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Michael G. RyanDecember 14, 2009
Dejia Solomon, 12, is anointed with chrism by Father Christopher Nowak during Mass April 2 at St. John of God Church in Central Islip, N.Y.

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”?

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?

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!)

Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated

“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.


More: Liturgy
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John McCloskey
14 years 6 months ago

Fr. Ryan makes excellent points. The older English translations are, in many places, awful. But replacing awful with awful is not an improvement. However, most priests are reluctant to question bishops on even the most trivial matters. Our ancient role of advising bishops has withered to the meaningless nodding of our resigned heads. We will publicly say that these translations are wonderful. Privately, with each other, when no bishops are within earshot, we will bemoan them.

14 years 6 months ago

Thank you for a wonderfully lucid and compelling case for giving these translations a 'trial run' that will allow the people of God some input into the language in which our communal prayer will now be prayed. Sadly, I don't think this proposal will gain much traction as evident by how little the bishops seemed to listen to the well-argued, well-reasoned objections raised by Bishop Trautman.

Christopher Butler
14 years 6 months ago

Thank God someone is encouraging the People of God to have some spine!    

John Feehily
14 years 6 months ago

Kudos to Father Ryan for being willing to put in print what so many of us priests have been saying to each other. These translations are based on the assertion that there is something superior about the Latin texts. How could a text in a language which virtually no one speaks be superior to texts composed with vibrant and living languages like English? I'll tell you why. Because this assertion comes from clerics who are in a position to impose their will on the whole church. Is this the kind of authority that Christ extended to his apostles? Sounds more to me like a form of "lording it over their subjects".

Of course the Holy Father and the officials of the congregation for Divine Worship have the authority to ensure that all texts used in the celebration of the Eucharist are doctrinally sound. In 1975, they did exactly that in approving the texts we have been using ever since. I have been praying those texts with and for the people I serve over all these years and can attest that they could use a little improvement based on what we have learned from their actual usage. A number of the proposed "improvements" however are anything but that.

"Consubstantial with the Father"....."Incarnate of the Virgin Mary"....."it is right and just" are just a few of the odd sounding English expressions whose only "virtue" is that they are more like the Latin texts. The text of the Gloria is particularly awkward and guarantees that none of the sung texts which the people have mastered over the decades will be available for use. Same is true for the text of the "Holy". For the sake of one word-"hosts"-all new sung texts will have to be composed. Dare I suggest that someone over there may have had in mind doing in the ubiquitous "Mass of Creation"?

I have signed on to Fr. Ryan's movement and hope that other priests and laity will do as well. Let's not reduce this to a "who's more loyal to the Holy See" pushing and shouting match. Blessed Gamaliel, pray for us.

John Page
14 years 6 months ago

The pastoral and accessible need not be in opposition to the uplifting and the memorable. Sadly, the new proposals are lacking in all four respects. They show little concern for the natural genius of the English language, not least its rhythms and cadences. They are broken-backed and inelegant, more like a first draft than a text ready for introduction in our parish churches. Surely a higher standard should be insisted on. For a start, why not look at the rejected Missal of 1998, canonically approved by eleven conferences of bishops?

14 years 6 months ago

Serious and sincere consultation of the Catholic faithful at the grassroots level has never characterized the implementation of the reformed liturgy during the past 40 or so years.  "Catechesis" was always supposed to prepare the faithful to receive what the "higher-ups" thought was best for them. but which the Council clearly taught was theirs by right in the first place.  And if change without consultation did not not work, we tried to solve the problem by throwing more catechesis at them.  Catechesis as problem-solver didn't work, and I believe this is at least in part the cause of the present-day backlash. Even with the best of programs, many people justifiably felt talkd-down-to and manipulated. What if, for example, right from the start, a highly public and intensely engaging process of consultation, with a real openness to listen on the part of not only bishops but professional liturgists (remember the old "terrorist" joke!), had characterized the process from the beginning?  I think the "liturgy wars" and a lot of resistance could have been at least mitigated.  Sadly, chances of any real openness to effective consultation seem less now than ever.  I just read today's piece by John Allen (on Pope Benedict and populaist Cathlicism, a different but related topic) in which he quotes Chesterton: "A progressive is someone who keeps making the same mistake, while a conservative is someone who prevents a mistake from ever being corrected." 

