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

MARIA LAUGHLIN | 12/9/2009 - 5:21pm

Amen to Mark Magee's comments (#90). An added note:  anyone who could characterize Father Michael Ryan as "singing the hits of the Saint Louis Jesuits with [his] fellow Baby Boomers" has obviously never met him or experienced the liturgy at St. James Cathedral.  And the placement of the altar at the crossing of the nave and transepts in the renovated St. James was modeled on St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican!  http://www.stjames-cathedral.org

Thank you, America, for having the courage to publish this piece and let a dialogue begin.

MARIA LAUGHLIN | 12/9/2009 - 4:20pm

I am a regular parishioner, a member of the Catholic laity. I love my Church and am proud to be a Catholic. I grew up mouthing Latin prayers and responses during mass, not understanding what they meant. It was only when the Vatican II reforms came around and we, the laity could respond to the priest in English, that I understood and appreciated the real meaning of the mass. It was inspiring to be able to pray in unison with the congregation and to be able to pray with the priest. This is what is so meaningful about the mass and why the mass has meaning for me.

Fr. Ryan's letter motivated me to look at the changes that are about to be introduced to ordinary people like me. I do not understand how the new translations improves our understanding of the mystery of the Holy Eucharist or how the mass can be more uplifting because we should now say "and with your spirit" or use heavy words like "consubstantial" Responding with "and also with you" is so natural and so culturally acceptable in the English-speaking world. What exactly does "and with your spirit" mean?  How is it really different?

I would prefer, as a devout and proud Catholic that if there are any changes that come from the Vatican, that these changes be about an issue that is more substantial, like the issue of giving women a significant ministerial role, or how can Catholics address more effectively poverty around the world.

Forcing the new translations on us is really much ado about nothing. Fr. Ryan is right. Let's wait and do some testing before a worldwide dissemination of the new translations occurs.

Michael Michaels | 12/9/2009 - 3:57pm

Funny, when I have presented the changes to parishioners in a context of appreciating the beauty and greater fidelity of the language, the reaction has been the opposite.  They are receptive and eager to hear more.  Maybe it's the way the message is being presented, not the content, that will affect the reception.  If people are told "here are a few examples of the crazy stuff Rome is forcing on us," then they will naturally be indignant.  I say again... if there are words that are not immediately clear, it is our task, in humility, to explain them and use the teaching moment, not to denigrate Rome for giving them to us.  If one were to spring the words "transubstantiation" and "absolution" on parishioners as examples of Rome's overly-theologised detachment from daily life, then that's how they would see them.  But to my continuing surprise, the People manage to not only use and understand these words, but to embrace them for their connection to qualities that make the Catholic faith stand apart.

CHARLES SCHRAMM REV | 12/9/2009 - 3:35pm

Thank you for printing this article!  It expresses exactly what I think about the new translation.  I hope there will not be a stifling of the editors for doing so.

Anytime I have given a brief preview of the new translation to parishioners, there has been a reaction that says:  "You have got to be kidding!"  I agree that some of the proposed text is good and could be preserved, but the language that contains words not even remotely understood by the vast majority of people ought to be changed!

C.H. Schramm

Hales Corners, WI

Mark Magee | 12/9/2009 - 11:55am

To respond to Kenneth J. Wolfe's comments:

I call you on your comments. It is fine to have a different opinion than the author of the article. BUT, we are Catholic Christians here. Traditional or not, there is no room, no need to be less than lovingly respectful to one another. Your name calling, mean-spirited, and judgmental words are out of line. Example: "....as they prepare to retire and die."

The topic of translations aside, we are called first to "love one another."  I am horrified by your words, and am sure that traditionalists out there (I am not one of them, ) who love the Church and want to follow our Savior are horrified as well. Let's work together in the unity Jesus prayed for. LOSE the mean spirited comments, and attempt respectful dialogue.

REV DAN MALAIN | 12/9/2009 - 9:49am
This sounds like a great idea... "test marketing" the
uti;ity of the new translation for worship; it would be
interesting to survey congregations before and after their
extended use to see if they believed Jesus died for "all"
or just for many. The new translation of pro multis seems
materially heretical.
Michael Michaels | 12/9/2009 - 8:53am

"I understand the modern Church is stuck with that distinction, but isn't requiring it as part of the liturgy an unnecessary form of intellectual hazing? Can you cite ANY moral decision made by anyone you've ever heard of that depended on consubstantiality? Are there ANY commands given us by Jesus that would be interpreted differently if the consubstantiality issue were treated like the geocentric theory of the universe?"

Excellent example.  What you need to know about consubstantiality is that it means that Jesus is of the same stuff as the Father, and therefore is God.  You have the luxury of taking that idea for granted, precisely because the Church has kept it in the Mass and kept teaching it.  It was not always so obvious. If Jesus is not of the same stuff as God, then he is less than God.  There was a name for that idea... it was Arianism.  The Church fought hard for centuries to maintain the truths of the faith instead of falling into that highly popular heresy. 

So, to the question, "can I name any commands of Jesus that would be interpreted differently if he were not considered consubstantial with the Father (and therefore, Not God)" the answer is, "All of them."

