Bishop Blair on the new translation

Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio speaks honestly about resistance to the new Missal translation in the “Professional Concerns” column of the latest issue of Pastoral Music, the journal of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.

The bishop writes, “One can note the mostly positive and successful reception in the 1960s of the Novus Ordo Missae – perhaps the greatest liturgical change in history – compared to the apprehension and unease today created by those who take a negative view of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.”

Bishop Blair addresses criticism that the new text uses language “not found in common parlance.” He points out that we don’t use language such as “fruit of the womb” in ordinary conversation, but we say this in the Hail Mary without objection. He believes that something similar will happen when we are accustomed to the new translation and have been formed by it.

He writes of the underlying problem with those resisting the new text:

“What then underlies negativity or hesitancy toward the new missal translation? For some it is simply a dogged belief that their views are correct and that the work of others is wrong… All of us are very tempted to be protective of our own work and our views, but in a collaborative effort not everyone can have his or her own way. We have our say, but so do other contributors who have just as much right – and perhaps even more – to shape the final product. In an ecclesial spirit of prayer and humility we work together to make things the best they can be to serve the Church’s unity and growth, even as we are aware than in this world nothing is flawless.

“Some critics of the new translation harbor the suspicion that anything that arises from the hierarchy these days must be a secret plot to undo the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The reality is far different. Pope Benedict speaks of the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ which is so evident in the council documents, not ‘discontinuity.’

“Those who are determined to fight old battles will not cease doing so, and a negative minority can always make life difficult…”

No doubt the readers of Pastoral Music are gratified that the bishop uses inclusive language – “in a collaborative effort not everyone can have his or her own way.” At the same time, readers are probably surprised to read that they were involved in a collaborative effort to shape the final product.



  1. I can’t believe NPM would print such a thing in their magazine. Sounds like they are using the Bishop to scold their membership. It NPM really that out of touch with the people it serves?

    1. It would seem that your only option would be to cancel your subscription and stop reading it.

      The nerve of NPM publishing something you don’t agree with!.

  2. What the bishop is saying seems sensible to me. I don’t use lofty language like “lift up your hearts” and “forgive us our trespasses” in every day parlance, yet I am used to hearing and/or saying such phrases at Holy Mass. And I’m a convert–I’ve only been hearing them for a few years, and they’ve begun to sound normal to me. I’m sure the new translation will be no different. It seems like other converts I’ve talked to view it the same way.

    1. I have always loved lofty language — but the new translation is not lofty — it is linguistic dreck. Bishop Blair is very mistaken if he really believes the new translation can compare with “blessed is the fruit of thy womb” —

  3. The springboard for objections is surely grounded upon the fact that those who responded, be it cautiously or readily to the Vatican II conciliar reforms have been formed by them. Not only do we now pray in our own language: we know ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, adult and responsible. We are indeed God’s holy people, a royal priesthood. We are Church.

    When it comes to the worship of the Church, we must be involved and engaged. We cannot with integrity backtrack to a position of dumb servility.

  4. I, like Fr. Ruff, am surprised that Bishop Blair considers this to have been a “collaborative effort.” Collaborative amongst certain clerics perhaps, but certainly not with the laity.

    1. Was it ever supposed to be a collaboration with the laity?
      I’m asking seriously… what is the basis for thinking that it would involve input from “the laity” …of course, there were lay individuals who involved, but this is different from “the laity”, by which is usually meant the faithful in general.

      1. Jeffrey,

        Without invoking some discussion of the amorphous concept of Sensus Fidelium, I believe you are correct to suggest there is no “legal” reason under the Church’s current governance structure to engage the faithful in any collaborative way on any decision, even decisions concerning the words the faithful will recite during mass. As a practical matter, though, it sure would have made the the bishops’ sales jobs easier in this instance if they had prepared the ground beforehand by at least giving the appearance that the views of the faithful were considered in the process. The hierarchy certainly has the authority and raw power to impose the new translation, but I think it would have been an exercise of real leadership to engage the faithful in some way as to give them a feeling of having a stake in the final product. In my previous career in the military, I had the authority to tell someone to jump and only expect them to ask “how high,” while they were on the way up. What I attempted to do, however, was engage my junior officers, NCOs, and airmen collaboratively whenever possible so as to create a bond of trust so that when I did have to snap an order in a time-critical situation, they would just do it on trust because I had previously demonstrated good judgment and had earned their trust. The exercise of authority and the exercise of leadership are two different things.

