The National Catholic Review
Michael G. Ryan
The case for a grass-roots review of the new Roman Missal
Image

It is now 45 years since the Second Vatican Council promulgated the groundbreaking and liberating document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. As an eager and enthusiastic North American College seminarian at the time, I was in St. Peter’s Square on the December day in 1963 when Pope Paul VI, with the world’s bishops, presented that great Magna Carta to the church. The conciliar document transcended ecclesiastical politics. It was not just the pet project of a party but the overwhelming consensus of the bishops of the world. Its adoption passed overwhelmingly: 2,147 to 4.

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas. And now on the horizon are the new translations of the Roman Missal that will soon reach the final stages of approval by the Holy See. Before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program that will attempt to put a good face on something that clearly does not deserve it.

The veterans who enthusiastically devoted their best creative energies as young priests to selling the reforms of the council to parishioners back in the 1960s will be asked to do the same with regard to the new translations. Yet we will be hard put to do so. Some colleagues in ministry may actually relish the opportunity, but not those of us who were captivated by the great vision of Vatican II, who knew firsthand the Tridentine Mass and loved it for what it was, but welcomed its passing because of what full, conscious and active participation would mean for our people. We can see the present moment only as one more assault on the council and, sadly, one more blow to episcopal collegiality. It was, after all, the council that gave to conferences of bishops the authority to produce their own translations (S.C., Nos. 36, 40), to be approved, it is true, by the Holy See but not, presumably, to be initiated, nitpicked and controlled by it. Further, the council also wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation (S.C., No. 40)—something that has been noticeably missing in the present case.

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

Prayer and Good Sense

I know it might smack of insubordination to talk this way, but it could also be a show of loyalty and plain good sense—loyalty not to any ideological agenda but to our people, whose prayer the new translations purport to improve, and good sense to anyone who stops to think about what is at stake here.

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful. During a recent dinner conversation with friends, the issue of the new translations came up. Two at the table were keenly—and quite angrily—aware of the impending changes; two were not. When the uninformed heard a few examples (“and with your spirit”; “consubstantial with the Father”; “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”; “oblation of our service”; “send down your Spirit like the dewfall”; “He took the precious chalice”; “serene and kindly countenance,” for starters), the reaction was somewhere between disbelief and indignation.

One person ventured the opinion that with all that the church has on its plate today—global challenges with regard to justice, peace and the environment; nagging scandals; a severe priest shortage; the growing disenchantment of many women; seriously lagging church attendance—it seems almost ludicrous to push ahead with an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch.

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not. Recently the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored a seminar on the new translations for lay leaders and clergy. Both the priest who led the seminar (an accomplished liturgical theologian) and the participants gathered there in good faith. When passages from the proposed new translation were soberly read aloud by the presenter (I remember especially the phrase from the first eucharistic prayer that currently reads “Joseph, her husband,” but which in the new translation becomes “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin”), there was audible laughter in the room. I found myself thinking that the idea of this happening during the sacred liturgy is no laughing matter but something that should make us all tremble.

There’s more: the chilling reception the people of the dioceses of South Africa have given the new translations. In a rare oversight, the bishops of that country misread the instructions from Rome and, after a careful program of catechesis in the parishes, introduced the new translations to their people some months ago. The translations were met almost uniformly with opposition bordering on outrage.

It is not my purpose here to discuss in detail the flawed principles of translation behind this effort or the weak, inconsistent translations that have resulted. Others have already ably done that. Nor do I want to belabor the fact that those who prepared the translations seem to be far better versed in Latin than in English. No, my concern is for the step we now face: the prospect of implementing the new translations. This brings me back to my question: What if we just said, “Wait”?

What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

Heeding Our Pastoral Instincts

The bishops have done their best, but up to now they have not succeeded. Some of them, led by the courageous and outspoken former chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., tried mightily to stop the new translation train but to no avail. The bishops’ conference, marginalized and battle-weary, allowed itself slowly but steadily to be worn down. After awhile the will to fight was simply not there. Acquiescence took over to the point that tiny gains (a word here, a comma there) were regarded as major victories. Without ever wanting to, the bishops abandoned their best pastoral instincts and in so doing gave up on the best interests of their people.

So the question arises: Are we priests going to give up, too? Are we, too, going to acquiesce? We do, of course, owe our bishops the obedience and respect that we pledged to them on the day of our ordination, but does obedience mean complicity with something we perceive to be wrong—or, at best, wrongheaded? Does obedience mean going against our best pastoral instincts in order to promote something that we believe will, in the end, actually bring discredit to the church and further disillusionment to the people? I do not think so. And does respect involve paying lip service to something to which our more instinctive reaction is to call it foolhardy? Again, I don’t think so.

I offer the following modest proposals.

What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Web site www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Rev. Michael G. Ryan has been pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle since 1988 and serves on the board of the national Cathedral Ministry Conference.

Comments

Warren Postma | 12/17/2009 - 12:35pm

My translation from Liberal Cant to English, goes as follows:

"Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me that I would witness the systematic dismantling of my own systematic dismantling of the Church".

