Misguided Missal:  FAQs without the Spin!

Is the new missal translation an accurate translation?

Yes and no. No translation is ever 100% accurate, and there is always some loss in meaning going from one language to another. The current (1973) translation tries to get the main meaning across as clearly as possible, even if some nuance and some secondary meanings are lost. The latest translation (our upcoming Missal of 2011) tries to follow every Latin word, even Latin word order, which sometimes makes it too complicated for the main meaning to get across. Which approach is more accurate from the standpoint of the listener??

And, ultimately, doesn’t the listener determine what got communicated?

Take the Prayer after Communion for the First Sunday of Advent, for example, the day we are supposed to begin using this Missal. Near the end of the prayer we hear, “as we walk amid passing things, / you teach us by them to love the things of heaven.” What does the listener hear? Given the complicated word order, even if every word is translated accurately, the listener will probably hear that we learn to “love the things of heaven” by all the “passing” things of this earth! But the Latin says this: we learn this from the sacred mysteries we celebrate!

It gets worse. Many changes were made to the forthcoming text after the bishops approved it and sent it to Rome, so that the text is filled with blatant mistakes and errors. Words in Latin are sometimes omitted in English; words not in Latin are sometime added in English. Is the only explanation for this incompetence?

Can we get an indult and keep using the 1973 translation?

Don’t count on it. It seems that such indults are only given to those attached to the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. For them the Pope said “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” Why isn’t this also true for the 1973 translation? In fact, we will be forbidden to use it.

Will our revised English texts now be in line with the rest of the Catholic Church?

Not quite. There is such variety in the vernacular translations used around the world that no matter what our text says, it will differ from some other languages. In Portuguese used in the huge country of Brazil, for example, when the priest says “The Lord be with you,” the faithful do not say “and with your spirit.” They say “he is in our midst.” The German-speaking bishops are insisting on keeping “for you and for all” in the Eucharistic prayer, which means that our translation will differ from theirs when it changes to “for you and for many.” In some languages you can’t even say “and with your spirit.” Diversity is inevitable when you have so many vernaculars being used in so many countries.

Is the elevated language of the new missal translation beautiful?

As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Some people claim that the elevated language of the revised text is better than the rather flat and simple 1973 text. But for others that claim falls short, especially those who know the Anglican/Episcopal liturgy well. Conservative Fr. Dwight Longenecker, former Anglican and now a married Catholic priest, says that the revised text sounds like “an eighth grader trying to write Shakespeare.” Episcopal Rev. Carl Daw, a respected poet and hymn text writer, finds “lapses in idiomatic usage” and “unevenness in the tone and context of the language.” Anglican/Episcopal Bishop Jeffery Rowthorn writes, “I am left with a sense that, with some very clear exceptions, many of the prayers in the proposed translation cry out for poetry or at least for less ponderous prose.”

Does the new missal translation use inclusive human language?

Yes and no – as can be seen in comparison to the two previous translations of 1973 and 1998. In the 1973 translation, before there was general sensitivity to inclusive language, “man” or “men” continued to mean all humans. See for example the fourth Eucharistic prayer: “ “You formed man in your own image…” And in the Nicene Creed, “for us men and for our salvation.” Alas, this language will be used in the coming missal.

In the translation completed by ICEL in 1997, with 15 years of dedicated and collegial effort, and approval in 1998 by every conference of English-speaking bishops, there was recognition of the need for inclusive language. “Man” and “men” was no longer used to mean all people. Now, that progress is being undone.

Does the new missal translation use expansive/inclusive God-language?


Were any women involved in the translation process?

Yes, one (!). Sr. Maria Boulding, OSB, was on an ICEL committee that did earlier drafts of the missal texts. Apart from her, every person in a decision-making position was male. Of the thousands of people called upon for consultation, for example as individual bishops sought out advice, there were surely many women as well as men. But this is consultation, not direct translation work or decision-making.

What does “consubstantial” mean?

It is an English translation of a Latin translation of an originally Greek term “homoousion,” which is based on the Greek word for “being.” It means “the same being.” The Latin term on which the English is based is consubstantialis – but of course a heavy-duty philosophical term like “substance” hardly means the same thing now as it did when the Latin term was chosen in the 4th century. Long story short: “consubstantial” pretty much means “one in being.”