Thomas Zelaney
14 years 6 months ago

My own general reaction to this article is that the author is expending a lot of energy and spite on a very minor problem.  He doesn’t like several of the new phrases in the latest missal about to be released.  He says that this will result in “an almost certain fiasco”.  He attributes this new translation to a determined dismantling of the outcomes of Vatican Council II.  He tries to get up a tremendous ire at all this but it comes off flat.  His citation of No 40 from the council documents does not give the cover that he wants for experimentation etc. Actually it is precisely the assumption by the clergy that they have a right to always and everywhere tinker with the liturgy that has brought the Novus Ordo into such disrepute and opprobrium.

On occasion, he gives in to disparaging remarks thrown in for seemingly no purpose whatsoever.  The “so-called Tridentine Mass” for instance which simply refers to the revised Missal issued by the fathers of the Council of Trent and which since that time up to the Vatican Council II had gone through only minor revisions so the name seems appropriate enough to me.   I have no idea what the author wishes to indicate with the adjective “so-called” as if there were some gross mistake underlying this identification.

In his rendition of the historical development and implementation of the Novus Ordo Mass after the second Vatican Council, the author fails to mention that even then there was no consultation with the faithful laity of the Church nor would the council have risked posing such a question for concern that it might be answered overwhelmingly in the negative.  The main reason for believing that it would have received a negative reaction is simply that many laity would possibly or probably not have fallen in for “buying a pig in a poke”, a totally unknown yet-to-be new Mass.  And they would have been right, seeing the inane, mundane texts we ended up with, watered down and twisted.

When the author does get down to his cases, he cites only five instances of what I suppose he believes are poorly translated phrases but of the ones he cites I cannot for the life of me understand what is so poor about any of them in his understanding except that he says they incited disbelief and indignation at a dinner party.  Why any of these phrases would incite such a hostile reaction is hard to imagine.  Later he mentions the phrase from the Eucharistic Prayer “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin” and this may very likely be of questionable quality but this is only one phrase from an entire Missal. 

The author never once addresses the reasons for this new translation, why it does not come from ICEL (The International Commission on English in the Liturgy) or why the project was removed from ICEL in the first place.  The quality and accuracy of ICEL’s translations have long been a sticking point in the English-speaking world and the Vatican has received complaints from laity around the world concerning these translation as well as objections by liturgists in essays, pamphlets and books.  When the Vatican tried to work with ICEL, the committee simply ignored or paid lip service only to the feedback provided.  So finally in frustration at the inaccuracy and poverty of the translations, the Vatican removed the work on this project from ICEL, and the new translation comes to us from Rome itself.  But this history in a nutshell, and the author overlooks it and ignores it entirely, as if this translation fell from the skies of Rome, unannounced and unexpected.

The author cites Bishop Trautman who, in his complaints, sounded more like a turn of the 19th century bishop noting the lack of education among his immigrant flock saying that the words were obscure and not commonly understood and citing incarnate, oblation, etc as examples.  I don’t think it wise for a bishop to denigrate the intelligence of 21st century American Catholics.  But in truth the author of this article is cut from the same cloth.  We ignorant laity need priests such as the author to defend us from the machinations of the Vatican or so the author imagines.  I doubt that all laity would want this author defending them insofar as it has been the constant stream of complaints from this laity that was the impetus for this entire project in the first place.

For myself, I am ecstatic that the generation of the Council is passing and that the Church has set herself for the past 28 years to the great task of reforming the reform.  I earnestly pray that this great project will continue so that a true liberalism will be born of orthodoxy in every parish where Masses of every sort from Tridentine, to Novus Ordo may be said. I am happy to witness the passing of the phony liberalism of the sixties and seventies clergy, narrow minded liberals denigrating everyone else who dared to question them.

