web analytics

Further delays in English Missal

Instructional resources to help people move into the new English translation of the Roman Missal were to have been available in February. The hope is still to launch the new translation on the first Sunday in Advent this year, but the instruction resources may not be out until next month, and the launch may be delayed into next year.

In the three months since Michael Ryan’s article “What If We Said, ‘Wait’?, the associated petition, What if we just said wait? has been signed by 19,849 people. In the recent NZ Catholic, Bishop Denis Browne describes the petition, signed by NZ priests, religious, and the principal of a Catholic secondary school, “not helpful”. A counter-petition We’ve waited long enough has 4,804 signatures.

Many are unaware that in the mid 1980s translation work began which produced a new English translation in 1998. This 1998 Missal was approved by all the English-speaking conferences of bishops, mostly unanimously. It was rejected by the Vatican. The story is told by Bishop Maurice Taylor, the Bishop Emeritus of Galloway, who was chairman from 1997 to 2002 of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) in It’s the Eucharist, Thank God. You can also read about it in an article by John Wilkins’ Lost in Translation: the bishops, the Vatican & the English Liturgy published in Commonweal in 2005.

As a lover of the traditional collects/opening prayers, the current ICEL English translations are thin and people visiting this site are regularly surprised when I highlight that Catholics and Anglicans are actually praying different translations of the same Latin prayer. I look forward to improved translations of the collects. Anyone who knows of the 1998 Missal online, please place the URL in the comments. If the 1998 Missal is for sale anywhere, please let us know where in the comments.

I am greatly saddened by the loss of ecumenically agreed texts. I have seen no other commentator lament this loss. With it will also be lost all the musical settings used for the Mass, both those unique to the Roman Catholic Church and those musical settings shared ecumenically.

Finally, I was intrigued by Fr. Paul Turner writing in a recent Tablet about his trialing some of the new texts. Especially by the reaction of the teenagers, “They giggled at the word ‘consubstantial’. They thought the word ‘man’ was offensive. They thought that saying they ‘confess one Baptism’ sounded like Baptism was a sin. They resented the revised Confiteor that tried to make them feel guiltier than they were before. The expression ‘And with your spirit’ sounded weird to them. On reading the revised Sanctus, one thought ‘Lord God of hosts’ referred to the real presence of Christ in the Communion wafers.”

The “What if we said wait?” movement has:

We are very concerned about the proposed new translations of the Roman Missal. We believe that simply imposing them on our people — even after a program of preparation — will have an adverse effect on their prayer and cause serious division in our communities.

We are convinced that adopting translations that are highly controversial, and which leaders among our bishops as well as many highly respected liturgists and linguists consider to be seriously flawed, will be a grave mistake.

For this reason we earnestly implore the bishops of the English-speaking world to undertake a pilot program by which the new translations — after a careful program of catechesis — can be introduced into some carefully selected parishes and communities throughout the English-speaking world for a period of one (liturgical) year, after which they can be objectively evaluated.

We are convinced that this approach will address the concerns of those many bishops who feel that they have lost their voice in this matter and that it will also give a voice to the People of God whose prayer is at stake and who accordingly have the most to gain or lose by the translations.

We realize that a pilot project of this kind is unprecedented, but so is the process by which these translations have been approved.

When they say “unprecedented”, I’m presuming they mean “in Roman Catholicism” – certainly such ideas, I would have thought, are not unprecedented elsewhere.

Similar Posts:

15 thoughts on “Further delays in English Missal”

  1. No, one wouldn’t think they are unprecedented in other places. Like you, I am saddened by the loss of ecumenically agreed texts. If we really are trying to become One Body, One Blood, how does eliminating them advance that cause?

  2. Bosco,

    Thanks for this update.

    As Secretary of the Consultation on Common Texts that worked closely with ICEL/ICET and ELLC to produce what became common texts for worship between Roman Catholics and Protestants prior to the efforts made since Liturgiam Authenticam, I can tell you we continue to struggle with the loss of truly common texts, even as we seek to support our Roman Catholic colleagues in the Consultation from the US and Canada who are working to implement them.

    Some participants in the Consultation in responding to this have declared that the ecumenical work on common texts is now dead.