A little poll set up by a priest who disagrees with the article:

"We've Waited Long Enough"
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/enoughwaiting/

Warren P.

Paul Ford | 12/17/2009 - 12:20pm

Teresita, excellent observations! Thank you.

I wonder if those following this discussion are aware of another excellent one on the

Commonweal blog

Teresita Schaffer | 12/16/2009 - 10:47pm
There are three problems with the new translation. The first and least important is that any change requires careful introduction; the unfamiliar will be unpopular at first. The comments to the effect that "my parents felt disoriented when the liturgical changes came in after Vatican II" reflect this. The change wasn't well managed then, but that's no reason to repeat the same mistake.

The second problem is more substantial. The translation itself is both clunky and downright ungrammatical, and by trying to remain faithful to the literal words in the Latin prayers, it actually obscures their meaning. Dignified and exalting language doesn't have to be ugly (indeed, it's preferable that it be graceful). I have no problem with using the occasional hifalutin or archaic word for liturgical English, but I do have a problem with sentences that lack verbs, or with words that one could not find in a non-specialized dictionary. And I have a serious problem with a translation that focuses on the words to the exclusion of the meaning. I've learned 8 languages at various times, and that has taught me that a literal translation frequently doesn't capture the meaning of the original. So "consubstantial with the Father" actually doesn't give you as much meaning as "one in being with the Father." To illustrate the problem of literalism, think of the wonderful scene in Casablanca where the waiter Carl is trying to reassure an elderly German couple that their English is just fine. "What watch, sweetness?" says the German gentleman ("Wieviel Uhr, Liebling?). "Ten watch," ("Zehn Uhr") replies his wife. "Such much," says he. Exact translations from the German, but - well, there's a reason that scene is considered funny! I'm afraid the quest for a more literal rendering of the Latin (which after all had a human author anyhow) is producing tens or even hundreds of times when the people will be asked to say the equivalent of "What watch, sweetness?".

The third problem is the most important. These are the most central prayers of the church. The reason that the Mass was translated into the vernacular was to make it easier for the people to PRAY the Mass. (That was also the reason the Mass was shifted from Greek into Latin hundreds of years earlier.) I'm old enough to have grown up with Latin, and can still recite from memory many of the Latin responses to the prayers of the Mass. I studied Latin in high school and college. I love the cadences, I love Gregorian chant and went to a school where we learned to sing it and sing it well. But even with all this preparation, Latin is not the language in which I express my most intimate thoughts and prayers. When I recite the Confiteor in Latin I am reciting words that I have learned. When I say that I am sorry for my sins, in English, I have to confront my sinfulness without the distance and artificiality created by a foreign language, and to express my sorrow in the language in which my thoughts are normally articulated. Shifting the translation to an awkward formulation, in words that are borrowed from Latin and not expressed in ways that sound natural to an English speaker, removes the sacred liturgy from the language that grabs at the people's heart. That's not the way to encourage the People of God to turn toward the Lord and find their spiritual nourishment at the Lord's table.
George Trejos | 12/16/2009 - 12:38pm
Thank you for a frank article and the advancement of a trial usage of the proposed Missal. I'm sorry that Bishop Trautman's effort failed to elicit the support of fellow bishops. The Roman Church wants to create special sacred language in our worship. The ideal is noble but the outcome must resonnate with the community hearing it. Maybe it is appropriate that this discussion is occurring during Advent as we ponder the mystery of "Emmanuel" (God is with us).

The mystery of God defies containment or description by our language. We have a wealth of example in Holy Scripture wherein God uses human authors and their language to commmunicate with us. The simplicity of the biblical words and clarity of the message ought be the model that the Church should strive for in the worship of God.

The Our Father, Jesus' prayer, is three short and simple acknowledgements of God and three simple petitions for our needs. Jesus was not a wordsmith; He spoke in simple but forceful language. Ought we not do the same in commemorating His memmorial in the worship of the Father?

We should be careful that prayer not become too wordy and not to the point, meriting Pharisitical condemnation found in Matthew's Gospel. True prayer comes from the heart and is motivated by our need for God. Lastly, this debate should not provoke rancor among us. If it does, it is not the Prayer of Jesus.

Thank you.
Craig McKee | 12/16/2009 - 12:14pm

Pre-Vatican II canonico-liturgical precedents are also on the books for a WAIT and SEE approach:

"For the mission countries, the Sacred Congregation

de Propaganda Fide,

in 1941 and then again in 1948, issued a provision that in every nation a bilingual Ritual should be compiled. The apostolic delegate to India, H.E. Mgr. Kirkels, on July 8, 1949, communicated to the bishops that they should form a commission of 'priests having a knowledge of the languages at issue,' in order to prepare an Indian Ritual. The translation would then be approved FOR A DECADE 'without it being sent first to Rome.' The commissions were held responsible for the approval. The approval, however, was given BY THE BISHOPS CONCERNED. See

Documenta pontificia ad instaurationem liturgicam spectantia (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 1953) 173-74."