John Walton
14 years 6 months ago

In response to Jack Feehily - the Latin was sung - the "Dark Ages" weren't that dark - the liturgists understood a principle of physics that sound elevated in pitch is more intelligible, travels better and is less prone to the problem of "standing wave reflection".  This must have been on their minds when the first translations were first made.

The new texts are an "un-singable", word salad.  The whole episode reminds me of the Jesuit scholastic who, verily, and in truth, mocketh, despitheth and reiecteth the poor latin student who had used a Victorian inter-linear translation to get through Caesar's Gallic Wars.

...and those of the hoi pollois who took all those Latin courses still know how to diagram sentences.

MaryMargaret Flynn
14 years 6 months ago
I have logged on. Let the dialogue begin. Meanwhile at mass I'll still respond "And with you".
14 years 6 months ago
What a concern! This will continue to confuse the vast majority of our parishioners with wording not within our usual venacular.

How sad indeed.
14 years 6 months ago


Thank you, Father for taking a stand and urging dialogue and a process respectful of those in the pews.

I fear the Holy See is not particularly interested in what we think.

Roger O'Brien
14 years 6 months ago

Thanks for a pastorally wise and prophetic pastor with the courage to speak the truth about the new translation's linguistic problems, its damaging effect in promoting full, conscious, and active participation at common worship, and its deeper theological issues.  The 'modest proposals' are eminently practical - if we but muster the energy to just wait!

14 years 6 months ago
I was considering the priesthood in 8th grade. I went to a Jesuit high school from 1981 to 1985 and drifted away from the Church (in part thanks to the Jesuits). Fortunately I have found better Catholic resources (than my Jesuit high school). I now love the Catholic faith and try to live it in my marriage (did I miss my calling?).

I read America NOT to learn about the Catholic faith but to see where you are leading others. I did not expect you to support the Vatican concerning the Liturgical changes. You certainly have not let my expectations down!

It makes me sad that you try to foster dissent in our Catholic family ("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.") This is so disrespectful to our leaders.
James Richard
14 years 6 months ago

Thank you Fr Ryan, for this article.

I thought I was losing my mind when I first read the new translation, and the amount of hostility I received in Catholic web forums for being critical of it.

Brad Roberts
14 years 6 months ago
I literally just came into the Church - I was received on November 22 - and already the Church with the reputation of never changing is making dramatic changes and not for the better! Luckily, I did read large chunks of the new translation (on the USCCB site) before I came in. I know what I'm getting into.

Having said that, this new translation is often clunky and in no way fosters a spirit of prayerfulness. If the hierarchy wants to force us all to go back to Latin, why don't they just do it straightaway instead of forcing us to prefer it by offering such a wooden, literal translation to English. I believe the Tridentine Mass would be more prayerful, more beautiful, a better representation of that "mystery of Faith" which drew me in than the 2010 English alternative will be. Maybe that's the goal.

The way it is, we will have all new and less-worthy translations of texts into English that are unsingable (and I plan to learn chant at my church beginning in January) and generally distracting.

May we all learn to overcome all obstacles that are put in our way on our way to you, O God, even if those obstacles are the very form and words of the liturgy we use to praise your name.

"Lord, hear our prayer."
14 years 6 months ago

As a seminarian of the North American College who also stood in St. Peter's square for an historic moment and rejoiced with glee at the election of Pope Benedict, I will gladly accept the new translation and help my people to receive it with love for the Sacred Liturgy. I come from the generation that was deeply affected by the abuses that came from a misunderstanding of the Council (and a non-reading of Sacrasanctum Concilium!). We deeply love the Church's worship and look forward to being able to participate fully, consciously, and actively in an English translation that will now say the same thing that the Latin does, and thereby be in unity with the people of God throughout the world. As our Holy Father said in his first words after the election, "Let us GO FORWARD in the joy of the risen Lord." This is no time to dig heels in the mud and stay stagnant. Let's go forward, brother. 

