UK reactions to the new translation of the Missal

In the UK, the new translation is now being phased in, and I can only say that I feel fortunate to have two final months of grace in the US. The letters to The Tablet are interesting and wide-ranging, though there is no indication of whether the balance of opinion printed matches what has been sent in, still less how the text is being received more generally.

The two letters pages can be viewed: 10 September 17 September

See also the links here and here for extra letters not actually printed.


  1. Interesting reading. Previously, I had thought that the things that seem awkward to me could be a result of Brits and Americans being divided by a common language, and that some of the language chosen might be more of a nod to the actual English, rather than Americans. That doesn’t seem to be the case, judging from the letters. I also had not thought of the new translation as being a blow to ecumenism, but it might be.

    More and more, though, I find it ironic that many of the people who most ardently defend the new translation are too young to have been alive prior to Vatican II, whereas many of the older people (like me) are far less excited about a “corrected” translation. I have noticed that on comments here, and The Tablet letters seem to follow the same pattern. Just an observation.

    1. Most non-Roman Catholics I know who work with liturgy in a pastoral or professional capacity see the jettisoning of the common versions of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and dialogues as a blow to ecumenism as we had these texts in common. Some academics ask how Liturgiam Authenticam, which specifically cautions against using terms and expressions associated with non-Catholic use, can contradict a papal encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, which only five years or so before had warmly encouraged interfaith translations. I’ve been told that is why “righteous” and “righteousness” were everywhere changed to “just” and “justice” in the Revised Grail Psalter. Here is a great comment from the Presbyterian scholar and pastor who had a lot to do with those common texts and the adaptation of the Roman Lectionary by almost all non-Catholic Churches. There’s a great anecdote in here about the Vox Clara Monsignor Moroney too. It’s when you hear a Protestant reaction to LA that you really realize its haughty and sometimes even snide tone. That tone has tipped off many who know the characters in this saga as to who most likely drafted the document.

      1. Horace T. Allen: Liturgiam Authenticam. Read the paragraphs towards the end where it says the Catholic bodies concerned, mixed bodies concerned with the liturgy are not to engage in dialogue with other bodies, mixed bodies, if they do not sufficiently represent their churches or ecclesial bodies, or are not of sufficient numbers. Thus, Liturgiam Authenticam just took a direct shot at this whole consultative structure that had been built up beginning in ’64, and it worked. Out they went. The bishops’ committee the liturgy here in the US was represented by a certain Father Moroney, and every time the consultation meets, we meet twice a year in New York City, a general seminary, and every time we meet the first thing is reports from denominations. Increasingly Moroney’s report was a tight, or a duplicated statement which he handed out and read, and would take questions if we wished. But on one occasion he couldn’t be there, and he sent a nun who was working with the office, the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy he sent this nun and she handed out the same thing, but mistakenly, duplicated the copy he, Moroney, had given her which said at the top ‘Read this document but do not comment on it’, and she handed that out. You cannot imagine a more effective slap in the face to ecumenical partners in an enterprise that then was 30 years old.

  2. “he sent a nun who was working with the office, the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy he sent this nun and she handed out the same thing, but mistakenly, duplicated the copy he, Moroney, had given her which said at the top ‘Read this document but do not comment on it’, and she handed that out.”


    Really? “mistakenly”? People with little power have their own ways of speaking.

  3. Some blogs claim that the new Bishop of Manchester, NH will be named this week and they give Moroney as one of the possibilities. Could well be. It’s amazing how frequently, after an intergalactic search, the Holy Spirit decides on someone who has really messed something up but is really well connected. LOL

    As for me and my boyfriend, we clearly see water rising quickly at the bow, loss of life inevitable (taking their check books with them), and “ol faithful” at the ready we quickly move to the bridge and wheel house as not wishing to soil our pink dresses! Just sign us off as the water moves up the deck as being con-substantially with your spirit!! lol !!

    1. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so cynical. Bishop Libasci, the bishop-designate of Manchester, is a truly holy and pastoral man.

      1. The key news there is that Msgr Moroney was NOT appointed to fill that see, pace expectations that he’d be give a mitre near his Worcester home base.

      2. You cannot be serious. A man who had his coat of arms done when he was a Msgr and is SO taken with himself that he chose the motto “Stand and Walk”? The bottom line: When your new ordinary has the motto Stand and Walk…..You should Run and Hide!!

  4. Is it at all possible that all of this can be undone?
    Is Pope Benedict XVI really unaware of the impact on ecumenical work?

    Also, having attended Mass these past few weeks my opinion of the new translation has not altered. It sounds, and feels, “messy”. As I’m untrained in liturgical matters I can’t find a better term for it.
    Please let there be work done to improve it : (

  5. It’s so nice to see that Janet is back still proclaiming her undying love. Not so nice to hear about what is in store for my beloved ManchVegas. I thought Bobby Joe had made sure that such would never happen.

