It Doesn’t Sing

The Trouble with the New Roman Missal

Beginning in Advent of this year, the language of the Mass will be very different. A new translation of the Roman Missal—the book of prayers used in the Mass—will be put into use in all Catholic churches in the English-speaking world. Some who have read the new prayers are pleased with the changes. Others are gravely concerned.

In recent months, priests in Ireland, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere have voiced objections, saying this translation is not what the church needs—and that it will be divisive. What is it about the new translation that has caused such an uproar?

We come to you, Father,

with praise and thanksgiving,

through Jesus Christ your Son.

Through him we ask you to accept and bless +

these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.

We offer them for your holy catholic Church....

So begins the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal as it has been prayed by English-speaking Catholics since 1973. When the new Missal goes into effect in November, Catholics throughout the English-speaking world will hear these words instead:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father,

we make humble prayer and petition

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:

That you accept

and bless + these gifts, these offerings,

these holy and unblemished sacrifices

which we offer you firstly

for your holy Catholic Church.

The current translation is simple and direct. It follows the speech patterns and rhythms of contemporary spoken English. It flows easily off the tongue. Its meaning is clear. The new translation, on the other hand, is mannered and complex. We arrive at the subject of the sentence only after we have heard the dative “to you”; the conjunction “therefore”; a superlative adjective “most merciful”; and a noun in apposition, “Father.” The new translation is wordy. In place of “these gifts,” we offer “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.”

Having offered these gifts, offerings, holy and unblemished sacrifices firstly for the church, you might be thinking there is a secondly coming along in a paragraph or two. If so, you would be wrong. There is no secondly. So what does firstly mean in this context? It’s not clear that it means anything at all.

Different words, same prayer? Both are translations of the same Latin text, yet the results are quite different. Change the words and you change the prayer.


The Problem of Clarity

Clarity and intelligibility were principles of liturgical renewal specifically named by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Until 2001, those who translated liturgical texts into English placed a high priority on the council’s mandate for clarity and intelligibility. Those were essential guiding principles of liturgical reform, not secondary considerations.

Since the publication of the new Vatican instruction on translation Liturgiam authenticam in 2001, however, other principles are deemed more important. They include: the exact rendering of each word and expression of the Latin, the use of sacral vocabulary remote from ordinary speech, and reproduction of the syntax of the Latin original whenever possible. When a choice must be made, those principles trump the principles of clarity and intelligibility. The result has been, not surprisingly, a translation that is filled with expressions not easily understood by English speakers. It has resulted in prayers that are long-winded, pointlessly complex, hard to proclaim, and difficult to understand.

There are many places in the new translation where the words simply don’t make sense in English. On the First Sunday of Advent, we pray that we may “run forth with righteous deeds.” What does that mean? Many expressions sound pompous: “profit our conversion,” “the sacrifice of conciliation,” “an oblation pleasing to your almighty power.”

Some prayer texts are simply bewildering, such as this one from Preface VIII for Sundays in Ordinary Time:

For when your children were scattered afar by sin,

through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit,

you gathered them again to yourself,

that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity,

made the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit,

might, to the praise of your manifold wisdom,

be manifest as the Church.

What is the main point? It is hard to tell. We are wandering in a dense forest of theological and biblical allusions here. There are traps for the unwary, too. If the speaker is not careful to separate the first line from the second and join the second with the third, separating them from the first, he ends up suggesting that the Blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit are instrumental in scattering God’s children. Even read well, this prayer will likely lose all but its best-educated and most highly attentive hearers.

The new translation includes sentence fragments, odd locutions, opaque expressions, and redundancies. There are also historical oddities preserved for no good reason. Here is an example from Eucharistic Prayer I: “For them and all who are dear to them / we offer you this sacrifice of praise / or they offer it for themselves / and all who are dear to them....” Enrico Mazza, in his magisterial work The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite, explains that this mid-eighth-century addition (“or they offer it for themselves...”) was originally a rubric, providing alternative wordings depending on whether those who requested the Mass were present or absent. The translators of the 1973 translation (and the 1998 version) spared us the useless puzzlement caused by such a text. The translators of the text we are about to receive did not. Why? Each word of the Latin had to be accounted for.

