Bp. Tobin (D. Providence) on the new translation of the Roman Missal

We are readying ourselves in the Church in the English speaking world for the reception and implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal.

This new translation will, in my opinion, be an effective tool in the arduous process of rebuilding our Catholic identity.

In the Rhode Island Catholic His Excellency Most Rev. Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence has published a column about the new English translation.  Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments:

Get Ready – The Mass is About to Change
Click here for more information about the Bishop’s new book, Effective Faith – Faith that Makes a Difference.

So, sometime next year [!] you’re attending Sunday Mass as you always do, the priest takes his place in the sanctuary, makes the Sign of the Cross and says “The Lord be with you,” and you dutifully respond, “And also with you.” “Wrong,” the priest says, “The correct answer now is, ‘And with your spirit’.[Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

That’s the scenario you’re likely to encounter in the not-too-distant future as some of the language of the Mass, language with which we’ve become very familiar, is about to change. The change is the result of a new translation of the Roman Missal, a translation that’s been studied and discussed for a number of years now, and is soon to be introduced into the English speaking world.

The reasons for the new translation are, in themselves, simple enough. The Mass is being translated anew to provide a more exalted, transcendent, “spiritual” language for our worship, and to make the English translation more consistent with the Latin original[NB: He refers to a more sacred style of language.]

The translation process has been long and complicated, and it gets very technical, very quickly. The development of liturgical language is no small feat – it involves highly trained experts in Canon Law, scripture, liturgy and language. Eleven different episcopal conferences from the English speaking world on five continents have been consulted.

The process of translating the Mass and its final product have been the subject of a fierce debate within Church circles. The Catholic blogosphere has gone crazy over the topic, [Well… "crazy"….  o{];¬)  ] with competing articles, editorials, surveys and petitions. The folks personally involved in the discussion can get very emotional about matters such as the role of the Bishops Conference vs. the Holy See; the composition and competence of consultative groups such as ICEL (The International Commission on English in the Liturgy) and Vox Clara; about the relative merits of arcane documents such as Comme Le Prevoit and Liturgiam Authenticam. In short, the process of translating the liturgy makes the recent debate over healthcare reform in the United States look like a walk in the park[And just as the health of the soul is more important than the health of the body, it should stir great interest and discussion!]

There’s so much intramural stuff going on here, you might be tempted to throw your hands up in total frustration and ask, “Who cares . . . what’s the big deal . . . aren’t there more important things to deal with?” Good questions, all.

But as often happens in the Church today, the debate over liturgical translations reveals a broad division in ecclesial ranks pitting, in simple terms, conservatives against liberals. [NB:….] It seems to me though that it’s a mistake to read too much into the translation process, from either perspective. To those who think that the new translations represent the salvation of the Church and a great triumph for traditional values and orthodoxy; as well as to those who view the new translations as a giant step backward, a rebuke of the Vatican Council, and an abuse of hierarchical authority – to both camps I suggest, respectfully, “Get over it.”  [ROFL!] While the debate might be interesting to ecclesial wonks and relevant to a theology classroom, it really won’t help us solve the problem at hand. [Hmmm…. I am not so sure about that.  The discussion, heated as it can be, serves inter alia to inform and test positions.  The ongoing debates could be very useful for those who are going to be tasked with preparing the reception of the new translation as well as more interested lay people in the pews, embedded in congregations, who will be talking with others about the changes in all sorts of situation, at the parish, home and workplace.  Not everyone has to be a wonk, but it is good when people learn what the issues are and then can hear good responses for questions.  After all, the bishop himself is digging into this in a column in the newspaper and internet.  Yet I am sure that the Bishop is not against discussion.  He is probably referring to unhinged or uncharitable discussion.]

Leaving aside all the inside-Church debate then, there are some important things to remember as we prepare for the implementation of the new language of the Mass in the Diocese of Providence.

[1] The first is to acknowledge that the change in the prayers of the Mass will indeed present a significant challenge for priests and parishioners alike. We’ll need more recourse to liturgical books and printed materials for awhile; we’ll have to think before we speak. [Which is probably a good idea anyway.] There will be mistakes and embarrassing episodes. The process will require a little perspective, a lot of patience, and maybe even a healthy dose of humor.

[2] The second point is to assure you that the changes will be preceded by a thorough catechetical process, a teaching process that will involve the entire diocese. Useful materials are already being prepared and published nationwide, and in the diocese a core committee of priests has been formed and has begun the very first phases of the process. In the near future the committee will be expanded to include other representatives of our diocesan Church. The committee will work hard to guide us in our journey.

And finally, [3] I’m convinced that the process of implementing and learning the new translations of the prayers will provide us with a truly blessed opportunity. I wonder – in the thirty-some years that we’ve been using the current translations of the Mass, [NB!] doesn’t it seem that we’ve become a little too casual, a little careless about our liturgical prayer? When we attend Mass don’t we sometimes sleepwalk through it, respond like robots, and pray without ever having to think about what we’re saying? Of course there’s something comfortable and cozy about memorizing our prayers and taking them to heart, but the accompanying danger is an over-familiarity that leads to boredom and emptiness. [A very good point.  The familiar vernacular, in a style that it not much different from everyday speech, makes the whole experience too easy.  His Excellency has also made a good argument for the use of more Latin in the Novus Ordo and more celebrations of Holy Mass with the older, traditional use along side the Novus Ordo.]

I suspect that in just a few years we’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. My guess is that some of the new translations will be much better than the old; and that others will be awkward and truly “ineffable.” [LOL!] But if the process of learning new responses and prayers of the Mass helps us to think about what we’re saying; if it helps us to grow spiritually and appreciate the wonderful gift of the Eucharist; if it helps us even a little “to worship in spirit and in truth,” then the process will have been well worth the effort.

