared last fall that the current text is already adequate for the Roman requirements for an authentic translation of the Latin text.

The bishops are opposed to changing the liturgical texts well established among priests and faithful through fundamentally new translations when there is no need, endangering their acceptance in parish communities. This holds true even for the words of institution at the consecration. The bishops are for maintaining the theologically correct statement “for all” and not replacing it with the variation “for many,” which is closer to the Latin text.  

Abbott Holzherr: Betraying the Council

The former abbot of Einsiedeln, Georg Holzherr, stated last year in an interview with the news agency Kipa that the Vatican is betraying the spirit of the Second Vatican Council with the commission Ecclesia celebrans. Holzherr, who was responsible for the area of liturgy as member of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, stated that in German-speaking regions they conscientiously strove for a faithful but readily understandable text according to the translation directives in force after the Council. This work was far advanced at the end of the 1990s, only to land in the archives.

Now there are new directives for translation from Rome. Everything must be transmitted as literally as possible. The danger in this is that difficult expressions or long sentences make comprehension unnecessarily difficult.

New Translation

The German-language missal was completely revised on the basis of the 3rd edition of the Missale Romanum which appeared in 2002. The work was done according to the translation guidelines of the 2001 instruction Liturgiam authenticam. Responsibility for the revision lies with the publishers of German-language liturgical books: the German, Austrian, and Swiss Bishops’ Conferences, and the archbishops of Luxemburg and Vaduz.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome established the episcopal commission Ecclesia celebrants for coordination of the work of revision, and appointed the archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, as president.

Source: Kipa.


  1. It is good to know there are some bishops out there with cajones. Would that the USCCB would have the courage to stand up to the curial bullies.

    1. Very well said Father Blue.

      “. . . The danger in this is that difficult expressions or long sentences make comprehension unnecessarily difficult.”

      Oh, you have that problem too do you?

    2. Dear Father B,

      Perhaps you are not aware of this, but the German Bishops’ current position is stronger because their current translation is more rigourously faithful to the original texts than is ours.

      They already have many ‘Latin’ phrases you would probably not like:
      “with your spirit”, “took on flesh”, “through my fault, through my fault through my grievous fault”, “and so my soul shall be healed”, “that you come in under my roof”, and many others.

      Our 1973 translation is very weak.

      1. But few of us are advocating the 1970/1975 translation as the ideal. The present CDWDS is filled with Fr Johnny-Come-Latelys to the Liturgy Tussles, if indeed any of them understand it at all. Secondly, the CDWDS was satisfied enough to leave us with MR1 for the past thirteen years. We could have had a very satisfactory Missal while waiting for MR3.

      2. Todd F —-But few of us are advocating the 1970/1975 translation as the ideal. The present CDWDS is filled with Fr Johnny-Come-Latelys to the Liturgy Tussles, if indeed any of them understand it at all. —

        Todd, I am afraid a few of us are. It is unclear what Fr.Blue is advocating, but he is cheering on Germans who want no change in their current translation. It seems logical to me to assume that he would congruently approve the same course of action for English speaking bishops.

        I haven’t seen enough of Father B’s posts to conclude otherwise. His last post I recall was where he was cheering on Mrs. Roll’s article –remember? –that whole string was, thankfully, deleted.

      3. Yes, I am proud to stand up and be counted:

        The 1973 and 1998 ICEL translations are superior to Vox Clara’s 2010 because they are more proclaimable and audibly intelligible.

        The rules in Comme le Prévoit that gave rise to 1973 and 1998 were created and approved by the pope and fathers who were at Vatican II, and consequently have much more credibility about being in harmony with the Council’s vision of reform than the secretly-produced Liturgiam Authenticam which came 33 years later.

      4. Graham, you sound just like the defenders of the 1962 Missal via Quo Primum.

        Even if what you say is true, the Church isn’t obliged forever by the “Spirit of Vatican II” just like it’s not obliged forever by the “Spirit of Trent”. When it’s Ecclesia semper reformanda, the Spirit blows where it will.

      5. Samuel

        “you sound just like the defenders of the 1962 Missal via Quo Primum”

        I’m horrified that you should think that. Quo
        was issued 441 years ago to European Catholics of another age. The Second Vatican Council is our council for our age. We are only 40 years on from Vatican II and already revisionary forces are trying to undo its liturgical reform, all in the name of reinterpreting the Council because they don’t like what its bishops said and did.