But yeah, you're right, who needs all this complicated theology stuff clouding the waters?  Let's just all take a whack at reinterpreting the Mass in nice simple English! lol

Michael Michaels | 12/9/2009 - 8:35am

"...every single word of the prayer needs to bear the weight of the entire Tradition ..."

That is an impossible burden to lay upon a poor little word. It is foolish to try. Far better to develop prayer texts that do the job of prayer, and teach the Entire Tradition in more suitable venues. The ritual Mass, outside of the sermon, is an ineffective avenue for religious instruction ... which is why we have sermons, CCD, Bible study, etc.

Here, sir, you flaunt your ignorance.  The ancient rule of prayer is Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.  The law of prayer is the law of belief. That is, what we say in our prayers teaches us what we believe.  So yes, in fact, the prayers of the Mass are precisely tasked with reflecting accurately and precisely our beliefs.  We cannot afford to chuck out difficult language in favor of warm and fuzzy phrasings that suit your particular taste in poetry.  The liturgy is the source and summit of all we do, says Vatican II. Its not just a collection of pretty prayers that we can enjoy, and then leave the real teaching  to catechesis at some unspecified time. 

Thats also why its ludicrous to suppose that we could or should have a gazillion different translations for every style and region.  Every prayer in the Mass does indeed need to teach what we have been given in the Tradition.  Thats why its taken so long to get it right with just one edition.  Imagine trying to make a gazillion.

As to serving or ruling, the bishops are to SERVE by LEADING.  That is the task given them.  It is not fashionable now to remember that the ordained are meant to function in the person of Christ the Head of the Body (tho that fashion is changing as the 1970s Old Guard recedes and young people like the Yale woman take over).  It is their job to lead us and make decisions.  To be sensitive to the people, yes.  but not to govern by focus group. 

Finally, you fall into a common error by presuming the Church should be run like a business, and that the members are "consumers" who need to be test-marketed and catered-to.  The Customer is Always Right, after all.  What a dreary ecclesiology it is that reduces the Mystical Body of Christ to those peddling from "above" and those consuming from "below."  The Church is not Microsoft, and no Microsoft or any other business could do what the Church does.  To suppose that Microsoft's programs are far more complex than Church Teaching is to show how little you know of the development of doctrine, and how many centuries it took us to arrive at words like "consubstantial".  And you want to just chuck it because you don't grasp its importance or relevance.  Because you think the only possible importance it could have is in its practicality for moral decision making.  I guess that's because at its heart, our religion is nothing but a collection of ethical guidelines for living a moral life.  Oh wait, that's Ethical Humanism.  Please learn the importance and centrality of the Eucharist before presuming to be as qualified as the next person (or pope) to decide how to celebrate it. 

There also seems to me to be a distressing misapprehension here of the Mass as somehow belonging particularly to the people participating in it.  It does not belong to us in the sense of something we can modify at will to suit our predilections, or that needs to be approved by every single Catholic.   It is not "Father's Mass" or the parish's Mass.  It is the Mass of the Catholic (that is, Universal) Church.  Its unCatholic to suppose the language is fungible and should be tailored to suit every practicioner.

Michael Michaels | 12/9/2009 - 12:13am

How is it "beyond dispute" that spouse is more effective than husband?  Husband is more casual, I suppose.  But every word and phrase has been open to dispute, for years and years.  And now we are asked to "wait" while we take three steps back and give every single priest and every parish and every committee of every parish a chance to weigh in with their phrase-by-phrase amendments.  In every English-speaking nation.  Enough!   Let us receive with joy and good will what we are given, stop nitpicking, stop rehashing the same arguments that have been hashed around for years by the translaters and others, and get on with the work of praise and worship.

As for generating different English editions, it's an obvious and unsurprising observation that different countries have differing usage.  This is not a shocking idea and perhaps, just perhaps, it was taken into consideration by Rome when they came down on the side of uniformity within one language.  Countries speak differently, regions of countries speak differently, localities within regions speak differently.  How many editions do we need?   How much effort will it take to make sure that all of these dialect-friendly editions are truly and fully faithful to the editio typica (which, despite all the chest-thumping here about the value and beauty of English, happens to be written in Latin).  The point is not that the new translation sounds more like Latin, as if Latin were some linguistic idol.  The point is that while the new translation is less colloquial, it is also closer to the original, authoritative edition.  When every single word of the prayer needs to bear the weight of the entire Tradition and transmit it faithfully, clearly and unmistakeably, it seems to me we can afford a little stylistic  awkwardness in exchange for greater precision and uniformity.

ROBERT KNOPP | 12/8/2009 - 11:26pm

Ultimately living the liturgy in the Word and in the Eucharist means that we must imitate the example that Jesus gave us to enter into a relationship with the Father (God) and with one another (seeing God in one another).  Building relationship and building community is difficult enough without using awkward and archaic language. It somehow seems a little dishonorable to hide our true intentions and expression of feelings behind phrases we do not use in public commerce.  St. Paul used direct speech in his communications with his followers through his letters.  That seems a good precedent.  Jesus walked side by side with his apostles, I imagine, teaching and talking with them as they went.  I interpret Father Ryan's suggestion as walking with his parishioners side by side.

