More Examples of Non-Inclusivity

In a recent blog post, Fr Michael Joncas referred to the priest “who effectively separates himself from the gathering of the faithful; he prays on behalf of them to God, not as one of their members.”

This manifestation of non-inclusive language is one that has been a concern for me for many years. Priests can unthinkingly separate themselves from the rest of the assembly because of the texts they proclaim. Worse still, they can even come across as patronising or presumptuous, once again because of the texts.

The problem has been particularly acute in texts such as the Solemn Blessing for Advent in the 1973 translation:

You believe that the Son of God once came to us;
you look for him to come again.
You rejoice that our Redeemer came to live with us as man.
May almighty God bless you,

You could almost hear the people’s minds ticking over: “Father, doesn’t any of this apply to you? Are you one of us? And how do you know what we’re thinking, anyway?”

Once you have “seen” this, you cannot unsee it. The solution would have been very easy: for “you” and “your” substitute “we”, “us” or “our” as necessary to render the texts inclusive. That general principle in fact still holds good for all the Solemn Blessings. The more recent 2010 translation is actually less objectionable in this regard, though the convoluted syntax of the Solemn Blessings makes it non-inclusive in a different way!

By contrast, the Prayers over the People in the 1973 version generally referred to “us”. In this respect, 2010 is a step backward, referring to the people of God as “you” or, rather more frequently, “they”, as if we were some separate entity not even present at the celebration.

As a general point, do we want Almighty God to bless all of us, or just those who aren’t the priest? Don’t priests deserve blessings too? Many priest acquaintances of mine always say “May Almighty God bless us [all], the Father….”, making it clear that the priest considers himself to be an integral part of the liturgical assembly and not an outsider.


A different manifestation of non-inclusivity appeared in the former translation of the Nuptial Blessing, formulary A:

Look with love upon this woman, your daughter,
now joined to her husband in marriage.
She asks your blessing

— as if she were not capable of asking for God’s blessing herself! The text following told the husband what to do (“put his trust in her”), but no blessing for him! The 2010 version has now redressed this imbalance by giving us:

Look now with favor on these your servants,
joined together in Marriage,
who ask to be strengthened by your blessing.

One wonders why this (correct) translation of the Latin text was not used in the 1970 translation. The Latin runs:

Réspice propítius super hos fámulos tuos, qui, maritáli iuncti consórtio, tua se éxpetunt benedictióne muníri:


Another form of non-inclusivity is found in the Intercessions section of Eucharistic Prayers II-IV.

EP II (1969)

Lord, remember your Church throughout the world;
make us grow in love
together with N. our Pope,
N. our Bishop, and all the clergy.

EP II (2010)

Remember, Lord, your Church,
spread throughout the world,
and bring her to the fullness of charity,
together with N. our Pope and N. our Bishop*
and all the clergy.

This tends to perpetuate the view that the Church consists of the hierarchy alone. There is no explicit mention of the People of God.

EP III (1969)

Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth;
your servant Pope N., our bishop N.,*
and all the bishops,
with the clergy and the entire people your Son has gained for you.

EP III (2010)

Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity
your pilgrim Church on earth,
with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop,*
the Order of Bishops, all the clergy,
and the entire people you have gained for your own.

EP IV (1969)

Lord, remember those for whom we offer this sacrifice,
especially N. our Pope,
N. our bishop,* and bishops and clergy everywhere.
[Remember those who take part in this offering,
those here present and all your people,
and all who seek you with a sincere heart.]

EP IV (2010)

Therefore, Lord, remember now
all for whom we offer this sacrifice:
especially your servant N. our Pope,
N. our Bishop,* and the whole Order of Bishops,
all the clergy,
[those who take part in this offering,
those gathered here before you,
your entire people,
and all who seek you with a sincere heart.]

In both these prayers the people are mentioned in last position — all the important people come first (the same progression as in EP II). Even if this is not the intention, the impression given is that the people have been relegated to a last and lowly place. In the case of the 2010 translation of EP IV, the phrase “and the whole Order of Bishops” gives the hearer the impression that an extra stratum has been added.

In this connection we should notice that our aural perception is very different from our visual perception. Aurally, we hear what sounds like the most important people coming first, and so they do. By contrast, visually — for example in a procession — the less important people tend to come first and the most important come last.

Imagine how different it would feel if, for example, EP III ran like this:

Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity
your pilgrim Church on earth:
the entire people you have gained for your own,
with all the clergy,
N. our Bishop* and the Order of Bishops,
and your servant N. our Pope.

In my opinion, this would have a greater chance of giving the people the impression that they actually matter.

Near the beginning of this reflection I used the word “unthinking”. It seems to me that in this and many other cases not covered here we should be using much greater discernment in the way we use texts, and perhaps how we might modify them, so that everyone feels that the whole assembly is truly a single worshipping Body, not “them and us”.


  1. Thanks for the stimulating post, Paul. Your argument is persuasive and the exmples of reformulated prayers are more inspirational than what is currentky there, in my view.

    Do you think the same general point holds for the simple blessing also – that it would be an improvement for the one presiding to pray “May Almighty God bless us…”?

    Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery!

