NCR’s latest Magical Liturgical Mystery Tour

On the site of the National Catholic Fishwrap, Eugene Kennedy, ex-priest and humanistic psychologist, attacks the "reform of the reform".  He is actually attacking the new translation of the Roman Missal. 

His piece is so turgid that it is hard to know just what he is driving at. 

I caught in the first part that he thinks that those who created and issued the new translation were reacting to a perceived ill in the Church which, in Kennedy’s opinion, doesn’t actually exist.  The new translation is being peddled as snake oil.

In any event, what are we to make of this.  Read it slowly:

"Joseph Campbell termed this massive tear in the fabric of life as "Mythic Dissociation." When this occurs we find ourselves in what poet T.S. Eliot describes as The Waste Land. This basic estrangement from any feeling for the mystical energy of the church as the Sacramentum Mundi, the mystical mirror in which the beleaguered world can see a reflection of its profound longings and strivings, can be observed in the way the sacraments are almost exclusively discussed. They are spoken of as static objects to be regulated rather than living symbols to be celebrated."

Mystical energy?  What would that be? 

Mystical mirror

Do we really want to turn to Joseph Campbell in this matter?

Beyond the fact that this is sheer gobbledygook, note that Kennedy’s notion of liturgy and liturgy language closes us in on ourselves.  It is entirely immanent

Don’t be distracted by the sprinkling of "mystical" in there.  The Beatles did that too, in 1967.  I think Kennedy’s thought is more closely aligned with that than with The Waste Land.

There is absolutely NOTHING transcendent about Kennedy’s view.  His liturgical vision is a a reflection of the world’s "strivings".  For Kennedy, the rites must be constantly adapted to our needs.  Fellow travelers, such as His Excellency Bp. Trautman, believe that liturgical language should be constantly adapted to common parlance and be made immediately comprehensible.  Their approach makes our rites into reflections of ourselves, self-enclosed gazing at ourselves. 

There is no salvation in me or in you.  

Kennedy criticizes the new translation. 

"The new texts, in effect, split our everyday experience of struggling to work and to love from their sacramental symbolization in the renewed liturgy of Vatican II."

No surprise there.  What does surprise is that, at the same time, he is really defending the old, lame-duck texts.

Over and against the new text, Kennedy would retain the lame-duck translation which includes such sparkling gems as this, which appears on the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time.  We need the Latin first.

Super Oblata:
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Ecclesiae tuae, Domine, munera placatus assume,
quae et misericors offerenda tribuisti,
et in nostrae salutis potenter efficis transire mysterium

Now, in offering next a literal version I am not saying that we should pray this way!  Read this for content, not the clunky style of a …

O Lord, having been appeased take unto yourself the gifts of your Church
which you both mercifully bestowed as things to be offered as sacrifices
and you mightily are causing to transform into the mysterious sacrament of our salvation

Now look at the …

Lame-Duck ICEL:
God of power,
giver of the gifts we bring,
accept the offering of your Church
and make it the sacrament of our salvation

This isn’t just bad translation.  This is insidious distortion.

Again, it isn’t that the people at ICEL back in the day didn’t know how to translate the Latin correctly.  They didn’t want to translate the Latin correctly.  They understood the Latin content and they rejected it.

They eliminated the concept of sacrifice entirely.  They didn’t like the idea of an God to be appeased, which is at the heart of what Sacrifice is for.  Mystery is banished   Mercy is ignored.  The gifts are all about us. 

You take away from the ICEL version that we actually deserve something from our partner-God, who will do her part after we do ours. 

The Latin, however, tells you something very different.

This, friends, is why Liturgiam authenticam was issued.

Let’s review:

19.  The words of the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space. Indeed, by means of these words God speaks continually with the Spouse of his beloved Son, …

20. The Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, while drawing on centuries of ecclesial experience in transmitting the faith of the Church received from the Fathers, are themselves the fruit of the liturgical renewal, just recently brought forth. In order that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries, it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.

Kennedy wants us to look into our own little pond and see ourselves reflected. 

The Latin prayer wants to bring us to an understanding of pardon, propitiation, Sacrifice, mystery outside ourselves.

You decide.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Translation, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, Throwing a Nutty, WDTPRS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Melody Faith says:

    It’s funny that he quotes Joseph Campbell. In the PBS series, “The Power of Myth”, Campbell laments the Catholic Church’s abandoning Latin for the vernacular in the liturgy. In his opinion, it diminished the apparent transcendence of the mass.