R Winn | 12/8/2009 - 8:17pm

The idea that there is one, true, unified English language from Canada to South Africa, for which a single Book works most effectively ... is idiotic.  Even within a single culture, it's hard to write texts that are well understood by and inspiring to teenagers as well as seniors. Every competent writer knows that.

For example, it is beyond dispute that a text that writes "spouse" instead of "husband" is less effective communication within the United States. If it is be otherwise for the English-speaking community of the Vatican, that is all the more reason for a diversity of texts.

Why the Vatican should think that a single text should be mandated for the English-speaking part of the Planet, which encompasses a vast array of different cultures and linguistic subsets, is beyond rational explanation, except for a desire for Control. It cannot be out of a desire for Service because to serve a population with a text, you have to write a text that communicates effectively.

The ultimate question here:

Is more important that the Church Hierarchy Control the People, or Serve them?
Sister Suzanne Toolan | 12/8/2009 - 7:04pm

I was so pleased to read this excellent article that comes from the depths of a loyal priest, one committed to Church, both its hierarchy and its people.  I could not agree more with Fr. Ryan’s pleading for a time to wait.  I would hope that in that time of waiting further work on the translations would come forth from assembled groups of theologians, scripture scholars and yes, poets!  It would seem that our truest and most beautiful verbal expressions should adorn the very words we presume to speak to our God.

JOHN FARLEY FR | 12/8/2009 - 6:45pm

I think Fr Ryan's suggestion for some test flights of the new missal is entirely appropriate. I suggest the Bishops do this themselves, that is PERSONALLY.

When the first 400 books are available, they should be shipped off to the Bishops who will begin using them immediately in their Cathedrals, and anywhere else they happen to be presiding at liturgy, whatever liturgy it is. Other priests who could obtain a copy could also start using the new translations, but only by replacing the current missal entirely.

The rest of us could wait for the printing presses to catch up - and the music. In the meantime, I'm stockpiling copies of the current Sacramentary.

Michael Michaels | 12/8/2009 - 6:39pm

I'm delighted with the new translations.  Even the more awkward phrases that have been cited are, to me, more thought-provoking and fruitful for reflection.  They may require us to slow down a little to pray them, because they don't sound like casual speech.  Otoh, I have no desire that the Sacramentary oughtta sound like da way I and other people talk in normal conversation.  I say, let us allow prayers hewing more closely to those of the Universal Church elevate our thoughts to embrace all the richness they contain, rather than trying to dumb them down for a laity who supposedly cannot understand them.  If there is a phrase that begs explanation, let's take the time and effort to explain it, rather than whining about not having been personally consulted in the process.

BRIAN CARROLL | 12/8/2009 - 4:57pm
Has anyone computed what all this will co$t the average diocese?
REV P KROGMAN | 12/8/2009 - 4:36pm

I also am one of those who feels that there is a "systematic dismantling of the great vision of the Second Vatican Council's decree".  But it seems we are witnessing that very thing!  I find the new translations appalling and hard to understand.  After working for the church for 11 years ( as a church secretary)  I have wondered and worried about the seemingly endless turning away from the liturgy.  I truly feel that if this translation is instituted, there will be more and more of this; and in my case I worry about my children and their families.   I would  hope that our bishops would hear and recognize what this article and many priests and laity are saying.

Vince Killoran | 12/8/2009 - 4:33pm

Re. Post #76 (is this really the author of the recent NYT's op-ed piece?!): Is there any actual point being made about Fr. Ryan's proposal except the wish that he would die quickly? For all the anger by liberals on this blog I don't remember anything quite as despicable this.

I happen to think that there were some very bad practices in Masses in parishes and campus chapels in the decades after Vatican II, and that the full richness of our liturgical tradition is not being realized (Thomas Day's WHY CATHOLICS CAN'T SING nailed it almost twenty years ago). Still, the few times I have attended a Tridentine Latin Mass I have come away with the feeling that I'm hanging out with Civil War reenactors-the obsessive talk in the vestibule after Mass about the design of the chasuble worn and whether the rubrics performed during the Canon were done in correct sequence were kind of creepy.

Peggy Saunders | 12/8/2009 - 1:24pm
As a Catholic laywoman for over 70 years, I experienced what the liturgy was like before Vatican II. And I rejoiced in the changes that ensued because they enabled me to be a participant in the liturgy rather than a spectator. I am simply appalled at the new translation which is quite simply unprayable because it doesn't make sense in modern vernacular English. The mindset behind it is a major step backward to a misguided understanding of tradition and pastoral leadership. What would Jesus say to this arrogant control trip?! I couldn't agree more with this article and wish that there was some way that it's voice and that of priests and laity could be made heard by our bishops.
Kenneth Wolfe | 12/8/2009 - 12:28pm
The only good coming out of this debate is the near-universal reaction from young priests and seminarians, the future of the Catholic sanctuary.

(For those who attend Father Michael Ryan's cathedral and do not know what a sanctuary is due the 1994 elimination of it, go to Saint James' website to see what it used to look like - and what it hopefully will look like after a restoration.)

The tired, old liberals may choose to fold their arms and pout as they prepare to retire and die, but much of their efforts and reforms will be reversed over time. We have already witnessed the beginning.