  2. Thanks for the stimulating post, Paul. Your argument is persuasive and the exmples of reformulated prayers are more inspirational than what is currentky there, in my view.

    Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery!

  3. It also might be good to have hard evidence that The People in general understand themselves to be excluded by these words as argued here.

      1. Not all of us do think that we are excluded. And I would bet that if you asked most people on the way out of Mass if they thought that they weren’t included (or excluded) they wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about. This is yet another example of a problem that professional churchmen seem to find. How many angels are on the head of that pin?

  4. But the Church is hierarchical in nature. This was true of Israel in the Old Covenant and in the Church of the new. We see this in the New Testament with the distinction between the apostles and the disciples. The priest in not merely a member of the faithful but a shepherd appointed to lead them. The attempt to eliminate this distinction and level all the faithful to a single homogeneous whole is extrinsic to the faith, coming neither from Scripture nor Tradition, but rather from secular political thought.

    1. Is that completely true? Was the apostolic church *hierarchical* in the way you are defining it? Or, was it hierarchical via service, ministries, etc.

      Think you are *canonizing* one period’s interpretation and experience of *hierarchy*. Don’t want to get into the whole Roman Empire/Constantine impact on church models, governance, etc. but the underlying point suggests that we take a more nuanced look at *hierarchy* and how its expressions can be culturally impacted. (speaking of secular political thought)

      Allow me to add – Paul’s example from EPII rewords such that we start with all the people of God and then move to service/ministries such as the bishops. This appears to meet what you say but frames it along a more inclusive (and better theological) manner.

  5. While I understand (I think) the argument, and I’m all for debates on how the Latin is best translated (I actually think that’s really important at times), I would say that I never actually thought of this as an issues of “us lay people” not being important. Rather, I viewed (and still view) the Eucharistic Prayer as talking about how we in this place here understand unity: Unity first with Christ, then the bishop, then the priest, then the people of God, each coming under the other-which on some basic level is true. The local church is realized in the Bishop for example.
    All that said, I think you’re right we need to do something, but maybe the something is not change around the liturgy, but rather educate everyone (bishops, priests and lay people) on the proper order of things-ordination is a sacrament of service to the Church but also to the people of God and I think we all could benefit from hearing that truth more often.

  6. The mistranslation of Nuptial Blessing A seems particular egregious! The new translation seems much preferable. Knowing the Latin uses the word “famulos” to describe the newly-wed couple is nicely illuminated by Br. Lazowski’s article from earlier this week.

    I was surprised by the inclusion of EP examples initially. For EP2 (which is very commonly used in my church), I’ve always associated the laity of the church with the phrase, “your Church throughout the world”, with additional blessings for the hierarchy coming after. This seems similar to EP1 where the primary focus is on “your holy catholic Church”. The ‘together with’ group for EP1 seems thematically linked as teachers of the faith (pope, bishops, clergy, those who pass on the faith). In this regard EP4 seems like the ‘odd-man-out’, lacking the first blessing for the church universal (composed largely of laity).

    1. I’m hearing this in the pews the same way you seem to hear it. That the church is us in EPII in both languages seems to be made clear in both the normative Latin and the recent English translation when the pope and bishop are referenced as “our”/”nostro” and not “hers”/”eius”/”earum”.

  7. I wonder how much this has to do with the decline in Mass attendance since the late Sixties… after the novelties of the vernacular, the new EPs, and the re-formed liturgy wore off – did the People of God begin to slide away, tune-out, or sleep-in because they gradually became conscious that – according to the texts – they didn’t matter?
    Fascinating theory… perhaps the basis for a more nuanced understanding of the” phenomenon of decline”…

    1. A causality theory that would require hard evidence relating specifically to texts, not for other reasons, of course. In the land of Church Stuff, however, the matter of hard evidence is something that is often elided.

    2. Sorry, you repeat a tired and unproven mantra – e.g. decline in Mass attendance since the late Sixties.
      CARA studies indicate, document, and show that your statement is too general; decline has to be defined; is different depending upon US region, diocese, etc.

      Let’s just say that you make an inaccurate over-generalization.

  8. I’m inclined to agree with Will Maritrant: in EPII and EPIII the whole people of God is mentioned, and in the first position. But I’m also not entirely convinced that in oral proclamation that which comes first receives the emphasis. Are there empirical studies on this.

  9. Interesting, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate to pray for the clergy. It’s not a question of them/us, but it does recognize their unique duties and responsibilities.

  10. I’d like to sharpen a point here. In the complexities of a very complex event such as liturgy there has to be room for intercession. At times we pray for someone else, not for ourselves. At times the priest prays for the congregation and not for himself, as in the blessing. At times the congregation prays for catechumens, and not for themselves, OR for the priest. When any of us intercedes for another, we do not put ourselves in the viewfinder but rather should focus on the person we are praying for. This isn’t “exclusion” — it’s focus.

    There are certainly times, however, when the priest is praying as part of the people gathered, and voicing a prayer prayed in common for all who are gathered.

    Therefore I would say it’s not either/or but both/and. The discernment needs to be specific for each kind of prayer.

