Oops… When the pope departs from the Latin Missal

by Dennis Smolarski SJ

I found it interesting that Pope Francis used as a key thought in the beginning of his homily to the new Cardinals a line from the collect of Sunday’s Mass, “be ever attentive to the voice of the Spirit.”

The problem is that “attenti alla voce dello Spirito” only appears in the Italian (paraphrase) version of the Collect. The Latin (which is what the Pope proclaimed) reads “Prasesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut, semper rationabilia meditantes, quae tibi sunt placita, et dictis exsequamur et factis.” (The current English Missal has, “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you,” and all three texts were printed in the booklet given out at St. Peter’s and available on the Vatican website.)

So the pope several times in the homily referred to a text that is not based in the Latin (and probably would never have passed Vox Clara’s scrutiny). “The voice of the Spirit” is not a bad image and Pope Francis used it well. But I wonder if he realized that it was not based on the “official” Latin Collect of the liturgy of the day! I wonder how many of the other language translations that appear on the Vatican website containing his homily had to be translated from the Italian for the purpose of the homily translation, rather than going to an “official” Missal!

Dennis Smolarski SJ works at Santa Clara University.


  1. Maybe Italian should be the official language of the Roman church. It is after all what Romans speak and understand. Imagine if we had to translate the liturgical books from the “official Italian” – a living language of living people. How much more Roman could you get; how much more connected to the Bishop and people of Rome?

  2. The Italian also has “Merciful Father” instead of “Almighty God”. Evidently it is not only the 1973 English-speaking translators of the Missal who felt the need to make God more “approachable” in their modes of address.

  3. “I wonder if he realized that it was not based on the “official” Latin Collect of the liturgy of the day!”

    Is this a big deal, as in: another one of those things some people fuss about, like they did when the Pope washed women’s feet?

    Either way, my guess would be: the Pope wouldn’t have cared one bit.

    Speaking of Latin vs. Italian vs. English missal texts, I’ve also always found it interesting to see in the Vatican booklet these three texts of the Eucharistic Prayer shown side by side:

    “for you and for many; per voi e per tutti; pro vobis et pro multis”

    Anyway, with Cardinal Pell now set to head a new Vatican department, it seems quite likely that Vox Clara of the yesteryears will be no more.

    1. @Elisabeth Ahn – comment #3:
      Yes, per tutti=for all. This is something I have noticed when he says Mass in Italian. Apparently Jesus died for all Italians but only for many English speaking folks. I am in the process of completeing a letter to Papa Fancesco and that is a question I am asking. Maybe his mail screeners will have a smile the day they read the letter but it will probably never get to him. It is only one of may questions I have to ask him.

      1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #26:
        Thank you. That particular wording in the revised translation was painful for me. As a result and after about a 6 month discernment I gave up being a cantor/choir member. I have sung in church since 4th grade (now in my 60’s with still a strong voice) when the good hoods figured out i was the big mouth who could carry the melody line. With RM3, I felt my voice had been taken from me. It is more than just my singing voice…..I think all laity have had their voices taken from them by this translation. I feel such anger that I will not attend a Mass in this translation. I am fortunate in that I know a retired priest who celebrates a Mass in his home to which I am invited now and then. He uses the previous translation. If not for that I would be suffering from Eucharistic famine. I hope and pray that my letter may reach Francis. I am encouraging all my Catholic firiends to also write him.

  4. The translation is the text, right? Even though it was proclaimed untranslated?

    I understand the Liturgy of the Hours is being retranslated. I am sure the texts I use to pray will lose some of the imagery that has become dear to me, in the pursuit of ever-more-precise accuracy, just as “attentive to the voice of the Spirit” presumably would disappear if the Italian is brought into line with Liturgiam Authenticam?

  5. I thought I remember reading in one interview or another that the Pope’s personal Breviary is in Latin. If that’s truly the case, then I’m sure he was aware of the difference. While I to be of the opinion it is best when vernacular translations stick pretty close to the imagery in the Latin collects, that doesn’t mean other imagery is unsuited for preaching! How silly! It’s just a less than honest translation.

    1. @Richard Skirpan – comment #5:

      I would normally be very wary of impugning translators as dishonest, and, knowing some of them, I can assure you that those who worked on the Messale Romano in Italian were people of the utmost integrity.

      However, it does appear that the Vox Clara translation team members were at the very least cynical, quite possibly insincere, as well as inept and unco-ordinated. Whether this makes them dishonest or just plain incompetent is another matter. It all depends on whether they really believed in the discredited and outmoded translation philosophy they were following or whether they were in fact deliberately trying to make life difficult for the people of God (including the clergy).

