Yesterday’s Language

Because I affirm the unity of the body of Christ, I consider that the health of one arm affects the entire body. Thus I am either strengthened or weakened by the worship style of other Christians. For decades I’ve worked as a lay Lutheran toward making the words of Christian worship communally approved, biblically inspired, theologically alive and masterfully crafted. Given these convictions, I say with sadness that the new English translation of the Roman Catholic Order of Mass, mandated by the Vatican to be inaugurated this Advent, wounds not only many of my Catholic friends but also me.

Let me apply these four goals not only to the forthcoming Roman Catholic rite but also to texts used by many Protestant churches. …

Read the rest of “Yesterday’s Language” by Gail Ramshaw in Christian Century here.


  1. I think that one of the major driving forces of the revision of the Mass after Vatican II and certainly taken into account by Pope Paul VI in approving the new order of the Mass was a desire for the reunification of the Church with classical Protestantism as well as the Anglicans. By classical Protestantism I think of Lutherans and Calvinists. In the early days after Vatican II and through perhaps the 1980’s this ecumenical euphoria was a driving force. However since that time, it appears that Protestants keep moving further away from Catholics in major issues of morality and doctrine as we tried to adjust and move closer to a consensus with Protestant in their classical reforms. I think this has led many Catholics to resent the sacrifice of Catholic identity in Catholic worship to have some semblance of unity with classical Protestant worship when in reality the doctrines diverge in many ways with each other and more so today than ever. A recovery of Catholic identity in worship occurs out of a more realistic expectation about Christian Unity and that superficial alliances are less important. The Anglican Ordinariate and maybe one day a Lutheran Ordinariate seems to be a more realistic way toward Christian Unity that does not demand rigid uniformity in language or style of the Mass. Certainly this is also true of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy.

    1. I think that one of the major driving forces of the revision of the Mass after Vatican II and certainly taken into account by Pope Paul VI in approving the new order of the Mass was a desire for the reunification of the Church with classical Protestantism as well as the Anglicans.

      I think way too much has been made of the remarks of Paul VI on this. If one looks at the suggestion for liturgical reform of the 40s and the 50s it seems pretty clear that very different motivations — largely having to do with intra-Catholic issues — were at work.

      1. I don’t know how much of a hand Paul VI had in the actual reform of the Mass as it was given to him by a group who were trained in the history of the liturgy and striving to respond to SC. However, to acknowledge that this group also had an ecumenical dimension in mind in revising the Mass and that Paul VI was sympathetic to it is important. That is not to denigrate the process or the decision and certainly Vatican II’s desire for dialogue with other Christians, with non Christians and with the world in general all contributed to a “noble” desire for a form of the Mass that many more people could find “intelligible” given their culture, language and sensibilities.

      2. On every fifth Sunday of the month the Catholics and Anglicans of our country town unite for a combined service. It takes the form of a Liturgy of the Word and both myself and the Anglican Minister (married lady with two teenage chidlren) give homilies on the readings. The basis of our unity on that day is faith in Jesus. He alone is our Lord. The content of our message is: love one another and bear each others burdens. Unity of theology, doctrine or authority is many years away and probably will never happen. Classical Anglicanism to me means high church ultra conservative attitudes, which are more Catholic than the Catholic Church. It is not a basis for unity and can never be so. What we have in small united services like ours is probably all we will every get.

    2. On a historical note, I’m not sure what you’re pointing towards. Certainly on the ordinary texts, what happened was that the Lutherans, Anglicans, etc. left behind what had been their classical English usage (like “And with your Spirit”) to follow the RC lead for the sake of unity. Remember, the LBW is a 1978 publication, the new Book of Common Prayer is 1979.

      In light of that, it would seem that what happened is that we (RCs) made changes, for the sake of unity they followed our lead, and then we declared that they were too protestant sounding, and needed translations that were different.