  11. One small demurer on the question of the ‘last blessing’. The blessing is given after “The Lord be with you” which is the cleric/minister asking the ‘blessing’ from the assembly that he (or she at the Office in some cloistered convents) might serve the assembly by doing their ‘job’ well for those present. (This is the situation each time that ‘asking for Blessing/permission to act’ throughout the Liturgy). So the Blessing is not here ‘we’ but ‘you’. However in ‘solemn Blessings’ that can be used at the end of Mass, it would make sense for the several intentions use ‘we’ but the actual Blessing be ‘you’. In addition I have never understood why the general word ‘clergy’ is used in the EP’s. It would be better to say after mentioning the Pope and Bishop, ‘priests and deacons’ and then to include ‘the entire people’. Our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox brethren do that — as do the Roman Rite French speakers.

  12. I wholeheartedly concur. Mass, or Eucharist, if you prefer, is meant to be a community table celebration and worship of the Three Persons of God, a simple communio of sacerdote and the people of God. The entire community of faith should evidence or be icons pointing to the Triune God, in hierarkos, not hierarchy. And that right order needs to be upheld and evidenced in our thoughts and in our words, in what we do and what we say.

    And although i might start a firestorm, it would also be right and good to consider the monarchical language added over time. We are not Jewish, so we could consider not using Adonai’s translation of Lord (not to mention that Lord is universally used for Father or Christ).

    And we might actually name the Holy Spirit in all prayers, instead of Abba and Christ; and use Abba as well instead of Father, since Adonai simply said “I AM”, and Paul said “ALL in ALL. Either we are a Trinitarian people who believe in a Triune God, or we are not. Just my mystical thoughts.

  13. View from the pew
    Regarding: “It seems to me that in this and many other cases not covered here we should be using much greater discernment in the way we use texts, and perhaps how we might modify them, so that everyone feels that the whole assembly is truly a single worshipping Body, not “them and us”.”
    – Always the assembly hears everything even when there are lapses in listening; perhaps long lapses.
    – A possible added benefit to affirming and re-inforcing a ‘… single worshipping Body,…” is that when things go awry in a parish the people will not so readily decamp for they know that they are the Body [of Christ] as opposed to one of persons in congress so that each one’s spiritual tank is tipped off on a Sunday. For if one’s frame of reference for liturgy is of the ‘gas station’ model, then there is nothing that really keeps one on board when the bark of peter is about ready to keel over, or so it would seem.

  14. To a degree, words and good translations are important–I don’t want to deny that. Rita’s point on focus is well-taken. However, actions and attitudes communicate much more. I recall a priest who thought himself as “one of us,” but in many ways, exhibited a desire for a certain set of privileges. He thought little of the directive not to leave the sanctuary, but at the Lord’s prayer, when he urged people to cross the aisles, he himself stood with his back to the altar as he joined the left and right front rows. It was a most interesting sight, illustrative in a way he didn’t detect.

    I think people detect the smell of their shepherds well enough. Words sometimes mean very little in that context.

  15. My particular face/palm moment is in the Good Friday solemn intercessions.
    The third one refers to those who minister in the church … our bishop, all bishops, priests and deacons and previously mentioned “all who have a special ministry in the Church.” and all God’s people.

    The new version runs ..
    “Let us pray also for our Bishop N.,*
    for all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons of the Church
    and for the whole of the faithful people.”

    At a time when those with other ministries (be it cleaners, readers, servers, musicians or those ferrying the infirm so that they can get to church at that time) are pulling out all the stops to ensure a worthy celebration of the Triduum it seems perverse to deliberately exclude them.

    1. Interesting observation. I checked the Latin and a line that had been in the 1970 Missal, “et pro omnibus ordinibus Ecclesiae,” in the introduction to that prayer no longer appears in the 2002 Missal.

  16. Paul,

    To address your specific point about the different versions of the nuptial blessing between the 1973 Sacramentary and the 2011 Missal, it is because the text of the blessing changed from the 1969 Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium and the 1990 Second Typical Edition. The 2011 Missal would have followed the updated text in the revised Marriage Rite.

    1969 Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium
    Réspice propítius super hanc fámulam tuam, quae, maritáli iuncti consórtio, tua se éxpetunt benedictióne muníri:

    1990 Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium
    Réspice propítius super hos fámulos tuos, qui, maritáli iuncti consórtio, tua se éxpetunt benedictióne muníri:

    1. Jeffery,

      There must be something wrong here. I have seen a version of 1969 which has super hanc famulam tuam….. expetit, and another version of 1969 which has super hos famulos tuos…expetunt. But a singular famulam tuam with a plural verb expetunt as in your example is simply incorrect Latin. Does anyone know if two Latin versions were produced in rapid succession, like the 1969 Missale Romanum and the 1970 corrected reprint?

      1. A copyist error on my part, it should be “expetit” in the 1969 version. It would be interested to see the Latin of the 1960/70 Missale Romanum.

  17. My copy of the Missale Romanum is dated 1971 (prima reimpressio). It has:

    Réspice propítius super hanc fámulam tuam, quae, maritáli iuncta consórtio, tua se éxpetit benedictióne muníri: (Note the “iuncta” instead of “iuncti”)

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