The Father Ryans of the world would save the Church a lot of time and money if they would simply acknowledge their days of revolution are over. Retire and talk about your forty years of glory, singing the hits of the Saint Louis Jesuits with your fellow Baby Boomers. In the meantime you look foolish with stunts like the above article.
THOMAS VONBEHREN CSV REV | 12/8/2009 - 12:11pm

I still do not understand (actually, I think I do) why the laity are never consulted on these matters - or anyone else for that matter.  It is continually emphasized that the only voice listened to is the voice of the few - the bishops and they seem to be convinced that the Holy Spirit works only through them - tha they are the Church.  Further, I don't understand why the English speaking bishops, the Spanish speaking bishops, the Polish speaking bishops do not have the authority to approve the liturgical prayers in their own language - how is it that some small group in Rome has that authority.  Vatican II never happened - it was just a mirage or a figment of our imagination??

leonard Nugent | 12/8/2009 - 11:49am

Your article is titled "What if we said wait" A better question to ask is "What if we had  actually said the words in the current translation" Perhaps this change wouldn't be occuring. I'm just saying.

leonard Nugent | 12/8/2009 - 10:44am

If you give your son the toy truck that he has always wanted for a Christmas present and then he begins to beat his sister over the head with it. You take the truck away from him.

Victor Hoagland | 12/8/2009 - 9:18am

I agree we need to slow down and look at the new translations, but I don’t think it will happen.

What I regret most is the catechetical energy we are going to expend in the next year or so explaining “And with your spirit” and the other changes in the texts.   
 
Where is Romano Guardini when we need him? We need to look at his “Sacred Signs” again and talk about walking and seeing and listening as part of the way we pray. Our people should hear that more. Where is Thomas Berry when we need him? We need to look at the bread and wine and see them pointing, surprisingly,  to where we come from in the great work of creation we are only beginning to understand. Where are those great liturgists and scripture scholars and theologians and mystics who can open our eyes to the mysteries of the breaking of the bread and make our hearts burn within us?  

The last sentence on the bishops’ internet site about the changes says they will impact ordinary church-going Catholics and lead them to the deeper meaning of the Mass. I’m not sure. I think about recent complaints against drug companies for introducing new medicines and applications without proving they are better and more cost effective than previous ones.

A picture on the site’s opening page shows the back rows of a congregation at church at Mass. From where the picture’s taken those back row Catholics can hardly see the altar in the distance. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all talked to those back row Catholics?

Paul Epperlein | 12/8/2009 - 6:58am

Thank you Father Ryan. If all are welcome in this place, we would, in charity, praise the Lord in a vernacular understandable and meaningful to all.

Daniel McGlone | 12/8/2009 - 4:58am

Whenever I read this sort of prattle I wonder if the author has actually read the Council document they are referring too, in this case Sacrosanctum Concilium. Had the "paster of St James Cathedral Seattle" (sic) done so I wonder what he would make of the document’s prohibition of personal innovation and its insistence on tradition, Latin as the principle language of the Mass and the pride of place of Gregorian chant in the liturgy. The fact that the rubrics of the missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI built upon this, interesting with the presumption that the Mass is said facing East, also seems to have escape Ryan’s notice. The failure to consider the document's eloquent appraisal of the Mass as a work of redemption, the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ made for the remission of our sins, however says it all.

John Wotherspoon | 12/8/2009 - 3:39am

Thank you, Fr Ryan, for saying what so many people feel. Thank you for using such positive and lovingly cricitcal language.

The liturgical and other going-backward situations in the church are so closely linked to the role of the pope that I must admit that each time I pray for him at Mass, my prayer is that he will have either a change of heart or a change of address.

In fact some friends and I have started to "vote" for the next pope by a special type of activity. As a prayer that the next pope will return to the vision of Vatican 2, we have begun picking up a few bits of rubbish from the street each day, offering this act of humility as a prayer that the next pope will take the documents of Vatican 2 out of the rubbish bin, so to speak.

As we pick up a bit of rubbish, we pray "Jesus, please give the world a Vatican 2 vision pope".  Each time we put a piece of rubbish in the bin, we see that piece of rubbish as a voting card!

JEROME MORZINSKI MR/MRS | 12/8/2009 - 2:10am

We will get used to whatever language Rome decides we must use. It will be just like the old days, when the Mass was celebrated in Latin, and few knew or cared exactly what the words meant. Rome has spoken, and our duty is to salute and obey, even if it means standing by as the current crop of SSPX-wannabes continues to dismantle the work of Vatican II.

Fred Oak | 12/8/2009 - 12:33am

Timely article.  I attended a Latin mass in Las Vegas last weekend for the first time as an adult Catholic.  It reminded me of attending mass said in a foreign language.  How will using tortured English or foreign language (Latin) improve the religious experience?  Maybe giant television screens can be installed in the churches with subtitle translations similar to foreign movies?

Carolyn Disco | 12/7/2009 - 11:31pm

I am so disheartened by the apparent attitude of the young seminarian who calls himself sacerdos in aeternum. Does anyone else see a sense of personal elevation in his statement about "my" people? As though we laity are his as a sort of possession, and assuredly below his status as "eternal priest". Not even his name or even first name suffice. It's the position that dominates.

