Will the latest Catholic Mass translation get another overhaul?

(RNS) A new translation of the Mass has been used in the nation’s Catholic parishes for less than three years, but there are signs that the language — often criticized as stilted and awkward — could be in for another edit. “We’ve tried it, we’ve lived with it, we think it needs correction,” Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory told a conference on liturgical reform last month in one of the most public and high-level expressions of discontent with the missal, as the Mass text is called. Gregory was seconded by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, in an echo of comments last year by Bishop Robert Brom, now retired as head of the San Diego diocese, who said “the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay.” Reopening that process would be a momentous step. The latest translation was approved only after a tortuous, decade-long struggle between those who wanted words and phrasings that sounded more like the original Latin text and those who thought that the proposed vocabulary sounded pompous and incomprehensible. As comedian and practicing Catholic Stephen Colbert put it, “It’s the creed! It’s not the SAT prep.” But with a big shove from the Vatican, which essentially took over the process and mandated the Latinate language, the more formal text won out.
A woman uses a missal during a traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Farmingville, N.Y., on June 17, 2012. The chapel is administered by the Society of St. Pius X. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

A woman uses a missal during a traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Farmingville, N.Y., on June 17, 2012. The chapel is administered by the Society of St. Pius X. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz


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Words such as “consubstantial” became part of the Mass, Jesus was not “born of the Virgin Mary” but is now “incarnate of” her, and before taking the host Catholics now say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” instead of “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” That language dismayed some in the pews but was especially problematic for priests and bishops who have to say Mass every day, and a new survey released this week appears to give further impetus to a reform of the reform. The national poll of priests and lay leaders in parishes around the country found that more than half of the 444 clergy who responded reject the new missal, by a margin of 52-42 percent. Just 27 percent said the new translation has lived up to expectations. The smaller number of lay leaders who responded tended to be more positive about the changes. The study was commissioned by the Godfrey Diekmann Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at St. John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, Minn., and carried out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The survey is based on 539 interviews, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The results were first published at the blog Pray Tell, which is operated by the Rev. Anthony Ruff, a Benedictine and liturgist at St. John’s who has been critical of the new Mass. Among the other findings of the study:
  • 75 percent of clergy and lay leaders say “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.”
  • 58 percent of clergy say they do not like the more formal style of language in the new text.
  • 39 percent of clergy think the new missal is an improvement on the previous translation.
  • 50 percent of clergy and lay leaders say the new translation urgently needs to be revised.
The Rev. Anthony Cutcher, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, said the data should push the bishops to modify the texts. “Armed with the latest data, we can take this opportunity to help craft a revision that stays true to the text and at the same time is accessible to all,” Cutcher told Pray Tell. Critics of the new missal have also been buoyed by last year’s election of Pope Francis, who has shown himself to be far more relaxed about liturgical customs and a big change from Pope Benedict XVI, who was a stickler for old-fashioned rites and a chief proponent of the new English translations. Moreover, bishops in other countries have in the past year taken advantage of the change of popes to call for a halt to implementing the new translations in their respective languages. But church officials and experts in liturgy in Rome and the U.S. also cite numerous factors working against another effort at changing the language of the Mass. One is that Francis has so many other problems and reforms he needs to address that tackling the liturgy — which is always one of the most divisive issues for church officials and Mass-goers — is relatively low on the list. In addition, he has not yet revamped the Vatican congregation that oversees liturgical matters, and the holdovers from Benedict’s pontificate are unlikely to welcome any changes. Above all, they say, the American bishops are still catching their breath after such a long struggle with Rome, and one that they wound up losing. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of further changes, but (the bishops) are just tired of it,” said one U.S.-based liturgy expert.

29 Responses to “Will the latest Catholic Mass translation get another overhaul?”

  1. Christy Besozzi

    RE: my original comment, above, alluding to the ‘created’ not being capable of knowing the ‘creator’ in terms of an analogy of a carpenter and his creation ‘a table’ ending with — “So…from one table to another, be the best tables we can be… ”

    Patrick, you of all people should have seen through my comment as a failed attempt at humo(u)r – not to be taken seriously.

  2. Patrick

    “So…from one table to another, be the best tables we can be…”

    The problem is, Christy, from your analogy – us tables can’t be any better than we were originally made by the carpenter.

    Lousy, badly-made tables can’t “make” themselves “good” – can they?
    So now what?

    (I see myself as more of a whatnot, than a table, anyway.)

  3. Christy Besozzi

    Yes, the Baha’i concept of evil is that it is the absence of good.

    Yet evil still exists – thus we have a name for it. Just like darkness is the absence of light, yet we talk about the absence of light by having a name for it – ‘darkness’.

    We humans cannot understand God. It’s like the carpenter who creates a table. The creation, a table, cannot understand the nature of its creator. The same with us humans’ inability to comprehend the nature of God, our Creator.

    So…from one table to another, be the best tables we can be…

  4. Michele Joseph

    Humo(u)r.

