David Gibson: Will the latest Catholic Mass translation get another overhaul?

David Gibson asks this question at Religious News Service: Will the latest Catholic Mass translation get another overhaul?


A new translation of the Mass has been used in the nation’s Catholic parishes for less than three years, but there are signs that the language — often criticized as stilted and awkward — could be in for another edit.

“We’ve tried it, we’ve lived with it, we think it needs correction,” Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory told a conference on liturgical reform last month in one of the most public and high-level expressions of discontent with the missal, as the Mass text is called.

Read the rest here.

Gregory was seconded by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, in an echo of comments last year by Bishop Robert Brom, now retired as head of the San Diego diocese, who said “the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay.”

Reopening that process would be a momentous step.



  1. I love Pope Francis, but would he be the best pope to oversee the production of a new English missal? In the first place, he doesn’t speak English, and though his language is often forceful, and he generally manages to make himself quite clear, sometimes he doesn’t seem to care very much about (how shall I put this?) accuracy of expression.. Just ask the Vatican Press Office.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #1:
      Yes, he is does speak English, is beginning to do so more and more and very clearly. He understands it and he reads and writes it quite well but admitted he couldn’t quite get the hang of the pronunciation when he was first elected but that is changing.

  2. He is also humble enough to recognize that native English speakers would and should be the ones doing the work of translation, unlike B16 and Vox Clara.

  3. What’s done is done and I sincerely hope that no one revisits this translation for a long time.

    I’m not making a statement one way or another about the advisability of it in the first place. The statement I’m making is meant to reflect the reality that my city parish with a limited income purchased all sorts of new printed music as well as new hymnals, for a grand total in the thousands of dollars that, frankly, without the impetus of the new missal we never would have considered spending.

    I sincerely hope that no one forces us to spend that kind of money again. And some sort of “insert” concoction would not work well either in my opinion.

    Another issue – people are weary of change. And yes, they were weary of it in the first place with this new missal. But now that it HAS changed, and it’s settled in for a few years, please do not put them through another change. For so many people, church is the one constant, firm anchor in their lives. Let’s not keep yanking it back and forth as the winds of ideology change every couple years – because surely if Pope Francis were to reverse it, in another ten years certain powers would probably be in favor again at the Vatican and could have it changed back yet again.

    We’ve got what we’ve got. Let’s live with it.

    1. @David Jaronowski – comment #4:

      We’ve got what we’ve got. Let’s live with it.

      This argument would never stand up in other areas. “I’ve got a pretty new car, but it doesn’t work properly. But it’s what we’ve got. Let’s live with it.” I don’t think so.

      The sooner this “pastoral disaster” of a text (description by a significant number of bishops) is fixed, the easier that change will be, so I’m all for doing it sooner rather than later, especially as discontent with “what we’ve got” shows no signs of diminishing, even though some would have had us believe that all we had to do was get used to it. Putting off the evil day when we have to effect change is as bad as burying our heads in the sand. We owe it to future generations to take action now.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #5:
        OK, but what about those of us who got up there and explained the rationale for what was being done and WHY the Church was asking this of us? Sure, we explain, well the Church has now recognized that this was a mistake … Then, like I said … in 15 years, we stand up again and say “OK, remember how we changed this in the first place, then realized it was a mistake? Well, now the current Pope has said that we need a reform of the reform of the reform … we need to go back to the Latin texts for a more faithful translation – again.”

        And the average pew sitter tunes out (even more) and decides that this whole Church thing is basically made up on the whims of people anyway.

        I don’t think I’m overstating the danger here.

        Sometimes when you are lost, you turn in another direction and go farther – then turn and go yet another direction and end up far more lost than you ever were. Sometimes you need to stop turning and just STOP and stand still. I feel like that is where we are at right now.

        And honestly, as for the “discontent,” well I feel that that is overstated. I haven’t heard a peep of talk about the new translation at my parish in years. Sure, maybe there are parishes where people are leaving every week and/or complaining about it, but I don’t think my place is so remarkable either. I think most people have settled in.

