Priests and the New Missal: An opportunity to be embraced, not a burden to be borne

Priests and the New Missal: An opportunity to be embraced, not a burden to be borne” by Bishop Edward K. Braxton, Belleville, IL.


  1. Some additional points:

    1. 1998? Never happened. Never heard of it. This is a weighty oversight, since the 1998 translation is according to Comme le prevoit, very faithful to the Latin, and beautiful English. Critiquing the current translation is like shooting fish in a barrel. In that comparison, even a text as bad as the coming one looks good.

    2. Consultation with experts: Not mentioned is that when Liturgiam authenticam was issued, it received overwhelmingly negative appraisals by leading liturgists and organizations of theologians – e.g. see the scathing criticisms of the Catholic Biblical Association, or the very damning assessment of the liturgically quite conservative chant scholar Peter Jeffrey. It is accurate to say that LA marks the beginning of a great divide between the CDW and the world of academic scholarship.

    3. Not mentioned: the massive rewrite of the final text undertaken by the Holy See (Vox Clara? The CDW?) after the bishops approved their final text. Bishop Braxton writes as if the Holy See approved the bishops’ text, but they didn’t. Any comparison of the two texts – the bishops’ and the Holy See’s – shows how inferior the latter is.


    1. Father Anthony, Your third point took the words right out
      of my mouth. Some terrific points here.

  2. This bishop confuses the Church with the Roman curia. It should be rewritten, substituting “Vatican” for “Church” in many places. Of course that would make the argument singularly less compelling…

    “This would also mean avoiding the use of musical settings in which the composers have changed the words of the texts, for whatever reason, without authorization by the Church. ”

    “The new translations of the Mass prayers are fixed by the Church. Neither we who are bishops nor those who are parish priests may presume to change these texts. Nor may we alter the vestments, vessels and sanctuary furnishings stipulated by the Church for this sacred drama. ”

    And these most annoying little bits, that put the People of God and the Church in near opposition:

    “It will be difficult for bishops to defend priests, parishes or institutions that do not prepare the People of God for the new translation in a timely manner and begin the use of the new Roman Missal on the First Sunday of Advent 2011, the date determined by the Church. ”

    “Now that the translation has been approved, we must all remind ourselves that the People of God have the right to experience the liturgy as the Church wants them to experience it. ”

    (Remember that the catechism gives a threefold definition of the Church: People of God, Body of Christ, and Temple of the Holy Spirit…).

    1. Isn’t the bishop of this VERY conservative diocese using support for the 2010 missal as the litmus test for measuring Catholic loyalty and obedience to the Vatican and the “magisterium”? Is this what the missal is all about, a call
      to arms and for good Catholics to circle the
      wagons in the face of forthcoming attacks?

    2. This bishop confuses the Church with the Roman curia. It should be rewritten, substituting “Vatican” for “Church” in many places.


      Don’t toss this out as though it’s some oversight. This is THE issue… the vision of the Church.

      The Church as an Institution vs. the church as “the people”.

      “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…” makes a great children’s song,
      but the question being posed is whether it is actually what the Church IS.
      There is a significant group who believe in the democratic model… “power to the laity” and all that, and then there is a significant group who believe that such a view is anethema to all that the Church is and has been. There is nothing inconsistent about believing that the Church is the “People of God” as put forth in the catechism while maintaining that the hierarchy, Rome, the Curia or whatever designation you
      may want to use, has the final say over what those “people of God” do or don’t do as members of that Church. That may rub some the wrong way, but that’s the reality.

      To try and square the circle by making a critique of this Bishop’s admonitions by pointing out that it puts “the People of God and the Church in near opposition” is to fail to take into account the very real distinctions of those views, and the significant numbers of Catholics who hold them dear.
      It only puts the Church and the “People of God” in opposition in one particular view of the Church.

      1. There is nothing inconsistent about believing that the Church is the “People of God” as put forth in the catechism while maintaining that the hierarchy, Rome, the Curia or whatever designation you may want to use, has the final say […]

        The extent to which they have the right to decide things is, I agree, a key controversial issue. But calling the Curia “the Church” is flat wrong, isn’t it? And that loose manner of speaking shortcuts the legitimate discussion on the issue of authority and modes of government.