  5. Michele Joseph

    Hi Nick That is absence is exactly how Bahai’s verbalize the absence of good or evil.
    I don t like the idea of good over evil expressed in terms of something that happens independent or a prori to human choice because it seems so hopeless and inevitable.
    Why choose to behave “better than” if all decisions are made ahead of time”
    Where is human power ?
    However, it seems that there is none, particularly relative to chocolate,especially
    ganache.
    Or lobster with butter.
    it is a “divine mystery” as was explained to me by the Sisters, as was expressed to me right before I was encouraged to seek schooling in “a more secular environment”.
    All because I sold passes to a non-existent pool on the fourth floor in my sophmore year.

    i suppose I was fortunate to be educated in a situation in which my my father gavr generously to the school so I was not told to get the hell out.
    Some people have no sense of humor.

  6. nick batt

    Insanity strikes me as an excuse. If you’re insane the bad stuff you do isn’t your fault. Babies universally exhibit the same self-centered behavior that Lucifer showed when he said “I will exhort my throne above the throne of God”. We love our children when they are babies even when they exhibit the nastiest conduct. Just like God loves us when we behave badly.
    Duality is not how I think of good and evil. Evil is not in any sense an independent force. It is the absence of good, like cold is the absence of heat.

  7. Michele Joseph

    I meant to mention options other than God taking pleasure in our misery, ( the model of the psychopath), but one in which he is grieved (jesus wept),
    or more like neutrality- like the detachment of the Buddhists

  8. Michele Joseph

    Wow ! A feast of ideas to contemplate !
    The wanting to be loved idea & the synthetic construction thing…..
    If we are made in God’s image – it seems as though it’s what we want most
    is to be loved, so that is one characteristic of humanity, and the synthetic construction thing- there are sociopaths that play with people for their
    own pleasure & amusement-so that’s possible also.
    Some say that God ,indeed, created us for His enjoyment, that is, He
    loves creating. A Bahai quote “I loved thy creation, thus I created thee.”
    Our misery is our own choice.
    Patrick, that’s interesting & I must look into it.
    Dr.s have found that that is exactly what happens to the brain of autistics
    in baby-toddlerhood, but they’re not stuck with the condition forever.
    The neural connections are pruned back, but unevenly, thus the occasional
    savantism that occurs when one part of the brain has densely packed neural pathways & the rest of the brain has skimpier. In the normal brain, it’s evenly
    distributed.
    I suppose you could say that the result looks crazy, but, having lived with it so long, it doesn’t look crazy, just different.

  9. Patrick

    Yes, Nick, it is indeed a curious fact that The Human Race – which, we are often told by Those In The Know, is greatly beloved of God, – is also clearly barking mad.

    Koestler had the idea that evolution was to blame for this condition – our brains developed far more speedily than our skulls, so it was as if someone tried to stuff a full pound of wet tapioca pudding into a half-pound bag.
    The resulting intolerable pressure drove us all round the bend.
    This ranks as “Original Insanity” rather than “Original Sin.” but the symptoms are identical, as you will agree, often including a marked propensity to bash up others who hold a different point of view. (Not you, of course.)

  10. Denis Eble

    “God wanted to be loved.” Hmm. I have a problem with such a theology. That sounds like humanity heaped upon the Creator. Seems to me that a “creator” would not need nor want emotional feedback unless that entity created creatures for its enjoyment.

    One speculation regarding the concept of ‘universe’ that I have heard put forth is that we life forms are mere synthetic constructions in a massive virtual game not unlike those we play on our computers. Imagine that!

  11. Michele Joseph

    Jewish mysticism holds that the problem began before the creation of man,at the moment God created light, when duality began.
    Prior, there was nothing that was not God, the singularity, the one.
    Imagine a blackhole
    Then after the creation of light,an explosion, now,there was the duality, two forces in opposition to one another. There was a shattering.
    So our job is to repair the world, to bring it back to oneness by infusing the darkness with light ( imagine capillary action)
    So, the idea is that it is original, but way more original than the creation of man, but rather, beginning with the utterance “Let their be light”, which created light & sound simultaneously, the first shattering, one became sound light matter velocity
    So, rather than “good” & “evil” there is, instead, that wich is God, and that which is not God. Separation. More neutral than good & evil.
    This conception of things permit the notion that God created everything.
    Shockingly, that God created “evil”, i.e. that which is not God.
    Otherwise, how could He fulfill His intention of creating us with free will ?
    It’s like saying ” Here, I give you choice ! You can have pudding – or…
    ……pudding !
    God wanted to be loved. Loved freely. Programming us to “love” is not
    created a human being, it’s the creation of a robot, not the experience of being loved at all.
    The existence of “evil” allows God to experience being genuinely loved.
    This is our power.

  12. Denis Eble

    I laugh at the concept of ‘original sin.’ How absurd. If, as Genesis 2 states, we were made in the image of the creators, why would they stain us with innate sin? The foolishness of it all renders that church-invented concept invalid.

    Of course, though, if one eliminates original sin, then one necessarily eliminates the need for a “blood atonement,” which reduces the need for a church structure dependent on guilt.

    It’s all a neat package deal to control the ignorant masses and to keep them in their place.

