Msgr. Moroney on poetic beauty and bottom-up collaboration

Monsignor James Moroney, teacher at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston and head of the Vox Clara Committee which oversaw the new missal translation, spoke on Boston public radio on the poetic beauty and the bottom-up collaborative process of the new Missal translation. Here are two excerpts of  his comment, the first on beauty and the second on collaboration:

[The Vatican is making the change] to make the language accessible but at the same time to reflect fully what the Latin text said – in other words, the poetry, the beauty, the depth of the language. So that’s a difficult thing to translate for contemporary times. But poetry and beauty, I think, is appreciated in every age. … It’s really in the priests’ parts where this is a much greater poetic expression reflective of the poetry that’s in the ancient text we’ve preserved through all these years.

I think that’s hard to say [that this is a move to a church ruled more rigidly by the Vatican] when we’ve never consulted as many people on anything as we have since the Second Vatican Council. Bishops consults hundreds of people in every one of their dioceses, from ordinary lay folks to people who are academics, to priests and pastors, and so forth. Never has there been a more bottom up process for producing a translation in the history of the Church. … What matters is what it is, after a long collaborative process in the Church, the Church has discerned.

I have no comment. Perhaps you do?



  1. The problem is, precisely, thinking that the laity are the “bottom” of the Church. As long as the structure is dominated by an up/down mindset – especially with no concrete horizontal accountability – all these sorts of exercises of power will continue. Even behind the masquerade of “consultation.” Instead of up/down, maybe we can envision of Church of “within” – God is in the prepositions.

    1. Oh, the laity are definitely the “bottom” in this relationship, all right. They get reamed by the ecclesiarchs repeatedly, and most of them seem to like it.

  2. Pure nonsense! A wonderful demonstration of how the clergy are out of touch with the laity and the needs of the Church. This is what is driving people away.

    1. The tendency of the critics to project their opinions onto the laity at large—to wrap their dissent in the imagined cloak of a great multitude à la OWS or the tea party—is somewhere between irritating and amusing by itself, but it fits hand-in-glove with a troubling pattern that we see on the “left” (so to speak) which tries always to build a narrative of “us vs. them,” of “clerics vs. laymen.” The gambit airs the demands of the individual and asserts that all that stands athwart the realization of these goals is the intransigent, out-of-touch “hierarchy.” This becomes particularly ironic when the author(s) are themselves clerics! In reality, there is no contentious issue in the Church today (if there ever has been) that substantially divides laity and clergy. Consider the translation. Chris, a layman, can’t stand it; in this, he is joined by at least one cleric who posts here. Meanwhile, I, a layman, and Msgr. Moroney, a cleric, are fully in favor of it. A reasonable person could look at the situation and say “Chris and Fr. X are wrong, ” or they could say “Simon and Fr. Moroney are wrong,” but what no one could say with a straight face is that “the clergy are out of touch with the laity and the needs of the Church.” All Chris means, and all is ever meant by such us-vs-them ploys, is “I want my way and I’m not getting it.”

  3. Did Msgr Moroney mention the part about consultation where they summarily dismissed anyone who voiced objections?

    1. Oh you mean where Wadsworth said it was “schizophrenic” for anyone to be serving on the ICEL but critical of it?

      It’s a strange definition of schizophrenia to describe a problem caused by institutional malfunction, secrecy, and lack of accountability!

  4. After re-reading your “Missal Translation – The Inside Story” post, I can’t help but think that if that’s the process Moroney is describing with words like “consult,” “collaborative,” and “bottom up process”, this may explain some of the howlers in the new translation.

  5. It’s at least arguable that ICEL 2 under Bruce Harbert consulted as widely as was practicable. What is not arguable is that Liturgiam supposedly authenticam emerged from a due process of consultation, or that the final changes introduced by VOX CLARA were in any sense collegial.

    1. Philip, were pastors consulted in England? I don’t know of any who were consulted in the US, unless they were also by the way of being a Latin expert or some such.

      1. My sense is that every ordinary in Britain was invited to consultt whom he pleased about the ‘Gray Book’. Somewhere on my computer is quite a full report that I wrote. I was one of a handful of British Jesuits consulted; our instructions were to keep the process confidential and above all not actually to try out the new texts. My sense is that anything questioning Liturgiam allegedly authenticam was just ignored.

    2. How do you know they consulted as widely as was practicable? The results are secret. Let us in on the insider information you have, Fritz and Philip! Or are you simply speculating?

    3. I like it, Philip. I like it very much: Liturgiam supposedly authenticam; Liturgiam allegedly authenticam. 🙂

      How about Liturgiam dubiously authenticam

  6. I think it’s important to note that the consultation, however widespread, was entirely by invitation only, and you had to be invited by someone higher up. So it was “bottom up” in the sense of “top down.”