William Bagley
14 years 6 months ago

Thank Goodness for Father Ryan!  This exercise in arrested development that passes for liturgical reform is as sad as it is anything. 

Retreating to literal translations of the old missal only ensures that we'll have a careful translation.  Our Good Lord didn't write the missal, however, and there is nothing magical about it.  Indeed, hewing to this new approach will only encourage people to think that we Catholics do have a belief in the "magic" of the sacraments.  Truly, how sad.

Still, my great fear is for young people, in their 20s and 30s  who have been raised as thoughtful Catholics, who are very well educated and ready to lead, but who will see the translation as silly and anachronistic.  They already wonder at steps that keep women at arm's length and at the burgeoning communion wars ... (never mind the anti-Semitic Holy Week language that had to be forced out - God forbid that a Jewish friend might have attended a liturgy with it intact) ... these young people might well (and perhaps accurately) think that their church wants to push them away.  As a parent I want my children in my church.  I don't want them discouraged and sincerely hope that they, and others in their generation, will have the benefit of our faith as they face the joys and tribulations of life.

To that end, I might just add one more suggestion to Father Ryan's.  Why not "field test" the new missal with college students at Holy Cross, Yale, Santa Clara or BC?  Why not try it with a late Mass at Notre Dame or Harvard? Why not ask the rising generation of smart Catholics what they think?  I suspect we will not and because of fear of what they might say.  Still, they are the future...

Mark Twain wisely observed that it takes two to tell the truth, one to speak it and one to hear it.

Father Ryan has articulated a smart and a thoughtful response that should be heard (and acted upon).  I surely hope that will be the outcome, I truly fear that it will not. What has happened to the Church? 

Mark Koenig
14 years 6 months ago
Reading Fr. Michael's comments was like waking up in the morning and filling my lungs with fresh air. I greatly appreciate the common sense and wisdom reflected in his comments. I also admire the courage it takes to raise such a question.
Danny Toma
14 years 6 months ago
Why is it somehow "pastoral" to refuse implementation of the new translation of the Mass in 2009 but it was considered "schismatic" and "disobedient" to do so in 1970?
14 years 6 months ago

Having read the proposed changes and watched the evolution of the date of implementation, this article was quite an eye opener.  Our Bishops have the right to protect the liturgical integrity of our Faith in spite of Rome's directives.  The question before us is, if the Bishops were unable to amend the changes; how can our priests hope to do so through these very unsuccessful Bishops? 

And as the responses clearly show, there is a definite movement in our church to return to the isolating practices that were promulgated by a church responding to cultural, social and spiritual attacks from the 1500s forward.  We are witnessing a slow but sure return of clericism, a need to use the Liturgy for the power of 'mystery' (strange language, unusual sounding words and limiting non-ordained participaiton); and religious practices that border on fetishes. 

Jesus spoke to the people in words they themselves ueed; He left a Eucharistic Memorial built upon the most basic of experiences, owned by the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich; and He expected the Apostles and through them, their representatives, to teach the Good News simply and compassionately and welcoming. We must pray that our Church can heal this pendulum return which is away from Jesus and back into the darkness of myth, exclusion and intolerance. 

Terry Archambeault
14 years 6 months ago

What I find funny is that most of the phrases that everyone here is complaining about, are still found (and routinely used) in the Episcopal Church and other "high liturgical" denominations.  They don't seem to have much of a problem understanding what "consubstantial" means.  Or "incarnate".  This seems like a condescending intellectual argument to me.  

Of course, since I attend Yale currently, I'm perfectly willing to field test these translations.  You might actually be surprised with the support they would receive, since we "smart Catholics" would appreciate a text that doesn't assume (presume?) that we need "dumbed down" theology.

