The TLS and the New Missal

This week’s The Times Literary Supplement carries a vigorous review of the UK edition of the Roman Missal: link here.  The author is Rupert Shortt, a Roman Catholic theologian and journalist, who has written biographies both of Pope Benedict and of Archbishop Rowan Williams. For his books, see here.

It can speak for itself, obviously. Let me just add that the alleged Pelagianism of the 1973 Missal is surely less heinous in its effects than the frequent and unqualified references to ‘merit’ to which we are now subjected. Of course there are ways of understanding this concept in ways that avoid Pelagianism–see the brilliant argument of Thomas Aquinas here–but at the cost of redefining the word in ways that no speaker of modern English could possibly follow without a great deal of help.


  1. What a brilliant article! Yes, “merit to be coheirs” comes across as a proud Pelagian declaration. The “angry God who demands blood as propitiation for human sin” is ascribed not to the Roman Canon but to the modern Prex eucharistica III.

  2. @Daniel McKernan – comment #1:
    I tend to agree that the objections to the 2012 missal include not only the so-called literary quality of it or lack thereof, but more importantly that it recovers the theology of the post-Vatican II Ordinary Form Mass in Latin, which is the template for all vernacular translations and primarily its theological, doctrinal, spiritual and devotional content whereas vernacular syntax and literary beauty are secondary. It has to be the height of Anglo-arrogance to think that the English version Mass of 1973 has a theological, doctrinal, spiritual and devotional superiority that is actually of Vatican II while the Latin Version of the 1970 missal does not.

  3. @Daniel McKernan – comment #1:
    I took his reference to the “unsettling implications” to mean a possible interpretation that hearers might take away, rather than the plain meaning of the Latin text.

    I myself am not sure I agree that the new translation implies the “penal substitution” view of salvation as strongly as Shortt says it does. The old translation of this passage, however, was one of my favorites in the 73 translation and I mourn its replacement by something that is, let’s face it, clunky.

  4. “recognising the sacrificial victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself”

    In August of last year, I said that I thought the crucifixion was part of God’s plan, basing my opinion on texts such as:

    * Isaiah 52-53 (“it was the will of the LORD to bruise him”),
    * Mark 10:45 (“the Son of man also came … to give his life as a ransom for many”),
    * Luke 24:26ff (“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer”),
    * John 10:8 (“I have power to lay [my life] down … this charge I have received from my Father.”),
    * Acts 2:23 (“Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”),
    * Galatians 1:4 (“[Jesus] gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”),
    * and 1 John 4:10 (“[God] loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins”).

    This part of Eucharistic Prayer III echoes that sentiment, that God willed to reconcile us to Himself through His Son, and not just “through His Son” in some vague or general sense, but through the sacrificial death (and glorious resurrection) of His Son.

    The wording of the Latin here in EP III (“cuius voluisti immolatione placari“) is blunt: “by whose sacrifice you willed to be appeased/placated/reconciled”. I suppose you could interpret that in two ways:

    1. that, upon seeing the death of His Son, God made it (i.e. willed to make it) the means of reconciliation;
    2. or that God had already willed that the death of His Son be the means of reconciliation.

    Or, to put it another way:

    1. having received lemons, God made lemonade;
    2. God willed to have lemonade.

    These suffer the drawback of introducing time into the equation, but I think my point is clear.

    P.S. Although EP III was written in the 1960s, this particular line is taken from the Veronese (Leonine) Sacramentary, #1302: “Suscipe, domine, sacrificium, cuius te uoluisti dignanter immolatione placari, et presta, quaesumus, ut huius operatione mundati bene placitum tibi nostrae mentis offeramus affectum.” So while the EP is a modern composition, it drew on much older sources.

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #5:
      A lot hangs on how one translates placari. Because of the English cognate we might be tempted to think of it as meaning “placated” and implying that God’s wrath has been appeased by being poured out on Jesus. While this view is not entirely alien to the Catholic tradition, and even has some recent defenders (most notably, Hans Urs von Balthasar), it is certainly not the majority position in the tradition. Placari can also have the more general sense of “reconciled,” which is the meaning found in theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, and which is how both the old and the new translations render it.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #9:
        For the interpretation of ‘placatio’ it is good to look at the Prayer over the Offerings for Christmas Day, which is found in both the Veronese and Gelasian Sacramentaries:

        Make acceptable, O Lord, our oblation on this solemn day,
        when you manifested the reconciliation
        that makes us wholly pleasing in your sight . . .

        This is a somewhat free translation of:

        Oblatio tibi sit, Domine, hodiernae sollemnitatis accepta,
        qua et nostrae reconciliationis processit perfecta placatio,

        but it preserves the essential point that God is already perfectly placated. This means that we do not have to translate ‘placatus accipias’ in EP1 as ‘be placated and accept’, but merely ‘graciously accept’.