Not every passage Catholics will hear exhibits such strict adherence to the literal meaning of the Latin, however. In the second Eucharistic Prayer, the Latin text says quite clearly that we “stand in your presence.” The Latin word astare means to stand. It doesn’t mean anything else. The translation was changed by Vox Clara, the Vatican committee formed to advise the Holy See on the approval of liturgical texts. It was feared that use of the verb “to stand” would imply it is acceptable for the people to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. (In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal assumes that the common posture for the Eucharistic Prayer is standing, even though some individual bishops conferences have decreed otherwise.) The English now reads “be in your presence.”

Other changes introduced by Vox Clara lack evident rhyme or reason. For example, the Latin word profusis, which appears at the conclusion of every preface of the Easter Season, is translated as “overcome.” Profusis means “overflowing.” When the world is described as overflowing with paschal joys, as the 2008 translation had it, one imagines graceful scenes from Botticelli. When reference is made to being overcome, one imagines smelling salts. This is one of an estimated ten thousand changes Rome made in the Missal after the bishops approved the translation in 2008.


The Problem of Length

The current translation is not without problems. At times it is simple to the point of banality. The richness of imagery and the theological depth of the Latin original does not always come through. The first retranslation of the Missal, which was approved by all the conferences of English-speaking bishops in 1998, addressed most of these problems quite effectively. Yet the Vatican judged that it did not go far enough. Now, with the 2010 translation, we have swung to the opposite extreme. The new translation is mired in long-winded complexity.

Overall, the length of the sentences in the new translation is staggering. The longest sentence of the Eucharistic Prayers has 82 words, the second longest, 72. All but one of the sentences in Eucharistic Prayer I are more than 40 words long. The current translation of that prayer has 18 sentences before the consecration. The new translation has 8.

The average number of words per sentence in the new Eucharistic Prayers is 35.4, compared to 20.6 at present—an increase of 78 percent. Are spoken texts in liturgy generally so wordy? Pope Benedict is not averse to using long, complex sentences. Yet his Ash Wednesday homily averaged 23.2 words per sentence. Certainly Scripture offers long sentences, especially in the writings of St. Paul. Yet the beloved eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has an average sentence length of only 27.38. This final example provides the closest comparison, yet the new Missal far surpasses it.

In texts for oral proclamation, the length of sentences matters. When reading a text on paper, one can go back and examine it again. Not so for spoken prayers, especially those spoken on one particular day of the liturgical year, rather than those repeated throughout the year or liturgical season. A collect such as this one, which follows the Isaiah 54 reading in the Easter Vigil, offers a good example of what the new translation will bring us:

Almighty, ever-living God,

surpass for the honor of your name

what you pledged to the patriarchs by reason of their faith

and through sacred adoption increase the children of your promise

so that what the saints of old never doubted would come to pass

your Church may now see in great part fulfilled.

That 53-word sentence makes sense if one has the leisure to study it and perhaps to draw a diagram. But the person in the pew does not have that luxury. She or he will hear this prayer once a year at most. An individual word or phrase may ring a bell. But the essential meaning of the prayer will be lost. As an act of oral communication, a text such as this cannot but fail for the vast majority of Catholics. Like so many of the newly translated prayers, it will come across as theo-babble, holy nonsense.

There are already formidable challenges to oral comprehension built into the pastoral situations in which the liturgy is celebrated. International priests make up 22 percent of the active diocesan priesthood in the United States today. Accented English can make even our current translation difficult to understand. Many parish communities include a significant number of people whose first language is not English. They will be asked to digest sentences that even native English speakers will have a hard time comprehending. Children and youth and those who are less educated will also be placed at a great disadvantage.

Sidebar: A Timeline of the Roman Missal Crisis



Some Texts Heard at Every Mass

Several texts that are a regular part of every Mass are going to change. Not all the changes will be for the worse. For example, in the preface dialogue (which appears at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer), the people will answer “It is right and just” in place of the familiar “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” The phrase “It is right and just” comes from a Roman acclamation of public approval. It entered the liturgy at an early date. It is crisp, and easily understood in English. Furthermore, many of the prefaces that follow it begin “It is truly right and just....” The rhetorical force of this construction is blunted if one removes “It is right and just.” Its reintroduction also happily avoids the tangle over inclusive language, which has divided assemblies into some who say “right to give him thanks and praise” and others who say “right to give God thanks and praise.”

Despite such occasional bright spots, however, the overall picture is deeply discouraging. Here are a few examples.