What about "our" people where we are co-equals as part of the People of God? Where we are consulted about liturgy and accepted as adults, not subservient followers?

I am reminded in tone of the cultic model of priesthood of so many young men. The more clerical garb and vestments the better. I've had to endure their self-righteous smugness, as arbiters of certitude of all things Catholic. It's almost a rigid obedience to me that recalls memories of the vacuum-packed spirituality of pre-Vatican II days.

I do not wish this as a personal attack on someone caught up in his world, but the sense and tone are truly depressing to this oldster. It's a going back to what I swore I would not raise my children in, and didn't.

See http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_14_132/ai_n27859689/ for an excellent article by Rev. Paul Stanosz that was in Commonweal, describing attitudes in seminarian training today. What a disconnect is in the making.

Fr. Ryan, you are a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

Michaelangelo Allocca | 12/7/2009 - 10:53pm

One quibble I have with Fr. Ryan: he attributes this awfulness to translators who are "better versed in Latin" than in English. I don't think so! If they really were all that well versed in Latin, they would recognize the idiomatic/syntactical elements of the phrases in their original context, and hence would not mistake word-for-word verbatim literalism for accuracy.

To give but one example: "eiusdem Virginis Sponsi" identifies Joseph in the First Eucharistic Prayer, and yes, indeed, if you fed those three words into a computerized Latin-English translation program - or gave them to a (not exceedingly bright) first-year Latin student - "spouse of the same virgin" is what you would get.

But this is why we usually do not rely upon machines, or said neophyte students, for translations that people will actually use.

The teacher of our hapless freshmen would, it is hoped, explain to them that 1) Sponsus/a was used exactly equivalently, idiomatically speaking, to 'husband' or 'wife' according to its gender, so the BETTER translation would actually be the more straightforward English word, not the weirdly neuter 'spouse'; and 2) the convoluted 'of the same Virgin' is dictated merely by the desire for precision, since the most ordinary possessive pronoun would misdirect us to the nearest noun as an antecedent, which in this context was Jesus, and that is not who Joseph was married to, after all. The simple, one-word "her" achieves exactly the same goal in English. Real English, that is, not "translation-ese."

In sum, Fr. Ryan is guilty of being a little too kind to these "translators"; or maybe of assuming that just because they're in Rome, their Latin is good. "Translations" of this caliber would not even get a good grade from me as an exercise in an elementary Latin class.

Aaron Reynolds | 12/7/2009 - 10:25pm

What I don't like about this article and many of the comments is that many of you assume that most people (practically everybody in your opinion) do not like the new translation and that we should wait. However, in my opinion, and the opinion of many people I've talked to is that many people are, in fact, in favor of the new translation. Do not assume that everyone shares the same opinion that the new translation is awful! 

David Hudgins | 12/7/2009 - 9:17pm

This is happening; accept it.  Diocesan Directors of Liturgy work for bishops and they will deliver it to the pastors who will fall in line. 

Fr. Ryan's text is futile, hurtful and a waste of time. The essay pointlessly attacks unity and spreads confusion.

ALLAN FERNANDES DR | 12/7/2009 - 4:44pm

For more from Father Michael Ryan listen to his interview with America on this week's podcast: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/podcast/podcast-index.cfm?series_id=1135

Robert Lynch | 12/7/2009 - 2:01pm

Thank you, Father, and God Bless you for you courage.

Richard Sullivan | 12/7/2009 - 12:06pm

Judging by the number of comments on Fr. Ryan's article people are interested in the prayers of the liturgy whether they are for or against the new translation or the manner in which it came about. They are the ones who are still going to Sunday Mass. How few they are.

I love going to mass and worshiping God present in all those around me and as food in the eucharist. I try intently to listen to the prayers of the mass and make them my own. The words do not have to be perfect but they do have to be prayed sincerely and heard clearly for me to be in sync with them. If hearing fails me on certain words I should be able to see them. That doesn't often happen. I never know what Canon the priest chooses to use. Sometimes by the time I find it in my missal, he is just about finished with it.

If I could change the celebration of mass, I would have all the people in the pews praying all the prayers of the mass in union with the priest and deacon. Imagine how long I will wait for that.

Richard

John Page | 12/7/2009 - 4:10am

Wouldn't it be helpful to see the 2009 translation of the collect for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time for comparison's sake? But, of course, it is kept from us because of the secercy imposed by Liturgiam authenticam. I will risk breaking pontifical secret. Here it is: "Almighty everlasting God, who in your overflowing compassion surpass the merits and desires of those who pray, pour out your mercy upon us, to pardon what conscience dreads and to add what prayer does not venture to ask." Memorable?  Clear? It certainly has a lot of sibilants.The final line is not only graceless but obscure.

With respect, your own translation is so convoluted as to make even silent reading a challenge. Imagine the text being PROCLAIMED in the liturgy.

In my reading of the beautifully balanced 1998 text, the forgiveness asked for is a clear consequence of the mercy which the assembly has, after acknowledging its unworthiness, just called on  God to grant in abundance.