        What I think they WILL complain about is more CHANGE.

        My $.02 and your mileage may vary.

      2. @David Jaronowski – comment #6:
        I hear your concerns, David, and I respect your views as well as Paul’s.

        But just to clarify what my proposal is: nothing would change for the people in the pews, or at most a word or two that is most objectionable to them (eg consubstantial) would change. So I’m not sure there would be much explaining to do to the people. My proposal only changes SOME of the priest’s parts.


      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #7:

        I agree. Let’s position this as v.3.1 rather than v.4.0.

        What concerns me more than the actual content of the new translation, is the process by which we were given what we have, in which Vox Clara more or less unilaterally rewrote what ICEL and the English-speaking conferences had composed and approved. If there is now a window of opportunity to undo that unfortunate precedent and restore the bottom-up process by which liturgical texts are composed and revised, via submitting some judicious revisions, then let’s jump on it. I would guess that the various national conferences and Francis would be sympathetic to this restoration of the former process. And I believe that we’d also end up with a better text to pray.

      4. @David Jaronowski – comment #6:
        OK, but what about those of us who got up there and explained the rationale for what was being done and WHY the Church was asking this of us?

        Yes, indeed, and I was one of those people, doing extensive preparatory formation work not only my own diocese but in three other English dioceses and an American diocese as well (substituting for the acknowledged US expert who had been banned by the bishop from speaking in that diocese). I was also part of a national subcommittee which produced a vast spread of formational materials for use in dioceses and parishes. Hundreds, probably thousands, of hours spent in toto.

        We did what was asked of us, knowing that we were trying to defend the indefensible. I am sure that many of my colleagues would say the same. I see no problem with saying that as loyal servants of the Church we implemented what was required of us, but that under a new papacy with a refreshing new outlook on what it means to be a Catholic today it is time to admit that what we did was supportive of the dying throes of an ancien régime that wanted to put the clock back to pre-Vatican II.

        Personally, I think the formation we gave was valuable and opened people’s eyes to much that they had not seen before, so it was not wasted time. And I think that we were realistic about the difficulties in the pipeline that would be experienced. In fact those difficulties were greater than we had imagined, and that is saying something. And they have not gone away, which is why we are having this conversation now.

        The way for all this to work, of course, is for our bishops to exercise real leadership and at least say that, after trialling the new version, it has been recognized that it was not an improvement, and that (as the politicans say) “lessons have been learned”. I think people would respect them more if they said “We were wrong to implement it, and now please let us move on to better things.”

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with Paul’s comment (#9) that our efforts at formation on RM3 were not wasted. Done well, I believe that the formation that accompanied the introduction of this translation helped people understand the “WHY” of the changes, as much as “WHAT” was changing.

    As I type this, I have on my desk two copies of the “Peoples Mass Book”. One was published in 1964 (the white book) and one published in 1970 (black book). Both were in the pews of my home parish and used in the years following Vatican II.

    I took these books to some of the RM3 presentations I made to parishes, so people could see for themselves that the mass texts had changed in the past, sometimes quite rapidly. For example, the 1964 book has the Nicene Creed translated with the line “of one substance with the Father”, and the 1970 PMB translation was our familiar “one in being with the Father”. I told people that we would likely see changes to the texts in the future because the Church is a living and growing organism and because our understanding of language changes as we use it.

    So for David (#6) and the rest of us who explained the changes, I don’t think our next round of formation will focus on RM3 as a “mistake”, but that any future changes are the result of living with, and praying with this translation, and finding ways to improve upon it so people don’t (in David’s words) “tune out”, but are drawn more and more into the prayer of the mass, including the prayers the Presider voices on behalf of all of us.

    As I listen to the priests of my parish struggle with (and sometimes stumble over) the text, I pray for a translation that is not dumbed down, but rather, flows with a beautiful English prose fitting our celebrations. We almost had one in 1998, so the possibility exists.

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