      Max Johnson has spoken on this history, I believe at St. John’s in 2005 and possibly at Yale in 2006. From his website,that the latter one was published, in Studia Liturgica, though that journal is not online.

      As to the model of ordinariates as a model of church unity, I think you’d have trouble finding ecumenical thinkers who think that this is a good model for wholesale unity. Rather, Pope Benedict seems to have framed the Anglican ordinariate as a pastoral solution to a particular question posed by some contemporary Anglicans, and definitely not as an answer to the problem of the scandal of schism.

      1. Jakob, we are speaking about an English translation that the Vatican indeed allowed for an equivalency of translation from the original Latin rather than a literal translation. The norm of language and the theology of the language is Latin even in the reformed Mass. We see now that the equivalency method changed the meaning of the texts dramatically and also theologically if not devotionally, meaning the post-Vatican II reformed Latin Mass was then corrupted by a faulty method of translation into English. It is unfortunate that Protestants in their euphoria for ecumenism followed a method of translation our translators used which was the flawed Vatican document that allowed for equivalency. But there-in lies the rub that perhaps English translators took upon themselves to refashion the language and theology of the Reformed Latin Mass on their own without any sensitivity to other languages that the Mass would be translated from the original Latin reformed Mass with a goal towards influencing Protestants. We’ve only been celebrating the Mass in English for about 45 years and certainly a correction in course is necessary. I don’t think Protestants should feel obliged out of a false sense of ecumenism to now change their wording. We can live with and celebrate our differences.

      2. Fr. Allan – do you really believe what you have just said:

        “about an English translation that the Vatican indeed allowed for an equivalency of translation from the original Latin rather than a literal translation. The norm of language and the theology of the language is Latin even in the reformed Mass. We see now that the equivalency method changed the meaning of the texts dramatically and also theologically if not devotionally, meaning the post-Vatican II reformed Latin Mass was then corrupted by a faulty method of translation into English.”

        Most translator, scriptural, and liturgical experts (even those you might cite as conservatives) would not agree with your statement or your paraphrase of the historical development from VII onwards. Do you just make up history and stuff?

        Scriptural experts now realize that every book of the bible was at some point a translation (with all that implies – as you say…..”corrupted by a faulty method of translation”). You make it sound as if LA and a literal translation and latin is the undeniable foundation – anything from that is equivalency.

        Sorry, all translation is equivalency; experts in translation usually put the emphasis on “meaning” not literalism for the fact that literal translations into other languages can – in your words – corrupt the meaning and give us a faulty translation.

        Where did you ever come up with the idea that …..”norm of language and the theology of language is Latin even in the reformed Mass”. Sorry, not sure what you mean but the norm and theology of our liturgy is not Latin; it is the gospel and the communal, eucharistic experience of the church throughout its history and tradition.

        Is this your way of stating that the “hermeneutic of reform” is continuity (meaning Latin…notice that you capitalize Latin which I’m sure means something to you?)? Could have sworn that the liturgical experts starting early in the 20th century rediscovered (ressourcement) – thus,…

  2. Aside from a accepting women priests and applying new science to the understanding of same-sex attraction, how else have Protestants moved away from Catholics in issues of morality and doctrine? Or should I say, how far have they moved from the Catholic hierarchy, since many Catholics are in agreement with Protestants on these issues?

    1. You hit the nail on the head–the hierarchy is a pivotal part of the Catholic Church and reunion or full communion with the Catholic Church hinges on Holy Orders and hierarchy otherwise we become more fragmented into the multiplicity of Protestant communions that have evolved since the classical reformation. How many denominations are there now, each thinking they have the truth simply because they are in agreement with this, that or the other in their small circle? I think today that traditional Catholics or middle of the road Catholics are not obsessed with keeping other Catholics in the Church when in fact they’ve moved to something else, like agreement with Protestants on classical and not so classical Protestant Reformation principles. In other words if you become a Protestant in theology and belief, become a Protestant in reality and the same with Protestants who agree with Catholicism, become a Catholic. We don’t need yet another form of Christianity that is neither fish nor fowl. Common worship styles and language are rather superficial when what is needed is common belief in doctrine, discipline and morality.