    Say it’s not so, dear Janet!

  6. Interesting . . . in NZ the “roman” authorities are telling us we can no-longer use the ICEL 1973 text of the Lord’s Prayer at Mass. A shame other English speaking conferences want to continue to use archaic language in the prayer that is common and ecumenical. Are we being polemical and parochcial as we walk away from ecumenical texts that Vatican II inspired not only in the Catholic tradition? “Save us from the time of trial” – ICEL 1973 “Our Father”

    1. I think you’ll find that this is the 1969/1970 ICET text, appropriated by ICEL for the 1973 Missal. Same story with the Gloria and Sanctus

  7. The former ICEL was one of the founders of ICET and then of ELLC. It was wholehearted in its participation, and provided the co-chairman for ICET/ELLC, beginning with Canon Harold Winstone. As well, for more than two decades an ICEL staff member acted as the day-to-day secretary for this deeply-valued ecumenical undertaking.

    1. To call ICET ‘ecumenical’ would perhaps be going too far, as many of the texts it discussed are common to the Christian Liturgies of East and West, and yet ICET had no representatives from the Christian East. I would prefer to call it ‘interdenominational’ or, as it called itself, ‘international’.
      A concrete example of the problems this caused is the translation of Sabaoth (a plural) as ‘power and might’ because (I quote) ‘some people object to its military metaphor’. Thus the tradition of depicting God’s angels as warriors, more common in the East than the West, was obliterated.

      1. It might be picking nits, but “ecumenical” doesn’t imply “totality.” If my town has a Lutheran, a Catholic, and a Methodist parish, we can call our gatherings “ecumenical,” even if we don’t invite the Orthodox folks from another county.

        That said, I’d be interested in knowing a bit more about ICET, their make-up, and lack of Eastern representation.

        The point is that the Holy Father and the CDWDS seemed to have a locus of disagreement a decade ago. Interesting who “won” that “military” battle, eh?

      2. Not to worry, we have “hosts” back now.

        Which 90% of Catholics, not as theologically elite as the experts, will associate with altar bread.

        Well done, old chap!

      3. The “tradition of depicting God’s angels as warriors” is hardly an essential element in the deposit of faith, and it’s existence is hardly “obliterated” by one use of the singular in the Sanctus.

        Scripture texts concerning St. Michael at battle, art depictions of angels in armor, devotional prayers concerning the angels as warriors — none of these has been removed from the sphere of Catholic culture.

        Obliterated? No.

        De-emphasized, Yes. But this de-emphasis is the result of a process, not a decree, and it’s a process that has been going on for a long time and for many reasons. One of the primary reasons why our attitudes toward seeing angels as warriors is changing is that WAR has changed, and the morality of war has been altered drastically by developments in technology. We are no longer fighting jousts. We are fighting with weapons that can kill more people than the authors of the Bible ever dreamed of. Battle metaphors have to be approached much more cautiously, asking what does such a “tradition” in use of a metaphor really mean? How important is it? What are we attributing to God in light of how that metaphor is understood today?

      4. Rita

        What’s lost is the backstitching of the reference to the choir of angels in the Preface, and the reinforcement of the joining together of heavenly and earthly faithful. It’s a fuller eschatological reference. “Power and might” is simply weak in that light, and there’s no particularly strong reason for it. (In terms of warfare, we could use more resonance with Scriptural references to just struggle, not less; we have plenty examples of unjust struggle around us.) This is one of the changes that should have been made in 1998.

      5. Karl,

        I am not sure what “backstitching” means in this context, nor why choirs = warriors.

      6. Rita,

        Heavenly choirs and heavenly hosts: they are general references to the angelic orders, as it were. The reference to the heavenly hosts hearkens back to the reference to the angelic choirs in the preface, hence backstitching the Sanctus into the Preface.

  8. Interesting points of view in terms of what JFR explains contrasted with Msgr’s reply.

    Is it wrong to assume that we have two different approaches:
    – ICEL/ICET, following Comme Il Prevoit and the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s translation methods, focused on taking “original” language and revising to better express the culture; the ecumenical agreement; and the evolving spirit of the times; thus, the meaning
    – Msgr seems to appeal to some type of “original” translation and meaning even if this no longer makes sense in the culture or context of the times (sorry, appealing to the East is mixing apples and oranges).

    Would suggest that the effort needs to focus on the meaning and the best method (poetry, music, phrasing, word choices, receptor language needs) rather than an effort to capture an “old” context; much less meaning.