And with your spirit

 This response will replace the familiar “And also with you.” The new text will remove a common element from the ecumenical consensus regarding liturgical texts. English-speaking Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans have collaborated over the years to produce common liturgical texts as a way forward on the path to Christian unity. The greeting “The Lord be with you / And also with you” is an example of one such shared liturgical text. Yet, our dialogue partners have been completely excluded from the making of this new translation. “And with your spirit” exemplifies Rome’s decision to “go it alone.”

For you and for many

No longer will the Mass proclaim that Christ’s sacrifice was offered “for all, so that sins may be forgiven.” Rather, we will hear that it was offered “for many.” Much attention has been paid to this change (see “All In?” by Toan Joseph Do, Commonweal, December 19, 2008); we do not need to rehearse all the arguments here. Suffice it to say that this little phrase is what one might call a “false friend”—an expression you’re sure you understand, until you find out it means the opposite of what you were sure it meant. In normal English, many does not mean all. It means many. In the Mass, however, in our new sacral language, we have to remember that many means all. We can’t say Christ died for all, because that’s not what it says in the Latin. But we have to mean all because that is our Catholic theology.

Enter under my roof

When I first learned that the words of the Centurion were going to appear in the new translation, my expectations were positive. I remembered from my childhood this lovely acclamation: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” I loved its poetry and rhythm. It sang.

Alas, the translation we are about to receive is clunky. “Enter under” doesn’t sing. It plods. It’s also not idiomatic English. One has to stop and puzzle over the idea that the Lord is entering something or someplace by means of passing under my roof. I’ve found that not a few Catholics have assumed that the word roof refers to “the roof of my mouth.”

He took the precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands

The new translation aims at creating a sacral language used only in church. The fact that a word is arcane or uncommon is no barrier to its usage. In fact, such words are sometimes preferred to those that have everyday usage. Thus the Latin word calix has been translated as “chalice,” rather than “cup.” The demand to translate every Latin word in the new translation has also resulted in the use of multiple adjectives. Yet English is especially effective when plain and unadorned. Multiple adjectives weaken a text rather than strengthen it. When adjectives pile up, the results seem stagy or false. English speakers are accustomed to hearing “When supper was ended, he took the cup.” Such spare language is forceful. The new translation, by comparison, is fussy.

An especially unfortunate effect is created in this instance because it transforms Jesus into a priest saying Mass in a church. A chalice is put into the hands of Jesus at the Last Supper. Of course chalice is a word never used in modern English except to describe our sacred vessel in the Mass. The holy hands of the priest at Mass, so much a staple of the mystique of ordination, provide the template for how to describe the hands of Jesus. This sort of language is jarringly anachronistic. It compromises Jesus’ historicity in order to exalt the clergy.

Because prayer engages the heart and the imagination, differences on the affective level are highly significant. The image of the assembly’s relationship to God and the emotional tone accompanying that relationship will not be the same come November. The old is marked by an attitude of reverence, joy, and trust. God is great and we are small, but the relationship is one of love. As a child might run to a parent with unaffected gladness, so we come into the presence of our God (“We come to you, Father...”).

Not anymore. Now we come before God as a suppliant might address a monarch, with flattery and self-abasement. Because we are sinners, it is necessary to ingratiate ourselves with him. We do this by courtly address (“We make humble prayer before you”). This change is underlined in the Confiteor in the Penitential Act that takes place at the beginning of Mass. This moment will become an occasion to beat our breast and say “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

All these dispositions—joyful trust, fear of the Lord, consciousness of sin—are part of the Christian life. But the dominant note will change. Will this change be welcomed? Or will it be greeted with incomprehension and confusion? The presumption that God prefers courtly language in prayer, a settled presumption of the Latin text, has had more than forty years to recede from public consciousness. Will its sudden reintroduction invite the faithful into more authentic worship,  or will it merely distance them from the God whom Scripture calls “my joy, my delight” (Ps. 43:4)?

Where is this new translation taking us? It is important to realize that negative responses to the new translation reflect both dismay at the wording of the text and disagreement with the principles that guided its production. Yet the conflict goes deeper than an argument over theories of translation. That the new translation of the Roman Missal should come to us replete with embarrassing gaffes, nonsensical passages, and a near-total lack of accountability is as clearly a symptom of the misuse of authority as it is the fault of the questionable set of translation principles enunciated in Liturgiam authenticam. Yet even the misuse of authority is not the root cause of the immense disquiet and even outrage that this translation has aroused.