Those who did the work on the 1998 ICEL Missal were an entirely new team from those who worked in the late 1960s/early 1970s on the 1973 Missal. When work on the 1998 Missal was begun in earnest in the mid 1980s, only two of the 1973 participants were still involved in the work of ICEL. 

The eleven conferences of bishops in ICEL decided in the early 1980s that a thorough revision of The Roman Missal of 1973 was needed, and all of those conferences, after a four to five year period of deliberation, gave their canonical approval to the 1998 revision. it makes no sense to say that Rome had no confidence in ICEL because of the work done a quarter centry before. 

The 2000 editio tertia of the Missale Romanum retained without change over 90% of the material contained in the editio altera of the Missale issued in 1975 (including the collect under discussion here). The 1975 text was the basis for the ICEL revision carried out in the 80s/90s. Had the CDWDS allowed dialogue with the conferences in 2000-2002, changes could have been agreed in the 1998 text and the newly added material could have been finished within two years, by 2003 at the latest. Instead, the new ICEL began the work all over again. This was a huge waste of time and money, the people's money.

The translators of the new ICEL were so intent on adhering to the questionable stipulations of Liturgiam authenticam that they often became so lost in the Latin text that they were unable to come out on the other side of that dialogue between two languages that any credible translation effort represents. The Latin was so exalted that the English was reduced to being little more than an unwanted step child. The natural genius and properties of the English language have been all but ignored, not least its rhythms and cadences. A trained actor would despair of reading these broken-backed texts.

Susan Rakoczy | 12/7/2009 - 4:06am

This is an excellent article and I do hope that a few bishops listen and take heed.

I live in South Africa and we have been the "guinea pigs" for the new translation this year. It has caused an enormous amount of liturgical pain and chaos in parishes. The "letters" column of our national Catholic paper

The Southern Cross

 has been full of responses, 95% negative. The bishops have insisted that this literal translation is an excellent one and that we must obey Rome. We also have been told that since English a "minority language" here, the responses of English-speaking Catholics do not need to be heard.  Priest friends have told me that it will take them a very long time  to memorize the Eucharistic Prayers because they are so poorly constructed; that they cannot be "prayed", but only read.

I hope that the US Catholic laity will make a major uproar when this translation begins to be used. South African Catholics can be ignored but the US Church cannot, especially since it is US money which funds the Vatican.

James Rinkevich | 12/7/2009 - 12:01am

Let take a look at the 1973 translation of that 27th Sunday (as given by Fr Z. at WDTPRS):

Father, your love for us surpasses all our hopes and desires.


Forgive our failings, keep us in your peace and lead us in the way of salvation.

(WDTPRS blog) Fr Z's slavishly literal translation of the 2002 Roman Missal Latin:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the abundance of Your goodness surpass both the merits and the prayerful vows of suppliants,

pour forth Your mercy upon us, so that You set aside those things which our conscience fears, and apply what our prayer dares not.

and the 1998 translation (according to the prior comment):

 

Almighty and eternal God, Whose bounty is greater than we deserve or desire, pour out upon us your abundant mercy; forgive the things that weigh upon our consciences and enrich us with blessings for which our prayers dare not hope."

My translation:

Almighty God eternal, who from Thy pity's abundance even exceeds the supplicant's merits and vows, pour out Thy mercy over us, so that Thou may dismiss all that the conscience fears and increase anything that the prayer doesn't anticipate.

The 1998 prayer add abundance to the mercy requested whereas the Latin mentions His abundance of pity or faithfulness.  The 1998 prayer also loses the theological significance of asking for the His mercy

so that

He might remove our conscience's fear and might give us whatever the prayer didn't ask for that we will need.  That 1998 ICEL translation is far closer to Latin prayer than 1973 prayer is obvious, but it could still do better.

Right now what the new translation needs to be compared to is the 1973 translation not the 1998 translation and the new translation is far better than the 1973 translation.  However the translation still doesn't in place cathch the Latin words meaning esp. when the Latin uses "cum", in english "with". most time this expresses a use of the object of that preposition i.e. it's an instrumental expression, which however the English preposition doesn't catch as with is largely used as an associative with the object of the preposition being equal to whatever it is associated with.  That's not the case in Latin.  Take "Et cum spiritu tuo" which should be translated as "And at the head of thy spirit" or "And with thy spirit leads" (I prefer the latter).  Let's face it the Vatican wasn't going to approve a translation of 1998 when the 2002 Roman Missal had already been issued and ICEL's 1973 translation was so loose that no one trusted them anymore.  They should have said wait in 1973, but now all that can be done is to try to remedy what was done then as soon as possible.  We've waited long enough.