    E.G. angels – what is the core meaning? warriors? or what this conveyed back then? Doesn’t every culture find expressions that have meaning for them? Isn’t there music, even poetry, that no longer speaks to today’s cultures for various reasons?

    Any interpretation is seen as valuable and good if it captures the essence but is able to put this into the context of the times.

  9. If a major directive of the new translation was to be faithful to the Latin text, then way did we translate into English a word the the Roman Missal chose to leave in the original Hebrew? If “Sabbaoth” has no proper Latin equivalent, by what principle do we translate it into “hosts”? It seems to be more faithful to the St. Joseph Missal of the 1950s than the first new edition of the Roman Missal of the 21st Century.

  10. we have “hosts” back now.
    Which 90% of Catholics, not as theologically elite as the experts, will associate with altar bread.

    I doubt that it will be 90%. I think a good 25% will think “hosts” means the people who invite us to events. And there might be 5% who, more theologically literate than the rest of us, will assume “hosts” means sacrificial victims. Throw in the 10% who know it means military hordes, and that leaves us only 60% thinking it means the eucharistic breads.

    1. “Silent Night” must really confuse people. Communion hosts singing Alleluia to the baby Jesus…

      Personally, I think the original word should have been left alone (sabaoth), but “hosts” is still a lot better than “power and might,” IMO. It takes five seconds to explain what it means.

      1. Oh of course! The second verse of Silent Night will pop into mind, and that should do it.

        How many seconds will it take to explain “consubstantial”?

        I personally think that “consubstantial” and “for us men” are part of a Vox Clara plot to eliminate the Nicene Creed from use in the liturgy. Given a choice between the longer Creed with those phrases and the shorter Apostles’ Creed, which will most priests choose?

        Case in point: Eucharistic Prayer II. The only reason it’s used so much is that there isn’t a shorter one. Although maybe the famous “dewfall” will mitigate that.

    2. PTB has returned to arguing over “hosts” as a translation of “Sabaoth”. We’ve been around this block a few times.

      4/29/10: As for “Lord God of hosts”, that is a rich Scriptural title for God which would mean more to people if they were better-acquainted with the Bible. “The most urgent task is that of the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful.” (VQA 15) “There will always remain the need for some catechesis on the biblical and Christian meaning of certain words and expressions.” (GIRM 392)

      5/20/10: “Lord God of Sabaoth” is a Biblical title for God (used over 280 times, by my rough count); “God of power” or “God of might” are not Biblical titles for God, nor do they accurately translate the Latin, which uses a Biblical title.

      1/12/11: We still sing “Silent Night”, right? I believe the English translation has the line “heav’nly hosts sing ‘alleluia’”. Do people really think the hymn is referring to Eucharistic hosts singing in Heaven? Do people know “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”? That “common doxology” rhymes “Holy Ghost” with “heav’nly host”.

      1/13/11: Did anyone here go to Midnight Mass for Christmas? The beautiful first reading from Isaiah 9 ends by saying that “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!” What a pity if people misunderstood that title, or simply zoned out and passed it over as gibberish (pious or otherwise). Why should we be tuning out parts of Scripture on Christmas (or any other day)?

      Discounting the times we hear the title in the Psalms and in the Alleluia verse, a bit of investigation reveals that we hear the title used in 46 different readings throughout the year. It’s used on eight Sundays throughout the cycle, several of which are coming up in the following weeks:

      27th Sunday in OT (A), 1st rdg (Isa 5:1-7)
      28th Sunday in OT (A), 1st rdg (Isa 25:6-10)
      31st Sunday in OT (A), 1st rdg (Mal 1:14-2:2, 8-10)
      4th Sunday of Advent (B), 1st rdg (2 Sam 7:1-16)

      1. I’d recommend to any preacher or catechist who is looking for ways to fit in catechesis on the new translation to make use of one of these coming Sundays in Ordinary Time where the title “God of hosts” is used and connect that to the new Sanctus.

      2. Actually, my comment was about how to misunderstand hosts, not how to translate it. I do not think it a flaw that one word can have so many meanings, just a fact of life. Usually we fill in the meaning from context, but there is very little military context here, so minds will seek out meanings.

        I would have preferred Sabaoth, which is even more obscure. Now I am just waiting for someone to argue that ‘hosts’ reflects a post V2 overemphasis on Eucharist as banquet.

      3. my comment was about how to misunderstand hosts, not how to translate it

        And misunderstanding “hosts” comes along as a consequence of translating “Sabaoth” (not “it”) as “hosts”; and the majority of the comments I C&P’d above are on misunderstanding the word “hosts” anyway.