In any case, perhaps you all would like to vote in this poll: http://iwillserve.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/what-if-we-said-finally/ 

14 years 6 months ago

How timely...to be asked, not to disclaim, but to "wait".  The importance of the word, in its original or in its translation, has always engaged us christians for whom the "Word" assumes both power and importance in our daily lives and in the liturgy in which we participate.  As an old Catholic, I welcome scholarly insights that produce new insights for us; as a lover of the English language I applaud the beauty of a translation that is both scholarly and eminently readable/prayable.  Can we not agree to use this period of liturgical waiting,at aminimum, as an opportunity to arrive at inspired AND beautiful English?

alan baer
14 years 6 months ago

Three cheers! You have reminded me that we are the church. Now let the voice of the church be heard.

Jake Neu
14 years 6 months ago

My father was born in 1940. He lived with the old Mass for 30 years. When, in 1969, he disagreed with some of the changes in the Novus Ordo, he was told by one of your "enthusiastic reformers" to, quite literally, "Shut up and do it." Because that was the way the Church was going. There was no alternative. His old Mass was taken away. He was expected to sing cheerfully, hold and shake hands, and just go along. For him and countless others, there was no "Wait." They were not allowed to "Wait." They were to "Do."

After that, and after a priest told him in confession that something (I don not know what) that was once a sin was no longer, my father left the Church for 15 years. He only came back when I was born. He attended the new Mass, but it wasn't until my younger brother became interested in the priesthood, and after several agonizing conversations about that interst, that my dad began to see the Church as he once did. He died four years ago, about a year after my brother started discerning his call. God rest his soul.

If he had been allowed to "Wait", perhaps his return wouldn't have been so circuitous, so painful.

And so my question is: Why, Father, should we wait for you? What right have you to "wait," when you took it away from my father and countless others? Why is the Novus Ordo so sacrosanct now, after 40 years, when the old Mass was so unceremoniously dumped after 400 years?

Perhaps a "Wait" would be nice to allow all those who cherish the new Mass as much as my father cherished the old a chance to adjust. But don't, DON'T, act as if you deserve one. After what happened to those like my father 40 years ago, if this world is just, you should be expected to fall right in line, just as he was.

Mike Escril
8 years 4 months ago
Bravo, Jake !
Edward Burton
14 years 6 months ago

There is such a thing as clearly expressing the sacred liturgy in the home language. And there is such a thing as preferring and exalting the liturgy over the simple matter of clearly expressing it to those present when spoken. The phrases our author alludes to as illustrative of the clumsiness of the proposed new language, leave me looking around the parish wondering what folks will think. Those who've been with the Church for years and years will shrug and suck it up, but I believe the new translation's disconnect from English usages will only result in sending more and more of our young people to a Church where English is spoken. I do not buy the notion that I should be a good boy and get out of the way. This situation is Pharisaism at work, elevation of form over communication. I protest. But what do I know? Possibly if I were ordained it would all seem clear, eh?

14 years 6 months ago

I checked the etymology of the word "wait." Old High German in origin, the word means "to watch, to awake." Sounds like an Advent alert to me. And it sounds like good medicine for translations that came about, not in the customary manner, but by a committee without representation from the people in the pews or sufficient scriptural scholarship either.

Bishop Trautman from Erie PA tried to "awaken" his brother bishops but got mostly groans from the good shepherds. Do they convene twice yearly just to groan? Does that sound like openness to the Spirit to anyone?

I applaud Fr. Ryan's carefully discerned and, most certainly courageous, suggestion that we all sit with the Spirit and watch for the right translation. Let their first effort be field tested. But do not start the presses just yet.

The bishops should know that the people for whom the Word is intended will tell them when they get it right. 

Kathy Berken
14 years 6 months ago

It is so cool that a priest will stand up and ask for a time out. Thank you for speaking for us, the people of God in the pews. Thank you for treating us like adults and expecting that we will act like adults. Thank you for your common sense and wise letter.

Andrew Boyd
14 years 6 months ago

The most powerful critique of the liturgical reforms that followed immediately after Vatican II, as a result of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, is the "old wine in new wine skins" approach of uncritical, authoritative, non-consultative implementation. My pastor's heart goes out to those, like Alan's father (above), who were given no opportunity to prayerfully recieve the reform of the liturgy, the revision to the Missal, and the 'new language' of the Mass. Had there been a slow and careful catechesis - an intentional trial period like Father Ryan is suggesting - 50 years ago, then perhaps the liturgy would not be the casualty of internecine ideological warfare that it has sadly become.