Beneath the words of the new translation, one senses a drive to minimize the practical effects of Vatican II. The reforms of Vatican II prized clarity and intelligibility in the liturgy; they gave priority to the work of ecumenism and evangelization; they respected the local work of bishops conferences; they invited aggiornamento and engagement with the world. This vital heritage is being eclipsed by another agenda. We are seeing a wooden loyalty to the Latin text at the price of clarity and intelligibility. We are seeing a retreat from advances already made in ecumenism. We are seeing the proper role of local bishops and bishops conferences increasingly taken over by the authorities in Rome. We are seeing the liturgy reimagined as an event taking place in some sacral space outside of our world, rather than the beating heart of a world made new.

Yes, we can get used to the new translation of the Roman Missal. But we shouldn’t. The church can do better, and deserves better, than this.

Related: Lost in Translation: The Bishops, the Vatican & the English Liturgy, by John Wilkins

About the Author

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press).



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I think you underestimate the intelligence of people.  The banal, "dumbed down" translation currently in force does not fully represent what the prayers really say.  If you are looking for a translation that "sings" better, perhaps you should consider attending Novus Ordo Masses in Latin?

Thank you Rita for this article.  I agree with you that the new Roman Canon translation is quite strange and confusing at times.  The in primis of the prayer Te Igitur would probably be better translated "especially" or similar, and not "firstly" for the reasons you give.  There are many instances of interesting (?) translation decisions in the new Roman Canon translation, beginning with a few in the first prayer alone.  One could pen an entire article on these inconsistencies.

Even so, the 1967 ICEL translation of the Roman Canon (carried over into the 1973 Sacramentary) contains many paraphrases which are often quite frustrating for those who read Latin.  I agree that the 1967 translation is much easier to understand when spoken.  I also respect the academic integrity of ICEL's research (sadly, the more recent translators did not release to the public an academic study of their translation).  The ICEL Roman Canon sentences are unencumbered with relative clauses.  Latin loves relative clauses, however.  A translation from Latin which avoids almost any relative clause will necessarily become a paraphrase. 

The way around this impasse is to not translate the Roman Canon.  A mixture of vernacular and sacral language is not foreign to the Universal Church.  Even today, the Maronite rite of the Church retains portions of Syriac in its mostly vernacular liturgy.  The inadequacies of both the 1967 and 2010 translations of the Roman Canon suggest that the "Canon Missae" should be recited or sung in Latin only.  The experience of the Maronites and other rites in union with Rome might guide the Roman Rite towards a more fluid integration of sacral and vernacular languages. 

In its wisdom, the Church has provided the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite with many more easily translated eucharistic prayers.  The centuries of beautiful accretions found in the Canon retain their logic, literary beauty, and even theological integrity only when presented in our sacral language.  Perhaps it's time to admit that certain prayers of the Roman Mass are best left as is, even if the Latin presents a catechetical challenge to catechists and preachers.   

A brilliant exposition of the results of the new transliteralization.  Blessings on you, Rita, and thanks!

Absolutely on target, Rita. Many thanks. It is going to be a difficult year, as they roll this translation out and try to explain its virtue and necessity.  The Archdiocese of New York has provided a preview in an official set of Church Bulletin inserts available on the Diocesan website of the sort of thing we will probably hear. Read and Weep.

Bravisima!  Particularly well said - smelling salts and theo-bable.

May our enslavement in this foreign land be short-lived.

For a little more than a year now, I have followed the debate about the New Missal at the PrayTell blog. Clearly and simply, Rita’s article is the best summary of the case against the New Missal.


As a social scientist, I signed the whatifwejustwait petition because it is vital that we test market the contents of the New Missal, get away from back room arguments among bureaucrats and ideologists, and find out how the people perceive the text. Ideally we would have done that in the early phases of the composition of the New Missal. The petition proposed to test market the New Missal in some parishes and dioceses before implementing elsewhere.


All is not lost! We could still use both Missals at the same time. If, beginning Advent 2011, half the Masses in each parish used the New Missal and half used the Current Missal we could find out if people prefer the New Missal to the Current One. Over the months, if more people preferred one version over the other, then have more Masses in the preferred version.