        Personally, given the unending waves of scandalous news about the sexual abuse cover-ups, if I believed the Church was the hierarchy, I would quit. So — yes, it’s THE issue for me too. I reject the false notion that the Church equals the hierarchy, and I care about that dearly.

      2. Sorry – just have to broaden this. VII documents clearly changed the focus so that we start with the “fact” that the church (universal) is the people of God. From that starting point, we have added chapters that drill down to bishops, ministers, etc.

        Agree that setting institution against people of God is counterproductive and misses the point. On the other hand, to define “people of God” as meaning some type of political democracy also corrupts what is meant by People of God.

        Your opinion comes in here as you state: “….while maintaining that the hierarchy, Rome, the Curia or whatever designation you may want to use, has the final say over what those “people of God” do or don’t do as members of that Church. That may rub some the wrong way, but that’s the reality.” Your interpretation is narrow and too limiting. You skip over councils, sensus fidelium, spirit, etc.

        There is a reason folks like Dulles wrote a book called the models of the church – no one model adequately captures what the church/people of God are. Dulles has models from people of God to institution.

        Typically, the best explanations are “both/and” in terms of institution, people of God, etc . Any theologian will clearly state that the church is not the magisterium solely – it is much more than that limited viewpoint.

        There is also a whole history in the church in which “magisterium” meant and was defined as more than just papacy/curia/bishops.

        The criticusm of this bishop’s statement could reasonably be made on the basis that his actions, behaviors, and decisions reveal a very diminished and limiting view of the church – he strays to an extreme which could be called – authoritarianism or, as the English bishop said, his comments come across as “legal positivism” defined as the rule/law is the only requirement.

  3. In re Bp Braxton’s comments: Docility to the Church? While I am not advocating raucous dissent, I think “docility” as an adjective worthy of the People of God is at least dated, if not theologically wrong-headed.
    There is a singular question about the effects of the liturgy that never seems to arise among the Bishops or others discussing the desiderata of good liturgy: Does it lead to an increase in faith, hope, and caritas? Does it draw the People of God closer to the Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God — and in so doing, make us more committed to making it more visible here on earth, even as we await its eschatological fullness in heaven?
    I have no objection to “mystery, sacred and the transcendent.” But what happened to the simple action of Jesus breaking bread with his friends, and to the profound sense of mystery and the sacred that we find in moving more deeply into the imminence of the Risen Lord, present in the midst of his disciples? What happened to the patristic emphasis on the assembly as the Body of Christ, and the eucharist as the sacrament of the Church that is that Body?

    1. Ann, I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I just want to say that I think you really GET translation principles in a sense that gets so frustratingly lost in this whole debacle. It’s rather consoling to see that someone, at least, believes in reconciling dichotomies between liturgy and Kingdom living, awed mystery and simplicity, transcendent and immanent, loyalty and dissent. So thank you: I feel a little less lonely.

    2. “I think “docility” as an adjective worthy of the People of God is at least dated…’

      Then I imagine you must have similar disquiet with Vatican II or at least find it to also be “dated”. Lumen gentium #25 calls us to something quite similar to “docility”. vis-a-vis the hierarchical Church.

      1. Is that what you mean? “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.”

        Definitely dated, pre-sexual abuse scandal. Nowadays it is no longer possible nor moral to have an attitude of blind trust. “Religious assent” must be reinterpreted in the light of the scandal.

    3. Catechism of the Catholic Church p. 2037:

      The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason. They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity.

      Emphasis mine.

      While I’m all in favor of an appropriately nuanced understanding of what docility means, dismissing the term and the virtue it represents is going too far.

  4. Opportunity vs. burden…hmm. Already it has been bandied about that SIAP (Southern Illinois Association of Priests) have members not inclined to use the translation with the bishop purported to be threatening punitive canonical action against any presbyter who might be in disagreement. Maybe that is the price today when one’s bishop is on BCDW and would probably be amiable to “moving on.”