      1. “Love it or leave it”?

        Seriously, whereas in former eras one who did not love the Church typically left it, what’s different now is that so many of these have stayed to fight the Church within, not infrequently while wallowing at its trough as a functionary or minister of some sort.

  3. We should be very thankful for the ecumenical movement that has brought Christians closer together in prayer and common scriptural readings, and we should continue to develop liturgical books that can be used by more than one denomination.

    Personally I would particularly like to see the development of ecumenical forms of the Divine Office that non-ordained Christians would use for common prayer (e.g. among families, coworkers, civic occasions).

    However, I don’t think it is any more desirable to have only uniform Christian liturgies than it would be to collapse Eastern and Western Rites. In fact I would like more Rites, not less Rites. So I hope an Anglican Usage develops into an Anglican Rite. I hope that in several centuries we will have an American Rite (perhaps a bi-lingual one!)

    A great step in the direction away from an unwise uniformity toward a process of long term liturgical revision, plurality, and creativity would be the retention of the Current Missal along side the New Missal with the addition of the 1998 Missal and permission of Roman Rite parishes to use the Anglican Usage when it is developed.

    All this would bring us back to a process of gradual liturgical evolution. We could avoid the mistakes of centrally imposed uniformity and the chaos of local (parish or diocesan) creativity. In effect we would probably always have a Forthcoming Missal under development over a decade or more, as well as several Missals that would be competing with one another.

    1. “while wallowing at its trough ” H.E.

      The metaphor that speaks of those who take a different view of theological issues from the hierarchy, or perhaps, more correctly, from the institutional wing of the church, in terms of pigs is reaching a new low in the language used on PT.

      1. I concur. And I do not think it charitable at all to refer to those same individuals as ones who do not “love” the Church. Bad form indeed.

  4. I agree with a number of her specific criticisms (I actually hadn’t noticed that “Priest” was capitalized but “deacon” was not — oh well), but I don’t really think that the language of “soul” is archaic, nor is referring to the Church as “she.” Dr. Ramshaw might not like such terms/usages, but they are hardly archaic. Indeed, if her students give her blanks stares when she asks them what a soul is, this might be an occasion to explain some basic Christian doctrine.

    1. I too find the selective capitalization peculiar, and I agree with you on “soul” and “she”. Catechesis should be the first response, not vocabulary/terminology reform.

  5. Go down to Paul Ford’s posting of the interview with Eugene Nida. Apply Nida’s categories to what Ramshaw is saying…she basically applies Nida’s insights to the new translation effort.

    We can argue over phrases, words but Nida places the liturgical language into a great cultural and linguistic context…if only Vox Clara and ICEL had done the same.

  6. Thanks for this post: lots of provocative stuff in it. It makes me think I should really be less conservative about the Our Father …

  7. I will implead a section of Todd Flowerday’s current exploration of Liturgicam Authenticam on the development of language (for those of you who are unaware, for many years Todd has been engaged in a systematic exploration of the texts of documents concerning the liturgical reforms):

    One of the reasons we can so easily talk past one another on the issue of development of language is that we have, among us, wildly different assumptions and beliefs about what constitutes a development of the language and when and how it should be reflected in translation. For those of us who vigorously championed inclusive usage before it had become the settled dominant common usage (it still hasn’t settled in many places), we inadvertently laid the foundation for reactive forces that championed a different interventionist agenda for the development of the vernacular (resistance to developments that are not welcomed). So intervention regarding development of the vernacular is a double-edged sword.

    Which is a good reminder that, we we try to do things on our own initiative, the power of our rationalizations for why they are so meritorious and just will creative a cognitive blindspot concerning the ways our actions may serve to subvert those goals. A lot of time, what we think are reasons are more properly rationalizations. Such is the human condition.