      2. Russ,
        I’m not sure that “at least giving the appearance” of collaboration is really a good idea. Having worked for 20 years in a profession (teaching at independent schools) in which real collaboration is valued and often actually practiced, it is easy to tell when we are are being manipulated into thinking we are collaborators when the real decision has been made in advance.

        If I had to chose between the two, I would prefer those who are going to be authoritarian just do it and don’t pretend to consult me unless you really want to know what I think.

  5. Bishop Blair asks what is the source of the negativity towards the language in the new translation. My argument is that, whereas the current translation of the four Eucharistic Prayers have on average 20 words per sentence, the new translation has 35.4 words per sentence. While an occasional long sentence is not a problem, a continuous stream of them is. This is quite simply a practical pastoral matter, which indicates clearly to me that, pastorally, the new translation is not suitable for the purpose. Compare with any other normal discourse you can find. It will effectively shut people out. None of the advocates of the new translation seem to address this very real problem.

    1. I love long sentences if they sing. But long sentences that are going nowhere and have no rhythm are another matter. I take them to be the sigh of the current hierarchical soul.

  6. I agree, and would add this: the syntax of the new translation is an even bigger problem than the long sentences. There are too many long sentences in the forthcoming translation, but worse, the words in those long sentences are in the wrong order, in imitation of Latin.

    Msgr. Moroney points out in his presentations, and in this DVD,, that Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan used very long sentences at times in their speeches. Well yes, but they all spoke good, normal, elevated, idiomatic English. Neither Abe nor JFK nor Regan had Latin syntax messing up their word order.

    Examples of bad English we’ll be getting:
    “as without end we acclaim” at the end of many prefaces.
    “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down…” in EPII.


    1. OK, so would it have violated LA to have, “Therefore, make these gifts holy, we pray, by sending down”? How about “Therefore we ask you to make these gifts holy by sending down. . .”?


      1. Oh, for what it’s worth, I think it’s weak to start with “therefore.” Your second example is better than what we’re getting, I think.

        But getting the word order right won’t solve this. The imitation of Latin syntax is one big problem with our forthcoming text, but it’s not the only one.

        Eventually we’ll have to scrap the new translation and start over with better translation principles. As Ronald Knox said, “You can have a literate translation or a literal translation, but you can’t have both.” I think we’ll need a richer understanding of “faithfulness,” and a stronger theology of enculturation which embraces the idioms of each vernacular without reserve. And of course, original texts in each langauge, as even LA allows for.


      2. No, I don’t think it would have violated LA.

        “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.” (LA 20)

        That is in fair tension with 57a, which says “The connection between various expressions, manifested by subordinate and relative clauses, the ordering of words, and various forms of parallelism, is to be maintained as completely as possible in a manner appropriate to the vernacular language.”

        I share the concern of others here that, in certain places, the 2010/2011 text is unnecessarily imitative of the word ordering in the Latin text.

    2. Father Anthony makes a great point, which is the point that many who DO FAVOR a new translation DO NOT LIKE about the so-called MISSALE MORONICUM, i.e., the 2010 Vox Clara hijacking of the 2008 translation which the bishops had approved and sent to Rome for the confirmatio. Examples of fractured syntax appear on the very first Sunday the new Missal will be used, the First Sunday of Advent:

      COLLECT as translated by ICEL (2008):

      Grant, we pray, almighty God,
      that your faithful may resolve
      to run forth with righteous deeds
      to meet your Christ who is coming,
      so that gathered at his right hand,
      they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

      Look at the twisted syntax we’re getting (Vox Clara 2010):

      Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
      the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
      with righteous deeds at his coming,
      so that, gathered at his right hand,
      they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.


      May the mysteries we have celebrated profit us, we pray, O Lord,
      for even now, as we journey through this passing world,
      you teach us by them
      to love the things of heaven
      and hold fast to what will endure.

      Vox Clara, 2010:

      May these mysteries, O Lord,
      in which we have participated,
      profit us, we pray,
      for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
      you teach us by them
      to love the things of heaven
      and hold fast to what endures.