Arguing that we should repeat exactly the same mistake in order to "correct" our previous mistake is nonsensical, however. There is no argument that the first translations of the mass needed further development. That's what ICEL was for, and in 1998 the work based on nearly 25 years of lived experience, legitimate critique, and thorough theological reflection was approved by the appropriate episcopal leadership. We could have spent the last 12 years implementing the new missal instead of delaying it. It is not Father Ryan or the USCCB or the other Anglophone bishops who has caused the delay, it is the CDW and the Vox Clara commission.

Anyone who has taken Latin at a Catholic university will tell you that a good translation is not a transliteration. Having an English version "closer" to the Latin does not necessarily make it more beautiful, sacred, or orthodox. But that's the selling point with my peers, those of us too young to have experiencedeither Vatican II in the way described by the author, or to have experienced the messiness of the 1970s and the pain caused by poor implementation of good principles then.

This is bolstered by the practiced ecclesiology of the last 15-20 years. Rather than the communio identified by the 1985 Synod of Bishops as the major theme of Vatican II, we still have the Vatican I model of curial elitism, bishops as branch management, and the lay faithful as disenfranchised clients paying for services from a monopoly: Don't ask questions, don't critique your 'superiors', don't think.

Maybe that was how the first implementation of Vatican II was handled in some places as well, and that's a pity - but it is not an excuse to make the same mistake all over again. Father Ryan is not reccomending dissent, disobedience, or proposing a liturgical filibuster. Rather, it is part of the process of reception of Vatican II.

Choose: Accept the new translations because of their merit, not because of uncritical "obedience". Or retain the currrent translation until a truly worthly translation can be done, not because of "disobedience". Let the Spirit go where he may, and see the truth of it then.

Frank Vitus
14 years 6 months ago

I often felt that now that the new missal is translated from the latin, to it's literal english equivalent. That piece should then be given to the bishop's conferences of the English speaking world, and then translate it into, let's say American English, Australian English, England english, etc.   Then that is sent back for Vatican approval. So the work that was done on the missal is not wasted, it's only a first step to a three step process.

14 years 6 months ago

I am no Latin scholar, but I have had enough experience and learning in both Latin and several modern languages to know a good translation and a bad one. I heartily agree with Fr. Ryan that this is a bad translation. Merely shifting a Latin word into English for is not translation. Taking "consubstantialem" and dropping the Latin ending to make "consubstantial" does not translate the word or the meaning. Even educated Catholic Christians do not use the word "consubstantial" in spoken language. Its begs for definition. If the words we speak in liturgy are meant to move mind, heart, and spirit they must be readily recognizable to the people who are speaking them. There was great wisdom in choosing "one in being with the Father" because it made sense.

How would it be if we stopped saying "for ever and ever" and went to "for ages of ages" because it is a more literal translation?

Lisa Pawelski
14 years 6 months ago
My heart aches at the divisiveness of it all. Seniors suffered when the changes of the 60s were so poorly effected. Now folks act like anyone who wholeheartedly embraced those changes-or grew up with them-can just learn how to suffer, our/themselves, now. Frankly, 90% of the pew folk who are just there for hell insurance won't care as much as those of us conversing here. But many of us who have done liturgical teaching, encouragement, damage control, and most of the work in the community will just continue to fade into the background. We're not lukewarm, mind you. We just think Church (read "the hierarchy") errs grievously at times, and since nobody but the ordained gets to decide, there's nothing we can do.

Why not wait? Church encourages waiting: for RCIA processes and Easter sacraments, through lengthy annulments, in preparation for marriage . . . Waiting allows for perspective and wisdom.

