Another UK Bishop Comes Out Against the New Missal

Pray Tell previously reported that  Bishop Crispian Hollis apologized for the new missal translation, and that Bishop Thomas McMahon added his own mea culpa for the bishops’ approval of the 2011 missal. Now another bishop has chimed in.

Bishop John Crowley, Bishop Emeritus of Middlesbrough, who resides in retirement in Harpenden, a town in Hertfordshire, has written to The Tablet to “repent” of the bishops’ decision to approve the 2011 Roman Missal.

Bishop Crowley writes of a “strange and deeply uncomfortable situation” because of a “stand-off” between the bishops’ conference in England and Wales and many priests and people.

The bishop says that “the difficulty faced by those charged with presiding at the liturgy is hard to overstate, such is the convoluted nature of many of the prayers…” In a key passage he writes, “Like a number of my fellow bishops I have had plenty of time to repent of our original decision to vote this translation through Conference.”

Bishop Crowley says that leaders within the bishops’ conference are “pastoral men” who will realize that if this issue is “left to fester, [it] could damage relationships of trust and confidence within the Catholic community of England and Wales.”


  1. I find it curious that so many UK bishops are speaking out about the recently imposed Vox Clara 2010 transliteration, because one of the common critiques of it is that it sounds “too British.”

  2. I was about to say the same as Alan – I don’t think it is like my British English, and I am rather a polysyllablist

  3. If only its problems were that it sounds too British…!

    But aside from this, I must say that this series of bishops apologizing is truly remarkable. I mean that in a good way.

    It’s not so much that it expresses conscience, though it does and that’s good. It’s breaking the silence, it’s the willingness to admit to this in public that’s so extraordinary.

    Maybe it’s the start of a “me too” moment among the bishops?

  4. Too ‘British’ ?

    Well, yes, if you are still living in the age of Neville Chamberlain or Cosmo Gordon Lang.

    Conspiracy theorists might wonder if this little barrage from retired bishops has been encouraged by serving members of the Bishops’ Conference. At least it is giving a signal. It is no secret that some current members of CBCEW feel the same.


  5. How is it difficult for those “presiding at the liturgy”? Difficult to fully comprehend on the part of the assembly, I would understand, but if the priests are having trouble reading it, that just shows they don’t care to actually prepare, doesn’t it? Although the prayers certainly have their awkward moments, all celebrants have an obligation to practice and communicate them as clearly as they can.

    1. My question is: why has the translation made this harder than it has to be?

      With all the pressing pastoral duties that overworked priests have on their plates, and with the time we expect and hope they will put into a well-crafted homily, why create a situation that places additional burdens on them to practice and practice the task of reading prayers that are needlessly convoluted and difficult? It’s not edifying for them, and it’s of limited use to the congregation.

      I would suggest they spend that time praying. It will do more for the congregation than spending time rehearsing pointlessly difficult phraseology. We in the pews won’t understand what half of these prayers are saying, even if well-read.

      The second point I’d like to comment on is that you are right to say “as clearly as they can.” There are limits for everybody. This is especially true of our international priests for whom English is a second language. They try hard, but it’s an uphill struggle. Again, I ask, why create unnecessary burdens. Let’s set a more achievable goal, for the good of everybody.

      1. What?! Difficult phraseology? Limits for everybody? I am flabbergasted. This is a word-saturated world, as has never been seen before. Every day people master complicated phrases in learning and technology. Must we be reduced to a Dick and Jane and Spot level of liturgy? Many laity cheered the 2011 translation and are deeply grateful to BXVI for this initiative. Please find something else to do rather than tinker with the beauty of the most recent translation.