  11. It would indeed be interesting to ask of a journal such as the Tablet for statistics on letters they have received on the issue of the New Translation and the percentage split of the comments in favour or otherwise.
    The short comment below was sent in recently but didn’t appear in either the print edition or the webpage Letters extra. What will happen in the States when the first Sunday in Advent arrives?
    The recent article in the Tablet by Fr Michael Ryan, Time to say “yes” is a well-crafted argument.

    There were letters in last week’s Tablet in response to that article, as there have been in recent months on the issues relating to this New Translation, addressing both process and outcome.

    Yet still I wait to see just one letter signed by a Bishop that shows appreciation and understanding of the difficult position that many of us, both priests and people, are facing in the coming months.

    Would that be too much to ask?

    Unity round the Eucharist is central to our Christian lives and, in spite of everything, that must remain so.
    Chris McDonnell UK

  12. When I’ve addressed our congregations in the last couple of weeks regarding “hosts” I simply said that term depicts a rank of angels, similarly to what KLS has astutely linked to the enjoining of “choirs of angels” in the preface. There was no murmuring as I recall.
    I would also ask that a “forward” stitch might be considered in relation to the petitionary exclamation of “Hosanna” as I understand the basic meaning of that Aramaic expression, ie. “Lord come to my aid, with angelic hosts with or without AK47’s.”

    1. When I was growing up, I simply assumed Hosanna was another name for God (with no meaning beyond that). I wouldn’t be surprised if many (perhaps most) other people thought the same.

  13. At Mass last Sunday we sang “Lord God of Hosts” for the first time. The way in which it happened is that, during the presentation of the gifts, the choir director jumped in and inserted a quick and awkward “for the Sanctus, please refer to the booklet in your pews”, and that was it. No explanation of what “hosts” might mean.

    Since we have all dutifully said “Lord God of Hosts”, that part of the new missal is now settled. No need for an explanation: as long as people say the right thing, that’s all that matters. The transition will be smooth, and the liturgy sounds good. What they understand does not matter. Besides, the 1% who care can come to the two presentations about the new missal that will happen later in the Fall. (But why would they think they need to? Everybody knows what a “host” is, or so they think.)

    1. I think that the choir director was right not to go into further explanations. Already his intervention was an interruption of the prayer: the shorter the better. I am not complaining about what he said (which I am sure he would have said earlier if he had thought of it and found a better moment), but about what was not said: at no point during Mass was there any mention of the new words “Lord God of Hosts” nor any explanation of what they mean, and I do not foresee any explanation coming.

      Perhaps it has been decided that things will go more smoothly if no big deal is made of it and the words are quietly substituted without any comments.

    2. Humbly submitted, Claire, his explanation was insufficient and inappropriately timed. Why not give a very brief explanation at the time when the Mass is set to begin? (People will argue that some will come in late, but so what? Do it in the middle of the Liturgy? I don’t think so.)

      One positive thing from this discussion I am taking is that I should mention this change in the text. Growing up Protestant, we all knew that “hosts” were another word for “angels”, more or less (see above reference to “Silent Night”, etc.) I assumed incorrectly that Catholics would know “host” as in “consecrated hosts” and as in “angels” or “Sabaoth”: now I know!

      This is very useful for my catechetical knowledge, as our parish has not had any introductory talks available, etc., on the new translation, despite offers to do so. So…I’ve got one minute at the beginning of each Mass this weekend, and again when we introduce the Gloria in October…yikes!

  14. Data point:

    The Archdiocese of Liverpool does not make the switch to the new translation of the Order of Mass until the first weekend of October.

    Some parishes in my own diocese have not yet started to use the new texts…..

  15. I feel sorry for Fr Allen Morris, who was understandably stung by Robert Nowell’s accusation of dishonesty but whose reply only confirms the impression of a weasely spinmeister. He needs to take a break from the job that makes him tie himself in knots like this.

  16. So the new translation is now going to catechize us on an essental truth of faith: that God’s angels are warriors!

    In 60 years of reciting and singing the Sanctus this truth never occurred to me, and indeed I doubt that it is a truth at all.

    Msgr Harbert should take a job break too.

  17. Is there any permission for priests who have eye-sight problems to continue with the English Mass version permitted for use in England & Wales?

    I know two ancient priests, one virtually blind and the other with grave sight difficulties, who are many years retired but have been able to say Mass in their care homes. They know the texts they have used for 40+years, but by now they will have forgotten the Latin they once knew, and cannot read it, nor the new version imposed upon us.

  18. Angels appear in Scripture as messengers, warriors or servants, depending on the context in which they appear. Their presence and role gives the reader part of the meaning of the passage. This is NOT a new idea, Joe. It’s a matter of Scriptural literacy to know this.

    Likewise, the presence and role of angels in the Sanctus is important. It should tell you something about why that particular prayer is there, or at least get you thinking about it.

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