  2. TNCath says:

    Ironically, Eugene Kennedy, Father Richard McBrien, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and all the other “columnists” for the NCR have become the new reactionary fringe of the Church. The only exception to this list is John Allen, who comes under regular criticism from readers for being a “Vatican supporter” and a “papal sympathizer.” While Dr. Kennedy and company certainly continue to do damage to the Church, their influence is becoming less and less, and they know it. That’s why they are throwing caution to the wind and simply saying anything and everything that comes to mind off the tops of their heads, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  3. Mariana says:

    Sorry, but The Who’s “Teenage wasteland, it’s only teenage wasteland…” is what keeps ringing in my head….

  4. Dave N. says:

    I agree that secularism is a symptom, not a cause.

    I think the new missal translation is like trying to clean up after a flood with roll of paper towels; it’s admirable they are trying, but…

    No one quotes Joseph Campbell any more. His work has been discredited as an attempt to universalize various non-universal phenomena.

    And finally, I assume the above photo is a prescient scene from an upcoming U.K. papal Mass?

  5. Rich says:

    TS Eliot’s “Wasteland” also presents sympathy for abortion and portrays truly regenerative and fecund female sexuality as that which allows the woman to do whatever she wants with her body (see the second part of PART II of the poem: “A Game of Chess”. I wonder if this priest would like to maintain the old, shabby “translation” for its weak ability to lift our minds and hearts to God – so that we still feel like we can do anything we want with and in the liturgy, thus perpetuating and reinforcing the sense that we can do anything else we want in other areas of our lives in which we live out our faith.

  6. M Heller says:

    This gobbledygook reminds me of what I was “taught” in religious ed. through the late 60’s and early 70’s. It still gets me irritated. Do they even know what they’re talking about? Or are they intentionally trying to confuse so that we will say , “Oh, they’re so smart…I’m too stupid to understand what they mean.”

  7. robtbrown says:

    It’s funny that he quotes Joseph Campbell. In the PBS series, “The Power of Myth”, Campbell laments the Catholic Church’s abandoning Latin for the vernacular in the liturgy. In his opinion, it diminished the apparent transcendence of the mass.
    Comment by Melody Faith

    He also had no use for versus populum celebration, comparing it (as does Gamber) to a TV cooking show.

  8. Nathan says:

    Oh, my. Kennedy’s entire argument is based on his unsubstantiated assertions about the motives of those implementing the new translation, not on any merit of the translations themselves. How on earth does the current version, with its deliberate mistranslation of the texts of the Holy Mass, provide “the energy of a sacramental system to ground them in and guide them through the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (the overwhelming and enthralling mystery) of existence,” even if that concept were not completely immanent?

    Are the advocates of rupture really grasping at straws as much as this article appears to?

    In Christ,

  9. SonofMonica says:

    After reading all the drivel in the combox over there, I’ve decided most of them are probably Episcopalians at heart, if not in membership. I’m quite sure of it, actually. One thing I can’t figure out is why these folks seem to need Rome’s approval for what they want to do (women’s ordination, lay presidency, gender-neutral liturgy, etc.). If they don’t believe what Rome teaches, then why don’t they just go do what they want… like the Episcopalians?

  10. PaterAugustinus says:

    To Melody Faith: – That doesn’t surprise me; in fact, that’s precisely what I was thinking as I read Kennedy’s citation of Campbell… I thought, “surely Campbell would be amongst the first to criticize the degradation of liturgical life in Catholicism, as a great abandonment of the ‘Sophia Perennis’ and the mythopoeic.” I’m no disciple of Campbell, but *anybody* who is capable of approaching spirituality with even the slightest, tiniest bit of genuine respect for its profundity and otherworldliness (rather than as a – pardon me for saying – masturbatory act of self-adulation), could never see the liturgical abuses of the past half-century as a legitimate spiritual expression. I precisely expected Campbell to be the type, who wouldn’t approve of “the spirit of Vatican II” (the council documents aside). If Kennedy wants to invoke any argument about a “great tear” and “mythic disassociation” and “The Wasteland,” he obviously doesn’t see that all the force of that argument lies against him. And, that’s to say nothing of his ridiculously wrong conception of the Church as the “Sacramentum Mundi,” when really she is the “Bride of Christ” and the “Heavenly Jerusalem,” which comes down from Heaven.

    To those with better Latin skills than myself – I notice, Fr. Z, that you put forth a translation of a Super Oblata prayer, which you intentionally left sort of clunky (and so labelled it), in order to highlight the densely-packed semantic content. I had one question about the use of the future passive participle, and I wonder if you (or other accomplished Latinists) would comment on the following translation of the oration:

    Ecclesiae tuae, Domine, munera placatus assume,
    quae et misericors offerenda tribuisti,
    et in nostrae salutis potenter efficis transire mysterium.