 

Taken from Piero Marini, A Challenging Reform, page 27, note 15.

http://www.amazon.com/Challenging-Reform-Realizing-Liturgical-1963-1975/dp/product-description/0814630359

What I still cannot understand is how and why the USCCB let Rome shelve the 1998 ICEL translation? Once again, centralization of power and control, NOT pastoral concern for language and liturgy.

lisa adams | 12/16/2009 - 11:27am
After having read the comments, I am overwhelmed at the arrogant disobedience being spewed...This is why our Church is broken....wasn't "pride" the root cause of all our problems.....we are gods, we shall do as we please....we will not be inconvenienced....if we disagree, then we'll just do as we darn well please....Did Jesus say to St. Peter...You are gumby and upon this clay all of you should build, mold and shape your own church according to what pleases you...day by day, I can see that satan and his minions are being exposed...Praise God!!...Father, I disagree with you, may the Lord help you to see your error and the willful spreading of this error....
Lisa Adams
lisa adams | 12/16/2009 - 10:46am
Dear Father,

I Thank and Praise Our Lord that we will be returning to our Catholic Roots.....It has been very painful for so many to have been forced to participate in protestant-catholicism, or some watered down / luke warm version of nothingness....Has anyone put together the reason why we have so many heretics in our church, to the changes brought about by the v2 changes to the liturgical practices.....we now have catholics that are for the killing of our most vulnerable, we now have catholics that believe that adultery is ok, even to the point of women throwing themselves at and scandalously flirting with priests in the open without fear of impunity.....we have all but lost reverence and respect in our Churches, where some females dress like street walkers walking up to receive the Eucharist, and even being flirtatious with the priest while walking up to receive.....we absolutely need to make drastic changes, and I welcome back the Tridentine rite, with all its beautiful Holy aura and reverence that lifts up the soul to the heavens, instead of being bound or bogged down to this world....
Lisa Adams
Franz Kuo | 12/16/2009 - 9:22am

Thank you Father Ryan for your very reasonable and coherent proposal.

With the rehabilitation of the Tridentine rite, the excessively accommodating outreach to Lefebrists and conservative Anglicans, and the dismissal of our English version of the Roman Missal as not Latin enough, it's not unreasonable to feel that our Church is regressing to a place in which individual conscience and free will are no longer of any consequence and must simply and resignedly subject to authority.  Say it ain't so.

Bao-Tran Nguyen | 12/15/2009 - 5:15pm
I am glad that Father Ryan voices his concerns over some changes in the translation (rather than a complete new translation) of the Roman Missal. We need pastors who speak out for the good of his flocks.

However, I do not agree with his arguments.

Saying this translation is a sign of "systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree" is exagerating. The new translation only intends to improve the older English translation.

I grew up in other culture and the translation in my first language since after Vatican II has been pretty much: “consubstantial with the Father”; “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”; “oblation of our service”; “send down your Spirit like the dewfall”; “He took the precious chalice”; “serene and kindly countenance,” and very close to “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin”. So I see that the effort of Vatican is to align the English translation to be more catholic, ie, universal.

Using Tridentine Mass as an evident to support his argument is a misunderstanding. It only means to support a minority group who feels that Tridentine Mass helps them pray better.

The translation must have been done and reviewed by people in charge. They must have weighted between clarity and the original text. For me, English is my second language, I do not have problem understanding the texts that Father Ryan uses as examples.

The 'market testing' approach is not practical. The 'hold on' and 'wait' will not get the job done. Please imagine that if Vatican II also tried 'market testing', would we have Mass in English today?

I only propose the US Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes clarications where text can be ambiguous for common people.

For US Catholics, let us not worry. Let us open for some changes. Let's move forward. The changes in translation is for better.
Rita Huebner | 12/15/2009 - 2:50pm

Thanks to Father Ryan for an insightful article. I welcome his invitation to wait. As for me, I find that in the celebrations of Eucharist I attend the celebrants are attentive to the approved language now in use. I haven't noticed any abuses, but only reverence and care.


With the new translation, I will find it difficult to say "new" phrases. I probably will not say "only say the word and my soul will be healed." Such a phrase sets up an old dualism. When Jesus came and healed, he healed the whole person, both spirit and body. So I'll continue to say "Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed"-all of me as a person.