Much has been made about whether or not this and other measures coming out of Rome are a roll back of Vatican II. Essentially parish priests should have the same authority in regard to continuing to use of the Current Missal that Rome has given them to use the Old Latin Mass, namely if the people want it. If Rome and the Bishops discipline priests who use the same pastoral principle to keep using the Current Mass, then it is reasonable to conclude that Rome is attempting to undo Vatican II. They would be promoting the Old Latin Mass to attract people who view Vatican II as heretical while disallowing the continued use of a Missal text translated according to Vatican II.

I agree with the previous posters who found this article well written and insightful.  Particularly, the paragraph about minimizing the legacy of Vatican II is astute.  There is a rejection of ecumenism in the new translation: when the benefit of having Anglicans and other non-Roman Catholics using similar and even identical prayers is lost, the distance between these groups can only increase.  There seems also to be an eclipse of the Vatican II hope that communal prayer would help the laity understand and embrace the Christian dimension of their work in the world, rather than providing an other-worldly retreat from social and political problems.  As the author writes, "We are seeing the liturgy reimagined as an event taking place in some sacral space outside of our world, rather than the beating heart of a world made new."

In terms of readability of the English translation, I find especially frustrating the proliferation of Latin-modeled relative clauses that are empty in English.  One example from Rita's article is "what you pledged to the patriarchs " from the Easter Vigil collect from Isaiah 54.  If I think about it, I can recall some promises that Yahweh made to partriarchs.  But which pledge is the prayer about, and what is the point of leaving this lacuna?  Two lines later we find another example of empty clause: "what the saints of old never doubted would come to pass."  What DID the saints of old never doubt would come to pass, and which saints should we have in mind--the disciples who knew Christ, Roman-era martyrs, desert hermits, early Medieval monks, nuns, or doctors of the Church?  It seems to me that various generations of early saints had divergent expectations, from Jesus' imminent return to the conversion of warring pagan tribes.  Nowhere in the six lines quoted do we learn the identify of the pledge to patriarchs or of the expectation of the saints of old, yet the prayer petitions God to fulfill and surpass these.  Can the people in the pews know what they are praying for?  These lines indeed become "theo-babble" and bible-babble--"holy nonsense."

Such passages too quickly abandon the relational dimension of prayer to become lessons instead.  The congregation begins by addressing God, but then immediately wanders astray into bible stories, catechism, or church history--in clauses that are empty of real content.  It is as though the translators intended a kind of truncated didacticism, or as though the mention of key words like "patriarchs" and "early saints" would put church-goers in mind of a 'chosen people' identity as Catholics.  Such objectives are not compatible with turning prayerfully toward God.  The translators might succeed in writing a new morality play to teach the rudiments of theology if they gave it a good try, but real prayer does not seem to be their forte.

A fine critique of the new translation. I had reviewed all the texts of the new missal a few weeks ago, and jotted down some of the things the translation has done for Mary:

She received the ineffable word from God, as well as prevenient grace.

She is now a tender virgin, who is called the virginal chamber where Jesus will dwell.

On her feast we ask to experience in perpetuity the fruits of the redemption.

She is also privileged to have the collect with perhaps the most commas (nine) in the new Missal:

 “O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so, through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.”  (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

I hope the new version is provisional, open to adjustment, as was the initial English version.  That one hadn't been tested by being read aloud at Mass.  "You who" was repeated a few times in I think it was the Creed or someplace.  It sounded like "Yoohoo."  Changes were made:  no more yoohoos. 

Excellent analysis and precisely why I will no longer worship as a Catholic come Advent. Vatican II gave us the right to worship in our vernacular. This articles clearly supports my point that Anglicized Latin is not our vernacular. Rome has rammed this down our throats as part of a long-term concerted effort by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia (the Restorationists) roll back the ecclesiastical, theological, and ecumenical advances of Vatican II.