    “As One kindly disposed, O Lord, take unto Yourself Your Church’s gifts, which You have both given unto us for the offering, and also mightily cause to pass into the Mystery of our salvation.”

    I know the “offerenda” technically means “things to be offered” or “things needing to be offered,” etc… my question is whether we can emphasize the “verbal” aspect of the word (as opposed to the “substantive” aspect), and so have “which You have given to us for the offering,” as opposed to “which You have given us as things to be offered.” If I remember right, this is usually only done when the future passive participle is singular and neuter – i.e., “sacerdos venit ad offerendum,” “the priest came (deliberately) for the offering/with the intent to offer” – but, it seems to flow more easily here, despite the euter plural of the participle.

    Or, is there no way of getting around the fact that “ad+singular future passive participle” just CAN’T be translated the same way as “plural future passive partciple+finite verb?” In which case, perhaps it would be better to say, “which gifts-to-be-offered You have both given unto us, and also mightily cause to pass into the Mystery of our salvation.”

    What do folk think?

  11. janek3615 says:

    Professor Kennedy’s assertions are entirely consistent with his role as a mandarin of the “Spirit” of Vatican II. Like his counterparts, Bishop Gumbleton and Father McBrien, noted above previously by TNCath, Kennedy sees the mandarins’ past attempts at reducing the liturgy of the Mass to pedestrian piffle now permanently damaged by a return to some of the reverence, beauty and grace that made the Catholic Mass such a bit of heaven on earth.

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    Eugene Cullen Kennedy is old-fashioned, rigid and stuck in his own ways. He hates change and is a fuddy-duddy. Somebody tell him that he must start full and active participation in what the Church has decided for him, even if it is a new translation he doesn’t personally like.

  13. muckemdanno says:

    Melody Faith beat me to the punch. Joseph Campbell seemed downright scandalized by the abandonment of Latin and the ‘reform’

    Fr Z is correct regardless…what does Campbell have to do with it, as a non-believer?

  14. LawrenceK says:

    Fr. Z and Pater Augustinus, although your translations of this prayer are not identical, you both appear to take “placatus” as modifying “Domine”.

    Is this permitted? If “Domine” were attached to a form of placatus, wouldn’t that form have to be placate? Or is this correct because the vocative “Domine” is an interjection, and “placatus” is modifying the implicity the subject of the verb “assume”, which is the unspoken nominative Dominus?

    (A related question: Why does the Gloria switch from the vocative to the nominative in the middle of the line “Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris”, and then stay in the nominative for a while and then switch back to the vocative? At one point I had idly speculated that it was because there was a disagreement about the vocative form of agnus, so someone decided the nominative was safer! But that seems an unlikely and perhaps irreverent explanation.)

  15. TJerome says:

    Gumby, Kennedy, etal, are sad, little men, so rigid and non-pastoral, stuck in the 1960s. Pray for them.

  16. Andrew says:


    The name is “Dominus” not “Dominus Placatus” therefore you have “Domine” not “Domine Placate”. The same goes for the Gloria.

  17. PaterAugustinus says:


    Yes, the “Domine” is an exclamation, a short aside. If we had the vocative “placate,” I would want it to appear closer (i.e., next to) the “Domine,” grouping them as a unit. Then the phrase would be translated something like, “O Well-Pleased Lord, receive the gifts of Thy Church…” etc.

    As it is, the “placatus” is functioning in an almost adverbial sense. In Greek we would call it an “adverbial participle of manner,” but I’ve never heard that mentioned as a category of Latin grammar. So far as I can make it out, the participle is acting as a predicate nominative, standing in for the “Lord” who was just invoked. I.e., “Lord… as One Who is well-pleased, receive the gifts of Thy Church.”

    Regarding the Gloria, I don’t have a certain grammatical answer. My best guess, however, would be that the nominatives following the “Domine Deus” are also functioning as predicate nominatives, for clarity’s sake.

    To explain: if we left all of those titles in the vocative – “Domine Deus, Agne Dei, Fili Patre,” it could sound like we are invoking three separate Persons: “O Lord God! O Lamb of God! O Father’s Son!” But the Gloria addresses two different Persons, each time invoking either Person as “Lord God” and then ascribing titles to Him. The predicate nominatives specifiy which Lord God is being invoked, by grammatically linking the following titles to the most recent vocative (by implying a linking verb). It’s as if they were saying “I’m invoking You, O Lord God… namely, You Who are Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty; and now I’m invoking You, O Lord God… that is, You Who are the Lamb of God and Son of the Father.” If they were all left in the vocative, one could feel like each invocation was a separate Person; the predicate nominatives specify which Person was just invoked by implying the linking verb, and thus linking the nominatives with their preceding vocative.

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