Eamon Duffy on the New Missal

You will know of Eamon Duffy as the brilliant historian who overturned received notions of the English Reformation and showed how deeply the Catholic piety of the populace was disrespected by the reformers. And, more important to the purpose of this blog, as the relentless critic of ICEL translators dumbing-down and distorting the sense of Latin liturgical texts. His “The Theological Implications of Translation” in 2000 (in Stratford Caldecott, Beyond the Prosaic) was a tour-de-force assertion of the need for accurate and beautiful and memorable English translations.

And then came the new ICEL, and Vox Clara, and the 2011 missal.

Duffy’s appraisal of the new missal? His recent Table article “Style is Not Enough” is mostly about how great Pope Francis’s change in style is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get the needed change in church structure. Which would affect how translations get approved. In Duffy’s words:

In any case, it is not self-evident that Francis actually wants a radically decentralized papacy. Take the single issue of the appointment of bishops. Since the late nineteenth century, almost all bishops have been appointed by the Vatican. One direct consequence has been the internalized subjugation, or, if you prefer, the disabling deference of the world’s bishops to managerial papacy. Cardinal Schönborn’s admission of the pusilanimity of the Austrian episcopate is a case in point, as is the craven acquiescence of the English-speaking conferences in the ghastly translation of the Missal which now afflicts us.



  1. The English reformers got rid of a lot of superstitious nonsense, and gave the people lovely prayers as well as the holy scriptures in their own tongue.

    This was not unlike the blessings brought forth by a certain Council in our own days. Alas, the prayers are not so lovely but perhaps another prose stylist like Blessed Thomas Cranmer will change that.

    1. @Brian Duffy – comment #1:
      Just a historical clarification: “English reformers” were not a univocal group. Many stayed Catholic. The Marian reformation was not only noted for persecution, but also for what was probably the first nation-scale systematic reformation of Catholic clergy and prelates in the 16th century. (As a historical matter, we can’t credibly reduce the Marian reformation down to the persecution any more than we can reduce Thomas Cranmer’s only down to the many negative things it entailed.)

  2. The letter from Bishop Maurice Taylor published recently in the Tablet added significant weight to the discussion, for he was chair of ICEL at a crucial time, from 1997 until 2002.
    The ICEL translation from 1998 that was so unceremoniously set aside, had received acceptance from the hierarchies in the English-speaking world.
    But to no avail. The version we currently have in use did not receive the same approval as Bishop Taylor indicates in the final paragraph of his letter. Countless changes were imposed on us without consultation.
    Now we are caught between a rock and a hard place, between the urgent need to re-appraise this Translation and the cost and confusion of doing so. But re-appraise it we must.
    Donald Cozzens in his book The Changing Face of Priesthood quotes from the great Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Heschel. “….he claimed that he preached in order to pray”. Preaching and praying are so closely intertwined, for Heschel goes on to say “….preaching is successful when it leads the assembly to prayer”. The preacher must be a man of prayer and his prayer time gives vitality to his preaching. Our prayer time has been disrupted.
    However often we hear words of encouragement regarding the use of the New Translation, there remains this obstacle to prayer that has been imposed on the English speaking Church without the necessary conversation. But more than that, its imposition has directly over-ridden the Collegiality of our Bishops with Rome. It is no small wonder that the aftershocks of this earthquake continue to cause disruption and dissent, polarising opinion and so creating division with the Church.
    It is time to look for realistic leadership from our Bishops as has happened in Germany. Might we not re-visit the 1998 text? Is that too much to ask? Maybe the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster will now be in a position to encourage his fellow bishops in England and Wales to think again.

  3. Brian Duffy : The English reformers got rid of a lot of superstitious nonsense, and gave the people lovely prayers as well as the holy scriptures in their own tongue.

    You should try reading some of the scholarship of Eamon Duffy (no relation, I presume).

  4. Eamon Duffy’s views on the new translation lend weight to the argument that the disgraceful hybrid ought to be replaced without delay.

  5. Why on earth would Mr. Dunlap assume that I had not read Mr. Eamon Duffy’s scholarship? Indeed I have read the Stripping of The Altars but believe they should have been. Just because one disagrees with an author does not mean one does not appreciate his scholarship.

    As to being a relation to Mr. Duffy, I should be so honored if I were.

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