Absolutely 100% spot-on.  I had a sudden insight today.  No matter what the bishops of India do, the American  bishops are not going to do anything about the liturgy translations for one reason:  They will make money from it.  They own the copyrights, not only on the liturgical texts but on the New American Bible (Revised Edition), and they are going to collect the royalties.  The deal that they have cut with the Catholic Biblical Association seems to indicate that they are hard-pressed for cash (an interesting development!), so they are going to go forward no matter what.  Even if they 'lose' in the end, they'll just make more money by issuing revised texts later.  And those might sell better!      If they retracted approval now, they might owe Liturgical Press and some other publishers some major cash, for copies either unsold or now unusable.    Set this in the context of perhaps 30 million former Catholics in the U.S.:  Consider if each of these 30 million put only one dollar in the collection only once a month, on average.  As Senator Everett Dirksen used to say, "Pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money."  That would be $360 million/year.  If those same 30 million Catholics averaged only one dollar PER WEEK, the total would be a staggering $1.56 BILLION per year.  Perhaps this explains why the bishops may find themselves so short of cash that they feel the need to short-change their own biblical scholars.      Perhaps it is mostly about money. 

I was going to say the new translation was about stupidity until I read the comment of Michael Cassidy that it is mostly about money. Rita Ferrone does a superb job of showing how the Vatican is trying to obsure rather than share and proclaim. The Vartican will say that there is nothing wrong with obscurity as  you have us to explain it all to you. Rightly. The Vatican can continue to show that it knows what it is doing. After all who else built a burial place for Maciel in Rome and all but declared this dives pedophile a saint, prevented Cardinal Law from prison and persecuted so many saints. The move to obscurity should continue so it will be more difficult to uncover what they are doing.

With the  wholesale rejection of the Second Vatican Council and now this bishop approved new translation of the Roman Missal our bishops have gone from tragedy to farce.

I found the article well-researched, knowledgeable, and convincing, almost frighteningly so.  Its penultimate paragraph was especially disturbing (anyone can obfuscate with Latin and Greek loan words).  The tendency in Rome that most concerns me is the return to Catholic triumphalism. I see the "New" Missal as a way to further proclaim how "right" our patriarchal, Roman monarchical church leaders believe themselves to be ... pedophilia, homophobia, and misogyny notwithstanding.  But since I believe that the cardinals were either misguided or cowardly in electing the present pope, I doubt most of them would object to a return to the church of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Reformation witch-hunts.

It doesn't sing, I agree. At best this English translation limps and plods along. Even if one were unfamiliar with the Latin original, one would find the English prose awkward, stilted, and tortured. No one with any sense of English style would write this way. I have, however, sixty years of experience working with Classical Latin authors. The translators have ignored the basic rule for translators. One does not translate words but meaning. This requires one to find the most appropriate words in the target language to convey the meaning of the original. As for diction, chalice is not a Latin word. It has come into English thru Old French. My Lewis & Short tells me that "cup" will do nicely as a translation for Latin "calix". it is a pity that a group of Roman clerics have presumed themselves capable providing a new translation of the Roman missal for the English-speaking world.

George L. Snider, Ph.D - a subscriber

Thanks for the article. I fear the changes that are happening...and now with the New Roman Missal. On a very personal level my own parish has changed so much recently.  Our new "fundamentalist" priest speaks of returning our parish to being a "real" Catholic Church. I miss the openness and warmth of the old one, where rules were presented in the context of how a 'practice' could help one on their faith journey and in their relationship with God. Now 'compliance' to rules is preached as a way to guarantee a place in heaven. Why would we as a Chuch go back to fear-based religiosity?

I agree that the new translation doesn't sing.  But I wish that the author had compared the current (1970) translation and the new (2011) translation against the Latin text and perhaps a "neutral" translation of that text.  My understanding has always been that the 1970 translation was done in haste and that it sort of butchered the Latin - so that sonorous phrases like "from the rising of the sun to its setting" - which are in the original Latin and in the translations to every other European language - come out in English as "from east to west."  It could be that the 2011 translation is accurate but doesn't sing, while the 1970 translation is inaccurate but does sing.  If that's the case, then maybe the polemics on both sides of the translation dispute are overstated.

I feel sorry for the American bishops. In a few months time those who have an eye for such things will notice fewer communicants on Sundays. They will be baffled, no doubt, that attendance has fallen during Advent and Christmas, and be scratching their heads when there's no  recovery in the new year. They never will connect their decisions made in national meetings over the last several years with the newest exodus.  They won't remember that this disaster started with a few folk in Rome, some of whom were not English speakers nor seasoned liturgists. And then it went downhill from there. They won't remember that people like to participate in worship and not be reduced to witnesses who don't understand the compound-complex sentences. They will note the declining communicants, but never recognize their role in showing communicants to the door. They never will ask "What could I have done?" or "We've got to fix this!" And the communicants will quietly visit the nearby Episcopal parish, or a methodist or Lutheran church and be welcomed. Some will simply make Sunday morning a time reserved for the newspaper and Sunday talking heads, joining the huge number of "former Catholics."

