The New Missal — What Will It Cost?

For the past five or six months, I have been reading articles and discussions here about the new Missal translation.  My interest stems from a deep and long-standing interest in the liturgy –- as a participant, planner, and pastoral researcher -– and from my current responsibility to help implement the change in our parish.

I am struck by the complete lack of discussion about one very important consideration – the allocation of limited resources.  I am not speaking here about the cost of purchasing new Missals, music, hymnals, and worship aids; these are periodically required in any parish.  Rather, I am referring to the costs associated with the time spent in training, catechizing, learning, etc.  Even in this category, some costs are necessary and appropriate – a natural part of ongoing formation and renewal.

However, there is a substantial cost to allocating the extra resources (especially time) necessitated by significant changes in linguistic style, increases in complexity of expression and level of difficulty in proclamation, and the discarding of large portions of musical repertoires.  The cost here is what economists describe as “opportunity cost,” the cost of not being able to do something else with the resources being devoted to this endeavor.

Yes, the changes present opportunities for lots of good things –- catechesis, liturgical renewal, etc. –- but doing this means we’re not doing something else.  It would be helpful to know what priests will devote less time to in order to practice the new prayers; will it be pastoral ministry, homily preparation, relaxation, evangelization, or something else?  In what areas will adults, youth, and children receive less catechesis in order to address the translation changes?  What will choir members have to give up to attend extra rehearsals in order to learn new music?

Of course, good things can come out of the implementation of the new translation, but good things could have come out of an alternative investment of time and energy, and this “what might have been” is properly part of a balanced assessment of the new translation.

To the extent that the nature and scale of the changes to the Missal go beyond what is required to produce an inspired and inspiring new translation, the costs imposed by this choice should be honestly acknowledged.

Jeff Rexhausen is former director of the Office of Planning and Research for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He was also project director and lead author of the 2004 report, A National Study of Recent Diocesan Efforts at Parish Reorganization in the United States: Pathways for the Church of the 21st Century. He currently works at the University of Cincinnati in the field of economic research and is active in liturgical ministry in his parish.


  1. I can say that in my office we have spent close to $15,000.00 in materials, training (conferences), bringing in speakers to give a workshop and salaries of the staff of the worship office working on the Missal Implementation over this fiscal year so far.

    Here is the MasterCard cost comparison:
    Workshop on the Roman Missal 3rd typical edition: $155 dollars.
    Purchasing pew cards and catechetical Roman Missal materials: $300 dollars
    The ability to now know and use “ineffable” in cocktail party conversation: priceless!

  2. Everyone has special intellectual gifts. The notion that most of the laity will comprehend the changes in a corporate and linear manner overlooks the diversity of human cognitive strengths. The trade-offs in time investment will not be the same for person to person and parish to parish. This might actually be a positive development, as those who “click” more easily with the new translation might have more time to help others along or engage in another aspect of parish preparation for the new missal.

    Some priests and laity will take to the new translations easily. Those who have some background in Latin, Greek, or highly synthetic modern languages such as German, Polish, and Russian, might not have that much difficulty with the new translations. These languages frequently use nested clauses and long sentences that are similar to the translation style of the new translation. Those who first or only language is English, as well as those who are bilingual in English and Spanish, might experience more difficulty given the analytic syntax of those languages.

    Also, some people are visual learners and some are auditory learners. Visual learners might profit from reading and re-reading the new texts. Auditory learners might benefit from audio-visual recordings of a priest speaking the Missal texts or (better yet) celebrating the new Missal by indult.

    Different learning styles complement each other. The willingness of parishioners to share their intellectual strengths might minimize any loss of time that might result from a one-size-fits-all catechetical program.

  3. Years ago when I worked for a large mental health agency, I became considered with the frequency of general staff meetings, and especially their quality. So I computed for my CEO the total cost of those meetings in staff time and the cost per minute. Both were sobering figures.