      2. Rita,

        I understand your point, and I always appreciate your respectful comments. I just find it odd that the Bishop uses the clergy, rather than the laity, as his rationale. Of course, priests have a pastoral obligation to the laity, and maybe that’s what he means, but he specifically talks about the priest’s liturgical role in the Mass. Secondly, I’m sorry, but we are all busy. All liturgical servants in the Church have a responsibility to do their best in the Mass. Most musicians shouldn’t sightread the songs, and most priests shouldn’t sightread the prayers either. I assume that if they are thoroughly preparing their homilies, they will have taken time to study and absorb all the proper texts, including the prayers. Many do, and I’m grateful for that. Those are the priests who hold your attention during the homilies. By all means, if you consider the translation faulty (and I do), do whatever you can to get it changed officially. In the meantime, please do the best with what you have, and don’t let the laity see your frustrations. Faulty as it is, people can still derive understanding from them if an effort is made to more clearly communicate them. Good actors reading a poor script can’t redeem the material, but they can certainly still communicate to their audiences something of value, sometimes in spite of the poor script. Liturgical musicians do that all the time!

      3. I see what you mean, Doug, and I would agree that we all must do the best that we can with the tools we’ve got. I think the bishops’ comments reflect the very real frustration that priests have been feeling in many instances, whereas the laity just tune out. It’s quite serious, and the psychological effect of not being listened to in the run up to this translation has also not been good for morale.

        For the future, I hope and pray and will continue to argue for a text that is not burdened with such needless afflictions. If someone told you to play the organ with a ten pound weight on one ankle, and then said “But it’s good exercise” we’d say they were crazy. That is how I feel about these texts.

  6. Thanks for the tip, Doug, but making them more comprehensible would require shifts in syntax and at least occasionaly a change of words to more accurately convey what was being expressed in Latin. I don’t think you’d like that.

    1. The Prayer over the Offerings for Epiphany was a good example:
      “Look with favor, Lord, we pray,
      on these gifts of your Church, in which are offered now
      not gold or frankincense or myrrh,
      but he who by them is proclaimed,
      sacrificed and received, Jesus Christ.”

      “in which are offered now . . . he who . . .” just doesn’t work. I changed it to “the one who,” and made sure I adjusted the (non)sense lines for the coordinate verbs. It’s still a plural passive verb with a singular subject, but less awkward somehow.

      1. The nonsense of gold, frankincense and myrrh sacrificing and receiving Jesus Christ, which is what this translation of the prayer actually says if you look at it closely, is just one more example of the disastrous convolution that typifies this Missal.

        1998’s version is perfectly clear:

        accept the gifts of your Church,
        which offers you today not gold, frankincense, and myrrh,
        but the one who in these gifts is proclaimed, offered, and received,
        Jesus Christ, our Lord,
        who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

      2. They (Vox Clara!!) surely mean to say ‘He who through them … ‘ not ‘he who by them … ‘. The idea is so complex and allusive it needs the lucidity of the 1998 to have any hope of even being noticed by the congregation.

      3. I agree that the syntax is awkward, but the meaning is clear upon reading. “He who…” does actually work and is correct grammar – “he is offered”. This is also an example of something that the celebrant can communicate more or less clearly according to the way he renders it.

  7. Paul, respectfully, I don’t see your interpretation. Could you explain? It seems even in the current translation that the gold, frankincense are being offered by the Church (or rather not being offered), not actively sacrificing themselves.

    1. Doug O’Neill: “I agree that the syntax is awkward, but the meaning is clear upon reading. “He who…” does actually work and is correct grammar – “he is offered”.

      Unfortunately, the 2011 Missal version of the prayer has “are offered,” as I pointed out above, not “is offered.”

    2. Look with favor, Lord, we pray,
      on these gifts of your Church, in which are offered now
      not gold or frankincense or myrrh,
      but he who by them [i.e. gold, frankincense and myrrh] is proclaimed,
      sacrificed and received, Jesus Christ.

      Turning from the passive voice into the active voice:

      he whom gold, frankincense and myrrh
      proclaim, sacrifice and receive.

      Yes, it’s nonsense. It’s only the convolutions of the text which tend to conceal this from us. “Them” in line 4 seems to refer back to the nearest preceding antecedents in line 3. If you want line 4 to refer unambiguously further back to the gifts of the Church in line 2, you will need to recast the sentence completely, as indeed 1998 does.

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