    If by that is meant that the spirit and reality of collaborative work with Protestants that was part of the previous English translations, either leading up to these translations, or, apparently, going forward, then yes, that part of the work is dead. It is clear that collaboration toward common texts in English between Roman Catholics and Protestants has been taken off the table at least for a time. We will not have common texts now– that is unless Protestants choose to adopt the new official Roman texts, which would seem more than a bit unlikely.

    But, we in the Consultation continue our work with our Roman Catholic colleagues, if not toward common texts, at least toward mutual understanding and, if possible, something which may be more significant than saying the same words: an appreciation of common ritual– that is, places where what we DO in worship are held in common even where what we say may differ.

    Peace in Christ,

    Taylor Burton-Edwards
    Director of Worship Resources, The United Methodist Church
    Secretary, The Consultation on Common Texts

  3. “Unfinished person”, thank you for your contribution – normally I do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments through moderation. Please can people use their real name here – I think there is no reason to hide it, and it contributes to the positive, respectful culture and community that I am happy to see around this site.

    Taylor, thank you so much for contributing from your inside perspective. I would be interested to know how you came upon this post so quickly.

  4. Whilst I regret the loss of the ecumenical dimension, I’m not sorry to lose the texts themselves. I think they are awful and clunky, and do not lend themselves to good music. They might suit their latinate origins, but they don’t suit English stresses, and I can think of very few worthwhile musical settings.

  5. I got confused for a second when I read the title of the post, because I assumed it was about the rather dated Anglo-Catholic English Missal which is still favoured by some traditionalists.

    I’ve had sight of some of the texts, and find them to be interesting. I don’t like some of the renderings, personally, and rather suspect it will inject a degree of distance back into liturgy that may be unhelpful for pastoral reasons.

    I regret the loss of the ecumenical nature of the ICEL texts, too, but they were always doomed – the attitude towards them from powerbrokers was strongly negative.

  6. I suspect that underlying the changes is the principal of lex orandi, lex credendi: what they people pray, they believe. Clearly Rome isn’t happy with the popular theology coming out of the current translation. Conservative American Episcopalians (of which I am one), after the promulgation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, were quick to point out that the new translations of the Liturgy didn’t *mean* the same things as the old. Now that English-speaking Catholics have had a taste of vernacular liturgy for the last few decades, I bet they will have the same experience once the new English liturgy is promulgated: the big changes will come in the nuance of the prayers. Forget the “And With Your Spirit” stumbles. The big differences will come in the changes in the prayerful attitude toward God, when a more literal translation of the Latin will cause people to discover that the God they have been addressing in the earlier liturgy isn’t quite the same as the One they are meeting in the new. And the struggle will be to pray, in C.S. Lewis’s words, “not to God as I conceive you to be, but to the God You know Yourself to be.”

    And it will take a lot more than a pastoral introduction to the new liturgy to get people to that place, I fear.

    1. Thanks, Tom, you make some very helpful points.
      I think there is more of a shift than your brief brushing aside acknowledges, in moving from “and also with you” to “and with your spirit”, exactly in the way that you are pointing towards. “You” is understood to be the whole you, “your spirit” is a concept that needs significant explanation and is readily misunderstood as something we have as opposed to someone we are.
      The apophatic tradition which we need to recover and renew in the West is forever pointing out that we need to pray “not to God as I conceive you to be, but to the God You know Yourself to be.” The apophatic tradition would not think that any translation, however accurate, in and of itself accomplishes that.

  7. One wonders if this is not the right direction, to recognise that there need not be a shared form of words or phraseology in order for a text to be ecumenical. It is not the use of certain language, but the meaning of that language, that matters?

    With respect to the ‘learned responses’ which typify Roman Catholic services, I can only see the disturbance of this as a good thing. A response which is said automatically and without thought has very little value in other than an aesthetic sense. When we pray, it is not the words which pass our lips that are important, but the words which pass our heart.

    If mechanical communal worship is indeed worship, then it would be advantageous to have us replaced by worship machines, that our worship might proceed perfectly and uninterrupted, day and night. Or, perhaps, we might declare that our prayers are just as valid if we speak them in Latin, having no knowledge of that language or understanding of the words we speak.

    To me it has long appeared that words which go from memory to mumbling with neither thought nor feeling achieve no purpose whatsoever other than to produce a sense of an obligation fulfilled. It is to replace function with mere form, such that only the external appearance of devout supplication and humble petition before God remains.

