April issue of Adoremus

The April edition of Adoremus, edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock, is available online.


Also reprinted is Russell Shaw’s column, “In Praise of Poets and Liturgists with the Sacramental Sense.” Shaw hopes that the new missal translation will “touch transcendence.” So do I. But he also claims, “Critics of the new translation say they prefer the version now in use — pedestrian, flat, not much removed from everyday speech.” Perhaps it will interest you – when I saw Shaw’s piece over at Patheos, I submitted the following comment:

It’s not quite right that critics of the new translation prefer the text now in use – virtually no one prefers the flat and dismal current text. Rather, many of us prefer the text ICEL created from 1982-1998 and all the bishops approved, but the Holy See threw out. It was much higher quality English – good, idiomatic, poetic, not in forced or stilted Latinate syntax.

Eminent translator Ronald Knox said that you can have a literal translation or a literate translation, but you can’t have both. Dwight Longecker, convert from high-church Anglicanism, has written that the new text “sounds like an eighth grader trying to write Shakespeare.”

I’m all for high quality language and transcendence. But if we want that, we have to get to the root of the problem: the 2001 translation guidelines “Liturgiam authenticam,” imposed by the Holy See with no consultation of bishops’ conferences, ICEL, or even the US cardinal who was member of the Congregation for Divine Worship (!). Chant scholar and liturgical traditionalist Peter Jeffrey has written that LA is the most uninformed document ever issued by the Holy See and it should be summarily withdrawn. These guidelines will never give us good, poetic English.



  1. The proposition that the language of liturgy be sacramental shouldn’t lead us to a language that is not still somehow grounded in or connected to everyday vocabulary, in the same way that sacramental signs are still connected to everyday experience. Bread, wine, water, and oil – though transubstantiated or transcended by grace – are still comprehensible; the bodies of wives, husbands, and ordinandi too. I think of the work of a poet like Auden as being a prime example. He didn’t use all that much high-level vocabulary, but used ordinary words in an extraordinary fashion. Hopkins would be a distinctively RC example (“shining from shook foil” is four very ordinary words in a row, but how extraordinaryily they are used!).
    A lot of the language of the rejected 98 ICEL Missal translation (a huge portion of which could still have been utilized for MR3) seemed to do this. Maybe a better objective for our liturgical language would be ascendant, rising from our everyday, but still part of our everyday through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Shaw doesn’t lose the opportunity to slam those clown Masses and readings from The Prophet, but he admits that these aren’t the central problem, which he frames as follows:

    At bottom, liturgical reform didn’t work so well because “active participation” in liturgy was widely taken to mean staying busy — reciting words, singing songs, shaking hands, doing this and that — instead of seeing with eyes of faith that which liturgy makes sacramentally present.

    This shibboleth is repeated endlessly on the traditionalist/reform-of-the-reform liturgy blogs. I see little evidence of its truth. I remember Masses before 1970 where some people were ‘staying busy’ in different ways – saying the Rosary, for instance, or dozing in their pews. After all, the Mass was in Latin and the priest facing away from the people, so obviously they were ‘staying busy’ rather than ‘seeing with eyes of faith that which liturgy makes sacramentally present.’ Just as obviously, the problem with the liturgical reform is that people can’t stop running about the sanctuary and indulging in near-orgies at the exchange of the peace.

    It is high time for an end to these silly claims and counter-claims.

  3. Mr. Day,
    We are in complete agreement. (I’m one of those RotR bloggers.) My experience with genuine liturgical abuse is almost nil. But when videos of Barney celebrants in the OC hit the blog news cycle, we get the “Chicken Little” spin. I do understand that these aberrations do really occur here, there and everywhere, and some of them are breath-takingly ridiculous. But they remain aberrations, and to misappropriate them to advance polemic would float a lot of blimps, nothing more.
    I, as one RotR “princess”, wouldn’t think of postulating that liturgies at my brother Todd Flowerday’s Newman Center parish are somehow impoverished or deficient based upon his philosophical outlooks on various subjects. And he’s returned the compliment. (The only difference being his blog’s traffic is huge.) I can’t even count my wife as a “follower” of my personal blog!
    I don’t know if it’s just me, but I still hope for more than detente to emerge on these pages and maybe those of Adoremus and Musica Sacra. Cheers.

    1. Liturgical abuses still abound in some quarters. One that I still see outside of Lent & Advent reminds me of some of the rubrical shenanigans we see in the rejected 1998 sacramentary because it involves the Introductory Rites. The abuse I observe involves mixing the penitential rite with the Gloria. During Easter the practice is to sprinkle the people while the Gloria is sung instead of chanting the “I saw water….”.
      Another place where we still see many liturgical abuses occur during retreats. Retreat houses and retreat camps seem to feel unrestricted by liturgical norms or venerable tradition.

      1. Yes, I see a lot of questions about curious liturgical practices in the context of Masses at retreats. I don’t readily see how a lot of the liberties taken with the Mass in such circumstances are matters of pastoral sensitivity, the rationale sometimes provided.

  4. I think the greatest liturgical abuses are not the wild things we sometimes see or hear about, although they make great print, but liturgies that strive to be meaningful and creative, but come off as blah and mundane.
    I think too that even in the worst experiences of the Mass whether in the EF or OF, if one’s belief is in the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion, then no matter how deficient the people who gather and obscure His presence in the two or three who are there, no matter how poorly the Word is proclaimed and no matter how narcissistic or ill-prepared the priest is (all three should show forth some of the “real” presence of Christ) then at least He is truly and “substantially” present at the altar and in Holy Communion. But if that faith reality is treated poorly and irreverently, then what do we have? We have our Catholic faith diminished in the eyes of those who participate in such liturgies. They may become tepid and nonchalant about their faith at Church and in the world. They may even cease to attend Mass and call themselves Catholic, preferring “none.”

    1. The “least” of Jesus being present at the Eucharist is, indeed, a great deal above nothing happening.

      On the other hand, what the study of liturgy is about is getting the most out of the experience, or, more accurately, the ministers who prepare and present the liturgy giving the members of the assembly the opportunity to get ever more out of their participation in the communal prayer.

      That does require presenting the faith richly and reverently and with all the possibilities open.

      It particularly means, as we have often heard about reading Scripture, the ministers need to make themselves transparent to the prayer of the church. They are to be neither entertainers nor aristocrats but servants to the people assembled and the texts they present.

  5. For me, the greatest liturgical “abuses” have been those long and boring homilies that I have had to endure in years. And the worst homilists through the years have been bishops. Sometime I wonder whether a criterion for the purple cloth is to be a boring homilist.

    1. Not exactly, but there are no criteria involving being a good homilist, singer, or presider involved in the selection of bishops.

      Neither are there any requirements about being a good teacher.

      All of this is shameful since teaching and presiding are the essentials of overseeing a diocese. The rest of it can be put into hired hands.

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