Some years back the current pope was asked how many way there were to finding God and he answered that there were as many as there were people looking.  If this looking is to be done at mass, it might seem that there are many ways in which one will be doing it.  If so, the author’s contention at the end of her piece---“The church can do better, and deserves better, than this.”---begs the asking of better for whom.  One liturgical way may not fit all.


Prior to the changes of Vatican II, I did much of my looking for God at Mass in worship of my God---Holy smoke, the priest and all of us facing together to God, and Hymns and prayers in words that had come down through the ages (OK, Ok already---so just back to the counter-reformation).  In short, I find my God in worship, and in the past at Mass in an experience that Abraham Heschel coined to be “the wisdom of awe.”  


I have never been able to reason my way to a belief in my God. For me, like for Samuel Beckett, “Nothing is more real that nothing.”  But oh my God, there does seem to be something and I wish I could more readily find it in worship at Mass---holy smoke and all the mumbo jumbo. 


I don’t think that I am alone in this.  At Sunday Mass prior to last Ash Wednesday our priest announced all of the various times to receive the ashes and said in closing that he was not sure why so many came that day but would miss Sunday Mass.  I understood their need to worship their way to finding God.

To quibble with Dr. Ferrone on just one point: the translation of "igitur" in EP I (following the sanctus) as "therefore" is an important improvement. The word links the thanksgiving of the preface/sanctus with the actions that follow. The offering, anamnesis and petitions are a consequence of the church's thanks.  By including "therefore" the new translation supports the fact that the preface/sanctus is an integral part of the eucharistic prayer. In EP I this is crucial because the preface is where almost all the thanksgiving is. One might instead ask why the word "qui" which begins the instutition narrative was again not translated at all. We might guess that there is a discomfort among some in revealing to our people that the institution narrative is, in the Roman tradition, a dependent clause. Quietly avoided, through selective mistranslation, is a perhaps-too-dangerous opportunity to present a clearer picture of what a eucharistic prayer is and does.

To all who are objecting to the introduction of the New Roman Missal, I can only offer the advice that has been given to me over the past 30 years whenever I expressed my prference for the pre-Vatican II Mass:

"Change is a part of life"

"Why don't you leave the church"

"grow up"

"We are Church"

And so on. So, the wheel is turning and all the liturgical libs are having a fit.  I must confess to experiencing some measure of enjoyment from all the whining.

November 27 can't come soon enough.



As a convert to Catholicism, and a polyglot, the difference between the text of Spanish and English Masses became immediately clear to me. Since Spanish evolved more consistent with Latin than English, I concluded long ago that the translation was more accurate in Spanish than in English. While this did not affect my Faith, the first thing I noticed about the new Order of Mass in English was its consistency with the Spanish version.

 Some of the differences are significant enough -- in the ambiguity the still current translation allows -- I must question if some external agenda informed the translation of the outgoing text. Why would anyone want the message unclear when it does not have to be? If how well a translation "sings" matters most, we would all use the King James Bible.

In my near-immediate conversion a few years ago the words of Mass mattered less than the actual experience of my first two Masses. It actually bothered me a bit that I thought some of the English text inconsistent with those experiences. The Spanish translation, however, was always consistent with these perceptions. The new Order of Mass in English aligns better with what I esoterically recognized as the intent and purpose of Mass than the current English version.

Put the letter out of your minds, let the Spirit give it life, and you will hear it singing.


Good grief! Jesus was plain spoken and used simple words. No one would have had to have a thesaurus at hand to understand him. Why do we need to make the words of our worship so convoluted and distant? Who decided that the Latin of the so-called Roman Missal was so great to begin with? Our summer supply priest was recently critiqued for using the eucharistic prayers for reconciliation and for children. People complained that he was celebrating an 'invalid' mass. All we need to remember is Jesus himself saying: 'Woe to you scribes and pharisees...' My kids and grandkids are not going to return to church in droves. And like Robert above, I fear another substantial exodus of people disappointed and discouraged by it all.

