The missal in the media

The Catholic Church is in the news again – thankfully, with coverage less negative than much of what we’ve earned for ourselves in recent years.

Anne Constable at the Santa Fe New Mexican gave one of the most accurate and in-depth treatments of the missal controversy, “While some Catholics oppose revised Roman Missal, most local parishioners accept, embrace ‘more faithful translation’ of Latin Mass.”

From the LATimes:

The word “consubstantial” does not roll naturally off the modern American tongue. It’s one of those $5 words with Latin roots that tend to make the speaker sound pretentious or, if he trips over it, like a pretentious idiot.”

Read the rest here.

The NYTimes reports on Corpus Christi church near Columbia University, where they stuck with “and with your spirit” and never adopted the 1974 sacramentary. They’re not adopting the new Missal either. A parishioner explains,

There are a lot of us who feel that the last 35 years of translation has been very banal and pedestrian… The new translation is better, but it needs severe editing.

She’s right about both translations, I’d say.

And this is interesting. When Fr. Daniel Merz, second in command at the USCCB liturgy office, heard of the independent-minded parish, he said “Sometimes it’s more important to have peace in the church than uniformity.” Nice to hear that he is as pastorally minded as his able boss, Msgr. Rick Hilgartner.

This just went up at NYTimes on the afternoon of roll-out Sunday: “For Catholics, the Word Was a Bit Different, Amen.” As usual, they only quote the more critical portions of my comments. Oh, well.

A week ago an interesting question was raised by Michael McGuckian SJ in “Letters Extra” at The Tablet:

I would like to draw attention to a “glaring howler” which appears in every Mass we say, in the conclusion of the Opening Prayer. In Latin it runs ‘Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Chrstum Filium suum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.” This is easy to translate and runs literally in English “Through our Lord Jesus Christ you Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”

Instead of “God,” however, the new translation, following the old one, has “one God,” as if the Latin had unus Deus. Of course the unity of the Trinity is part of the faith, but the prayer is affirming rather the divinity of Christ… I find it useful to amend my own copy of the missal for my personal use until a more accurate translation is brought out.

Whaddayathink? Is Fr. McGuckian onto something? I’m pretty sure he is, but I believe the 1979 US Book of Common Prayer does the same in some of the collects of the sanctoral. Anyone know why they (the Episcopalians or Vox Clara/CDW) did that?

Also at The Tablet, Philip Endean SJ is “at a loss with the new missal“:

Mainstream Catholics are having imposed on them profound changes that are not self-evidently for the better. The real challenge of the new translation centers on how we handle those human and ecclesial realities. It is on this point that our most gifted priests and our wisest theological heads need to give better guidance that we have received so far. For my part, I am at something of a loss.

Michael O’Malley at the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, “Some Catholics divided over language of the new Mass missal.” Hmm, one bishops thinks the new text is “lyrical and poetic,” but another bishop thinks it’s an archaic “jumble of subordinate clauses” leading to a “pastoral disaster.” And some Benedictine monk thinks that the 1974 text was flat and simple, but the new one is clumsy, awkward, and not very poetic.

At the National Catholic Register, Tim Drake thinks the MSM are stirring up more controversy than is there. (Do they every do that?!) “Should Catholics Wear Neck Braces to Mass this Sunday?” (No, he thinks.)

The National Catholic Reporter concludes “No words of any language can ever fully express this mystery. That is some consolation. Until we have better words, we can make do with this faulty translation.” See the editorial, “Making do with a faulty translation.” (To pick a nit, and for the record: I was removed, I didn’t resign.)

Don’t miss Ed Foley’s incisive piece, “Marketing or Mystagogy: Reception of the New Roman Missal and Reverse Catechesis.”

Finally, an excerpt from today’s homily of Abbot John Klassen at the abbey. In the context of a reflection on the day’s Advent Scripture readings, he said this:

Today we are introducing the translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. It has been in preparation for many years and its goal is to adhere more closely to the Latin and to other vernacular translations. For example, the response to “The Lord be with you” is  “and with your spirit,” the latter from “et cum spiritu tuo.” Most of the changes are in the texts that the celebrant prays.

Some of the changes you will find to be fine turns of phrase. In Eucharist Prayer III, for example, rather than “from east to west,” it will read “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Other changes are less appealing, for example, the literal translation of “pro multis” in the institution narrative to “for many” rather than “for all.” The changes also provide an opportunity and an impetus for fresh musical settings. We have learned a lot about what works in the past 40 years.

For some, the details of the revised text matter less than the way it came into being. They are disturbed by the apparent disregard of Roman Congregations for much of the work of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and for the pastoral authority and wisdom of the various bishops’ conferences. We do need to be united in our celebration of the liturgy, but we also need to be concerned about and look for ways to respond appropriately to this less-than-collegial approach to liturgical reform and renewal.

For all of us who have become used to praying with the same words since the Second Vatican Council, these changes will require more concentration and patience because we will make mistakes and stumble.

In the final analysis, one of the roles monastic communities play in the Church is to receive the liturgy and work with it in a prayerful, loving manner, lifting up what is most beautiful and central, and in some places, accepting what is less than perfect and transforming it into a thing of beauty. To be sure, this will only happen if we are constantly watchful for the Lord’s presence.



  1. I went to two Masses this morning, one at my parish and the other at the cathedral downtown. In both cases
    the presider went over all the responses before Mass began. In both cases the Creed was read much slower than usual. There was no noticeable enthusiasm from anyone in either parish. In both cases the presider told the congregation at the end how well they had done. I think the choir at the cathedral was the only thing that kept people’s spirits up.

    1. I think good music is what may save this turkey by covering a multitude of sins and lifting the spirits of the people.