    If we take a parish where 1000 people attend Mass on a weekend, and if the average cost of their time is valued at $10 per hour (opportunity cost), and if each person contributes $10 to the collection basket we are talking about $20,000.

    That amount of money should not produce liturgies that are rated as highest in importance but half way down the list of being well done, as was the case in the Vibrant Parish Life study.

    In thinking about staff meetings, my CEO tended to think only in terms of how much of her time the meeting was going to cost. The same appears to be true about priests who prepare sermons, pastoral staff who prepare the music, etc. We need to think about how much money is being exchanged at weekend liturgies and aim for much higher quality.

    Somehow despite all the fuss about the New Missal positively or negatively, I suspect at the end of the day if we computed the amount of extra time our busy priests will spend per week in practicing these new words, it will stack up to less than one percent of the monetary value of the weekend Masses as calculated above.

  4. I think you glossed over the cost of materials too easily. Yes, printed materials would need to be replaced eventually, but not necessarily this year.

  5. “It would be helpful to know what priests will devote less time to in order to practice the new prayers; will it be pastoral ministry, homily preparation, relaxation, evangelization, or something else? ”
    How many of the older priests, who are only a few years off retirement, will want to be bothered putting time and effort into the changes and prefer just to retire early? In the diocese where I live, about half the priests are over 60 and a significant number are over 70. If we do have a spate of early retirements, then an additional cost of the new translation may well be to exacerbate an already serious shortage of parish priests.

    1. The reality will be that the vast majority of priests will take very little time to practice the words of the New Missal.

      They will think that when they have prepared bulletin inserts and other forms of catechesis that they have done the best they could, especially since a lot of that work can be delegated to others.

      If you ask them now, how much time they are going to spend practicing the new Mass; they will overestimate it, probably by a large amount.

      If you ask them afterwards how much time they have spent practicing the new Mass, the will again overestimate it, probably by several magnitudes.

      If you have them keep diaries of the actual amount of time they spend practicing the new Mass, it will be extremely low.

      I worked for several years in a large mental health center where time diaries were part of the job requirements and transitions for new programs were frequent. Despite all the complaints of how much time those transitions were going to take, or had taken, the time diary evidence showed that very little extra time was spent. People did the least amount that they had to do in order to get the new program in place.

      My guess is that priests and pastoral staff are just as busy as mental health professionals.

      The words will go from the pages of the New Missal to the ears of the pew dwellers without going through the minds of priests or people. The lack of time priests will spend on practicing and the mediocrity of their saying the words will help assure that.

  6. The Bishop of each Diocese should be footing the bill for new Sacramentaries and Worship Aids at each parish.
    Several parishes in our area barely make budget each week.

  7. Meanwhile, almost worldwide, diocesan CFOs are figuring out ways to to keep dioceses from having to declare bankruptcy, diocesan lawyers are strategizing as to how to keep their Clerical personnel dircetors out of jail, vocation directors are busy trying to concoct booster stories to convince us all that the clergy shortage numbers are not as bad as they seem and the Holy Father’s image developers are all at their wit’s end as to how to keep their jobs. Really, the band-playing-while -the- ship-sinks type stories pale in comparison to the kerfuffel about the new translation stuff. What a shame!

  8. You got to love this blog. when we criticise the current English translation, we are told no one is defending it, rather, the criticism is of the lost opportunity of the new translation. Now we are told the new translation will cost too much. So I assume that the complaints about the cost of the lost opportunity of a translation would have been as bitter? Seems to me that the cost is being criticised here only because the translation is not liked. Otherwise, the argument would be to defend the current translation, no? Consistency seems to go out the window in the carp fest.

    1. Would one’s evaluation of the quality of a product be a legitimate criterion upon which to base the judgment that it “costs too much”? Couldn’t someone object to the cost of purchasing Gather hymnals who would not object to the cost of the Adoremus hymnal?

      So, yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. Critics of the coming translation think the cost is too much for this translation.

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