FR R SIEFER | 12/15/2009 - 11:53am
Kudos to Fr. Ryan and Bishop Trautman (my bishop). When I first read Fr. Ryan's article I said I liked his orginal title "What If We Just Said No?" Upon further reflection, I agree with waiting. I have been ordained 34 years and was filled with the hope and the zeal of the II Vatican Council. Over the years I have witnessed the dismantling of the Council. The curia did not want it when John XXIII introduced the idea and then it's reality. They have been dismantling it since then. Many of our modern day bishops have permitted it to take place. They have rolled over and played dead. Thank God, Bishop Trautman was not willing to play the game. It is sad that none of his brother bishops supported him. They just wanted the thing over with & leave us alone.
For my part,I say let's keep the present sacramentary. If we can celebrate the Tridentine mass, the Ambrosian rite, etc.
Why can't we use the present sacramentary? It is better than what is being forced down our throats.
Dan Mandell | 12/14/2009 - 11:08pm

What will it take before the Catholic laity find their voice. Must we always speak, sing and pray in words that the Vatican has approved?  Thank you America for listening  

PETER FARLEY | 12/14/2009 - 5:57pm

Thank you, Msgr. Welbers, for the Chesterton aphorism, and forgive my attempt at one of my own: "Liberal Catholics follow the Church when they agree with her; Conservative Catholics unequivocally follow the Church when she agrees with them."

David Buchholz | 12/13/2009 - 5:50pm

I whole-heartedly agree with Father Ryan.  If anything, the Liturgy could be simplified further to be made even more understandable, without reducing or demeaning the beauty and grandeur of the feast we join together to participate in.  As society and humankind evolves, the Church should, to a degree, evolve as well.  However, as society takes strives to take  steps forward, the Church ought not take the proverbial "two steps back."

Let's wait.

Elizabeth Noyes | 12/13/2009 - 4:59pm

Thank you Fr. Ryan from this post-Vatican II convert for proposing a time of waiting and reflection, and yes, of study and learning by the laiety about the history of the Mass, its development, the diverse cultural contexts in which it is celebrated, and the importance of its language and how it is translated.

Thank you for presenting an opportunity to us for learning and discernment and for your keeping the window open for 'the fresh air' of the Holy Spirit to enter.

4430962 | 12/13/2009 - 3:02pm

Several months ago, the young priest in our parish started to introduce Latin phrases into the Mass.  Immediately, several of us objected openly to these attempts to go backwards, in our opinion.  We talked to him, emailed him about our concerns.  I told him that Jesus spoke to His disciples in their language at the Last Supper, why can't we have that same opportunity?  That young priest soon after was transferred to another area.

We had lived through all the marvelous changes during Vatican II which took a much longer time here to be accepted by our then Pastor!!!  Our parish has changed greatly since that Pastor retired.  During his tenure the people had no say whatsoever in anything going on in the church.  Today, Thank God, we are one of the warmest, most welcoming, spirit-filled communities in the area - with hundreds of people ministering to 6,000 families.

Myself and my friends agree with the comments made by Fr. Ryan and seek the Bishops intervention - can't we just WAIT awhile?

Dorothy Canavan | 12/13/2009 - 2:03pm
I am in total support of Father M. Ryan's recommendation
to "Wait" for the new translation, seek input from the clergy and laity of our country. I sincerely hope that the bishops and priest of the United States will give this serious consideration. We should take a lesson from Africa where the translation was implemented early and it's problematic reception. After reading a few of the statements from the translation, I worry that many of the laity will not understand. Many others will find it laughable (which is not good for the Churh either). We need to consider all levels of education - not the "well educated". Our parish has many immigrants from a wide range of countries. We should maintain a translation that ALL Catholics can understand - understandable at the 4-6th grade level. (That's what is done in the Medical field and I feel Religion is as important to many). I am not opposed to change - I deal with it daily. But the change must be "right" for those who have to live with it. Also, I admire Father Ryan's courage in writing this well thought out article and bringing the issue to the attention of more of us. Thank you, Father!
Robert Hunt | 12/13/2009 - 11:24am

Seems to me that Fr. Ryan is setting us up to hate the new translations even before we've experienced them.  Sounds like someone bitter with the fact that things didn't turn out his way.  I've read those parts of the new translations available on the internet and nothing struck me as so horrible.  

Without trying to be too harsh, why would anyone seriously consider the opinion of a liturgical theologian or liturgy commission?  Aren't they the ones who've contributed so much to making the mess of worship that inflicts so many parishes today?

In any case, Fr. Ryan shouldn't worry too much.  If any priest doesn't care for the new translation, I'm sure he'll just make the prayers up as he goes, like so many do today, confident that he's doing his people a favor by sparing them the horrible new translations while blessing them with the wonderfulness of his own personality.

Edwin Hess | 12/13/2009 - 11:24am

I just looked at what I believe was the new version of the Missal.  If I am correct, it still says in part, "For us men, and for our salvation He came down from heaven...." Surely it is time to do away with this misogynistic statement which boldly proclaims that Christ had no interest in the salvation of women. Why can it not simply say, "For our salvation, he came down from heaven?

 

LEONARD VILLA | 12/13/2009 - 9:04am

The posts reflect the great problem that Pope Benedict has highlighted: to interpret the Council in continuity with the tradition or against it?  There is what the Council actually said and a mythical/spirit of the Council according to which it's as you like it.  The Council called for no abandonment of Latin but simply for greater use of the vernacular.  Latin has sign value in an age when Catholics are overdosing on particularisms: this is the English Mass, this is the Spanish Mass, this is their Mass, this is our Mass, this is.(fill in the blank) Mass.  There is a great danger of nationalisms getting in the way of Catholic unity.  Latin is a reminder that the Church speaks all languages and is supra-national. 

