Multiple Translations in Use Together

The Tower of Babel, by Peter Breughel the Elder

by Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

November 26. 2017

Today is Christ the King and at the end of the day I had a simple reflection on the furor about the various proposals (including my own) to use some sort of an edited version of the 1998 Sacramentary translation side by side with the current 2011 Roman Missal translation.

Some objections to the possible rehabilitation of the 1998 Sacramentary mention how confusing it would be if in English we had two translations of some prayers in parallel use, with the celebrant having the possibility of picking whichever he thought better for his given assembly.

I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, in the U.S.A., on loan to the Archdiocese of Armagh in Ireland. My primary ministry is in a seminary, but I also help out in a local parish as a weekend assistant. This morning I had to leave the seminary early to celebrate Mass so I prayed Morning Prayer by myself using my U.S. breviary. When I pray by myself I usually use this translation as I’ve been using it since I was a teenager and I’m more used to it (I’ll leave it to the Canon Lawyers to argue as to whether this validly fulfills my obligation to recite the Liturgy of the Hours!!). At the conclusion of Morning Prayer I prayed this concluding prayer:

Almighty and merciful God

you break the power of evil

and make all things new

in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.

May all in heaven and earth

proclaim your glory

and never cease to praise you.

We ask this

through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God for ever and ever.

Then I went to celebrate Mass at the parish, where I prayed this Opening Prayer (from the current Roman Missal):

Almighty ever-living God,

whose will is to restore all things

in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,

grant, we pray,

that the whole creation, set free from slavery,

may render your majesty service

and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Then, when I returned to the Seminary, I prayed evening Prayer in the Seminary Chapel with the seminarians. We used the Irish edition of the breviary (which was not prepared by ICEL, but by the Bishops of Ireland, England & Wales, Scotland, Australia, etc.). At the conclusion of the prayer we prayed:

Almighty, ever-living God,

it is your will

to unite the entire universe

under your beloved Son,

Jesus Christ, the King of heaven and earth.

Grant freedom to the whole of creation,

and let it praise and serve your majesty for ever

(We make our prayer) through our Lord…

If I’m not mistaken I prayed three distinct approved English translations of the same prayer and it did not cause me any undue spiritual distress or confusion. In fact, I still think that if the 1998 Sacramentary translation were added as a possibility it would not be the end of the world. For completeness sake, this is how it is translated in that version:

Almighty and eternal God,

you chose to restore all things in Christ your Son,

who is king of heaven and earth.

Grant that all creation,

set free from the bondage of sin and death,

may offer homage to your majesty

and join in singing your eternal praise.

We ask this 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.

The English and Welsh Bishops’ Conference has recently stated that the Congregation for Divine Worship has informed them that Pope Francis’ motu proprio Magnum principium  “cannot be applied retroactively.” And that specifically this means that the possibility of a future approval of the 1998 Sacramentary is off the table.

As some comments in the post on this development have already noted, I also think this is more a case of people getting the answer they wanted. I am reminded of the story of the two young novices who went separately to their spiritual director, one asked permission to smoke while he prayed and was told that this was totally disrespectful and not possible. His confrere asked for permission to pray while he smoked and was commended for his desire to bring God into every aspect of his life.

I honestly can’t see this as being a case of Roma locuta est, causa finita est. There is simply too much weight in the arguments for granting formal approval to these texts that, while not perfect or eternal, have been developed with great expertise and sensitivity to the spiritual needs of English-speaking Catholic assemblies. An adaption of some of the central texts of the 1998 Sacramentary is simply the best solution to our current worship needs. The intervention of the English and Welsh bishops may dampen my proposal a little, but they do nothing to address the pastoral issues that remain and our need to find a practical solution to a real problem. We must not simply resign ourselves to the continued use of a manifestly substandard liturgical translation.


Neil Xavier O’Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. He currently ministers in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland, where he serves as vice rector at Redemptoris Mater Seminary. He has studied at Seton Hall University, the University of Notre Dame, and St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds a Doctorate in Theology from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.



  1. ” An adaption of some of the central texts of the 1998 Sacramentary is simply the best solution to our current worship needs.”

