Archbishop Gregory on new missal: “…flaws and difficulties… it needs correction…”


Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, GA was keynote speaker at a conference on “Celebrating the Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” held last Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, FL, hosted by Bishop Robert Lynch. Archbishop Gregory was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2001-2004, and chair of the conference Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy 1991-1993.

In response to a question on the missal translation, Archbishop Gregory gave his interesting appraisal of the way forward. Go to 1:40:35 for that excerpt – Pray Tell transcription of his comments is found below.

Questioner: Thank you, sir, for a wonderful overview of the development of the liturgy. I wonder if you would like to speak more or less specifically to the present translation into English of the liturgical texts which [applause breaks out] I know some people lament as being far too tortured. Personally I happen to be a translator and so I see some of the things that I would consider to be infelicitous, and what do you think about principles like, say, subsidiarity and so on, in at least trying to fix some of the real strange things. Thank you.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory: A couple of things I would say.

Certainly the new translation is not… [pause] … without its difficulties. How’s that for being diplomatic? [laughter] I think that what we need to do with that translation, to be perfectly honest, its imposition, [correcting himself] – it’s in possession, we need to live with it for a while before we take up the task of saying, “This is not adequate to the worship needs of our church, for this reason, for that reason, for this reason,” the pastors of the church have said, “This is a difficulty, that is a difficulty, let’s look at it.” I think what we had to do was receive it, try to live with it, and come up with a much better and informed review of its flaws and difficulties.

I like to look at translation as an art – it’s not a science. And it has to be sensitive not just to words, but to culture and to context. There are certain works of art and literature that were written in a particular culture that don’t translate well into another language. Shakespeare, in spite of the best French translators, in spite of the best German translators, loses some of its English poetry when it goes into these other languages. Japanese poetry, haiku, which is that tightly constructed limited number of letters and characters, doesn’t translate adequately into Spanish. We know that.

What we need to do now, after a period of time of living with it, come back and say, not: “We told you so!” – which I think a lot of pastors want to say – “We told you not to do that!” [laughter] [Bishop Lynch raises his hand and says, “Guilty!”] – but to say, “It’s inadequate for this reason, that reason, this reason; we’ve tried it, we’ve lived with it, we think it needs correction.”

Bishop Lynch: I just want to say that I totally agree – that as difficult as the moment may be for some, it is in possession, and … I totally agree… we need to live with it, or we’ll come up with something that won’t meet the expectations of another time. I’m saddened by the fact that we lost that beautiful piece from 1995 [Bishop Gregory nods], or 1998, or whatever year it was. But I think he’s spot on.a

Pray Tell has a series of posts on translation and the new missal planned for coming days, including release of the final results of a national study of the attitudes of clergy and lay leaders on the new missal carried out by the CARA research center.


  1. Well, if he gets named to replace George; not only will that change things in Chicago but will go a long way to correcting George’s bullying in ramrodding LA and this translation through the USCCB.

    Geez, guess the George statement in the 1990s that the *Liberal Catholic experience was dead* reminds one of the Samuel Clemens statement that the *reports of his death are greatly exaggerated*.

    Wonder if the archbishop will get a phone call from Fr. Z?

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #4:
      Why is that a good thing, Bill? He seems to be doing well in Atlanta. And I thought we were supposed to stop trading bishops around from see to see, which encourages careerism?

      I see Gregory as a politician here. We must never do anything to suggest that the bishops’ earlier decision on the Missal may have been, uh, inappropriate? That’s not so much about humility as it is about the bishops saving face, istm.

      Besides, anyone who could say a multi-million dollar home would enable him to “smell like the sheep” — yes, despite his later apology — is dangerously out of touch with those realities that are obvious from the ground.

      The impression I get is that he sees the world “from above.” This is the same Gregory who warned of “false prophets” during the height of the abuse crisis. He appealed to the bishops’ sense of being persecuted and aggrieved. But in the end, you know, it’s not about them. And it would have been nice if Gregory could have seen that.

  2. Somehow I cannot get as excited about the maneuvering of ambitious hierarchs to rise through the ranks as Bill DeHaas suddenly seems to be. :-/

  3. >>> “its imposition, [correcting himself] – it’s in possession” <<<

    Made me say hmmmmm ….

  4. I rather think that the Archbishop planned a home that would be suitable for a cardinal should Francis decide to appoint an American or two next time out. They have one in Houston after all. Why not Atlanta? As for Chicago, I hope that Francis gets good advice and appoints a bishop not interested in higher office but a proven servant leader. Perhaps the Bishop of Little Rock?

  5. Regarding: “I think what we had to do was receive it, try to live with it, and come up with a much better and informed review of its flaws and difficulties.”

    – Meanwhile, down in the pews, our children and young people are repeatedly hearing that which neither aides in catechesis nor assists in evangelization.

  6. None of the bishops who rammed through the new translation could have spoken as correctly about translations of Shakespeare and haïku.

  7. I think what we had to do was receive it, try to live with it, and come up with a much better and informed review of its flaws and difficulties.

    No, we didn’t. This just proves how out of touch many of our leaders actually are.

    If they wanted an informed review of its flaws and difficulties (and notice that he admits that these exist, unlike some of his confrères), all they had to was watch the steady dissection of the text on this blog as the weeks went by, carried out by as good a panel of experts as you could want to assemble (think “dream team”). Then they would have realized just what a pig in a poke they were going to promulgate. The fact that they were not aware of, or decided to ignore, Pray Tell, ignore the tens of thousands of signatures on the “What If We Just Said Wait” website, and disregard numerous other manifestations of advance and informed discontent speaks eloquently of their disconnection with what is actually going on.

    No need to wait and “try to live with it” before seeing the manifold problems of the text. These had been obvious a long time before, and their results are being seen now as congregations continue to haemorrhage. No need to “receive” it either: if the German-speaking bishops had the cojones to say No to the Congregation, as they have done several times, and the French- and Italian-speaking bishops could prolong negotiations without yet capitulating, these guys could have done the same. It’s no good saying in private now that the thing has been a pastoral disaster while in public wringing your hands and saying what else could we do.

    The unfortunate reality for most bishops today is that they have to spend so much of their time as financial administrators that they have lost sight of the pastoral realities that people at grass roots level have to contend with. Talking of which, if the entire USCCB had come together to celebrate Mass on the Mexican border, what a powerful sign would that have been!

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