    Regarding Nick’s made-up history of the Albigensian heresy, painting them as ‘barbarians, the truth is that these people, also known as Cathars, objected to several doctrines of the Catholic Church including the role of men and women. Further, the Roman Church considered the feudal system to be divinely ordained as the natural order but the Cathars enjoyed their relative independence as farmers and craftsmen. The pope sent his best theologians to the area (southern France) to get them back into the fold, but the Cathars said, ‘No thanks.’

    The pope with the pretentious name of “Innocent” declared a crusade against them, promising the men who joined ‘indulgences’ (forgiveness of sins) for their services, i.e., killing.

    At the conclusion of the siege of the Cathar city Beziers, the leader of the assault described in his letter to Pope Innocent in August 1209:

    While discussions were still going on with the barons about the release of those in the city who were deemed to be Catholics, the servants and other persons of low rank and unarmed attacked the city without waiting for orders from their leaders. To our amazement, crying “to arms, to arms!”, within the space of two or three hours they crossed the ditches and the walls and Béziers was taken. Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt…

    Love one another.

  13. nick batt

    Which makes the doctrine of original sin all the more plausible.

  14. Patrick

    No need to be hurt, Nick – Michele is right. History is a catalogue of the inanities and insanities of the human race: No more…no less.

  15. Michele Joseph

    It’s O.K., Nick, I don’t think you can talk about history without talking about somebody bashing somebody. It’s just been one long shoot ‘em up since Cain & Able, with a brief intermission for the Flood, which wasn’t conflict but a whole lot of drowning.

  16. nick batt

    I’m hurt. I don’t think I’ve been bashing anyone but the Albigensian, feminist baby killers, and suicide bombers. They deserve it. If any of the commentators feel bashed I’m sorry. I enjoy the dialogue and respect the views of others.

  17. Patrick

    Odd, isn’t it – that whenever Nicholas is involved, no matter what the initial subject is – we always end up talking about people bashing one another up.

  18. nick batt

    You’re right. They were an extra-Christian cult. they first emerged and were condemned in 1022. They were barbarians that rejected marriage in favor of concubinage thus enslaving women. They made suicide their sacrament–not unlike abortion today for feminist extremists or jihadists who glorify suicide bombers. These are all folks who love death more than life. Despite the repeated attempts by the Church to reconcile them to itself over the course of 200 years, their Governmental Protectors such as Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse sought to force the orthodox Christians to adopt this cult. There was a war. He lost.

  19. Denis Eble

    Nick, the Albigensians didn’t believe in the Nicene Creed either. Do you know what happened to them? Much more than a cold cock! Love one another.

  20. Patrick

    …Nor is there any need to be coy about your antecedents, Nicholas.

    Four of my six dogs are bitches, and nicer “critturs’ you will not meet in a month of Palm Sundays.
    True, their bite is worse than their bark – don’t know where they got that disconcerting trait from.

    Anyway, avast with the freakin’ s***’s,* willya? Leave the elevated language where it belongs.
    (I will forebear to say where “where” is.)

    *stars.

  21. nick batt

    Yea tho I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest son of a b**** in the valley.

  22. Patrick

    Relax, Nicholas!
    No need to be all mealy-mouthed and Catholic by bowdlerising, as it were, the word, “cock,” …because in the context wherein you employed it, it refers to punching someone – not to naughty old sex.
    And nobody is going to object to references to physical violence, not in America, at least.
    God forbid! Cold-cocking our enemies has made this great nation what it is – has it not?
    So, carry on cocking, and victory to the people!

  23. nick batt

    In part. He became a Saint by living a holy life just like I hope to though I doubt I’ll be canonized. By the way, as Patron Saint of hookers, repentant thieves, kids, and pawnbrokers with the guts to man up to Arius; he’s my kind of guy. The name means “victory of the people” in Greek. Again, my kind of guy.

  24. Denis Eble

    So, I’m right, not that I have to be. Is that the same St. Nicholas who brought me a train when I was six? How’d he gain his sainthood?

  25. nick batt

    I’m well aware of the Council. My patron Saint Nicholas was there; got so mad at Arius that he cold-c***ed him. My Protestant brothers who accept the Creed but have a different understanding of the word catholic than you do might disagree with your AKA remark.

  26. Denis Eble

    The Nicene Creed was formulated by the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,’ aka the Roman Catholic Church. Seems to me that is/was The Catholic Church’s creed.

    The Council of Nicene was essentially called to refute “the Arian heresy,” as it was called. The word, consubstantial, cited above, is a direct hit on that heresy.

  27. nick batt

    The Nicene Creed is not a Catholic Creed. It is almost universally accepted by all Christian churches. Further, it’s not anti anything. It states what the Church has always believed.

  28. nick batt

    While I’m not usually supportive of the “We are Church” folks, the new translation isn’t helpful. “Consubstantial” may be more theologically correct but “one in being” was more understandable to the layman. While I believe the Church is infallible matters of faith, it’,s not in matters of Latin-English translations. Same with the other passages quoted.

    • Denis Eble

      Consubstantial. Wow! Do you suppose that 90% of the laity have no idea what the word means? Further, do you imagine that 99% have no idea that the list of ‘beliefs’ recited in that creed are all anti- heresy statements? I find it quite odd that the Catholic creed is a composite of that stuff.

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