    So you say. But what you argue is not a sufficient quo warranto. If I am going to credibly object when traditionalists take this tack, I must when my own side does. Failing to do this consistently is part of what has undermined longer term goals of our side. I do not think that looking back longingly at 1998 is an immediate solution, but likely more to delay a proper solution, which would require more work, not less. The world only spins forward. Look forward, not backward.

    1. I fully agree that time spins forward. We absolutely need to start work immediately on a completely new translation of the missal. One that builds on all previous translations as well as taking any linguistic and theological developments into account. However, it took about 20 years to prepare the 1998 translation. It could well take another 20 years to prepare a new translation (the rite of Exorcism that was finally published in the first English translation a few weeks ago took 19 years to translate). The missal is a long and complicated and it is not easy to translate. There are still many steps to go through in order to have it approved. I do think that we must look to the future. However, from a pragmatic point of view, if we are realistically looking at a 2037 date for a totally new translation (if it is started tomorrow), I think that it would be good to offer the possibility of optionally using what many liturgical and linguistic experts consider to be the best current liturgical translation in English that would need only some minor editing and could easily be ready for use by Advent of next year.

    2. One could move forward without reinventing the wheel. There is a difference between starting a translation from scratch versus a substantive revision of an existing translation whether that be 1998, 2008 or 2011. Bishop Challoner made substantial revision to the Douay–Rheims in 4 or 5 years.

      1. True. But when you are dealing with a liturgical translation that needs to be approved by multiple bishops’ conferences (who only meet a couple of times a year and each of which has to deal with a huge multiplicity of items from child protection to the refugee crisis) a new translation or a substantive revision will, by definition, take years. In theory, a small team of qualified and dedicated translators could produce such an edition in a matter of weeks or months. But this is not a realistic view of reality, as it takes no account of the approval process by multiple bishops’ conferences that need to look at the work divided into a number of sections and who need to make suggestions for improvements (that in turn will have to be worked into the master translation and then be approved by the other conferences). Even assuming a rapid recognition of said translation by the CDW, a new or substantive revision will take many years.

        Yes, I think this should be done. But a quick adaption of a translation that has already been through the whole process, can easily furnish a more pastorally usable option that will help the Church maintain a reasonable worship until such time as a new translation is ready.

      2. I imagine that Karl Liam Saur and I are generally on different “sides”, but I’m in total agreement with him on this one. Cheerleaders for RM 1998 need to realise that it is, to channel Monty Python, an ex-parrot. It’s not resting or pining for the fjords, it’s dead.

        And after the near-constant whinging from (e.g.) The Tablet and others, why on earth would the Bishops be inclined to even think about implementing another Missal translation until the current one has been in use at least as long as RM 1973? No-one just walks up to a third rail and grabs it, unless they’re mad!

        @ Fr O’Donoghue: a quick adaption of a translation that has already been through the whole process…

        With said process ending in the Holy See formally rejecting it in 2002.

        In any case, even if the 1998 Sacramentary hadn’t been rejected, is it fair to assume that the Bishops’ class of 2017 would just wave it through? For England and Wales, by my reckoning there are currently only two non-retired Bishops who would have had any chance to vote on 1998 at the time (the Archbishops of Southwark and Westminster, as it happens). I would argue that, in order to be fair to the current episcopate, it would still have to go through all the processes, multiple votes, Grey/Green Book stages, etc., all over again, making it far from a “quick” process.

  2. The following is yet another translation of the same collect and, if I am not mistaken, was the 2008 version proposed to the bishops for their approval, before Vox Clara made the final edits. As others have suggested, if the Missal contained the texts the bishops actually approved in 2008, we might have fewer theological and linguistic problems.

    Almighty everlasting God,
    you have willed to restore all things
    in your beloved Son, King of the universe;
    be pleased to grant that the whole creation,
    freed from slavery,
    may serve your majesty
    and join in praising you without ceasing.
    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.