      As Father Anthony has suggested: look at the “them” in line 5 of the Vox Clara version, and tell us what it refers to. Despite the spin of Vox Clara’s cheerleaders, mitred or still dreaming of one, the only possible antecedent, by any standard application of the rules of English grammar, is “passing things.” And yet the intended antecedent is “mysteries” in line 1. Apart from that: look at the separation of “mysteries” and “profit”.

      And as Xavier Rindfleisch noted in one of the first articles posted on Pray Tell: “This is just Page One, folks!”

  7. What exactly is the “collaboration” that the Bishop suggests? Father Ryan in Seattle is the only attempt I have seen. Certainly Rome and our Bishops offered nothing.

    1. As far as I know, Fr. Ryan never received any reply or response from the officials carrying out the translation.

  8. “The reality is far different. Pope Benedict speaks of the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ which is so evident in the council documents, not ‘discontinuity.’”

    Evident if one cherry-picks the texts one likes. But it certainly was not a major selling point of the Council. Reform was needed. Reform continues to be needed.

    I’d rather hear the Holy Father unpack the notion that Jesus called his disciples to radical commitment. Did Matthew or Zacchaeus continue as tax collectors, gradually dropping down their rates of extortion? Any sign of Peter and John fishing in Acts? Saul signing his old name on the early letters and adhering to the ways of a Pharisee? The woman caught in adultery told to gradually distance herself from her lover? Or Jeremiah only going toe deep in the mud? Ezekiel just shaving his sideburns?

    When reform is needed the saints heard the call to metanoia. The notion that “continuity” is somehow a major tenet of Vatican II is a very convenient, if not ignorant reading of the documents. More like the hermeneutic of obstruction.

  9. No matter what the good Bishop says, bad English is bad English. Making reference to Lincoln, Kennedy, and Regan regarding long sentences is rather irrelevant since those sentences were coherent. Longer sentences were written by Winston Churchill who, as both an orator and writer, certainly had a command of the English language. However, the new translation is just simply poor in many places. Word for word accuracy, disregarding grammar and syntax, does not equal good translation. As I have indicated before, the bishops probably feel obliged to defend the new translation since they approved it. But, did they read it? If they read it and found the English syntax and grammar to be totally acceptable, then many more troubling questions are raised. As for NPM, it seems to be just continuing along the path it has followed with the occasional “bone” thrown to those who want more: to wit, the recent issue that dealt with Gregorian Chant.
    End of rant. ; )

    1. The humourous comment has a most serious side to it. As long as bishops are appointed by the centre rather than elected by the local church, their primary sense of accountability will be to those who appointed them, rather than those to whom they are appointed to minister . The handling of the abuse crisis bears this out.

    2. Bishop Blair may deserve his unfortunate surname.

      I think we should keep a record of all bishops who have praised the new translation and been snide or worse about its critics. They are either fools or knaves — that is, they are either ignorant of the English tongue or knowing about playing clerical power-games;

      I recommend proscription lists.

  10. The grapevine is now saying that there are some US dioceses that have done nothing to prepare for the revised translation and are claiming that they will not be using it. Does anyone know which ones they are?

    Similarly, at least one English bishop is reputed to have told Bishop Arthur Roche, chair of the Conference’s department of Christian Life and Worship, that his diocese will not be changing to the revised translation of the Order of Mass on the weekend of 3-4 September because it’s a “stupid” date on which to begin, not least because the first weeks of September are when many clergy take their holidays because it’s cheaper then than during the school holidays in July-August. NB: He has not said that they won’t be changing at all, just that they won’t be changing then.

  11. “The grapevine is now saying that there are some US dioceses that have done nothing to prepare for the revised translation…”, “…at least one English bishop is reputed to have told Bishop Arthur Roche … that his diocese will not be changing to the revised translation of the Order of Mass on the weekend of 3-4 September…”

    To quote Fr. Endean in a different context…. it is “quite overt” but in this case we are seeing attempts to slow renewal. We’ve seen diocesan resistance to the reform before-does anyone remember Campos in Brazil? The initial ICEL reform took longer in the British Isles than in other parts of the English speaking world. We know that the British Isles did not adopt the existing ICEL RM in 1973 – they took two more years for the full missal.

    1. Point of information: What are these British Isles, Orkney, Isle of Man, Isle of Wight.? I live in Ireland, definitely not a ‘British’ isle anymore than the U.S. is Canadian! We also celebrate the Eucharist in Irish. I believe this too is being ‘translated’ anew. I wonder who in Rome will be able to tell if it is correct. It seems to me these tasks should be left to those who speak these languages as their everyday spoken language.