Alejandro Luciano | 12/6/2009 - 10:23pm

I have always had trouble understanding why those who feel the Church is such a power hungry, mysogonist, antiquated institution deside to remain in it. In fact what baffles me most is that these people are usually the ones controlling the parish structure. Have we not had enough of liberal experimentation with the liturgy? Do all of you who are whining and complaining think the we the laity are stupid and cannot understand the changes being made? Many have opined that "there are more important things" to worry about than the text of the liturgy. Isn't the Mass the most important act of worship that we can offer God? If you haven't noticed our Catholic brethren are suffering from a chronic lack of catechesis. Do people know the faith now more than when the Mass was in a dead language? How much did the vernacular help convert souls and enrich our faith? Thats just it, many Catholics are more worried about the "social gospel" (and fall festivals!) than about offering God a true sacrifice and keeping the Gospel in their souls, not just the soup kitchen. With having the Mass in the vernacular we had an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ and to an understanding of Scripture and Tradition. Instead many in the clergy and laity saw it as an opportunity to break ranks with the Apostolic See and openly defy Church teaching. Theological discussion is important and fruitful but only if done with a charitable spirit. Both sides have erred, but some "liberals" are asking of the Church to do what she cannot; accomodate her doctrines to the whims of the World. This new translation can be a great opportunity at catechesis. For all those complaining and saying like a previous poster that "Much of the Mass text is  not scripture but the accretions of language over the centuries, crafted by Churchmen (not women?)" I urge you to read parts of that text and see the footnotes which point to the Scriptural origin of the words and gestures of Mass http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/WhiteBookAnnotated.pdf  Some comments here are very hostile towards the Church and her teaching authority. If our Church is so terrible then why not become a Lutheran or Episcopalian? After all I'm sure many here believe that ANY Church is just fine and that Dominus Iesus was the most terrible thing ever. We are tired of lazy liturgies and the spread of irreverence at Mass. Hopefully this new translation will bring with it the opportunity for those sitting in the pews to actually reflect on what we are celebrating and the True and Salvific nature of this sacrifice.

Charles Parker | 12/6/2009 - 10:56am
How true, how true. It seems as though we're more interested in maintaining what's sometimes called Tradition over a true sense of prayer to God. Keeping the language stilted (cf.BCP of 1928) keeps God at a "polite distance," but does it further a deeper, loving relationship with the One who invites the same.?! There seems to be such fear about allowing God too close. One could wonder if part of that problem would be that that intimacy would require greater honesty, dealing with ALL of life, not just set topics. Such closeness would possibly bring about greater truth regarding the place of women and a more mature and learned understanding of homosexuality-and then what would have to happen?! Come to think of it, maybe it is a lot easier to keep God far away...
Craig McKee | 12/6/2009 - 6:08am

For those who don't have time to go thru this entire 12 page article, I'll cut to the chase.

The details of how VOX CLARA torpedoed both ICEL and the 1998 translations have been excellently documented by former editor of The Tablet, John Wilkins in his "Lost in Translation? The Bishops, the Vatican and the English Liturgy," (Commonweal, Dec. 2, 2005).

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_21_132/ai_n27862483/?tag=...

especially page TEN:

"Somewhere on a shelf in the Vatican lies the 1998 ICEL missal, the fruit of thirteen years of work, denied Rome's approval. Though it was passed by all eleven bishops' conferences as the long-awaited revision of its 1973 precursor, it has never been seen by the English-speaking world at large. Its rendering of the Mass achieves a beautiful flow, and the abbreviations and paraphrases that so seriously marred the 1973 version have been addressed. The quality of what it contains can be gauged from the collects. These opening prayers had drawn vehement and damaging attack as the weakest element of the 1973 book. Among the completely redone translations, here is one for the twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Almighty and eternal God,
Whose bounty is greater than we deserve or desire,
Pour out upon us your abundant mercy;
Forgive the things that weigh upon our consciences
And enrich us with blessings
For which our prayers dare not hope."

In light of the historical events as outlined herein, JP2's Liturgiam Authenticam in 2001 can only be seen as a power-grab to disenfranchise bishops' conferences as well as justify, support, aid and abet this right-wing liturgical sabotage of ICEL by Cardinal Medina and his minions. Once again, it's not about liturgy, it's not about language, it's about (quelle surprise!) power and control!

Craig McKee | 12/6/2009 - 5:38am

We are NOT alone. Lest anyone think that the Vatican's continuing pastoral insensitivity based on multicultural ignorance is English-language specific:

http://www.ucanews.com/2009/11/30/humpty-dumpty-in-the-vatican/

Father Ryan is absolutely correct. A GLOBAL time out would seem to be in order.

Craig McKee | 12/6/2009 - 5:33am
Some helpful "background" reading to see how we got here:

http://members.westnet.com.au/sheltie/page48.html

The sordid genesis of the NEW ICEL translations is outlined by former editor of The Tablet, John Wilkins in his "Lost in Translation? The Bishops, the Vatican and the English Liturgy," (Commonweal, Dec. 2, 2005).

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_21_132/ai_n27862483/pg_12...

Bishop Trautman's analysis of the new translations may be found at:

www.eriercd.org/pdf/translations.pdf

Albert Opdenaker III | 12/6/2009 - 5:09am

What the priests seem to forget is that when the objective is to make the wording of the litergy as close as possible to the original Latin, there can be not point in opening this exercise to the people in the pews, who, even if they had studied Latin in High School, are not really prepared to enter into this discussion with the scholars who have made Latin their llifes work.  The people can say what they think sound good or nice or acceptable to them, but let us face the face that most of them do not really speak good English , let alone understand Latin.  I have to say that I had the same reaction to many of the phrases in the new translations that I have read on-line when I found the new translations on a web site.  I am prepared to follow the new teaching of the Magisterium and get used to the new translations just like I did after Vatican II rather than to start complaining and moaning and groaning.  I want to pray and love the Lord in the way that our Church says is best, not to spend my time involved in today's solution to every problem, the establsihment of yet another committee of untrained individuals who can do no more than express their own uninformed personal opinions.