    A bit different point of angst from the article is, “The ‘sacred space’ of the sanctuary is not unlike a stage. Neither actors nor directors, no matter how distinguished, presume to change even one word in the script. They do not casually alter the costumes and stage decorations because these all contribute to the drama.” Really, is this the best a church can do that was once patron of the arts? Maybe its to be some Sunday Visitor version of The Glory of the Lord , but sometimes its just better not to approach an issue if content and meaning are so reduced that its presentation is spurious. When will liturgy and “sacred space” stop being envisioned as a stage?

    1. Thank you for reminding us of the work by the theologian who more than anything has had an influence on the current way of thinking at the Vatican. We might as well mention another part of von Balthasar’s systematic theology, Theo-Drama, in this connection–it is a useful way of understanding and thinking about salvation history, but as to whether liturgy can consequently be “dramatic” in the same sense is indeed a question that bears reflection.

    2. Not to mention that Bishop Braxton has a completely misguided understanding of dynamic equivalency. It doesn’t mean not saying what something really means, but quite the opposite.

      Here I go again, launching into Translation Principles 101: the purpose of a dynamic translation is to convey the same meaning in the target language that the text had in the source language. And since languages have different grammars, semantic domains, etc., a more literal translation (along the lines of Liturgiam Authenticam) will often end up saying something that’s not at all what it “really” means.

      I’m no rabid Rome-basher, but the Vatican could really use a few linguistics consultants.

  5. Is it just me? I can’t get the article to load from the link. Could the Bishop’s website be overwhelmed with visitors?

  6. Interesting – read some history about this specific bishop, his prior diocese – Lake Charles, LA and current diocese, Belleville,IL, and his priests.

    Link to 2008 NCR article –

    Braxton is so far removed from his priests that a professional management firm had to be hired to try to do healing and change management between priests and their bishop.

    Braxton is under fire for numerous sexual abuse scandals; cover-ups (American College of Louvain – he is board director altho it is closing this spring); and legal juggling that has alienated the diocese (Braxton had asked that a victim’s court award be appealed (involving Ken Roberts of Playboy to Priest fame) – he subsequently lost the appeal).

    There have been threats by the priests which have resulted in formal outreach to the metropolitan and the US apostolic nuncio in terms of Braxton’s financial decisions (scandal around tens of thousands spent on renovation of his residence; purchase of vestments using diocesan funds earmarked for world poverty, furniture, etc.).

  7. The good bishop’s article reeks of desperation. The new liturgy is bearable only with the aid of “support groups”, intense prayer for help, cultivating the skills of a good actor, and biting one’s tongue…

  8. Liturgy expresses and speaks ecclesiology. Conflicting ecclesiologies have always been present. Our symbols, rites, ministries, and liturgical books have told the story of what Church is. The fact that what used to be called Sacramentary will now be known to us as the Roman Missal is in my estimation a clear symbol of the Romanization of the Liturgy. The very existence of Vox Clara and their revision of the USCCB’s approved translation is another clear sign that Rome is not really concerned about a more literal translation but perhaps a more centralized control over the prayer of all of us.

  9. in terms of Braxton’s financial decisions (scandal around tens of thousands spent on renovation of his residence; purchase of vestments using diocesan funds earmarked for world poverty, furniture, etc.).
    Similar events with respect to the archbishop’s residence and use of diocesan funds got Cardinal Baum transferred from Washington DC to Rome years ago. Further examples of arrogance and abuse of power involving misuse of diocesan funds by John Paul II’s clones are becoming a smoking gun which some newspapers are looking into now. It may well lead to the next major phase of our international saga of continuing stories of episcopal indiscretions.

  10. “The liturgy committee might use the months before the new Missal to support renewal efforts, such as encouraging the people to gather closer to the sanctuary when they arrive for Mass, assisting lectors in the effective proclamation of the Word of God, making sure the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are properly prepared, and maintaining clean, attractive and appropriate liturgical furnishing, vessels and vestments.”