With respect to the translations I think a lot of this opposition is a smoke screen.  The current "translations" are often para-phrases with an agenda.  Every Catholic has a right to pray the liturgy of the Church as acurately translated from the actual text and not the text of some Committee with an agenda  sifting out what they don't like which is what we have presently.  Lastly the notion expressed above that we have had "over-governing" from Pope JP II and Benedict is laughable.  We have had practically no government since Bl John XXIII's medicine of mercy speech.  That's one of the reasons we have the mess we have and the Church is infiltrated with dissent and disobedience. There is a fifth column of heresy and apostasy seeking to re-make the Church in its own image, an anti-Church if you will.  It's time to put things in order with the help of God.

8019977 | 12/12/2009 - 7:14pm

It mystifies me that the members of the Catholic laity are treated the way they are. No wonder the Churches are becomming empty.

Sister Patricia Ryan | 12/12/2009 - 4:11pm
Advent season of the liturgical year teaches that waiting makes us more alert and conscious of our part in the Christ life. I say "wait."
Michael Maiale | 12/12/2009 - 11:48am

The people have spoken about the ICEL translation.  They've spoken in their plummeted Mass attendance.

Perhaps more significantly, though, even many of those who would tell you that they like the current language of the Mass have suffered its downsides.  Rapidly declining belief in Transubstantiation among Catholics, lack of reverence for the Eucharist, lack of understanding of the sacerdotal role of the priesthood, etc., are all powerful statements about the problems with the ICEL translations.

If Catholics are now so out of touch with our rich Patrimony that they are "indignant" that Christ be described as "incarnate of the Virgin Mary," and are in disbelief that we might imply beautiful biblical imagery in phrases like " “send down your Spirit like the dewfall,” then the state of Catholicism these days is poor in deed and the new translations are all the more necessary.

6252507 | 12/12/2009 - 10:54am
Thanks, Michael. We fully support waiting, and praying that the Bishops of the U.S. will listen to us, the people of God. May those who log on pray with us that the Spirit may open minds and hearts of our Church leaders.
SONDRA HOFFMAN | 12/11/2009 - 6:57pm

God bless Bishop Trautman and you for speaking up with a courteous attempt to side track this awful translation.  Some of the language is archaic belonging to the 40' and 50' and the Baltimore Catechism days.

I would cringe to hear laughter at liturgy and was experienced at the mentioned gathering when introducing the translation.

Please allow us to pray in a language and in words we understand.

GINO | 12/11/2009 - 5:00pm

DON'T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY, FR. RYAN. Your perfervid words remind me of what Shakespeare once wrote: “It's a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.” For years, more so than you, I think, I have closely followed the ins and outs of the ICEL process of translation.  I assure you I know English AND Latin very well. I have reviewed the final text and find it outstanding. It's infinitely better than the sophomoric and inaccurate translation that tortured us for lo these 40 years with the so-called "dynamic equivalency" translation, which was a fraud.

You would probably look down your nose at the venerable Anglican translation of the Mass, which - thank God - we will soon be able to enjoy even in the Latin Rite. You also seem to be a bit upset by the "recognitio" [the ratification] that the Holy See MUST give the ICEL translation. You forget that the Holy See is the ancient and venerable custodian of the Latin Rite. Since "lex ordandi est lex credendi," an accurate, reverent and elegant English translation is supremely important because it will be used by dozens of English-speaking countries. And the Holy See is the guarantor of orthodoxy.  English is the "lingua franca" or koine' of the modern world. So, let's get on with it, Fr. Ryan. I asssure you that the people will love the new translation and happily use it for generations to come.


Donald Manson | 12/11/2009 - 2:37pm

The lay Church has despaired of repairs to the Church coming from the top. Our only hope is with the Spirit, from the bottom up.  Way to go Father Ryan, and also Fr. McBrien. 

Gerald Floyd | 12/11/2009 - 2:27pm

Warmest thanks to Father Ryan for launching this grass roots effort and to America magazine for publishing his excellent article.  I have been advocating trail runs of liturgical changes for several years.  I launched a blog on July 17, 2006, at http://creativeadvance.blogspot.com.  My first posting, A Better Way to Change Catholic Liturgical Language, was a reflection on many of the changes that Father Ryan is questioning.  I argued for experimentation before new liturgical changes were implemented, as well as for continuing celebrations of older liturgies in ways that did not detract from the normativity of new ones.  I have returned to this theme is several other postings.

So I am delighted that a veteran liturgical expert whose voice is widely respected has had the courage to take up this cause.  I hope all who treasure what the Spirit achieved at Vatican II will sign the Statement of Concern on his website.  The list of signers grows by the hour.