Msgr. Welbers, did you hear about the Bishops' response when Bp. Trautman asked Francis George from the floor of the USCCB meeting how local liturgical oversight was ceded to Rome? George said he must have signed that memo . . . and there was LAUGHTER from the Bishops. This is the same George who's said the sheep should not be concerned with what the shepherds are doing and saying. Church (read, "the hierarchy") still does not get that we're not stupid, uninformed sheep, any more, and it's patronizing and sinful to treat us that way. Hierarchy needs to start getting the servant-priest, pastoral, collegial approach under its belt. (A local newbie priest got up in our cathedral pulpit, recently, plopped six books on the edge of the marble pulpit, and said he had six shelves all the way up to the ceiling of his room filled with books, which is why we should do what he says, because he says what the Church insists, and the Church is always right. This, in a parish nestled between two universities and adjacent to the city's major medical center. Lord, save us . . .)

Seminarian Brad, please, we are not "your people." And "going forward" means precisely not backsliding into arcane, academic language that seems to have been pushed in part for the agenda of controlling pew-people to be more reverent, to the approval of the hierarchy.

It is the Church's job to lead us to God. It's not happenning. Which does not call for whipping pew-people into lockstep obedience. It calls for a new approach, and hierarchy is not there, yet. When it's this messy, waiting and rethinking is of course called for.
W Sweet
14 years 6 months ago
Father Michael Ryan deserves a strong pat on the back. Quite frankly, I am tired of (sorry, but slightly unctious) bishops who simply do not live in my world... nor even care to try to understand it. And, I am hardly a firebrand. I am (thank God) a well educated Catholic who reveres his church. But simply returning to what a priest friend calls the "ad altare" days will not bring congregations with it. We might as well decide that Ike is president again, that we'll shop at the A&P, that computers are things that take up an entire building, that smoking is okay... will that make us happy and whole again? No. Would Jesus appear to me today would I say "and with your spirit" instead of a colloquial, but intellegent phrase? No. For Bishops and young priests who live in their own cloistered world, let them say whatever they want at their private masses. But do not expect us to go along, do not expect us to keep paying for this nonsense and do not expect the pews to be full. Would that the Bishops would spend as much time, money and energy on addressing problems like climate change, capital punishment and most especially the horrid plight of young women coaxed to deliver their children (as I think they should) but who the church abandons when they leave the hospital (when was the last time you saw a bishop pledge financial support for a 14 year old new mom living in poverty). This ought to capture our attention... not the ridiculous belief that shifting to high church language will return life, vitality and spirituality to our worship. Am I upset? Yes. Now, let's see if the bishops will act to deny communion to the Catholic heads of drug store chains that sell cigarettes. It's time to get serious.
Charles Parker
14 years 6 months ago
I agree whole-heartedly with the article. It seems that what is being put forth as Tradition is more the whim of a certain few who want to control or to keep the People of God from truly having a prayerful experience in the celebration of the Eucharist. The language proposed is not that which our People would pray; it is pseudo-intellectual. So much of what appears to be "going-backwards" reflects a fear of People having a true relationship with Jesus. It looks like if we can keep God distant enough from us, then we won't have to deal with the realities of the 21st Century, including all we've learned to date (homosexuality) and issues blatant as years have gone by (women's equality)-we can just "perform Mass," "say Mass". It is difficult to be respectful toward people who seek control with trivia (so opposite of Jesus) rather than freely and fervently drawing their sheep closer to the Shepherd.
Mike Escril
8 years 4 months ago
Charles....the Episcopalians await you. Enjoy and God Bless !
Ted McGoron
14 years 6 months ago

I would like to know just what Sacrosanctum Concilium was supposed to liberate us from, besides going to church, entertaining a religious vocation, making church doctrine a part of our lives? If these were some of the things it was intended to cause us to take out of our lives it was a huge success. The writer must have been living on a different planet before the disaster that was Vatican II.

Brad Roberts
14 years 6 months ago
Liz, this is Brad - I wrote the post above the one you referred to when you wrote to "Seminarian Brad" - want to be sure that if I get a reputation on here, it's at least the right one. ;)
Eddie Alkemade
14 years 6 months ago

Dear Father,

I am a 72 year old member of a small (waning) parish in Port Hope, Ontario. I consider myself a faithful Catholic christian. I read your article with great interest, especially because this is indeed news since I was never made aware of a new translation of the Roman Missal.