      1. Good music is hard to make of these turkey words. Musical gobbling we might manage, although that’s not an inspiration to go to church.

  2. Thank you for this round up and for all you do, all you have done. These pages and all of you who contribute to them, are essential, must read material.

    At my worship parish, things went well enough at 4pm. We stumbled through it, but it really felt like we were all together in a new way… and there were about 500 of us, so feeling together says something. I’m not in love with the musical settings, but the Advent music itself carried me.

    Today I had intended to go to mass at my work parish, just to be a part of the change, but feeling unwell, I did not get to go. I’m sure it was probably similar- at least I hope so!

  3. I’m very impressed and edified by the comments at Whispers in the Loggia. He normally doesn’t allow for comments but did today for people to comment on their experiences today with the translation. It is quite a cross section of people responding and a sign of the rather positive vitality of the Church in this new age of renewal.

    1. Sorry, Fr. Allan – found the majority to be from “follower” priests who serve at cathedrals and the “like” pew sitters. Rocco has lost his edge and his readers are those infatuated with Rome and bishop making. He is moderating the comments – did you notice any “real” negative comments among the first 87? Would suggest that there is some editing going on. Given the Philly mess and now Happy Valley, guess he can be excused. Please…..

    1. I’m struck by the number of different ways parishes are dealing with the new missal. Doing their own thing and disregarding it either in whole or in part. Are there a lot of Catholics out there not only reacting to the changes, but reacting to stories in the media and on Catholic blogs about the process whereby the missal came into being?

      Reports of a widening revolt being spearheaded by priests here and in Ireland, after what’s been reported in Austria lately, has to have the USCCB watching this development very closely. With some reason to be concerned it could lead to other things?

    1. Sandi,

      I understand your frustration, but if you allow that attitude
      to take place, they win! The Mass is bigger than any
      curial office, any bishop or any pontifical commission.

      Christ has protected his bride for over 2 millennia, and
      won’t stop just because of some OCD commissions that
      are apparently not fluent in the language they are
      supposed to be working, regardless of how much they
      love the Church, and I do firmly believe they love the
      Church with all of their hearts, minds and souls.

  4. Today when the priest tried to light the first Advent candle, the candle wouldn’t light. He tried for several minutes with no success. Around me there were some whispers: “The candle won’t light! It’s a sign!” Eventually one of the parishioners came forward and, after some effort, managed to do it for the priest.

  5. I’m curious to see how this all goes over across the anglophone Catholic world, but I’m afraid I don’t quite have the stomach to follow all those links. Still, I can’t resist a couple of semi-ignorant comments related to the headlines.

    The quotation marks around “more faithful translation” are essential to maintaining any shred of accuracy. I’m getting tired of having to explain the difference between fidelity and literalism. Are there ANY fellow Catholic linguists out there who can sympathize? I can understand why the debates have primarily centered on ecclesiology and authority, but on the matter of translation principles I’m feeling very lonely.

    The “neck braces” line reminds me of a comment I heard recently that if we really understood what was going on in the Eucharist, we’d go through it with crash helmets. I guess I find that somewhat consoling, in there can be something redeemable – even Adventish – about having our world shaken up a bit.

    Meanwhile, back at the abbey – avoiding the Nicene Creed by substituting the Apostles’ Creed was a bit of a clever move, except it has the same problem. Because to my mind, the single worst word in the new translation is not the pretentious “consubstantial” (which I find superfluous but tolerable), but the shortest word of all: “I”. I for one can’t believe all that by myself; I need the “Catholic we”. Isn’t that a big part of what it means to be Catholic – that we can’t do it by ourselves?

    For what it’s worth, I thought having Abbot John as celebrant was a stroke of genius. He handled it as well as was possible, and reminded me of something else that being Catholic means: working with what we’ve got. And making the best we can of all of it, the beautiful and the ugly.

  6. My favorite explanation was on a CBS Radio news report (USA of course) which interviewed a priest from the Archdiocese of St Louis liturgy office.

    He explained: “The most obvious change will be that, in answer to ‘The Lord be with you,’ the people will respond, ‘AND ALSO WITH YOUR SPIRIT.'”

    The Italian priest who heard this with me, and who has been following the controversy and is extraordinarily proficient in English, quipped: “Imagine what happened when HE got to the Eucharistic Prayer!”

  7. I was not at all optimistic going into today’s events, and my expectations were met. The assembly had their “cheat sheet” cards in hand but many continued to speak the more familiar responses. Each communal response was followed by a discernible sigh throughout the Church. Our presider had obviously tried to prepare his parts, but the Eucharistic Prayer was painful to listen to, and the post-Communion prayer was indeed the “howler” of an earlier post. My college aged sons wondered if the translation was the handiwork of Yoda.

    1. As was mentioned elsewhere in this forum: Yoda used short sentences and was eminently understandable. Maybe Yoda on speed…

  8. I’m not sure how I can listen to these Eucharistic Prayers each Sunday…it didn’t flow and made little sense. People were fidgety or staring off into space.

    1. Well, the folks at the Mass I attended were riveted. You could have heard a pin-drop. And that’s not the usual experience.

  9. Fully aware that these texts could be improved and the difficult path by which they were arrived at, I believe how they sound depends on how they are proclaimed. I could imagine that if a celebrant approached these texts as if they were the former texts, it would yield a mess. But if one is careful to really get a sense of the prayer text well before it is to be proclaimed, and if when actually praying them, appropriate pauses are included as well as inflection which indicates that you actually get what you are praying, then I think its not all that bad.

    1. They’re still convoluted and incomprehensible on a scale greater than a single phrase or clause. If one has to back up and re-read to understand it, then it won’t work well as a spoken text.

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