  3. I am not a hater on 1998 although some choices were not my cup of tea, but this is a bad idea. It is just another argument that will surface at the parish level. New pastor comes in and switches from one version to the other. People complain that their preferred translation is not used. People who follow along with their hand missals see that the prayers they are reading don’t match with the prayers they hear.

    Although I am fine with the current translation, I would rather have 1998 used alone instead of two translations at once.

  4. Manifestly, there are at least a couple of alternatives to the 2011 translation that already are “in the can”. But if, as specified in Magnum Principium, the national conferences own full responsibility for ensuring there is a worthy vernacular translation or worship, then it seems we’re completely dependent on the conferences to initiate a process, either of yet another fresh round of translating, or of resubmitting a previously-considered translation.

    So I guess, if we want to advocate for something like what Fr. O’Donaghue is proposing, the action item is to write letters to our bishops, and/or their committees of worship. Unless the bishops perceive a groundswell of substantial dissatisfaction with the work they themselves completed 7-8 years ago, they will continue to set aside questions of translation and focus on the many other urgent and important matters that can consume all their time.

    1. “substantial dissatisfaction”

      And, to be successful, that’s going to have to come from more than what the bishops would likely consider the usual suspects, as it were. Bishops, no less than pastors, are familiar with the frequent overrepresentation of the unhappy in their communications and perhaps overdiscount for that pattern. A social media-based approach would risk boomeranging because anyone with a phone can organize a mob on demand these days, which can have the effect of diluting their effectiveness in situations where institutional authorities can long outlast a temporary mob.

  5. In the secular media mega bucks are spent and the most creative people are engaged to convey messages, sell products etc. Communication is not unimportant. It is vital.

    Why should we settle for less? When we gather for worship shouldn’t we want to make available the best we have to offer in the way of texts, music, worship space etc.?

    There has been enough intelligent comment on the current state of affairs in the English speaking world with regard to our present liturgical texts to warrant a re-examination and revision of the current texts.

    We need good communication and that is not what we have in the current Roman Missal translation. There are a number of other versions presently available that could be offered for optional use in the meantime. And there are more than enough good ideas expressed right here that could provide substantial food for thought as a process of revision moves forward.

    But all the good ideas in the world and all the time spent coming up with good proposals for the future will go nowhere, will produce nothing until hearts and minds are transformed. Until enough bishops or people in the pews who make up the church, the Body of Christ, will come to see this as an issue that is vital, important, and that they are willing to do something about it.

    Right now it seems as though lethargy and indifference and fear are in ample supply but zeal and the prophetic spirit are scarce!

  6. As Fr Gerald O’Collins points out in his recent book, the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary included a set of newly-composed collects based on the three-year cycle of the Sunday readings. I see no reason why these fine prayers should not now be authorized for immediate use. Here is the ICEL Collect for next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, Year B:

    Rend the heavens and come down,
    O God of all the ages!
    Rouse us from sleep,
    deliver us from our heedless ways,
    and form us into a watchful people,
    that, at the advent of your Son,
    he may find us doing what is right,
    mindful of all you command.
    Grant this through him whose coming is
    whose day draws near:
    your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
    who lives and reigns with you in the unity of
    the Holy Spirit,
    God for ever and ever.

    Note the strong nouns and verbs, the smooth flow of the prayer and the complete absence of latinate words and syntax. Is this a translation of a seventh-century Roman collect? No. Is it a good English prayer? Yes. Is it one I can make my own? Definitely! And if the Italian and Spanish-speaking prelates in Rome don’t like it, who cares? It’s our language, not theirs!

    1. The problem with this idea is that CDWDS still have to give recognitio to newly composed texts. It’s only translations where the primary responsibility has been handed back to Conferences.

      I remember the enthusiasm and ease with which I embraced the changes in the 60s, even when texts changed in small ways seemingly monthly. 50 years older I found it quite difficult just to remember one set of changes.

      1. Anthony, you and I are of the same vintage. And you have a point.
        When the first English translations of the Mass came out in 1964, Time magazine remarked that they lacked the poet’s touch. Half a century on, they still do!