    It does not mean you don’t pursue reform. But you do it with much greater epistemic humility and much less grandiosity. Hope for much, but expect little. (As they say in recovery, expectations are pre-meditated resentments. And resentments are not of God, but a tool of slavery of the Evil One.) And certainly never expect to reap the good of what you sow; that is the privilege of them who live beyond us. Just as we reap the good of them who sowed before our time.

  8. I thank Dr. Ramshaw for all her contributions to common understandings of our rites and celebrations, including those booklets of hers issued by Liturgy Training Publications. They are among the fruits of our ecumenical work, to which the Second Vatican Council gave great encouragement.

    Those who are pastors and music ministers, and in general educators, are the ones who have a more visible responsibility for matching the latest directives with the pastoral growth of a specific church in which they work. I receive their experience and comments with extra attention. That includes those like Dr. Ramshaw and Fr. Cody who have collaborated closely with Catholics as we implement forms and formulas over the years.

    A few days ago a conference for liturgical ministers was held in our diocese to publicize and practice the latest version of the mass responses. The speaker was our diocesan director of worship matters and his approach echoed Paul Turner’s to a T. Those in attendance gave their best singing efforts. Considering that there were 2-3 persons per parish in attendance, I would agree with those who say that very few regular massgoers have yet become aware of the changes to come.

    A well trained choir led us through some examples of mass hymns and chants taken from the promotion booklets provided generously by the big three publishers. A quick look at the contents of their booklets convinced me that nearly all the composers in the country are represented and thus implicitly approving the process and product. (I say “nearly” in case Fr. Ruff and Dr. Ferrone have published music for liturgy.) I would like to know whether any composer, published or not, has refrained from offering new or revised arrangements at this time.

    1. Paul, you ask a good question. Richard Proulx decried all of this I believe, but since his death have his compositions been changed anyway? I do not know of any living composer who has not gone along.

      Thank you for this phrase:
      “implicitly approving the process and product.”

      I think quite a few people feel their conscience is aquitted simply by grumbling about the process and product, and that they can go along with it, and profit from it, without taking any responsibility for the “implicit approval” their actions embody.

      The Church encourages people to not take responsibility for their actions when they make it seem that their only responsibility is to be obedient to authority. The conscience, having been put to sleep by the siren song of “there’s nothing we can do” hands over to others its sovereignty, and receives in return wages and royalties and the assurance that it couldn’t have been otherwise.

      1. Well said Rita on personal responsibility and unthinking obedience to Rome.Jesus questioned every formal aspect of his own religion. If faith in Jesus gives us freedom, then we must criticise with love every aspect of our own religion.

  9. As a matter of practicality: the decision to revise or not revise Masses rests with the copyright holder of the Mass setting, not the composer. The only time the composer would make that decision would be in cases in which the composer (or descendants/estate in the case of deceased composers) have retained the copyright, and the publisher works as an agent or distributor. That being said …

    I was fortunate enough to get to work with Richard Proulx when he did the revisions of WLP’s Heritage Mass settings by Jan Vermulst (Peoples Mass and Mass for Christian Unity). If Richard decried anything, in my experience working with him, it was all the ways in which the provisional translations of the mid- late-1960s are where we ended up once again. In doing my own presentations on the new translation, when I mention things like “And with your spirit” or the three-fold acknowledgment of fault in the Confiteor, I have on occasion gotten the response from people of a certain age “You mean we got it right the FIRST time?”

    In the case of Richard Proulx, he did say that the new translation of the Gloria, in his opinion, was much better and easier to set to music, the restoration of the litany of praise to its Latin position being the thing he mentioned most often. His new “Gloria Simplex” (inspired by the opening “Sanctus” motif from Vermulst’s Mass for Christian Unity) is witness to that.

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