Dear Rita,

I just got around to reading your piece on the new Missal.  "It doesn't sing."  Perhaps because I agree with everything in it, it seems to me the best thing I have read about the entire situation.  Your tactfully posed and well-documented assertions make an excellent case that we do indeed deserve better.  Thanks again.  I'm forwarding it to everybody I know.  I always enjoy reading your articles and books.  Your wonderful influence during your years at saint Anthony in Oceanside are still very strongly felt.  Even by those who came in after you left the scene.  Keep up the good work.

All good wishes,


To the Catholic teenager who is gay or lesbian, when they hear that Jesus died for many... will they know they are included in the many or that they hit the cutting room floor... maybe the words of the Catechism will help...

"This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial."

My fear is that it will take one well meaning bishop in the DOMA argument to let us know that gays and lesbians are disordered and the younger ones will know that Jesus' "many" does not include them. If the appeal is to the scriptures of Mark and Matthew where "many" is used then why not allow the Luke text where the word "many" is not used. Simply reasoned, is it possible that the Gentile author of Luke knew very well what happens when we as humans start to define (read control) "many" to create a heavily nuanced change to the understanding the Christ died for all.

Also please realize the ecumenical versions of the Gloria and Creed will also not be walking the same road come Advent. The Catholics will have their own... let's be honest if it was only about the Latin, then formally translate away. These changes are an agenda of their own and Rita Ferrone has skillfully pointed out where the assembly's role and importance has been formally pushed aside.

Wow, you people obviously have no appreciation or proper understanding of the movement that has inspired the rewording of the Missal. Alot of the examples of the word changes given in the article are simply returns to what the wording always was. The correct wording. Christ Himself said "....My Blood, which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins." From the examples the article gave, it seems like Rome is simply correcting some of the erroneous changes made to the Missal after Vatican II and restoring them to what they should have always stayed. And if this is a "move away from ecumenistic principles", that is the whole point!! What sort of Catholic idea is it to conform our liturgy and the Truths of the Faith to please Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and any other sort of false religion that is out there?

  Mr. Mahon, it was very sad to hear that "you will no longer worship as a Catholic come Advent", apparently simply becuase the watered-down, altered wording of the Missal is being changed back in many places to what it always was. Wow, how much does your Faith matter to you? Do you know what it means to be a Catholic?

Another note: "Catholic teenagers who are gay or lesbian" are not Catholics in the proper sense of the word at all. You can't be a Catholic and be gay at the same time; unless you're a Catholic in name only, of course. Any more than you can say you're a Catholic while you believe that abortion is ok, or that Darwin's theory of evolution is true.

   And the phrase "Christ died for many" doesn't mean that He didn't die for all; of course He died for the salvation of the whole human race, but that doesn't mean that everyone is automatically guaranteed heaven. He obtained the means for us all to be saved, and laid down the conditions by which men could receive the benefits of His Death, but it is for us to cooperate with them and do as He commanded. The phrase, spoken by Christ Himself, "..the chalice of My Blood, which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins" shows that He knew not all would profit by His death; that though He died for all, many would not be saved. Many would be, but not all. That should be obvious to anyone who knows anything of Catholic doctrine.

The new Missal is yet another attempt to do away with the gains of Vatican II. Vatican II gave us the right to worship in our vernacular. Transliterated Latin is NOT our vernacular. As for me, I will not be saying the new words. I have joined the Episcopal church. No new Missal and justice for women and gays and lesbians!!!

I do not have the full texts of the old and of the new translation at hand but have noticed that somewhere after the Consecration we are now asking that the Church should grow in charity -- formerly it was "in love".  I know that in the past there were disputes in America about the right rendering of "caritas", but suspect that the semantic development has progressed further and that in the present common understanding in American English "charity" does NOT mean what the Latin "caritas" does.  It would be absurd (I think) to translate the title of Benedict XVI's first encyclical, "Deus caritas est" as "God is charity". 

Like Joseph Mahon, I also will not be saying some of the new words:  I have thought it through carefully and am now only selectively praying what the new translation offers, basing my choices---and my resistance---on what I know of proper English and biblical theology (surely the two areas most transgressed against in new Missal).  On a related note:  if there ever had been a project where the principle of subsidiarity needed to come into play, surely the new missal translation (assuming a new translation really was needed in the first place) is that project.  

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