    2. I see no reason why these fine prayers should not now be authorized for immediate use.

      Except that they would be classed as adaptations, and would, as per Magnum principium, still require the recognitio of the Holy See. Given that Liturgiam authenticam is still in force (as is chapter 4 of Varietates legitimae!), and nos. 106-107 would seem not to allow for the 1998 original texts, I would imagine that the recognitio would not be given. One reason (among others) would be that many of the originally-composed “opening prayers”, like the example above, are simply not recognisable as collects (cf. LA 107).

      I also have to say that, in my opinion, the vast majority of these original texts strike me as, at best, amateurish and just not very good. If you want to use them in your own personal prayer, go right ahead, but for liturgical, public use? No, thank you.

      In any case, what exactly is the pastoral need for them? Where is the clamour from the faithful for a three-year cycle of Mass propers? And how can the substantial unity of the Roman Rite be preserved (cf. SC 38) if quite a large chunk of its texts can be completely replaced at the whim of the Priest celebrating the Mass?

  7. Multiple translations are already in use together and have been for a long, long time.

    I have the great pleasure of attending Mass both in London and in Boston. I cannot think of a parish, even “conservative” ones, where some adaptations don’t get made. There is a range of difference – for example, at one parish there are major structural changes to the liturgy, not enough to make it other than a valid Mass, but enough to be surprising. At another, there are additions and adaptations to the wording, without much structural change. At yet another, some priests quietly change “for many” to “for the many”.

    Subtlest of all, I have seen pious and reverent priests modify the Latin of the Mass of Paul VI: in the communion rite, at Corpus Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (2011: “May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”) they change me to nos: “keep us safe”. I haven’t seen anyone take notice.

    In almost every case, the adaptations are not about being “liberal” vs “conservative” but about avoiding the gabble of the 2011 translation. You can be liturgically conservative and balk at saying “he might present to the immensity of your majesty”, a line that, as someone said, inevitably evokes Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars.

    There are plenty of Internet Catholic Traditionalists who go on about the unchanging unchangeable liturgy but who smile on “tradding up” either the new rite (maniples and additional genuflections, for example) or the old (e.g. extra confiteor).

    I am very much with Karl, on another thread, in calling for changes to be slow and careful, “the equivalent of double-digging before planting a perennial bed.” I don’t support wholesale adoption of the 1998, even though it is far superior to the 2011 as a translation.

    But “say the black and do the red” fundamentalism, backed up by a self-appointed internet liturgical المطوعين, is a thoroughly modern phenomenon.

    1. “Orate fratres et sorores” (backtranslated from the bowdlerized English favored by priests of a certain age) and “Audemus cantere” are heard occasionally in the wild in California. Nobody complains, not even the Extraordinary-form-is-objectively-better set. (The hypertraditionalists are, of course, elsewhere.) And a certain urban monastery elsewhere with a national reputation for liturgy does nonstandard things including a full Cherubic hymn without losing any good will or winding up in the crosshairs of the strict rubricists (or in this case, negricists?)

      It seems that “say the black do the red” strict rubricism is a response by laity who benefit strongly from Roman Rite spirituality and, more generally, beauty and reverence in the Mass, and are not adequately “fed” by their pastors. It misses the mark–sticking to the script rules out most true abuses but doesn’t guarantee much else–but 50 years after the close of Vatican II we pewsitters are still so disempowered that a truly constructive response is unclear.

      One can parish-hop but that poses its own problems. It is what we ended up having to do locally after a real wrecker of a priest, on promotion to pastor, shut down a well-attended renewed Mass, with a mostly Latin ordinary and sung propers, we had worked slowly for 10 years in cooperation with the previous pastor and the support of the bishop to build up. The parish is staffed by a dying Society of Apostolic Life and the provincial is unsympathetic so there was no practical recourse.

      Sometimes there’s more to apparent hypocrisy than just hypocrisy. Some of the strict rubricists are probably just being fussy but most I have encountered as a “roaming Catholic” are responding, in the only way they know how, to a genuine pastoral problem they are approximately powerless to fix. Except for stable groups requesting the EF there is no self-service.