        Unfortunately, this was not appreciated by whoever adapted this text from the Veronese and Gelasian to make a new Prayer over the Offerings for December 23 in the 1970 Missal, which the new translation accurately renders as:

        May this oblation,
        by which divine worship in its fullness
        has been inaugurated for us,
        be our perfect reconciliation with you, O Lord . . .

        Here, our reconciliation with God is represented as something to be prayed for, whereas the original represents it as something already accomplished.

    2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #5:
      ‘Hostia’ is often translated ‘victim’ in English, but whereas ‘victim’ is always animate, ‘hostia’ can be animate or inanimate, as in ‘hostia laudis’. By using an upper-case H, the editors of the 1970 Missal indicated that they wanted ‘Hostiam’ in EP3 to be understood as animate – that is, as referring to Christ.
      In Veronese 1302, the antecedent of ‘cuius’ is not ‘Hostiam’ but ‘sacrificium’. As 1302 is a Secret (=Offertory) prayer, it is reasonable to take ‘sacrificium’ as referring to the eucharistic sacrifice soon to be enacted. Despite the acknowledged unity between the Mass and Calvary, we would not expect the priest to say ‘Pray, brothers and sisters, that my Victim and yours may be acceptable’ or the people to reply ‘May the Lord accept the Victim at your hands’. By a change of words, the 1970 revisers changed the meaning of this ancient clause.
      The plot thickens, however, when we realise that Dom Cipriano Vagaggini, whose suggestions shaped much of EP3, originally proposed ‘cuius voluisti intercessione placari’ – ‘by whose intercession you willed to be appeased’. There is no implication of propitiation by blood there. An unknown hand substituted ‘immolatione’ for ‘intercessione’.
      The new translation softens the Latin, making the Father a reconciler, rather than one who demands blood for his propitiation. A strictly literal translation would be ‘recognising the Victim by whose immolation you willed to be appeased’ but, had such an expression been brought into the English Mass, it would not have been possible to justify it by appeal to tradition.
      In EP1, though ‘hostiam’ is printed in lower-case, the translation has ‘this pure victim, / this holy victim, / this spotless victim’. An alternative would have been that offered by Finberg and O’Connell: ‘a sacrifice that is pure, holy and unblemished’.

      1. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #10:
        There is also Veronese 879: “munera tua, dues, institutor, inlustra, et per has hostias quibus te placari voluisiti, sanctifica misericors immolantes” although “has hostias” is plural.

        The super oblata of Friday in Lent I reads: “Suscipe, Domine, propitiatus hostias, quibus et te placari voluisti, et nobis salutem potenti pietate restitui.” Again, in the plural. (“Accept the sacrificial offerings, O Lord, by which, in your power and kindness, you willed us to be reconciled to yourself and our salvation to be restored.”)

      2. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #10:

        The triple invocation of hostia in the unde et memores, and especially hostiam immaculatam, offers a rich view of anamnesis which recalls not only the classical Roman meaning of hostia but also strong eschatological and Hebrew Bible foci. The Finberg and O’Connell translation, while capturing the semantic substance, severs the streams of allusions which flow through the threefold invocation. From a pre-Christian classical Roman standpoint, hostia does not refer to sacrifice itself (e.g. votum, sacrificium) but rather the animal offered. The Finberg – O’Connell translation, by translating hostia as “sacrifice”, misplaces the propitiatory focus.

        Monsignor, I appreciate and recognize the translators’ desire to focus more on the reconciliatory aspects of atonement than the propitiatory aspect. Still, I do wonder if at least one point in the translation of a eucharistic prayer, as here with the unde et memores, a statement of immolation must be made to balance a more reconciliatory interpretation of hostia in other places in the eucharistic prayers.

      3. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #10:

        Re: Vagaggini….that is interesting as the switch occurs alongside the change to “Hostiam” from Vagaggini’s original “Agnosce quaesumus Victimam cuius voluisti, etc.”, which was changed to avoid the notion of a bloody offering (‘aspectum cruentum’) . I wonder whether the change was made in order to stress the sacrificial character with respect to Christ, and avoid a more neutral idea of offering.

  5. The author doesn’t complete the picture of centralization (or as he puts it, usurpation) of translation. I refer to Vox Clara’s thousands of unilateral “corrections” after ICEL and the national conferences thought they had faithfully conformed to Liturgiam Authenticam. It’s possible that the specific prayers that the author uses to illustrate his points are themselves examples of this additional layer of centralization.

    Of all the twists and turns of the saga of the new translation, this is the one that is most worrisome to me.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #6:
      Some of the more egregious blots on the literary landscape of the new Missal translation are indeed the result of the final edit.

      Two of the most awful – picked up by many commentators – are the Easter Preface ending where we are, apparently, ‘overcome with paschal joy’ (a request to pass the smelling salts?) and the Annunciation Preface which seems to omit all mention of the ‘heavenly messenger’ which is in the Latin text.

      So much for Liturgiam Authenticam!

      In the first instance there must be doubt as to the facility of the editor with the English language. In the second, it is simply sloppy work.

      Isn’t it time for a long term look at this Missal to try and turn what needs to be turned into English and correct the mistakes? I write as one who thinks that what we have now is a great improvement on 1973. But that’s not to claim it is not in need of substantial further work.

  6. Thanks, JP, especially for your PS. Before commentors attack the 1973 translation, you need to read and study the documentation and transparent texts and reasons for why ICEL made translation choices. It is all there (rather than some of the above comments that indicate no understanding of history or are rewriting history to underline an ideological point of view).
    ICEL (1973) faithfully followed and implemented according to the translation method approved by the council and Paul VI. In addition, many of the *objections* to their translations can be explained by things such as JP’s *PS* – they used or ressourced to other church sacramentaries (as Msgr Harbert’s new website hopefully will eventually show; and if you do the research on why choices are made and supported).

  7. One objection I voiced to my bishop back in July/August 2010 whilst in Loudes with Shrewsbury Diocese was that I didn’t recognise my faith coming across in the new words. Perhaps some of the theology of the ancient Latin (that might come across on a literal reading) had been softened, or perhaps just better explained, in the 1973 translation. Anyway, that was what I had grown up with. That was the God I knew, the God I’d been taught about by my parents, my Catholic school and the numerous retreats I had been on. The God of the New Translation is not a God I recognise. A God wanting his pound of flesh is not my God. I told my bishop in no uncertain terms that a community that knows itself knows which documents reflect itself, and the new translation does not reflect my community. He’d have none of it. He said this principle only worked when considering scripture and nothing else. A failure in my catechesis was then blamed for my having any issues with the new translation with the implication being that if I had been better educated I would be embracing it. Mgr Rod Strange’s book ‘The Catholic Faith’, which I discovered in university after my first experience of evangelical Christians put into words what I already knew deep down. I would say on reading that book that nothing was at odds with anything I had been taught. That book reflected my faith, and judging by its title, it should have done. The new translation does not.

  8. The New Testament has not just one,but several, theologies of salvation, which do not always sit easily together; so from the beginning there are several ancient traditions, as they sought ways to express their faith in the language and experience of the time.

    The book which Rupert Shortt reviews (actually he doesn’t review the book itself) here is not the altar edition, but a people’s Sunday Missal. I have the “monster” edition, the CTS New Daily Missal, which has the prayers (in both English and Latin for considerable part) and readings for the whole three year cycle – 3340 pages. A curiosity is that on the page after the title page, it gives the publication information, including the information that the Latin texts are the copyright of Libreria Editrice Vaticana, and then: “Sine eiusdem licentia scripto data liceat hunc Missale denuo imprimere aut in aliam linguam vertere”. This means: “Without their written permission, it is permitted to reprint this Missal or to translate it into another language”. Clearly the typesetter should have put in “non liceat” – it is not permitted…”. I don’t know whether this error is replicated in the Sunday Missal in the review, but as things stand, you now have it in writing that you have full permission to reprint the Latin texts, and to translate them into other languages!
    Now, don’t all rush together …

  9. Truly a brilliant article, except for the Pelagian note, which Fr. Endean rightly corrects.

    Fr. Griffiths, someone really ought to write about the lingering death of Liturgiam authenticam. As much as I dislike that document, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that it has been only selectively followed.

  10. The point for me is that in the 1973 translation of the Missal the translators actively protected the English-speaking Church from realising exactly what those prayers said in the Latin original. In other words, as well as using dynamic equivalence and as well as pitching the texts at the level of the working-class parishes which form the vast majority of Catholic communities, they also translated the spirituality of the 6th-9th centuries into the spirituality of the late 20th century.

    I am quite convinced that if we had been given the full force of the Collects, etc, in 1973 we would have risen up and rejected them as alien to where we were spiritually. “This is not how we think of God”, we would have said, “and we cannot pray like this.” The problem today is that we are now being subjected to this alien spirituality 40 years later, having become accustomed to something that speaks to 21st-century Catholics, and so we are even less likely to wish to accept the “unsettling implications” than we were then, as Mark Coley powerfully attests.

    That is a major reason why there has been so much adverse reaction. People are either staying away or tuning out these texts, whereas previously they were able to feed on them. Vox Clara’s feckless tinkering with the “final” text has simply served to muddy the waters. I do not think that fixing those many instances of sheer ignorance/incompetence is going to solve the problem by itself. More is required.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #17:

      Your argument does not seem to be grounded in history. A lot of Catholic devotions and practices in the years before the Council would have made the God portrayed in the 1973 texts particularly mild compared to their devotional experiences. There were also competing English translations of the Missal for use by the laity – none of them went as far as the 1973 texts in sugarcoating the imagery of God.