JAMES PROFFITT FR | 12/6/2009 - 3:11am

What a bunch of nonsense. I've had the opportunity to read samples of many of the new prayers and, by and large, I believe them to be vast improvements over the current English language Sacramentary.

Wait, you say? As a seminarian well over 20 years ago I can remember being told of the new English translation that was due to be released "any time now." Of course, it never came. It was rejected, as a whole, by the Vatican when it was completed in the mid 90's as the Third Latin Edition was being completed and released in 2000.

Yet, with the rejected translation, I don't recall anyone screaming for collaboration, consultation, etc.! Had Rome approved it, it would have been implemented without "test markets" or "pew surveys."

No, I don't believe the laity are stupid, and while I don't know all those involved in the work on the new translations, I have no doubt that there are lay staffers involved in the translation and implementation process. Actually, I believe this to be an opportunity when education can be enhanced.

Why is it that the English language Missal is the only one that has these language problems? I tend to think that we Americans pride ourselves on being different, just for the sake of being different ... and we often think we must be difficult in the process as well.

From where I sit, I believe it's time to finish the discussions and go about the implementation  and after what will be surely a rocky start (wasn't post Vatican II?), we'll all be just fine.

JAMES BROWN MR | 12/6/2009 - 1:18am

I agree with the content and "tone" of the appeal for common sense, courtesy, and pastoral sensitivity in modifying the texts of the Missal.  Respectfully but firmly I reject the intrusive retrogression of alleged experts-expert perhaps in Latin and technical translations but lacking in communicating through langauge to people assembled for common worship.  Further, why the desperate attempt to reconstruct phrasing based on Latin texts? Who wrote those texts?  Much of the Mass text is  not scripture but the accretions of language over the centuries, crafted by Churchmen (not women?) at various points amid developing cultures and linguistic practices.  This obstinate program of church appointees seems out of touch with actual pastoral contexts.  I may respond with obstinate disregard for this ill-formed and fruitless endeavor that may also push me to regrettable lessening of respect and reverence for the liturgy as well as for the hierarchy that endorses and promotes it.  I hope it doesn't come to that, but my patience with  the waning "authority" of the hierarchy amid widespread abuses and scandals and wasteful nit-picking  is wearing down.

Marie Mason | 12/6/2009 - 12:15am
Jesus gave us the greatest gift of Himself using simple bread, wine, and the language of the day while sharing a meal with friends. It would appear that many are of the mind that they know how to do it better than Jesus. Why not focus the time and talent on how to love more?
John Burr | 12/5/2009 - 11:44pm

Well said, Fr. Ryan.  "clumsy and precious" is exactly correct.  I simply cannot believe that our Bishops have approved some of these 'translations'. 

But then I remember the process of 'natural selection' that has produced the current species of American Bishops.  God gave us all, including the Bishops, free will; I guess that makes the work of the Holy Spirit a lot harder. 

I am a molecular biologist, and a life-long Catholic.  Like all of those posting here, I would imagine, my faith means everything to me. 

I sometimes picture the interraction of human beings with the Holy Spirit as resembling that between a compas needle and a weak magnetic field.  Lots of swinging of the needle on either side of magnetic north, but over time one gets an idea of where north is.  Over the course of something like geological time I suppose the Spirit will give us the liturgy we need, in the meantime I guess I will have to suffer this Curial idiocy as best I can, try not to let myself get irritated during those moments of the liturgy, and focus as I always do on the Eucharist and my communion with my God.

Lester McCloskey | 12/5/2009 - 7:55pm

Excellent article! I fully agree that we should wait. But in the meantime, we should "Just Say No!" What would happen if we simply refused to use the new translation, or if pastors refused to buy the new Sacramentary? What could they do to us? Maybe it's time to make our voices heard. It's our Church and our Eucharist- or is it? Our bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, are are servants- or are they?

JAMES HAWKINS | 12/5/2009 - 7:53pm

HOW sad it is that we, the faithful, have NO say in what will be used in our worship......DOES anyone at the USCCB or ICEL or the Vatican remember that this generation of Lay Faithful has more liturgically trained and educated members  than in any previous era in the history of the Church?

How harmful to their CLUB would it have been to include and consider seriously some intelligent input from those of us in the daily "trenches" trying to explain this "CORPORATE church" word game  to our children as something completely separate and apart from the BODY OF CHRIST??

we have come so far since SC  and now are backsliding, for what?  FEAR? NOSTALGIA? In test markets (and in my own parish setting) we LAUGHED out loud when the GREY edition was  read....... it reads like a DICKENS' novel only with bad grammar...and we "get it"  .... the gibit and the dew just are NOT going to be causes for the conversion of ANYONE!

I am surprised Fr. Ryan has not been tared and feathered yet!!  i'll be right beside him if i am so honored...

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