      If only all the bishops (and there are many of them) who are saying in private that the 2010 Missal is a pastoral disaster would come out and say it in public…

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #7:
        My sentiments exactly – regarding your last remark! With Pope Francis ushering in a “new climate” in the church, the question is: WILL all the bishops who view the new Missal as a pastoral disaster have the courage to say so publicly? Or will they continue to remain silent on this (and other) matters out of a misplaced belief that the church cannot (or ought not) change or reverse a policy once established (because that would threaten the image of an “unchanging church”)?

      2. @Richard Novak – comment #10:

        I think the main problem now is the question of expense: the new translation cost one heck of a lot, especially for poor parishes with little in the way of financial resources. And publishers still have a certain amount of unsold stock of 2010 — altar missals in different sizes, pew cards, not to mention music settings.

        To produce something new, with additional expenditure, would make a lot of people very angry, angrier than they already are, especially those in the pews. The bishops don’t want to risk that, nor risk being branded as spineless because they didn’t stand up to CDW in the way the German Conference has.

        So: three main options seem to present themselves:

        (1) Return to the 1973 Missal. This is the least likely I think, because a proportion of priests have already dumped their old copies, as they were advised to do by some (not all) national liturgy secretariats, instead of hanging onto them so that they could continue to use (for example) the EPs for Masses with Children. The problem here will be hymnals and missalettes that have already been converted.

        (2) Make changes to the 2010 version, and encourage pastors to make pencilled alterations in their expensive new books. Of course, a proportion of pastors have already been doing precisely that, so it won’t be anything new. Same publishing problem as above.

        (3) Allow the 1998 version, which is already approved, to be used, and furthermore allow and even encourage pastors to download the PDF files onto their iPads, etc, and celebrate from those, avoiding the expense of purchasing new books or altering old ones. Once again, hymnals and missalette programs will need to make major adjustments.

        The big snag with all this, the huge amount of money that publishers have already spent on revised editions of existing musical settings, not to mention new settings, is going to take a long to time recoup, even if things continue as they are now. The other problem is re-correcting missalette programmes, which is a massive undertaking.

        I am confident that that there is a significant proportion of bishops now who feel that substantial tweaking, if not more drastic surgery, is required for pastoral reasons, and I wonder if they might opt for option (2) as the least expensive way out. I hear endless rumors that bishops are talking about how to get themselves out of the mess they have landed themselves (and us) in, so they clearly think there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

  6. Imagine that! I get the impression *voce clara et actu* that things like this do not much disturb the Holy Father. He sets the pace, as it were, so it would be advisable to follow suit.

    A mistranslation of the Liturgy of the Hours being prepared? Cardinal Pell ought to save a lot of money and cancel that nonsense. If no one rushed to purchase a new breviary when it arrives, there might soon be a sale amongst the booksellers. . . . I have a very fine 4-volume set which serves me well. . .and will continue to do so. Turning 80 nest birthday I certainly have no intention of buying a new set. Ecce! problem solved. “O happy days. . . ”

    fr Gerald

  7. And the English translation quoted above has one less comma than the Latin. Could it get more convoluted? We’re talking AT God. Still.

  8. Well, one part of a solution is to leave the 2010 people’s parts alone as they are.

    For me, I wouldn’t bother fiddling much with the Order of Mass itself, either, but instead focus on the proper orations, where the fetishizing of Latinate syntax and schoolboy reliance on cognates had so many poor effects and that are heard so infrequently as to make gradual apprehension by the faithful more of an obstacle than it needs to be or is prudent or wise.

  9. I agree with leaving people’ parts as they are. My parishioners already know 4 revised or new settings of the ordinary. They still know all the older ones by heart. Just issue a revised RM in good English (including word order). I’d also favor approval and publishing of 1998 translation. I know of people who use the ’98 opening prayers which were available from England. Paul, do you know if that little paperback is still available?

  10. When one considers all the expenses a parish has, the cost of a new Sacramentary is minor. Go with the ’98 translation!

  11. Is the 1998 version still on line? I have a copy I downloaded a while ago but it is no longer available where I got it before.

    I wonder how CCC 2408 would be interpreted in regard to passing around PDF copies:

    “2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. […]”

    It would be interesting to know who the owner really is. And if the text better communicates the love of God then its ongoing suppression has to be contrary to reason.

    If the church wishes to be open it should have no problem putting the fruits of its labour out into the public domain.