  11. Thanks, Paul….and add to that fact that no one here is talking about 1998 – how did it handle the examples above?

    Again, Msgr suggests that an *unknown hand* substituted a word translation – and yet, as Paul explains above, that was or may have been part of the translation process according to Comme Le Prevoit – again, ICEL has left us the documentation to indicate why *that specific translation* (is it just an unknown hand?)

    For discussion sake, let’s say that Msgr posits an actual fact. Let’s compare that to the current translation, LA/RT and what Fr. Griffiths states above….we know that there have been many *unknown hands* making inaccurate word translations, meanings, etc. violating their own LA regulated process.

    Wonder if those looking for a connection to a theological statement about sacrifice, atonement, propitiation, reconciliation – would suggest that ’73 ICEL may have reformed the Trentan formula in place for 400 years via ressourcement, a more balanced approach, and using the various EPs to do both/and.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #18:
      Msgr’s “unknown hand” remark was not about a translation issue, it was about a word-choice issue in the drafting of the Latin text of EP III:

      “Dom Cipriano Vagaggini … originally proposed ‘cuius voluisti intercessione placari’ – ‘by whose intercession you willed to be appeased’. There is no implication of propitiation by blood there. An unknown hand substituted ‘immolatione’ for ‘intercessione’.”

  12. There’s at least another factual error in the article by Shortt. “ICEL had also produced a draft translation of the Psalter using a limited amount of inclusive language”

    Having been forced to use that psalter when I stayed with some religious houses, there was nothing limited in that psalter’s use of inclusive language, or of very unconventional turn of phrases. I was thoroughly amused at how ICEL’s psalter rendered the first line of the Nunc Dimittis, and couldn’t help thinking to myself, perhaps uncharitably especially since we were praying, how funny it would be if the whole community never woke up from sleep the next day. That was after the imprimatur was rescinded at Rome’s insistence (Thanks be to God for that).

    1. @Simon Ho – comment #22:

      The imprimatur may have been rescinded, but large numbers of religious communities across the US still make daily use of the ICEL Psalter which, it has to be said, is an excellent example of succinct and yet meaty phraseology in prayer. It is not without its flaws, of course, but it certainly feeds the spirituality of those who use it. Your spirituality may be different.

      Its imagery can be quite stark and thought-provoking on occasion, and its use of inclusive language is nowhere near as marked as some other versions. It all depends where one is coming from.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #23:

        Its phraseology was definitely unique; as far as I know, no other serious translators out there have imitated its unconventional imageries (or lack thereof: “God of cosmic power” =???). If imitation is flattery, then I would think few minds judged that work to be as successful as you believe.

      2. @Simon Ho – comment #26:

        Simon, you have missed my point which was that, despite its seeming uniqueness, a heck of a lot of people still use the ICEL Psalter to pray with.

        In fact it was not alone in its radical approach to the psalms. In the same league are Sullivan’s Lyric Psalms: Half a Psalter (1983) and Tragic Psalms (1987) and Peter Levi’s Psalms translation (1976); and the paraphrase version by Ernesto Cardenal (1981) is also in the ring. Since they all preceded the ICEL (1994) version, they can scarcely be accused of imitating it — probably the reverse, in fact.

  13. Simon Ho : @Paul Inwood – comment #17: Your argument does not seem to be grounded in history. A lot of Catholic devotions and practices in the years before the Council would have made the God portrayed in the 1973 texts particularly mild compared to their devotional experiences. There were also competing English translations of the Missal for use by the laity – none of them went as far as the 1973 texts in sugarcoating the imagery of God.

    Simon, I don’t know if you were around before the Council, but the fact is that the 1973 texts corresponded to a shift in the mindset of the Catholic population that had already taken place. Thinking Catholics had already left behind much of the sentimental “devotional experiences” that had formerly been in use. It would have been rather strange if the 1973 texts had ignored that and simply reverted to something that no longer existed in the way it once had . You can read all you like about preconciliar Catholic devotional practices, but that doesn’t mean that large quantities of people still did them in the years before the Council.

  14. I find it strange when one particular theology is “canonised” over all others and made absolute. Also when the same is done with a particular spirituality. Yes, we need to know and learn from the variety of theologies and spiritualities in tradition. As Chesterton I think said: “Tradition is the democracy of history”.
    But we must not be imprisoned by them: tradition is a living and growing experience. To absolutise a theology or a spirituality (or indeed a language like Latin) is to be unfaithful to them. Tradition is not “wearing my grandfather’s hat”; it means continuing to bring new life into the world.
    As Newman wrote on the development of ideas: “From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
    I wonder was Newman wrong in one respect: perhaps in a higher world it is not in fact otherwise. Eternal life is not a stagnant pool; it is a flowing stream.

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