  8. I’m sure, Vincent, that many will agree there are problems when “words go from memory to mumbling without thought or feeling”, but I do not think that needing to read off responses need of necessity produce true devotion. I think this is producing a false dichotomy: either/or. When we say, “I love you” we are saying words that have been said by millions of people over hundreds of years. Sure, these can be words going from memory to mumbling without thought or feeling – but to suggest that it is good that we no longer ever say “I love you” but from now on we will always replace it with, “you are a central personage who helps centre and provide direction in my life” – is IMO missing how human interactions generally occur. It is not surprising to me that using memorised biblical phrases, psalms, hymns, songs, prayers is referred to as “by heart”. Certainly I think for some periods within worship it is appropriate to have heads in books or facing a projector screen – but I also appreciate segments of worship being… “by heart” and would be concerned to see that lost or denigrated.

  9. Thanks for your very thought provoking reply, and your continued attention to matters ecclesiastical across Christianity.

    I read through the draft of the new Missal today. Particularly striking is the reversion of “…he took the cup…” to “…taking also this noble cup into his holy and venerable hands…”.

    This is a significant backward step, changing from a reference to the cup which was used by Jesus to what all but the most painfully obtuse will admit is a reference to the cup in the hand of the priest. I feel sure those responsible know well that in so doing they help perpetuate the blasphemous heresy that Christ is sacrificed afresh each time the communion service is said.

    I pray that those with a greater reverence for truth and orthodoxy might bring some influence upon the Vatican to reverse this before promulgation.

  10. Bosco, thanks for calling me on my throw-away line regarding “And With Thy Spirit.” You are entirely correct that there is a significant theological shift from “and with thy spirit” to “and also with you.” I was thinking when I wrote it, not of the theological shift it represents (and it does indeed represent a shift in the conception of the human person), but instead of the stumblings in the shift in the language. Coming from the American Episcopal tradition, it’s always “fun” to worship in a parish that shifts periodically from contemporary to “traditional” language. Invariably the first couple of Sundays will involve a linguistic embranglement along the lines of: “and also with thy spirit, too {mutter mutter mutter}.”

  11. Marnie Barrell

    I just read through the changes, and almost without exception they’re written in less flowing, rhythmic and natural-sounding English, and they come across as rather dated, wordy and pompous.

    I don’t know how, for example, a return to “Brethren” from “Brothers and sisters” can be regarded as desirable.
    I daresay the Latin original was “fratres”, which is obviously more exactly rendered as ‘brothers’ than ‘brothers and sisters’, but we all know the compelling reasons for women to be named and acknowledged in the assembly. “Brethren” is not only horrible English in 2010, but reverts to the sinful situation that prevailed in the days when “Brothers/fratres” was assumed to include the whole assembly.

  12. I was brought up with the Latin rite of the Mass and as a child I wasn’t asked what my view was – I just followed along as all faithful children did. This is how the children who attend the Latin Mass these days are – it’s tough if children don’t like it. There are many things they don’t like or understand including carrots and cabbage but their parents tell them to eat it for their own good, because at their age they have limited understanding with these things, and so with the Mass. For many years adults have had to put up with child-like banal hymns and many have left accordingly. We are there to worship God, not to cater for likes and dislikes of people. The language, as Cardinal Pell has pointed out should not be of the “barbecue language” that we have had to be subjected to for years, and also we are Roman Catholic, we have set beliefs that we adhere to and the liturgy reflects that.

  13. Do you think the problems are due to the difficulty in getting so many factors right in the translation at the same time (accurate translation, poetic/musical flow, giggle-proof wording, easily understood but not “baby language”)? (This may sound like it is a challenge, but it really is a question:) How difficult would it be to produce a good English translation of the Roman Missal for 21st Century ears, as an alternative to the new RC texts, meeting the technical requirements? That is, of course, leaving aside thorny questions over whether individual people may reject it on extraneous grounds. Is the Anglican version of the original Latin a pretty good approximation for today?

    1. It is hard to get reliable information, Mark, but I think in essence you are correct – there is much more translation still to be done, apparently. I would add to your list that English is used differently in different countries – something that I don’t think the Vatican is taking account of. And yes, I suspect that in the end, for example with the collects, the RC English versions will be much more like the Anglican ones.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.