      1. Well George, Canada is “(North) American”. The Irish Bishops, who definitely speak and celebrate in the language(s) you mention have already accepted the translation. I think they’ve already announced the date for implementation. The existing translation has been criticized for sounding too “American” anyway.
        I for one look forward to implementation day because the new translation expresses our Catholic doctrine more fully than the existing one and it connects the liturgy to the Scripture more clearly than the still existing version. Read the annotated version on the USCCB site (Roman Missal).

  12. The decision to issue LA was made in Rome. The decision to replace the familiar prayers of both priests and people was made in Rome. It took many years for Rome to wear down the objections of English speaking bishops to the proposed changes. The bishops, appointed by Rome, have little real choice but to put the best face on this project. I wish they would refrain, however, from disparaging intellectually honest and justly deserved criticism.

    To expect faithful priests to obediently pray texts that mangle good English is a reach, don’t you think?

  13. Our bishops have shown irresponsibility and incompetence in handling their most sacred duty. They should be fired and replaced with men of some culture and some pastoral sensitivity. If such men cannot be found, let us have women bishops instead. How long do we passively allow these people to make a shambles of the Church and its worship? Shame on them.

  14. “Our bishops have shown irresponsibility and incompetence in handling their most sacred duty. They should be fired and replaced with men of some culture and some pastoral sensitivity. If such men cannot be found, let us have women bishops instead.”

    I’ve always thought the Lady Mariavite bishops were quite elegant, sensitive and devout. Mr. O’Leary, you may very well be right.

  15. “Sorry, what is Lady Mariavite?”

    You may be better off not knowing.

    If you really want to know simply google Mariavite Lady bishop either for text or images.

  16. Regarding “pablum for palliums,” while that might explain Blair’s tripe it does not account for those who are already in possession of palliums and red hats who have bent over singing the praise of the new translation.

  17. The bishop is right. These are yesterday’s arguments from yesterday’s men. The Church has moved on.

    1. “These are yesterday’s arguments from yesterday’s men.”

      The argument about the quality of a text in English is conteporaneous with the reading of the text itself. To categorize is as out of date is simply a ploy of avoidance. But we know all about this trope.

    2. Oh, Malcolm!

      How WRONG you are.

      I’m today’s man and I am using today’s arguments against the new translation method, which is so dated that it’s already yesterday’s mistake.

    3. “The Church has moved on”

      Yes, we’ve seen the Cavalcade of Cardinals in their cappa magnas, and the Pope in centuries-old vestments.

      It sure has moved, but “on”?

  18. Let’s face it. I have no doubt but that most of the readers and contributors to Pray Tell will be behaving just like the the performance artist priests are behaving these days. They will say whatever they want to say. Obedience to their bishop/abbot/prior is another thing lost with the hermeneutic of discontinuity. So over time, there will be shifts of parish membership while people seek a priest to their liking.

    1. “So over time, there will be shifts of parish membership while people seek a priest to their liking.”

      Um, that’s been happening for a long time in places with more than one parish.

    2. You are confusing military obedience and religious obedience. In Hebrew, shema bqol is to listen to the voice of someone.

      Just because a decision has been made by the administrative wing of the church , it does not follow that that decision is beyond being critiqued or beyond being revised. This applies a fortiori when that decision is made without consultation. You have surely heard of the sensus fidelium. Obedience is due first of all to God. To listen to the voice of the Spirit in this controversial chapter of our history is an act of obedience.

      Disobedience occurs when one listens to the voice of the Spirit and then refuses to speak up or speak out, which is, after all, the fundamental activity of prophecy,

      Dialogue and a common search for consensus will help discern the will of the Spirit.

  19. There are people on this blog with diametrically oposing views about the Tridentine missal. Some want to participate in it more frequently while others are appalled by its restoration.

    Perhaps it’s now time to set up a separate group like the various groups of Eastern Rite Catholics. We could have a denomination called ‘Catholics of the Tridentine-Missal Rite. All the faithful and clergy who want to be part of this rite could establish it. It is ikely that the vast majority of officials in the CDWS would transfer to this rite.

  20. Just do nothing. Don’t buy the morally tainted new missal. Continue to say the black do the red as before.

Leave a Reply

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