    I was feeling good to have found such a long passage where I could agree with Bp. Braxton.
    Unfortunately, he almost immediately proved how little he knows about theater.

    Think of good liturgy as being similar to good drama. … However, the script is fixed by the playwright and unchanging, like the unchanging prayers of the Mass.
    The “sacred space” of the sanctuary is not unlike a stage. Neither actors nor directors, no matter how distinguished, presume to change even one word in the script. They do not casually alter the costumes and stage decorations because these all contribute to the drama. … The same should be true for the “drama of the Lord.”

    Only amateur playwrights think their scripts are unchangeable. Rehearsals and out of town tryouts are about constant re-writes based on input from actors and directors and responses of audiences. Subsequent productions change many parts of the script to fit times and audiences. I guess he has never had the opportunity to see alternative settings for Shakespeare. I fear the rest of his opinions have as much basis in reality.

    Mass is dramatic, but to reduce it to “a drama” is to misunderstand both.

    The hushed silence … in the theater as the curtain goes up should remind us of the reverent silence that is needed if we are truly to pray the Mass.

    These are completely different kinds of silence and irrelevant to each other. Mass is not a revealed performance by others. It is communal worship. It does not need silence but vibrancy.

  11. Referring to the “sacred space” of the sanctuary and wanting the silence of an audience awaiting the clerical performance reveal a bishop who has not read SC except to find useful arguing points.

    Such misunderstandings of liturgy remind me of temple priesthoods who took things from people into restricted sacred spaces but reserved a portion for their own support. It reminds me of theocracies and sacred precincts where secret rituals supposedly propitiated whimsical gods. It reminds me that hierarchy means rule by priests.

    Temples and priesthoods have been abolished. We Christians have only one priest, Jesus. Our Lord sent ambassadors of good news. Some of these became overseers of elders who sat in front when the community gathered for the breaking of the bread and give thanks. These are our scriptural terms in English translation rather than transliterated Greek or Latinate devolutions.

    We sisters and brothers of Jesus are not called to be docile to hierarchs. We are called to follow the true way of life lived by Jesus.

    Our leaders should be known for their good examples rather than their legalism or imposition of uniformity.

    Recently, they seem more concerned with consolidating control than spreading good news.

  12. A defense of the new text:

    Complaint: I can’t make sense of those long, fragmented sentences.
    Answer: Let it speak to you… don’t analyze it. Let sentence fragments suggest images in your prayer.

    Complaint: But I have an analytical mind. How can I pray with text that is syntactically wrong?
    Answer: Do not apply the cold rules that legislate the writing of everyday prose. When something in the text is, in your eyes, not as it should be from the viewpoint of English syntax, think of it as poetic license. Most people are less analytical than you are, so it won’t be a problem for them.

    Complaint: But it is not beautiful. It is awkward and clunky.
    Answer: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. People will enjoy hearing elevated vocabulary that will help them form new images and a new understanding of God and of their relationship to Him. We hope that the refined vocabulary will promote the vertical dimension of prayer, that the faithful have a longing for.

    Complaint: But the 2008 version was better! The 1998 version was better! Why are we saddled with an inferior text?
    Answer: Why do you care about texts that were never published? That’s all church politics. We have better things to do with our time than follow the intricacies of fights between various committees vying for influence. In the end the result is all that matters.

    Complaint: What is wrong with the 1973 text that we use now?
    Answer: Besides an excessive de-emphasis of the mysterious and sacral dimension of the Mass, it is also not close enough to the Latin text.

    Complaint: Why does it matter how close it is to the Latin text?
    Answer: For the sake of unity. When people in different countries pray in different languages, the close similarity with Latin will ensure that the prayer of the Mass teaches the same faith, with the same nuances in belief, without emphasizing one dimension in one language and a different one in another. It will help us have a common faith.
    (… continue…)

  13. (… cont’d)
    Answer 2: In addition, the unity is not only geographical but also temporal. But staying close to the Latin, we are ensuring that the essentials of our faith remain the same over time, so that we stay united in belief with the People of God who lived in the past, and with those who will live in the future.