9657523 | 12/11/2009 - 12:41pm
That Father Ryan wrote about a very important matter in our Church, namely, the language of our worship, and proposed a process which, to my thinking, takes into consideration the faith and feelings of all the Baptized, is a contribution which I deeply appreciate. ( I hope that this long introductory sentence does not reflect some fumbling sentences in the New Translations!)That "America" has the courage to publish this in their December 14th issue, earns my thanks. I have been a follower of Bishop Trautman, and feel better for his lucid examinations. For many years I have been a student of both Liturgy and Scripture. For both of these I have been, and am a Director and a Teacher. The entire breadth of the Church in America deserves a voice in a Church decision which affects them acutely. The people who still come to Church take their Public Worship seriously.
Brigid Rauch | 12/11/2009 - 9:01am

Thank you, Father Ryan and the Editors of America!

Mike Evans | 12/11/2009 - 8:31am

Did Jesus pray or preach or even read in Latin?

Why is there such an over-riding need to have absolute uniformity in the Engllish speaking world? Do any substantial number of priests currently use the alternative Eucharistic Prayers now in the Sacramentary or its supplements? They are so refreshing and so full of meaning...

What if the priest (and people) did more ad-libbing during the Mass prayers? More sung responses? More like the celebratory African and South American church?

Our worship must be more than just formula, recited and quickly over with. We can do much, much better than this!

Helen Goehring | 12/11/2009 - 1:45am

Father Ryan’s candor, courage and integrity offer a beacon of hope to us who love the church and want to hold onto the last vestiges of the Second Vatican Council and the way we pray.  

I’ve been attending daily Mass since 1939, when I received my First Holy Communion. It is the most important activity of my day, no matter what happens at work, at home, or with the latest medical procedure.  It seems to me that I should have some say in a decision that affects the core of my being.  Rather, the Vatican is creating an obstacle course between God and me in its attempt to once more unravel the heart of Vatican II.

In the Reform of the Sacred Liturgy, the Council states that there be no innovations “unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them;” and that they should be clear and easy to understand, so that the entire community can participate.

From where I stand, I see no requirement for innovation. The liturgies at St. James Cathedral speak to me in my seeing, my listening, my reading, my singing and, most important, in my heart.  Furthermore, there is nothing that convinces me that “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin” is simpler than “Joseph, her husband.” I doubt if the homeless man in front of me, or the dot.com executive in back of me will understand it any better. So the idea of community could go out the window.

As one of those fortunate enough to be a parishioner of St. James Cathedral, I am frequently reminded by Father Ryan that I am the church. Yet I get messages from Rome to the contrary.  My son, 47, who loves the church, reminds me that the Vatican treats its flock like children. Even at 77, when I’d like to subtract a few years, I find it demeaning to be treated as if I’m in kindergarten. Besides, it seems to me that there are other agenda items shouting for attention: the shortage of priests, women’s role in the church, the clergy abuse scandal, world poverty, the environment, social justice issues, and the unspeakable word in my Tridentine years’ education, “sexuality.”

So what if we said “wait?” Mary said “yes” when she knew she had to wait nine months to give birth to the Savior of the World. Can’t we postpone “oblation of our service” until there is a consensus? Perhaps this will be the first step to rekindling Vatican II’s smoldering candle, “Lumen Gentium” – “a light to the nations.”

l mulligan | 12/11/2009 - 1:05am

Just a thought, to add to the discussion - in the lengthy process for making these changes, was any consideration given to Canon 119.3, which I believe says, "what touches all should be approved by all", and if so, what provision was made for such approval by all who will be touched by by them?

Carolyn Disco | 12/10/2009 - 11:25pm

For all those supportive of Fr. Ryan's proposal, he has a website where you may sign to so indicate.   www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org

There are major SJ names there, and many priests, including some who posted here. It being a clerical world in this church of ours, their courage is noteworthy. I can sign without possible repercussion; they cannot.

IMHO, the bottom line has little to do with words and language in prayers but ecclesiology. Power, who has it and how they exercise it, is the core here.

Michael Henthorn | 12/10/2009 - 9:50pm
With all due respect to the good Father, the people I know are in support of the Holy See and welcome the change. As an Anglican convert, I welcome the return of the ancient Latin Mass and a true linguistic translation for the missal. Plus, it is time to realize that the Mc-Mass experiement of "Get your spiritual fill in fifty minutes or fewer" has failed.

Long live The Pope!
Robert Petersen | 12/10/2009 - 6:18pm

Father Ryan has penned a somewhat provocative article.  I say somewhat because I imagine a majority of American Catholics are not even aware of what is being decreed or decried.  For me worship centers on the Eucharist celebrated in simple terms and language.  Father Ryan mentions that clergy chuckled at the "new" language.  I wonder if Christ would chuckle or even recognize such as worship?  If we are to take our cues from the gospel accounts we might be more concerned about clothing the naked, feeding the thousands, healing the lepers, and waging peace.  The language Christ spoke was clear, direct and not pridefully ornate and inaccessible to masses.  Looks like the scribes and Pharisees are up to it once again.

William Bagley | 12/10/2009 - 5:41pm

Thank you again Father Ryan, thank you Msgr Byrne (you are so right about control), thank you Sister Toolan...