        In your analysis of the work of the Spirit you have omitted a crucial component: the sensus fidelium. If the new translation is welcomed with open arms by English-speaking Catholics then I’ll have been surprised by the Spirit and will freely admit it!

      6. Whether it’s 4 years, 40 years or 400 years, the essential point is the same. A council’s disciplinary norms are only binding until the Church’s authorities decide otherwise. So it is with Quo Primum and so it is with Comme le Prévoit.

  2. Other than the reasons stated, why is Bishop Huonder a “controversial” Bishop? Having seminarians train in the 1962 Rite is in accord with what has been asked of Bishops, and seminary rectors, etc are let go for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they disagreed with the Bishop who, I would suppose, has the ability to let them go.

    Bishop Huonder is an avid supporter of the Extraordinary Form…. that is well known. Is that the ‘controversy” then?

    More to the point… this sounds like pretty much the same arguments that have been made against the English translation.

    1. Bishop Huonder and Chur diocese have been in the headlines a lot in recent weeks in the Swiss media on several issues. For example, he supported a man to be appointed as auxiliary, but there was so much uproar around the appointment that the man revoked his nomination. I think anytime you have vicars general releasing statements of concern about the bishop, it’s fair to call him “controversial.”

      1. anytime you have vicar generals releasing statements of concern about the bishop, it’s fair to call him “controversial.”

        Why would this not entitle the VG to the “controversial” designation? Or the auxiliary-opposing manufacturers of uproar? I ask only for information.

      2. As I wrote, the statements are about the bishop. The bishop is controversial and people are strongly agreeing or disagreeing with him publicly.

      3. So Father Ruff, if I were to spread unflattering stories about you, would that make you controversial, or me?

        Anyway, controversiality isn’t a categorical evil. Jesus Christ is controversial, and it’s still OK to like him.

      4. For Pete’s sake, why are you being so difficult? Controvery is controversy, OK? He’s controversial. His decisions are controversial. People are divided about him. They aren’t just spreading unflattering “stories” about him. They are divided about the wisdom of his actions and words. By any use of the English language, that is what we call controversial.

        I don’t know if you’ve read the German-language press coverage of him, but I get the impression that you want to defend him – perhaps because he’s promoting the 1962 missal? Fine. He’s still controversial.


      5. Chur is an interesting diocese with a long history. Zurich is part of the diocese, but the smaller Chur remains the cathedral city. A previous bishop riled the people enough that the diocese was carved into two, with bishop Haas becoming the archbishop of Valduz in Lichtenstein and Zurich remained as part of Chur. Some tension is inevitable in those situations — imagine if NYC were part of the Albany diocese.Add in the unusual Swiss church state laws, and controversy is normal.

        Add in that Huonder was assistant to the disliked Haas, and thus seemed to erase the ten years of Haas’ replacement, and you get a number of concerned people reacting quickly to Huonder.

  3. “Having seminarians train in the 1962 Rite is in accord with what has been asked of Bishops, and seminary rectors, etc are let go for a variety of reasons.”
    I disagree with this statement.

    As one who works in a seminary, we are not training the individual men in the Extraordinary Form. If their bishop and the seminarian feel that they should be trained, there is an FSSP priest who will come and train them. The class is not credited and is purely voluntary.

    It is not mandatory for the seminaries to train them in this form. We can provide resources to them on where to train, such as FSSP in Denton, NE or St. John Cantius in Chicago or bring in priests who are proficient in the Extraordinary Form. I personally met with an official of Ecclesia Dei after the Motu proprio came out and told him what we are doing and he said we are fulfilling what was asked in Motu proprio.

  4. Actually, this is sad. It seems to me that folks would rather “enforce” the alleged “Spirit” of Vatican II than what the documents actualy said and mandated. It seems to me that the folks who support these dissident German priests are more faithful to the “spirit” than the actual Council.

    1. What post are you commenting on?

      This post is about the undoing of collegiality, which is both the spirit and the letter of Vatican II. That is the abbot’s point. Vatican II did not mandate that the Vatican set up a commission to do translations – it explicitly said that territorial bodies of bishops do translations. What are you referring to?


    2. Actually Michelle, what I find really sad is that this papacy has the propensity to appointment people whose raison d’etre is to deliberately cause trouble and sow confusion amongst the faithful, that’s what i really find sad.