    1. So, they were basically able to pick an choose with whom they would be consulting. Makes it very easy to pick those they knew would be agreeing with them.

  7. One of the apparent qualifications for higher office in the church is the ability to subordinate intellectual honesty to ecclesiastical correctness. Msgr. Moroney has demonstrated that quality before a radio audience. Perhaps the new nuncio was among those listening?

  8. So, Moroney can project to hundreds by estimating that every bishop who received the Grey Book probably had two or three of their staff review. Multiply 2 or 3 by the number of english speaking bishops and you get a rather large number that doesn’t really say much about “consultation”.

    In addition, remember listening to some of the USCCB discussions and votes on the various sections of the Grey Book – not only were statements made that bishops had not yet read the material; bishops laughed about voting on things they hadn’t read. That is truly consultative and collegial.

  9. Mr. Moroney should just be quiet and go back into his classroom fantasyland. There is no “poetic beauty” in this translation. It is stilted, hard to read, and hard to understand,and pure rubbish. In a culture where abuse of authority is now openly challenged (Wall Street, Corporate Greed) I cannot believe we catholics have let this happen. You can’t translate prayers from a dead language and force people of other languages and cultures to worship using them. We worship GOD, not a language, or even Rome. Until we make life really hard for the Bishops in the United States, the steps backward will continue.

    1. There are plenty of places where there are poetic beauty. Even some of the posters against the new translation here felt some parts of EPIII were beautifully done.

      Not all the texts were as beautiful, but no one claimed that everything in there is.

      1. There is gold amongst the manure, it must be said. The new dismissals shine brightly. Personally, I love the reference to the dewfall, although there are many here who find it silly.

        Sadly, when you come across one of these shining gems, all you need to do is wait three seconds for the manure to overwhelm the beauty once more.

  10. Never has there been a more bottom up process for producing a translation in the history of the Church

    Not true in South Africa. Pure fantasy.

      1. ICEL 98 – consultative all the way, top to bottom, 15 years in the making, and OPEN, not secretive like VC 2011. We knew what was going on with ICEL 98; not true with VC 2011.

        Whose participation in ICEL 98 was kept secret? Who was fired because they dared disagree with the 98 process? Who was threatened with copyright infringement because they leaked drafts of 98? What final presumptuous editing and tinkering with 10,000 top-down, imposed changes occurred with ICEL 98? All these occurred with VC 2011: a secretive, closed, punitive, self-referencing top-down process if ever there was, compared to ICEL 98 and ICEL 73.

      2. Mr Howard, any response to Fr Wilson’s comprehensive reply to your question?

        And, by the way, who says he MUST? Musts, shoulds, have tos and oughts and their obnoxious synonyms have rather a wide currency in your posts.

      3. Hello Mary

        No “MUSTS” were included in my post: just an invitation to reply to Fr Wilson’s response.

        Have a wonderful day!


      4. I don’t think the ICEL 98 texts were as consultative as the supporters would like us to believe.

        There were Bishops Conferences who were very uncomfortable with the adaptations ICEL made to the text and wanted to change that – they were told it’s going to be a beuraucratic nightmare to resend the thing to the other 10 Bishops’ Conferences for them to approve the changes. Eventually all the Bishops’ Conferences caved in and “approved” the ICEL98 text with all the adaptations ICEL proposed and the Bishops didn’t want.

        So yes, the ICEL98 texts have their fair share of bones and corpses in the closet. It’s the darnel that we learn to live with.

      5. Simon’s comment about the bishops caving in, etc, is pure fantasy. Unfortunately it is rather typical of the misinformation that is spread abroad on various blogs and websites that we need not mention here. If only people would debate the issues based on facts, rather than on what they have gleaned elsewhere.

      6. Reading through the transcripts of the debates would indicate that ICEL had more control over the texts than the Bishops’ Conferences, unless the Conference decided to do away with ICEL texts and do their own.

        Part of the later norms from Rome sought to correct this imbalance by placing adaptations solely within the province of the Bishops’ Conference. Whether the new rules work well is open to evaluation, but the old ICEL rules which generated the ICEL98 texts had its fair share of problems.

  11. Once we are in a world where “for many” means “for all”, then there is no reason that “bottom up” cannot mean “top down”, or “poetic” cannot mean “gibberish”.

  12. Never has there been a more bottom up process for producing a translation in the history of the Church.

    People of whatever persuasion seem to think that a missal draft had “wide consultation” if they like the text, and/or if their friends and acquaintances were consulted.

    When it comes to the people in the pews who constitute my friends and acquaintances there was never any consultation. No focus groups. No opinion questionnaires. No random sample trial implementations.