I agree with Mr Maher that people like Fred McManus and John Page who did such an able job at ICEL deserve better...

Dare I say that the problem has not been in the language of the liturgy but the delivery? I am not out to castigate priests, but honestly, I think that much of the responsibility for the disgruntled lies right there.  Can we really be honest about that?  I have been in parishes where well trained and holy priests have embraced it and have led their congreations into a special place.  Can we put as much energy (and money) in supporting all these good men (liturgical support and homiletics) as we have put into the work of this wild translation?  Are we next to be treated to sermons spoken in Elizabethan English?  Why not have a communion war (we are getting good at that!) and bar those of us who don't like the translation from communion?

I grew up as an "altar boy" and loved the old liturgy, benediction, holy hours etc ...

but times change.  Did God not give us the wisdom to grow with the times?

  Are we so hide-bound that we only feel secure moving backwards?  The language of the new translations will outfit priests in "the emperor's new clothes."  That's unfair to them and to us ...  priests and congregants will know the difference. 

Sonya Orleth | 12/10/2009 - 4:02pm

I signed the online petition. Here are the comments I left there (nice to see Fr. O'Brien's comments - greetings from a former parishioner):

I am appreciative and humbled that this effort springs forth from my hometown. Fr. Ryan is doing a great service to the People of God. I'm a post-Vatican II Catholic, and in all honesty have never attended a Latin Mass. The current liturgy has nourished my faith my whole life long. Am I to believe that I'm therefore somehow less than Catholic because some believe the current liturgical texts aren't a "pure enough" translation? Has therefore the Eucharist I've received ecstatically all these years been 95% Jesus? I love the Mass - it's not about being against change, it's about being against the implication inherent in the new translation movement - and the lack of collegiality and force with which it's being implemented - that the Masses I’ve participated in all these years have been defective.

Robert Burke | 12/10/2009 - 1:59pm

I've had much to say on this subject in other venues. Here is some of it, followed by a couple of other comments.

[The new text] has an "elevated" tone only in the sense that it uses unfamiliar words and a syntax imported from a language that is constructed entirely differently.

Where is the artistry? I submit that, in the excerpts we've seen, there is none. It's nothing more than false nostalgia for the lugubrious translations from old popular missals. ... Where are the real artists, the poets and novelists and essayists who could really bring the presence of God through their art and craft? Nowhere to be seen, just as the real artists in music have been marginalized these last 35 years.We are about to lose a marvelous opportunity to make real, substantive improvements in our worship: more artistry in music and word, and especially in preaching and teaching. We are going to blow it, big time.

So I absolutely agree with Sister Susanne Toolan that poets need to be as involved as translators in the creation of a text that transmits both the cognitive and affective substance of the Mass.
I am also very skeptical of the claim that the wave of the future is more fussy literalism, more mantillas and maniples, more compulsion toward the literal letter of the law. The idea that "there are many priests that are living in the past.  They need to get with the present!" is bogus. It could only be made by someone who did not live in the old pray-pay-obey days. The bishops of the world who attended and supported Vatican II were formed in those stultifying times. They knew, as the great Pope John did, that the church needed fresh air. The idea that today we would start pumping in stale air, both in substance (introducing an amateurish translation) and style (by fiat), would be well beyond their comprehension.

Jerry Cronkhite | 12/10/2009 - 12:46pm

Wipe the windows of perception clean.   Liturgy Is our golden stairway to the gates of Heaven.  I prefer my prayer and praise to rise like incense with well chosen words at the feet of Our Lord.  All fine things take time and preparation.  I prefer grains of incense in the thurible rather than a cast off butt of a cojiba.  Knowledge is structured in consciousness.  Thank you very much Father Ryan!!!

V. PLEASE PRECIOUS LORD, LET US WAIT! 

R. AMEN

2726068 | 12/10/2009 - 12:18pm
The Church is the whole people of God-including main-line churches like Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox; including lay and religious women; including priests and lay staff who serve at the grassroots level. We preach the principle of subsidiarity to corporations and governments. Did we come to be served or to serve? Is the Church only "conservatives" in the Vatican or does the Church include "liberals" who serve at the local level?

Absolute infallibility belongs only to God. We are a finite pilgrim church. The more who participate in the Church from diverse perspectives, the more we will be able to use all of our natural and supernatural resources.

We need to meditate more on the hierarchy of truths and begin with the Triune God. The Son and the Holy Spirit are not subordinate to the Father. In fact, they share the same identical nature. Are we are made in the image and likeness of God or in the image of the Roman Empire, Kings of Nation States, or other structures where power is concentrated in a few at the top?