  8. Robert Addington wrote, “When the first English translations of the Mass came out in 1964, Time magazine remarked that they lacked the poet’s touch. Half a century on, they still do!”

    If we prize poetry, as we certainly should for the spoken word, why not also consider what our Anglican brothers and sisters already use? Instead of reinventing the wheel as we always do for our translations, we could tap into a 500 year old tradition with some poetic chops. As an ecumenical gesture, I’d think it would be pretty significant, too.

    1. Good point, Jim! And here’s an example: from the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada (1985), the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent:
      Almighty God,
      give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
      and put on the armour of light,
      now in the time of this mortal life
      in which your Son Jesus Christ
      came to us in great humility,
      that on the last day,
      when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
      to judge both the living and the dead,
      we may rise to the life immortal;
      through him who lives and reigns
      with you and the Holy Spirit,
      one God, now and forever.
      (This is a Cranmer collect, slightly modernized.)

    2. What a great suggestion. Translation that ignores the literature of the receiving language is indeed a poor translation, and the Book of Common Prayer is as foundational to the English language as Shakespeare or the KJV.

      Our brothers in the Ordinariate enjoy a liturgy informed by the 500 year old tradition of hieratic or prayer-book English but Liturgiam Authenticam paragraph 40 arguably forbids this in translation of the Ordinary Form!

      Perhaps this helped to protect us from some of the ELLC texts, to the extent “became truly human”, “peace to God’s people on earth” and other constructions avoiding “He” or the unmarked “Man” are characteristic of the manner of speech of the United Church of Christ and the post-Christian wing of the Episcopalians. (But this is covered already by paragraphs 30-31.) But prayer-book English is to Catholic ears characteristic of the manner of speech of more traditional Protestants. Thus paragraph 40 blocks a translation truly grounded in the English language. Perhaps we are stuck with “consubstantial” in the Ordinary Form because the 1662 BCP has the obvious “being of one substance”.

      The Ordinariate use of prayers from the BCP has not caused any scandal or confusion. This is empirical proof that LA paragraph 40 is overly broad. It will have to be revised or abrogated before we can proceed as you suggest.

      1. The US ordinariate website has a selection of mass leaflets which contain the Divine Worship text for the temporal cycle.

        Opinions will differ, but I think the prayers here are, on the whole, superior to both the 1998 and 2011 Missals. Apart from the “thees and thous” the collect for the First Sunday of Advent is identical to the Canadian book.

        I must confess to a particular liking for the Collect for Epiphany:

        “O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy Only Begotten Son to the Gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life, until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen”

  9. There can be no questioning the oversight of high authorities to ensure that celebrants of sacred rites say and do what the church believes and professes. But this covers a wide variety of actual texts and rubrics. If a Latin rite Catholic attends a Byzantine Catholic liturgy for the first time, it will definitely sound and appear “different” to what they are used to. Yet it is the same Divine Liturgy which recalls the Paschal Mystery and brings to the present it’s saving grace. In the olden days few people had a clue as to the actual words the priest was mumbling even if they had a hand missal. Some priests followed the rubrics with greater strictness than others. Who knew? So, let’s not feign surprise or scandal or go into high dudgeon over variations by priests which do not in any way contradict or undermine the faith of the church. If I greet the people with: “May the grace and peace of God our Father, the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the friendship of the Holy Spirit be with you”, and they all respond “And with your spirit”, has some real act of infidelity taken place? Only if you are among those who believe the validity and/or liceity of the Mass is absolutely contingent on reading the rite as published. Using the ICEL collects from 1998 is being done from place to place without even the perception of foul play. They are legitimate translations approved by 11 Episcopal Conferences which pray as the church believes. If after commending the prayers of intercession to the triune God I should invite the assembly to join me in seeking the intercession of our Blessed Mother, not only is no one likely to gasp they pray with gusto. If while gesturing the people to stand for the Lord’s Prayer, they observe a parish custom of nearly forty years of offering hands to their neighbors, a visiting trad or two would probably refrain while thinking “tsk, tsk”, they will survive to present themselves for the reception of The Most Holy Sacrament of The Altar while kneeling to observe their own custom.

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