    Complaint: but the Church’s understanding of our faith evolves and grows over time.
    Answer: True, and that’s why the Latin text is regularly updated. Changes have to be done extra-carefully. That’s stuff for the Vatican experts, it’s not for us to meddle with. Doing changes in Latin first guarantees that amateurs will be kept out of it.

    Complaint: But I still really, really dislike the New Missal.
    Answer: Give it a try with an open mind, and let us hope that it will grow on you. In any case, down the line there might eventually be revisions taking into account the complaints of the faithful.

    Complaint: What about the “for many” of the Eucharistic prayer?
    Answer: You have to understand it in a special way. What it means is not what it says. It’s a misunderstanding. Your pastor should catechize you on the matter.

    Complaint: That’s ridiculous.
    Answer: Well, I agree with you, but let’s not let a single unwise word choice get in the way of the renewal of the Mass, shall we?

    Complaint: Also, as a woman, I feel excluded by the non-inclusive wording.
    Answer: “Man” means “man and woman”, “brother” means “brother and sister”. That’s the traditional meaning, as in the Latin and as it has always been. None of the men in the Vatican have any problem with it. The reason why you feel excluded is that you have been unduly influenced by feminist propaganda. You need to work on yourself to re-learn the normal meaning of “man”. Advent or Lent will be a good time for doing that.

  14. My above two comments come from my wondering: is Bp Braxton’s text the best one can do to defend the New Missal? Is there any way to defend it without appealing to arguments of obedience?

  15. It is unhelpful to criticise the new texts from the pulpit. It is equally regrettable that some reform-of-the-reform priests have taken to denouncing the current texts in homilies. A priest determined to welcome the new text should be able to do so without trashing the text we have used for several decades.

    It is fair to use blogs or academic reviews for criticising the new text and the shameful process that led to it. Peter Jeffery was right in labelling Liturgiam Authenticam “the most ignorant statement on liturgy ever issued by a Vatican congregation”, and he used a legitimate channel to do so.

    A few thoughtful contributors to Pray Tell have started to demonise this blog. C Henry Edwards recently referred to ‘the relative handful [sic] regular participants at a certain pretty terrible blog devoted to dissent from all Vatican decisions’. This was on Fr Z’s blog. I guess Henry has stopped posting here. I will miss his comments.

    Fr McDonald writes that

    At a certain unnamed blog that is filled with doom and gloom about the new translation, its [sic] all about how people will accept it as though Catholics are contrary, irrational, narrow-minded pygmies when it comes to the good of the Church and obedience to legitimate authority … They promote that closed circle, horizontal view of Church so typified in modern, circular church architecture that leaves little room for the vertical transcendent acknowledgment of God and openness to Him and His will, as well as humble obedience…. Seldom on that blog do we read anything approximating what would please God, only what will please “man.”

    This cascade of shibboleths is arrant libel and dreadful writing to boot. He can post anything he wants on his blog, but I am surprised he felt no sense of shame when writing this. I found him a thoughtful contributor here and am disappointed that he could write off PT in such a cavalier manner.

    1. How can you answer the very natural question: “Why do we need a new translation?” without criticizing the text we are now using?

      I think that it ought to be possible to point out some defects of the current text without trashing it completely. People should not have to see everything in black and white.

      1. Claire, I was referring to priests speaking from the pulpit. There, I think, the rule nil nisi bonum should apply to what the hierarchical Church gives us: speak positively or say nothing. The same, of course, applies to the 2010 translation. A homily is no place to criticise a text that is being given to the people.

        A blog, an academic article, a newspaper column or letter: that’s another matter entirely. Criticisms of both texts are fair game there.

      1. They should rename “that other blog” something like “The Friendly and Welcoming Face of Roman Catholicism – and don’t forget to use that ‘Donate’ button!”

        Their “Contrast” series and linking of Summorum Pontificum and the Vox Clara Missal is the clear indication that he doesn’t dare compare Vox Clara’s 2010 mess to either the Latin or 2008, and a silent message to the hierarchy, over and over again, day after day, that they don’t have to worry about him – and maybe could start treating him a bit nicer!