The way in which we receive and implement the new translation, and its impact on our diocesan Church, is now in our hands. Let’s do our best to set aside the drama and work on it together – prayerfully, peacefully and productively.

What do you think? Send a letter to the editor: editor@thericatholic.com


Kudos to Bp. Tobin for a solid and thoughtful article.  

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Tom in NY says:

    Sua Excelentia sapientia et humilitate bene locutus est.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  2. TJerome says:

    If I were technologically savy I would send a copy to Father Wissman for his edification. Nicely done, Bishop Tobin

  3. TJerome says:

    When Bishop Tobin referenced the term “ineffable” he was taking a shot at bishop “you know who?”

  4. SonofMonica says:


  5. TJerome says:

    I meant to say “was he taking” a shot.

  6. PghCath says:

    I’m very proud of this son of Pittsburgh. Well done!

  7. lucy says:

    Great article. What does NB: mean when used by Fr ?

  8. revs96 says:

    Bishop Tobin has his head screwed on more or less straight, unlike many bishops here in the northeast.

  9. PghCath says:

    NB is an abbreviation for “nota bene,” a Latin/Italian phrase meaning note well or, more colloquially, pay attention.

  10. Lucy: “NB” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “Nota bene” or “note well”, otherwise, “pay attention!”

  11. Leonius says:

    Possibly the most important thing this new translation will achieve is that once more “we’ll have to think before we speak.” instead of just switching off and droning mindlessly through the responses which I confess to doing at mass in the ordinary form quite regularly.

  12. John V says:

    Perhaps Bishop Tobin will send an autographed copy of this column to Fr. Peter J. Andrews, with instructions to use it as the pastor’s page in his next bulletin.

  13. Jacobitess says:

    ‘In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation…’ At last!

  14. RichR says:


    Have you been consulted about creating any prep materials for congregations to use in this upcoming liturgical catechesis? Being a Latin scholar and very knowledgeable on liturgy would make your input very valuable. If there is nothing official on the books, what about something un-official? Maybe a simple pdf that can be downloaded by WDTPRSers to present to their parish councils………..

    I’m just askin’………

  15. New Sister says:

    Our pastor requires us catechists to learn the new translation this summer & teach it next year.

  16. TJerome says:

    New Sister, you are fortunate to have a pastor like that, one who is faithful to what the Church asks.

  17. TJerome says:

    I just sent a note to the editor congratulating Bishop Tobin on his helpful and thoughtful article on this subject.

  18. Elly says:

    I was wondering what nota bene meant! I thought maybe it translated to “good news” which didn’t always make sense in context.

  19. catholicmidwest says:

    I’m happy about the translations because they will be more reverent and more faithful to the Latin version being used. However, I don’t think one of their merits might be that they jolt us with novelty and supposedly keep us from getting “complacent.” This idea is pure modernism. Using the same words for mass day after day, month after month, year after year is absolutely fine, but ONLY if they’re the correct words, and they haven’t been for 40 years. That’s the issue.

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    Only a modernist thinks that worship is genuine only when it’s spontaneous or “fresh” because of changes which evoke emotional responses.

    That’s not what the Sacrifice of the Mass is about. Never has been.

  21. Joe Magarac says:

    I think that over-familiarity or complacency can be a problem whether one prays the Mass in Latin or in the vernacular. One hears about altar boys back in the old days who didn’t know what they were saying when they made the Latin responses. As an NO altar boy, I didn’t have that excuse but still found myself saying the words with my lips but not my heart.

    The answer to the problem is not new language but a change of heart. What St. Escriva said about the Rosary can apply here too:

    But, in the Rosary… we always say the same things! —Always the same? And don’t those who are in love always say the same things to each other?… Could it not be that there is monotony in your Rosary because, instead of pronouncing words like a man, you emit sounds like an animal, while your mind is very far from God?

  22. boko fittleworth says:

    I may win another “Sour Grapes Award” for this, but the column, while generally excellent, does have its cringe-inducing moments. The bit about a healthy dose of humor, combined with the opening in which the priest says “Wrong,” brings back painful reminders of the worst of the vernacular, facing the people, talk show host atmosphere that so plagues the NO. How ’bout catechesis outside, and reverent patience within, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Otherwise we’re just putting on a show in the old barn to try to save the farm. I’ll print up flyers on the copier at work and Sally can sew some vestments out of grandma’s old curtains.

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    If people don’t give the new responses it won’t be because they’re “wrong.” It will be because:
    a) the people weren’t informed about the changes correctly, &/or
    b) printed resources haven’t been made available in the pews, &/or
    c) there aren’t enough printed resources.

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    However, I have a computer and printer, so I will be bringing my own. And a copy for a neighbor in the pews.

  25. DetJohn says:

    Fr. Peter Andrews, of St. Theresa and St. Christopher in Treverton, R.I., Diocese of Providence, and his Nutty of the other day is out os step and 180 degrees from his Bishop.

    I hope that Fr. Andrews is obedient and sets aside his drama and works on the new translation prayerfully, peacefully and productively as asked by Bishop Toben.

    Hopefully the good folks at St. Theresa and St. Christopher will keep us up to date.

  26. DetJohn says:

    oooooops it is Bishop Tobin. Forgive me your Excellency.

  27. Penguins Fan says:

    I think that, one day soon, Bishop Tobin will be leading a much larger diocese than the Diocese of Providence.

    On another note, I have noticed no such letter from Bishop Zubik about the new Mass translation. Bishop Zubik is recovering from serious surgery, so perhaps that is the reason.

    Let’s not forget to pray for all of our priests and bishops, even the ones we disagree with.

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