Does the Latin really say “for you and for many” for the words of Jesus in the Eucharistic Prayer?

Not quite. It’s an idiom, which makes any translation problematic. The Latin idiom “pro multis” (like the Greek it translates) has an expansive meaning of “not for a few, but for the great masses.” But a literal translation changes the meaning by making it restrictive: “not for all, but only for some.” The coming translation may be literal, but that doesn’t mean that it accurately conveys the original meaning.

Is the new missal translation faithful to Vatican II’s teachings on active participation?

If people cannot understand the complex sentences, it will have a negative impact on their participation. Yes, the prayers are in English, but we might ask, what kind of English? If the prayers sound like the original Latin prayers from the early Middle Ages, a time when most people would not have understood the elevated Latin of the clergy, how will that help us today? But Vatican II said that “the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them [texts and rites] with ease and to take part in them fully…”  The council also said that “the rites … should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.”

Was the process for translating faithful to Vatican II’s teachings on collegiality?

No. Vatican II called for less centralism and more decision making by bishops at the local and national level. The liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium explicitly gives authority for translation to regional bodies of bishops, not the Vatican. But the Vatican has gradually taken this power away, and now claims authority to issue the final version of all vernacular translations.

A retired Australian bishop says that “[we] voiced our concerns and in particular about the Holy See’s right to approve the statutes contrary to Sacrosanctum Concilium.” A New Zealand bishop says that “it is still incumbent on bishops’ conferences to reclaim the rights and responsibilities entrusted to them by law, and wrongly usurped.”

Did the bishops have to go along with this translation?

Our bishops were pressured into this by the Vatican and pretty much told they didn’t have a choice. Some people wish that our bishops had the attitude of the German-speaking bishops, who withdrew a Vatican-approved revised translation for the funeral rite after only a few months because it is so stilted and unnatural. Bishops in some countries around the world are stalling and have hardly begun the Vatican-mandated retranslation of their liturgical books. But the English-speaking bishops, for the most part, have been willing to go along with the Vatican’s taking away of their rightful authority.

What about ecumenism?

Forget it. Up until now, our English texts have had much in common with Protestant texts – we all cooperated to produce agreement. But in 2001 the Vatican ordered that the Catholic Church withdraw from such cooperation and produce its own texts. Presbyterian liturgist Horace Allen said that after he read the 2001 Roman document, he slumped in his chair and wept. “I realized that something terrible had happened which in my own worst imaginings I had never anticipated. A trusted and beloved ecumenical partner had suddenly and effectively walked away from the table.” Lutheran liturgist Paul Westermeyer said in an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, “With one stroke forty years of ecumenical good will are jeopardized, and it becomes more difficult than ever for those of us who are committed to support you and work with you.”

Was there lots of consultation in producing this translation?

Yes, but of a strictly limited type. It was all from all above – i.e., the only ones called upon for consultation were invited by higher-ups. There was no publication of draft texts, no trial use of them with parishioners, no progress reports, and no input from liturgical organizations. While the consultation may have involved thousands of people, it was not public or transparent. By comparison, the 1998 translation was a continual process of gaining feedback from a wide variety of people and continually improving the texts until they were likely to be accepted.

Do theologians and liturgical scholars support the new translation?

Some do, but most don’t. The executive board of the Catholic Biblical Association said of the new translation rules, “some of its provisions are sufficiently ill-advised as to be the likely occasion of embarrassment to the Church.” Conservative chant scholar Peter Jeffery said of the document with the new translation rules, “It is particularly embarrassing that all this muscular Christianity comes to us vested and mitered in the most ignorant statement on liturgy ever issued by a modern Vatican congregation.”  When a liturgist at a conference in Rome spoke of the “devastating impression” left by the new translation rules, the 600 liturgists in attendance spontaneously broke into thunderous applause that went on for three minutes.

Was there any other way all this could have been done?

Yes! In 1998 the bishops of the English-speaking world approved an entire translation of the missal, after 17 (!) years of collaborative work, public progress reports, and a transparent process. This 1998 text is inclusive of women, in elegant and beautiful English, and faithful to the Latin original – in many ways more accurate than our coming text. Tragically, after all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences approved this text, the Vatican rejected it, changed the translation rules, and took over the entire process. The result is our coming text.