        Their “hands off” approach to an obviously defective translation just because the hierarchy doesn’t want it criticized, when they made a lucrative business out of criticizing the old (and official) translation, really shows them up for intellectually dishonest and unprincipled frauds. And for what? The Blog-Master isn’t being promoted off the farm anytime soon.

  16. As Jeffrey tells me frequently, I was probably not clear enough in my earlier post.

    IMO, Braxton is trying to head off continued antagonism between himself and his priests. The new translation will only underline and heighten already existing cracks and differences.

    Braxton needs to have the USCCB support and so, IMO, he is walking the company line – why? he probably expects and anticipates additional negative pushback from his pastors and priests.

    The new translation will be added to the current list of squabbles – financial irregularities; leadership style issues; sexual abuse controversy; etc.

  17. This statement is symptomatic of the whole argument as the comments so far made clearly indicate. When the polit bureau decides, all must step into line whatever the nature of decision. All we need is a Latin rendition of Orwell’s dictum from Animal Farm. “Four legs good, two legs bad” and we will be away. Don’t question, that is disloyal. But don’t they see that many of us have questioned and are, questioning out of a sincere loyalty to the Church that is, in faith, our home? People are hurting and no-one is listening.

    In all charity, we are heading for a very troublesome time that could so easily have been avoided if the 1998 text had remained. Such a pity and a needless cause of sorrow.
    Chris McDonnell UK

  18. It seems that the lower clergy is being called to the same degree of historical elision that is embraced in this editorial. It reminds me of the dear mother portrayed in the recent film “Titanic” who rather than reveal to her children the inevitability of the great ship’s peril tucks them in and reads to them a favorite bedtime story.

  19. Here you go – the latest news from the “Alice in Wonderland” Belleville diocese and their illustruous bishop:

    “….in another blow to Bishop Edward Braxton, Wisniewski’s lawyer Mike Weilmuenster prevailed over Braxton’s barrister David Wells before Judge Lloyd Cueto, who quietly ruled that the diocese must purchase a new security bond to cover the entire $6.3 milion sum.”

    It would appear that this bishop has bigger fish to fry than the new translation. May be his barrister needs to try his case in “latin”.

  20. Take it from Janet: Years ago, a much younger, much thinner Father Edward K. Braxton (well, to be truthful, they were my pre-jowl days too) came to lecture us during clergy days in the Diocese of Providence (and to hawk his new book, “The Wisdom Community of Prophets” or some such thing. I don’t know: I put the cash I had toward dinner at the Oaks), it was either a Manhattan or the book…it was an easy choice.

    Braxton began by taking a verbal swipe at the
    bishop and his auxiliary for not being present: “The condition under which I accepted this speaking engagement was that BOTH BISHOPS would take part WITH
    their clergy.” Sniff, sniff (gee, I thought the conditions were a free trip, free meals, free accommodations and the do-re-me). Very put out. Since the bishops were absent in
    order to attend the funeral of a priest’s mother, THAT did not go down well with the brethren. He could not have been more arrogant or taken with himself. Since he left no time for questions at the end of the morning presentation, the
    moderator of the study day suggested that maybe we could talk with Father Braxton informally over lunch and pose our queries (so eager were we to become part of his “Wisdom Community of Prophets” . . . yeah, right). Father Braxton
    whispered in his ear and the embarrassed moderator quickly corrected his suggestion, “Oh, I’m sorry, Father Braxton will not be dining with us. Well, maybe later in the day.” Turns out Father Braxton didn’t eat with the hoi polloi
    and had to be fed in a separate dining room. Oh well, didn’t matter. Most of us cut out at lunch and somehow never made it back (happy hour at the oaks). I remember a few years later when Wilton Gregory beat him to bishop. That was sweet!

    So, it is understandable why his own clergy have absolutely no use for him. Braxton has a long history of taking no prisoners and personifying the who idea lf arrogance in the clergy.

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