Answering with all respect for your stance where you sincerely advise "Wait", the most likely response from the people in the pew would be "Who cares?"

When we get almost no one to come to our bible study why would people even be interested who's husband Joseph really is? I think that the few translation niceties you mention in your article would hardly be noticed during the celebration of Jesus' memorial. Sadly enough there are more important things waiting outside.

Frank Hartge
14 years 6 months ago

With all respect Father Ryan, we have been waiting long enough. Bishops of a certain era and mindset have impeded the progress on this project for nearly a dozen years. Ever since I first had to respond "And also with you" rather than "And with your spirit", I have longed for a return to a more uplifting, sacred translation. From what I now read, the new English translation is a very welcome improvement, and I, for one, can hardly WAIT to pray it!

Guy Selvester
14 years 6 months ago

Father Ryan writes:

"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."

That entire paragraph could easily have been written by another clergyman: Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Isn't it interesting that Lefebvre was considered wrong and backward for thinking this way yet so many "America" readers think Fr. Ryan is correct and courageous and visionary?

Oh, and by the way, words like "incarnate" and "consubstantial" have already been used by Catholics in other parts of the English-speaking world for some time. That's a point too many Americans forget: we, in the USA, don't get to determine how English is spoken. The Church doesn't want British and American and Canadian missals anymore. There is to be ONE English missal which means the English-speaking world has to compromise. How fitting that this essay should appear in "America" magazine because so many Americans forget that the rest of the world doesn't do everything the way we do, nor should it. Some of those translation issues have nothing to do with the Latin. They are simply proper English, which too many Americans, like Fr. Ryan, have forgotten how to speak!

William Marrevee
14 years 6 months ago

Thank you, Father Ryan.

I wish I had the energy to follow the path you suggest. It is not only in liturgical matters, but in many other areas that we see a dismantling of Vatican II. And it is not subtle. Discouraged? You are not kidding!

It is already so challenging today to try to bear witness to the Good News in such a way that it gets a fair hearing. We can do without the extra burden of having to deal with an imposed tranliteration of our worship texts as opposed to the good tranlation that the former ICEL had worked on so diligently.

Mike Escril
8 years 4 months ago
Dismantling ? Where did VC2 say nuns in pants strumming a guitar was part of the NO ?
14 years 6 months ago

Blessings upon you, Fr. Ryan. You have no idea of the profound joy that wells up as I read your words. I could write a comment on virtually every one of your sentences (as well as on a number of those who disagree), but for now, simply Thank You.

The English language is second to none in nuance, clarity, precision, and indeed beauty. To subject it to mere literal translation is grossly disrespectful to the language and believers who use it carefully, especially to presiders who must stand before God's holy people and actually pray those words, not merely recite them.

joyce grattan
14 years 6 months ago

I applaud Fr. Ryan, both for his courage and his conviction. At 72, I find myself becoming less and less patient with the increasingly bothersome manifestations of hierarchal "mismanagement" that make it so difficult to keep focused on Christ's mission-to love one another, to work for justice for the poor and disenfranchised, to be stewards of our environment, and to live in peace. It seems to me the Church leaders have better things to do than instituting liturgical reforms and investigations of the nuns. People are leaving the Church in droves, priests are a dying species, money is a scarcity, parishes are closing up shop, abuse scandals abound, women remain second-class citizens, and we have leaders who spend time splitting hairs on "also with you". Give me a break-

Jim McCrea
14 years 6 months ago

How do you say in Lation:  we want a smaller, meaner Church?

That's what it's coming to === and fast.

Mike Escril
8 years 4 months ago
Why ? Because San Francisco liberals like yourself are no longer turning the Catholic faith into a Castro Street cesspool ?
14 years 6 months ago

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...

Lester McCloskey
14 years 6 months ago

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?

John Burr
14 years 6 months ago

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.

Marie Mason
14 years 6 months ago
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?

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