      Instead of appointing people who are bridge-builders Pope Benedict appoints reckers and people who are out to demolish, very sad indeed

      1. Examples? Sure
        German: Mixa, the ultra-conservative who has to step down because of his own history of abuse
        Swiss: Huonder to Chur auxillary to the depised Bishop Haas
        Belgian: Andre Leonard: who stands condemned by the Belgian parliament and CAtholics alike for his statements on sex abuse victims and homosexuals
        American: Raymond Burke to ever-more positions in the VAtican bureaucracy

        there’s a few for you

  5. Ah, I see, they are only a problem if they are conservative.
    The Pope also appointed the Bishop in this Diocese. He refuses to allow a EF Mass , even an occasional one.
    A problem? Yes sure it is. Do I consider him a “wrecker”? No , just frightened , out of touch and misled.

  6. “Ah, I see, they are only a problem if they are conservative.”

    Not at all. There are many conservative bishops who are quite fine. One heads my diocese.

    That it seems most of the misbehaving or controversial bishops are conservative might mean that the Congregation of Bishops is a little off-kilter in their discernment.

    We need more good bishops, regardless of their ideology. Extreme ideology, at this point in time, might be the worst characteristic for a bishop. We’re certainly not getting guys who are ordaining women or getting married, so let’s get honest on the other end, and end the promotion of crazy priests who are unfit for shepherddom.

    1. That it seems most of the misbehaving or controversial bishops are conservative might mean that the Congregation of Bishops is a little off-kilter in their discernment.

      Probably has more to do with what your beliefs cause you to categorize as misbehavior.

      I don’t find it to be the case that “most of the misbehaving or controversial bishops are conservative”.

      1. “Probably has more to do with what your beliefs cause you to categorize as misbehavior.”

        Well, my beliefs would be based on the example of Christ and the counsel of Saint Paul to Timothy. Plus the moral code of Judaism and Christianity.

        It’s also sheer numbers these days. Most bishops are conservatives. It figures that relatively few misbehaving bishops are centrists. I know of no active liberal bishops, at least in this country.

    2. I agree with you on the”extreme ideology” idea. But the tragedy is that Bishops , Priests and faithful whom I would describe as Orthodox, are described as extreme by liberal elements in The Church today.
      I think the saying ” he who marries the spirit of the age is soon a widower ” is one to always keep in mind.

  7. The strange thing about Vitus Huonder is that he was elected by the cathedral chapter in 2007 and confirmed two days later by the Vatican, rather more quickly than say, the current Bishop of Basel who was similarly elected by the chapter in August of last year and was not confirmed by the Vatican until November. At least the system of electing a bishop locally and having the Vatican confirm his election subsequently is better than the system in operation in most other parts of the world. Why is it not more widely practised? The appointment of bishops is the single most important issue requiring reform in the church today.

    1. Such chapter elections happen under political concordats between the Holy See and the State governments established some time ago. There once were many but with European revolutions and ultramontanism they were systematically done away with by the Holy See as supposed affronts to papal immediate universal juridical power. Some (most, all? ) such elections are simply a choice of three candidates proposed by the Holy See – not really a free election by the canons in some sense. Conceivably the Holy See can give you three really bad candidates and say choose…

      1. The major change occurred during the settlement of the Belgian constitution in the 1830s, where a Protestant king was heading a largely Catholic country under a constitutional framework. That became the model for the future, but it’s a broken model. It won’t require a change in doctrine to move beyond it.

  8. Under Benedict XV only one-sixth of the world’s bishops were directly appointed by the Vatican. This suggests that the centralising tendency of appointments happened while Pacelli was Secretary of State, so more recently than major revolutions in Europe and the heyday of ultramontanism. In any event electen by chapter is better than the present system.

    1. ‘Better than the present system’ is not a high bar to clear, I think. Election by chapter at least offers a method to incorporate a variety of local points of view, emphasis on the word ‘local’.

  9. While I find many of B16’s episcopal appointments in the U.S. an improvement over his predecessor, in my view, the current system of bishops being appointed by the Vatican is not only dictatorial but also unbiblical. Those who claim that the church is not a democracy seem to forget the tradition of bishops being elected by the faithful. Only in modern time that the practice of Roman appointment has become more widespread.

    I find it difficult to distinguish the current governing system of the Vatican from that of Egypt, Libya, China, Vietnam, etc. The best one can say about our governing system is that it is a “benevolent dictatorship.” It is depressing to see many Catholics who live under democratic societies fail to recognize and reject this reality. We are so conditioned to believe that Church leaders are “divinely appointed,” so much to the point that we can no longer realize its absurdity: governance without representation is at best paternalistic, at worse, slavery. This is sad.

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