Young people are leaving the Church. Vocations are dwindling. Parishes and schools are closing. Is that because of Vatican II or because we have not built upon Vatican II and implemented Vatican II?
Michael Michaels | 12/10/2009 - 10:49am

Thanks to Mr. Zelaney, who laid out for us way back at comment #7, how this process happened, and reminded us that the laity (especially among liturgical professionals) had been steadily, competently and vociferously complaining about the work ICEL had been doing.  It was only after repeated efforts to get ICEL to address the concerns of the People throughout the English-speaking world that Rome stepped in, as responsible leadership ought to do in any organization.  I respectfully suggest to those who see this as a Vatican power-grab that they are seeing what they are inclined to see.  I get the sense that some of us here have a pre-vatican II-Church chip on their shoulder, and are wont to draw us-them lines between the members of the Church who are lay and the members of the Church who are ordained.  Many of us, like the young man from Yale, who grew up in the midst of the Vatican II changes (including the wave of absurd over-correction that came in their implementation) or later don't have that baggage.

1688864 | 12/10/2009 - 9:21am

Two considerations:  1.  Why only one English translation for all English speaking countries when various countries have diffeent phrasing, vocabulary, etc.?.  There are several Spanish texts that have been approved according to usage, e.g. different texts for Mexico and Spain.

2.  This will further erode ecumenical progress.  The Books of worship for the Epicopal Church in the USA and the Methodist Church were modified to answer "And also with you" as well as introductions to the prefaces to correspond to the Catholic text.  Now we aill no longer be in sync.  Perhpas a small thing but many spouses in mixed religion marriages attend each other's church.

Diane Durante | 12/10/2009 - 8:43am

I don't know who these Revisionists think they are and what they think they're doing to our Church other than driving people away.  Fine!  We don't need to stay, and they can be left with a following of small-minded reflections of themselves.

Thomas Piatak | 12/10/2009 - 8:07am
Every time I hear someone defend something on the grounds that that is what "the People" need, as Fr. Ryan and many of the commenters here do, I am reminded of Ralph Richardson's great outburst in David Lean's "Doctor Zhivago:" "I'm one of the people, too!"

This member of "The People of God" is looking forward to the new Mass translation. I also would like to see: 1) the tabernacle always in the sanctuary, where it belongs; 2) more use of Latin at Mass; 3) a return to beautiful music at Mass, which means chant, polyphony, and traditional hymns; and 4) Catholic churches which look like Catholic churches, which means no more churches in the round that have no kneelers, no statues, and the general appearance of auditoriums.

If the liturgical changes made in the wake of Vatican II had resulted in greater Mass attendance we would not be having this discussion. But they haven't, and one the reasons is that too often we have stripped the Mass and our churches of beauty, awe, and reverence.
JEROME MORZINSKI MR/MRS | 12/10/2009 - 1:41am

Msgr. Byrne (post #98) has it exactly right - these comments are about much more than the words we'll use in church. The divide I'm seeing here is between those who thought Vatican II meant that local Bishops and even priests and laypeople might have a say in how the church does things, and those who think Rome is always right and the unwashed masses have nothing to offer except obedience (and $$). It looks like the pendulum is swinging way back toward this latter view, and I'm afraid it has a lot of momentum. When we hear that SSPX and all their illicitly ordained priests are welcomed back into the fold we'll know the days of Vatican II, ecumenism, and collegiality are gone.

HARRY BYRNE MSGR | 12/9/2009 - 10:59pm
The Church is experiencing much more than a translation problem. The problem is one of governance. The Vatican under JPII and B16 has been showing an appetite for control that is nothing less than indecent. Vatican II's accomplishments in the way of collegiality, so specific in allocating translation authority to regional bishops,is now openly jettisoned. In 2002 the Vatican replaced leadership in the ICEL with bishops dramatically aligned with Vatican views. Now the naked grasp for total control! Our US bishops have shown inappropriate surrender of their proper role.
Michael Monahan | 12/9/2009 - 10:48pm
Am I hearing vestiges of "Pray, Pay, and Obey" in many of the comments posted in response to Fr Ryan's article? I think that is a little pre-vatican.
Joe K. | 12/9/2009 - 10:32pm

I most appreciate Fr. Olsen's post #92.  I wish more priests had your humility.  I also appreciate kenneth Wolf's post.  I think his blunt point is that there are many priests that are living in the past.  They need to get with the present!  Change we can believe in!

William Bagley | 12/9/2009 - 5:54pm

I had the enormous good fortune to know the late Msgr Fred McManus... priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, distinguished academic and administrator at the Catholic University of America, peritus at Vatican II, friend of church leaders, beloved teacher of many and one of the architects of the liturgy as it found its way from arcane, distant Latin text to English.  This brilliant, erudite and elegant man pioneered efforts to draw the celebration of the Mass closer to the people... people for whom he cared deeply.  When I hear the snivling comments about the state of the liturgy, I am dismayed.  "Father Fred," unknown to many, but a profound force behind the scenes, did so much good and together with his colleagues at ICEL, brought the liturgy into the modern world.  I agree with an earlier commentator that we cannot turn back the clock... and simply giving literal translation to Latin texts won't fill the emptying pews.  Simple, thoughtful liturgies have the power to unite... I am truly sorry to see the new text arrive... and pained at the small minded, nasty comments of those who are happy for it. 

Pages