  12. Ah, yes, we may have prayed today this alternate opening prayer for Year A, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

    Lord God,
    your care for us surpasses
    even a mother’s tender love.

    Through this word and sacrament
    renew our trust in your provident care,
    that we may abandon all anxiety
    and seek first your kingdom.

    We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
    who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
    God for ever and ever.

    And perhaps some of us did.

    1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #17:


      Do you know what the “Prayer Over the Gifts(Offerings)” was in the 1998 version for today, the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time? The reason I ask is that I was quite confused by the one I prayed at Mass today from the current Roman Missal, especially the second half of the prayer:

      “O God… we ask of your mercy
      that what you grant as the source of merit
      may also help us to attain merit’s reward.”

      Does anyone know what that means?

      1. @Fr. Jim Chepponis – comment #19:

        O God,
        you provide us with gifts
        to be offered to your name
        and you accept them as a sign of our loving service.
        In your mercy
        grant that the offering you enable us to make
        may obtain for us an enduring reward.

        We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

      2. @Fr. Jim Chepponis – comment #19:
        “… that what you grant as the source of merit
        may also help us to attain merit’s reward.”

        “Source of merit” is referring to Eucharist, which God enables us to offer in the first place. Thus, may (our offering of) the Eucharist bring us its reward, eternal life.

      3. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #28:

        Whether or not Mr. Pinyan is correct in his interpretation of the prayer, this serves as an instance that in translating such a huge body of material as the Roman Missal, no one norm for translation can reasonably be held to apply. There is a place for word for word rendering, and also for paraphrase. I don’t think people get the idea of ‘merit’ at all. If priests don’t (and I get e-mails about this particular question from colleagues) then congregants won’t, either.

        In this case a word for word rendering is hard to construe, as your contributors have written. Mr. Pinyan supplies an interpretation, which actually makes sense. So here, a paraphrase would have served us better than a literal translation.

        We have another awkward rendering coming up in the Prayer over the Offerings for the first Sunday of Lent, which in the new version begins:

        Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray,
        to make these offerings …

        The Latin is

        Fac nos, quaesumus, Domine,
        his muneribus offerendis convenienter aptari, …

        ICEL’s original was much clearer:

        Make us duly ready, we pray, O Lord,
        to offer these gifts, …

        Am I alone in finding ‘right dispositions’ somewhat strange language? We are asking that the offering we make is not just formal but committed, that we may be made one in heart and mind with the gifts we offer.

        Alan Griffiths.

      4. @Alan Griffiths – comment #30:

        I love the first line of the Latin:

        Make us, we ask you Lord…

        My mind often spins off before the end of a prayer, so I would probably miss the rest as I considered the implications of asking God to make us. Delightful little misconstrual.

        ICEL at least retained the Lord as maker. The Missal instead turns the Lord into a Giver, while we “make” this offering. How is any of this slavishly literal? If they are not going to use make to describe God, they should not use it of us.

  13. Prayer over the Gifts, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (1998 Sacramentary):

    O God,
    you provide us with gifts
    to be offered to your name
    and you accept them as a sign of our loving service.
    In your mercy
    grant that the offering you enable us to make
    may obtain for us an enduring reward.

    We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  14. Paul Inwood : Looks as if Ron and I were posting at the same time!

    That’s OK, Paul. Posting the prayer twice only reinforces its superior translation. And Jim, the language of “merit” is difficult to translate. Whatever we “merit” is God’s grace to us. So I think that the language of “enabling” is quite acceptable – all the English-speaking conferences of bishops thought so as well.

  15. Paul & Ron,

    Thanks for the 1998 version of the Prayer Over the Gifts for today. It is very comprehensible. And the 1998 alternate Opening Prayer is wonderful. It would have served nicely to “set the stage” for the upcoming First Reading and Gospel, as well as my homily!

    But if I had difficulties understanding today’s Prayer over the Offerings from our current Roman Missal, I wonder how many people in church today understood it, despite how clearly I tried to proclaim it?

  16. What what it’s worth, here is the 2008 text — seeming the one approved by bishops before it was “edited” by Vox Clara — along with the Latin.

    O God, who provide the gifts to be offered to your name
    and reckon our oblations a sign of devoted service,
    we ask your mercy,
    that what you grant as the source of merit
    you will also bestow as the means to our reward.
    Through Christ our Lord.

    Deus, qui offerénda tuo nómini tríbuis,
    et obláta devotióni nostræ servitútis ascríbis,
    quæsumus cleméntiam tuam,
    ut, quod præstas unde sit méritum,
    profícere nobis largiáris ad præmium.
    Per Christum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *