Revolting liberals: against the new translation

Liberals are fomenting revolt.

They are revolting against Pope Benedict XVI, and the bludgeon they are using right now is the new translation.

More and more we are catching whiffs of a rather rank dissent in the ranks of liberals who are seeking to persuade the less acute that they should resist the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

Frankly, I say if you really hate the new translation the best way to protest is not to continue to use the lame-duck ICEL version but rather just switch to Latin.  That’s real protest!  But I digress.

This is from the UK’s best Catholic weekly The Catholic Herald, with my emphases and comments:

A new English translation? Amen to that

The objections to the new English translation of the Missal fall apart upon close inspection, says liturgical publisher John Newton [editor-in-chief of the excellent traditional liturgical publisher Baronius Press]

Some people are predicting riots in the pews when the new translation of the Mass is introduced.  [Correction: some people want riots.]

For several years now experts have been preparing a revised English translation of the Roman Missal, which follows the Latin more closely. Following Vatican approval in 2008 the introduction of the new texts into parishes is on the horizon.Yet the project is not without its critics.

Vociferous objections were raised in some quarters of South Africa when it was accidently [yah, right… it was an "accident"] introduced last year and in America Fr Michael Ryan’s internet petition to halt the implementation of the new translations has attracted more than 10,000 signatures from around the world. [Very many of them "anonymous", unverifiable, and even bogus.  Someone put my name on their list, for example.  Think about that.] But there’s no reason that changing the words of the Mass should cause any problems.

Perhaps time has dimmed our memories, but we seem to have forgotten that many of the people’s parts were changed in 1975, less than six years after the new form of the Mass was introduced. And, as many of the objections to the forthcoming changes focus on the use of more formal language, it is worth remembering that this is exactly the sort of language that was originally used in the new Mass.

A quick look at the Sanctus illustrates the point. The first line of the 1969 translation – "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts" – is identical to the new version. And those who fear the coming changes should be heartened by the fact that the rest of the new Sanctus is exactly the same as it is at the moment.  [The Lefevbrists-Of-The-Left will protest: "But…. but… sputter… but… we have been using this translation for nearly forty whole years now!  It’s a tradition that can’t be changed!  People are used to this!"  This from the same people who didn’t give a tinker’s damn about the people they hurt and the chaos created by the rupture they inflicted in the Church’s long liturgical tradition.]

For better or worse, we will not be going back to the 1969 text, which continued: "Thy glory fills all heaven and earth" – although I imagine there will be some who wish we were.

Indeed, one distinctive feature of the 1969 translations was the use of hierarchic language when addressing God. So the Gloria ran:

Glory be to God on high,
And on earth peace to men who are God’s friends
We praise thee. We bless thee.
We adore thee. We glorify thee.
We give thee thanks for thy great glory.

The reason the 1969 translations were replaced in 1975 was not a revolt against the thees and thous, nor because formal language had failed to serve the needs of the liturgy.

Rather it was because [get this] an ecumenical body, the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET), produced a version of the people’s parts of the liturgy that were adopted by the Catholic Church. Some opponents of the new English version have lamented the fact that, by abandoning the current texts, we will no longer be using common translations with other Christians.  [Too bad.  Furthermore, the only Protestants who will object to abandoning the poorly translated texts are also those who will object to the clearer theology of the better translation.]

This would be a fair point if it were true, but it is actually a base canard. Most Protestant communions stopped using these texts more than a decade ago. If they have found the ICET translations no longer meet the requirements of worship, there seems to me to be no good reason for us to keep them.

Indeed, given the Catholic Church seems to be leaning more and more towards the Orthodox, it is worth noting that when an English version of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom was published in 1995 it did not use the relevant ICET texts, but opted for a new translation employing more formal language.

Surprisingly, when the new English translations are introduced in the Mass the version of the Sanctus will be identical to that found in the Orthodox Liturgy. Many other parts have marked similarities – even the Creed, despite the inclusion of the filioque clause, is terribly close. It is hard to imagine that there was no consultation of the Orthodox texts when the new version of the Mass was being put together.

Yet, bizarrely, there are murmurings that in order to "save Vatican II" we need to resist the new translations. In high rhetorical fashion [the hysterical] Fr Ryan has said they are contributing to "what seems like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree"[I like that: "dismantling the vision".  He can’t really point to anything in the documents themselves that is being "dismantled", so he points to a more nebulous "vision".]

He considers them "highly controversial" and asserts that "many highly respected liturgists and linguists" are unhappy with the "ungainly, awkward sentences".

While it is fair to say that not all of new texts are perfect, a little judicious polishing will smooth out the odd problems where these occur. What is needed is occasional fine tuning, not root and branch change.

Perhaps the problem is that we forget that liturgy is designed to lift our hearts and minds to God (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 33). [It also said that Latin was to be retained.] The natural language of liturgy leans towards the poetic, and when the new texts are approached as poetry then people will more readily be able to understand the riches they express.

Dignified and formal translations served the English-speaking Church well when the new Mass was first introduced in 1969, and they will do so again when the new texts arrive.

One hopes that, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "the implementation of the revised Roman Missal [will] be a time of deepening, nurturing, and celebrating our faith through our worship and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy".

Amen to that.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. An American Mother says:

    Revolting liberals . . .

    ” . . . now, Prissy, they may be tacky, but they ain’t all that bad!”

    – the late lamented production of Scarlett Fever by the Wit’s End Theater in Atlanta

  2. An American Mother says:

    By the way, I had often wondered why the execrable 1975 revision of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and the ‘new’ (soon to be ‘old’) version of the Mass resembled one another so closely.

    All is explained. Bah.

  3. antanas says:

    “Next year a new ICEL translation of the Mass of the Roman Rite will come into effect. More gracious poetic English will mean that the beauty of the language used in the Ordinariates will not clash with the banal and inaccurate old ICEL “translation” we currently endure”.

    Said Bishop Peter Elliot to anglo-catholics of Forward in Faith in Australia.

  4. Aaron says:

    “Some people are predicting riots in the pews when the new translation of the Mass is introduced. [Correction: some people want riots.]”

    Exactly. As if the few people who are still showing up for the new Mass would riot over this. They’ve stuck it out through having their churches torn down and replaced with mezzanines, the abuse scandal, horrid music, priests and nuns dressing like businessmen or golf pros, watered-down or forgotten catechism, arbitrary-seeming church and school closings, fellow parishioners dressing like they’re at a sporting event or dance club, Holy Communion being distributed with all the reverence of a bookie handing out betting slips, and so much more . . . but they’re going to draw the line at saying “and with your spirit”? Yeah, that sounds likely.

  5. TNCath says:

    Where in the heck did they get the “who are God’s friends” from?

  6. An American Mother says:

    Certainly not from “bonae voluntatis”!

  7. Warren says:

    I’m looking forward to the many “teachable moments” the introduction of the new translation will provide. I am not a priest nor a theologian. I consider myself a fairly well informed layman and amateur apologist. I do my best to give a reason for the hope that is within me, i.e., the hope who is Jesus Christ.

    While we should certainly defer to our shepherds’ for an authoritative catechesis, everyone should be prepared to dialogue in an informed manner about the changes. One priest in our diocese has the right idea. For the better part of the past year he has been providing weekly full page bulletin inserts comparing the previous translation (mostly the people’s parts) with the forthcoming one. The articles are clear, concise and entirely authoritative. There will be no surprises at his parish when it comes time to switch. Unfortunately, due to a lack of preparation, I do not think it will be as easy in most other parishes in our diocese.

    And, when we hear open dissent against the new translation coming from our neighbour in the pew, we should be prepared to engage the opposition with sound responses expressed with confidence and clarity. In order to do that we must be informed and entirely obedient ourselves.

    Wouldn’t it be appropriate, in due time, to give thanks to the Lord God for the new translation at a special Mass? May God in His mercy show us a sign of His approval that we will be worshipping Him in spirit AND in truth by using the new translation.

  8. Gail F says:

    “Perhaps the problem is that we forget that liturgy is designed to lift our hearts and minds to God .”

    Amen to THAT.

  9. smallone says:

    What, precisely, are the liberal objections to the new translation? I have read some of the comments left on the “What If We Just Said Wait” petition. Many of the commenters state that they feel like the infamous “Spirit of Vatican II” is being squelched, and many commenters seem to be very passionate about this, but is there any cogent statement somewhere of any liberal THEOLOGICAL objections? Or even objections to the words that have been CHOSEN to render the Latin into English?

    E.g., has someone been preaching universalism? That would explain the problem with “for many.”

    I always try to understand my opponent’s position, but I have a hard time when that position does not seem to have any basis in facts or logic. The dissenters/objecters just seem to be saying “This translation makes me feel bad.”

  10. Sam Schmitt says:

    Excellent point, smallone.

    I read where one priest was saying that he would not be able to celebrate the mass in good conscience using the new translation. I couldn’t quite understand why from what he said.

    I have heard the objections of Bishop Trautman, that the translation is hard to understand or awkward. I would agree that there are places where the English seems more awkward and closer to the Latin syntax and word order than necessary for an accurate rendering of the original Latin. In fact, I think some parts of the translation, though understandable when read, can be confusing as spoken texts. No tranlsation is perfect – though I think this one could have used a final stylistic revision. But these are hardly theological arguments and shouldn’t keep anyone from using the translation as it stands.

    There have also been vehement objections to Liturgicam Authenticam itself, particularly with regard to what it says about the Bible (e.g. from chant scholar Peter Jeffrey and some prominent biblical scholars). I do not find these arguments wholly convincing, and in many cases there is a definite over-reaction to and over-interpretation of LA (IMO). But the more liberal leaning critics seem fully convinced that full implementation of LA will drive us back to the “dark ages” of Catholic biblical fundamentalism before Pius XII’s encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu.”

  11. Supertradmom says:

    Riots? I doubt it. As to universalism, yes, this is a huge problem. I have heard this taught by priests as recently as December, 2009, quoting the Catechism out of context to a Confirmation class of over 100 students. The DRE, when I pointed out the error, refused to correct the problem.

    I think the liberals are afraid of any change, ironically, as they will lose their hold on the local church, as those in the pew will look to Rome and the USCCB for assurances. Part of the battle of the translation has to do with the idea that the American Church, or the South African Church are separate from the Universal Church, and by extension, that the local church is practically autonomous. The idea that Father ABC can interpret something his own way to suit the “pastoral” needs of his congregation is threatened by the top-down hierarchy of Rome and the USCCB.

  12. ANevskyUSA says:

    Just a comment on the Sanctus: While “Lod God of hosts” certainly sounds better than “Lord God of power and might,” and while there is a nice Anglican history of translating “Sabaoth” as “hosts,” I don’t see why “Sabaoth” should be translated at all. It is a Hebrew loan word retained in both the Latin and the Greek. The Latin is “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth” and the Greek is “Agios, Agios, Agios, Kyrios Sabaoth.” One would think that the Church Fathers retained the Hebrew loan word for a reason, just as they retained words like “Alleluia” and “Amen.”

    This part of the Sanctus, in the Greek, is from Isaias 6:3, which reads as above, and NOT from Apocalypse 4:8 which read, “Agios, Agios, Agios Kyrios o Theos o Pantokrator” [pantokrator=all-powerful]. I assume that the Latin comes from either the Greek or from some vertus latina translation of Isaias that was closer to the Septuagint, since St. Jerome translation from Isaias is “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus exercituum” [execitus=army, multitude, hosts] and his translation from Apocalypse is “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus omnipotens” [omnipotens=all-powerful]. As we can see, the translators of the Septuagint chose to retain the Hebrew “Sabaoth” as a loan word when they translated Isaias, and it was this that the Fathers went with for the Liturgy rather than the fully Greek “Pantocrator” in a similar phrase used by St. John when he recorded his revelation. Then, when this got translated into Latin, the Fathers decided to use the Apocalypse phrasing “Dominus Deus” rather than simple “Dominus” but still chose to use the Septuagint “Sabaoth” rather than “omnipotens” which would be (and was St. Jerome’s) translation of “Pantocrator.” Significantly, they chose not to translate “Sabaoth” as did St. Jerome.

    It therefore seems to me that it would be a better practice for any new English translation of the Sanctus to retain the Hebrew as the Hebrew is retained in the Latin rather than translate the word into English. I’ll note that this is is line with Orthodox practice, as the OCA translates the phrase “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabaoth” and GoArch “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord Sabaoth.”

    Just my two cents on a tangential topic since the Sanctus and Orthodox practice were mentioned in the article.

  13. ANevskyUSA says:

    Also, while we are on the topic of translations being more similar to ours as an ecumenical gesture, I don’t see why “per omnia secula seculorum” cannot be translated more literally as “unto the ages of ages” (which is how we translate “eis tous aionas ton aionon” or “vo veki vekov”).

  14. Joan says:

    My old argument seems more valid than ever – let’s all go back to the traditional Tridentine Mass in all its glory. English has its “vernacular holes” as do all modern languages – and they change so fast – it’s very confusing. it won’t kill anyone to study the Latin of the Mass. We are in a linguistic dessert here in the midwest – I don’t know about the rest of you.

  15. Supertradmom says:

    Dear Joan,

    We need to convince various bishops and seminaries in the Midwest to even accept the TLM. In the meantime, the problems of NO misinterpretation will continue in the next generation of priests if the present situation does not change. I am certain that if the laity does not take charge of expressing the desire for the TLM, and act accordingly, the prejudice against it will be perpetuated for many years to come. Some of my friends have sons in local seminaries where the TLM is not only not taught, but celebrated only once or twice a year. These friends tell me that the trad sons have to hide their love of the TLM and any leanings for the EF from their teachers and administrators. This, to me, is unconscionable. These are secular, diocesan seminaries.

  16. TonyLayne says:

    I always try to understand my opponent’s position, but I have a hard time when that position does not seem to have any basis in facts or logic. The dissenters/objecters just seem to be saying “This translation makes me feel bad.”

    The dissenters’ position doesn’t have any basis in fact or logic, outside the esthetic argument that the phrasing is sometimes a little clumsy. No, their problem is not with what the new translation says but with what it represents: their loss of power and influence among the hierarchy.

    Brick by brick.

  17. Supertradmom says:


    You have echoed what I said above. The liberals fear and really fear change and loss of power. I see this daily. Those who do not like the present Pope’s trad values and liturgical changes are increasingly nervous and strained. I am sorry that these libs are upset about losing hegemony, and I am sorry for the “meaness” and “pettiness” which is part of their death throes, but I am thrilled the change is real. This fear is expressed not only in “ministry meetings” but in the classrooms and in other educational services, such as counseling. I pray for these co-workers daily.

  18. dmreed says:

    The new Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr (formerly of Duluth, MN) and recently retired Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk have posted a video message about the new translation. Why Pilarczyk is included isn’t clear since he retired as back in December. I can only guess he was strategically included as a means to calm liberal fears throughout the archdiocese. Pilarczyk’s words are predictable and dissapointing. He refers to implementing the corrections to the English translations as a “great adventure.” He goes so far as to say, “Change is never easy, especially if it doesn’t seem necessary.”
    Schnurr’s comments were much better. I especially liked when he said this should be an “occasion for us to reconsider our liturgical practices” and an opportunity to explore “what it is we do and why we do it.” I am optimistic about His Excellency leading Cincinnati. It should be a change for better.
    Check out this link to “Ten Reasons” blog to view the video; its an excellent, orthodox Catholic blog focusing on the archdiocese of Cincinnati (with some focus on the diocese of Rochester; apparently the authors parents reside there).
    Also, can someone check out the “norms” that Pilarczyk established two years ago for implementing Summorum Pontificum. Here is the link; the motu proprio norms are listed on the right hand side of the page.
    To me, it seems very antagonistic to the extraordinary form, and is too restrictive. It is not aligned with the intentions of Summorum Pontificum. Does anyone else concur?

  19. Jack Hughes says:

    I for one look foward to a clearer translation, funny thing is that anyone who wanted a good translation only had to look at “the people’s parts in latin” section in their 1975 missel :), why the translators were bothered by accuracy there and not anywhere else puzzles me:)

  20. TJerome says:

    Well lefty pastors and their liturgy committees will be wetting their pants and hyperventilating where the vast majority of practicing Catholics will be just fine. Just remind those old reactionaries that our feelings weren’t considered 40 years ago and the “catechesis” was almost non-existent. Tom

  21. jaykay says:

    Mr. Newton makes a very valid point that can be well used by those of us on this side of the pond – UK and Ireland – who after 1970 kept the hieratic versions he refers to (“… who are God’s friends” being the only aberration!) introduced in 1965, and were thus not exposed to the full horrors of ICEL until 1975. As far as I recall the collects, secrets etc. were also still in a form more akin to that now proposed i.e. there was plentiful use of relative clauses and grown-up language.

    Just mentally picturing a conversation with one of the double-knits: “Ah, so the new translations are pre-conciliar and hard to proclaim?? Not in spirit with the Novus Ordo, eh?? A throwback, hmmmm??? Oh yes, I’ve got it… a throwback to 1970-1975, the very wellspring of the New Order. But without all those annoying Medieval thees and thous, so they’re really even more wonderful then what we began to joyously proclaim at the dawn of the New Springtime itself. There, I knew you’d love them really.”

  22. ssoldie says:

    “save Vatican II” “dismantling the vision” “good friends” “spirit of Vatican II” anybody know what any of this c— means…….confusion, confusion, that is what the fruits of the vat2 has brought us for the last 45 years, and I am to believe that the Holy Ghost was there at the council, well, maybe some of it, as even a broken clock is right twice a day. I say ditch it and start all over. Let’s remember “lex orandi, lex credendi”.

  23. I would like to remind all the liberals out there that if they don’t like the new translation, they could eloquently protest against it by switching to Latin.

  24. TonyLayne says:

    Ah, an extra day off. Benedicamus Domino!

    Supertradmom: The damage the sandalistas wrought is going to take years of patient catechetical efforts. I caught some poll numbers over at The Deacon’s Bench concerning the belief of young Catholics which were truly disturbing. The actual link is to CNS:

    The loss of belief in objective values and the growth of moral relativism is gonna be an uphill fight, since it means reforming Catholic education from the parochial schools on up through the universities. I see some signs that that may be turning around, but it could take a couple more generations before we could claim victory.

    Fr. Z: I would like to remind all the liberals out there that if they don’t like the new translation, they could eloquently protest against it by switching to Latin.

    Talk about “between a rock and a hard place”! (Or perhaps, “devil and the deep blue sea”?) Really, they’re like spoiled children; if they don’t get what they want, they “protest” by fussing and stamping their feet. But more to the point, liberals in general–not just our house liberals–have lost the art of eloquent protest. I’d say it died somewhere around the ’68 Chicago Democratic convention.

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