    Similarly with priests: Hardly any consultation let alone wide consultation Again no focus groups. No opinion questionnaires. No random sample trial implementations.

    There has never been a bottom up process that in any way really involved the parishes.

    In this case “many” means “the fewest of the few.”

    All this fighting about who and how many people were involved in this process which was very remote from the parishes is worthless.

    I am particularly tired of liberals pretending that if they were in charge of the church they would listen. Not much evidence of that. I don’t see any of them running out and systematically gathering data. They are just looking for people who agree with them.

    One of the reasons why we have very little research done on liturgy, is that very few people interested liturgy or in charge of the liturgy care what people in the pews think or experience. Their minds are made up; they do not need facts to confuse things.

  13. When some priests questioned our bishop about the process a few years ago, we were summarily dismissed, there was not discussion, no explanation.

    1. Don’t you just love the modus operandi of the Catholic Church? white is black and black is white. This is why my inclination is now toward high church Anglicanism, they have their own problems but at least they don’t speak from both sides of their mouths in such a blatant way.

    2. The Association of Irish Priests had a particularly disillusioning experience when they tried to engage the Irish bishops on the new translations. One may say that the bishops responded contemptuously.

  14. Moroney’s comment is illustrative of my observation on the process: It is impossible for a priest or bishop to speak honestly about the Vox Clara 2010 without endangering his career.

  15. Looking ahead to Thursday: who were the consultants that thought “prevenient grace” was a good idea?

    What a bait-and-swith rip-off.

    1. “Prevenient” is an excellent word, but a technical one that is better read than heard, I think. Context clues do not help very much when hearing “prevenient grace” said aloud in that prayer. Some hearers may wonder if there is a new kind of grace to go with actual and sanctifying.

  16. I looked it up on and learned that it means “coming before”. The definition was followed by the following comment:

    Prevenient is always a great word to know.
    So is slumgullion. Does it mean:
    (a) a stew of meat, vegetables, potatoes, etc.
    (b) a children’s mummer’s parade, as on the Fourth of July, with prizes for the best costumes.

    I fear that Vox Clara forgot to put slumgullions in the new missal. Yet it’s such a good word to know!

  17. Whatever the degree of consultation there was before implementation, what would be of great value would be the willingness of each Bishop to ask his diocesan community what they think in six months time. That could be very informative. Would it be too much to ask?

    1. Be assured, in six months time, many bishops will regale us with tales of all the people who’ve come up to them lauding the new translation.

      What we really need is a properly designed poll by an independent body, not a collection of anecdotes. But yes, that is probably too much to ask!

      1. To what end? The changes in the liturgy aren’t subject to the views of the congregation. As Vatican II put it, “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.” Not on opinion polls—which will almost certainly be skewed in any event—of the laity. Didn’t the top-down imposition of the ritus modernus and ICEL1973 make that clear?

        I truly don’t understand why some Catholics now seem to believe in a congregationalist ecclesiology.

      2. Simon, the goal of such a (hypothetical) consultation would be to find out how the People of God are accepting the new words, to find out if they find that it has improved their worship, or if it is driving them away from the Church and/or from the Lord.

        The Church’s mission is to go out to the ends of the Earth and proclaim the Good News. If the new words fail at this task as dismally as I fear they do, it is the duty of those who design the liturgy to fix it. They won’t know it’s broken unless they ask.

        Had the ’98 been implemented, a consultation would also have produced good data about how that was being received.

        If there was no consultation on the ’73, the bishops missed out on an opportunity.

    1. And every once in a while, the People of God rise up and put Royalty in the guillotine. Hey, if the “biological solution” doesn’t solve our problem ……

  18. I am no expert on the 1998. However, Simon Ho’s comment strikes me as a more accurate portrayal than the hyper-glorification of the ’98 ICEL draft. I’m not saying the new translation and its development are beyond reproach — but it would seem naive to think there weren’t bureaucratic pitfalls, significant controversies, and hurt feelings in the previous go.

  19. I would like to place on record that, for the 2008 version, my bishop asked three people to comment, of whom I was one. My comments were, if not diametrically opposed, certainly very different from those of one of the other consultors.

    I have also now been charged with devising a proforma to assist the garnering of feedback on how 2010 is going. I wonder how many other dioceses are contemplating doing this?

  20. I was pastoring a small rural parish in the mid-80’s. We received a questionnaire from the worship office seeking our input for the consultative process on the next sacramentary. If that isn’t bottom up, I dont know what would be. That process continued for another decade and led to the 1998 translation that was ceremoniously shelved by the Vatican revanchists.

    1. I think an earlier poster said this was “top-down, bottom-up”. You could coment because somene gave you the opportunity.

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