Anti-translation “What if we just said, ‘wait’?” priest throws in the towel

towelA reader sent a link to an interesting piece in the Seattle In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

My emphases and comments.

“What if we said, ‘wait’?” Vatican won’t

Posted by Joel Connelly on February 27, 2011  [This fellow has written about this fellow before and we looked at it here.]

A prominent Catholic pastor in Seattle is “letting go” of his campaign against a new Latinized translation of the church liturgy, but not his convictions in starting it. [“Latinized”? A curious word.  I wonder if it is accurate.]

It is the people who will have the last word on the new missal once it is introduced,” Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, said in a Sunday morning homily.  [I am not what the implications of this are supposed to be.]

Noting that the missal will be introduced later this year, [Yes, it is a done deal.] Ryan added:  “This is neither the time nor the place for arguing the matter.”  He pledged to work toward harmonious introduction of the new language into the cathedral’s worship. [Okay!  Well, I must say that if he intends to do that, then he is a stand-up guy.  I think he did a lot of damage before, but this is a step toward repairing that damage.]

Ryan caused a national stir among Catholic priests, bishops and scholars, when he wrote a critical 2009 article for the Jesuit magazine America. [In justice, I think he ought to submit another article to America, indicating his new position.]

He launched a campaign entitled “What if we said ‘Wait’?” aimed at taking a second look — involving the laity [How was that supposed to happen?  And who among the laity?  Where they supposed to do translations from Latin?  Vote on the translations?] — at liturgical handiwork of the Vatican’s powerful, insular Congregation for Divine Worship. [“insular”… sounds bad…]

The new translations demonstrate that precise translation of Latin texts into English can result in language that is “awkward, arcane, clumsy and in many cases far removed from the way people speak,” Ryan wrote in America. [Why should liturgical language mirror the way people speak?  That seems to be contrary to the entire history of the language of worship.]

The texts will have Catholics using such phrases as “consubstantial with the Father,” “serene and kindly countenance,” “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin,” and “send down your spirit like the dewfall.”

Such language, Ryan told his congregation Sunday, he felt to be  “a step away from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council on the renewal of the liturgy,” and the Council’s stress on an enhanced decision-making role for the world’s bishops. [What an odd statement.  Why does having a liturgical language different from the way people speak in the street – which people and which street is unclear – a step away from the Second Vatican Council?  Are the to believe that the Fathers of the Council wanted sloppy language which constantly changes?  But wait, … he said “a step away from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council…”.]

Ryan shared with his congregation what has been a struggle with the new language in the light of Jesus’ call in the gospel for trust.  It was a theme of Sunday’s reading from the St. Matthew Gospel.

As a young priest, Ryan stood in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Paul VI proclaimed reforms in the church.  Bishop Raymond Hunthausen of Helena, Montana — a future Seattle archbishop — was one of the youngest bishops at the global gathering. [brrrrrrrr]

But the Vatican isn’t waiting, and a majority of American bishops support the new translations, which “stacks the deck” against those urging a more deliberate approach, Ryan said Sunday.  [A more “deliberate” approach?  Quousque tandem? Deliberation by whom?  On whose schedule?]

“As the saying goes, they’re coming soon to a church near you,” Ryan added. (Use of the new texts will start in the pre-Christmas season of Advent, which is the beginning of the church year.”

With the Vatican set on the texts, “It would be hard to put forth a case for worrying,” Ryan said, and personal views must yield to a larger faith that God’s work will be done.

Still, as Ryan explained, acceptance has not come easily.  As pastor of a large, diverse congregation, he has long advocated a major role for the laity in the life of the cathedral — including its worship. He noted Sunday that it was lay Catholics who “spoke up and told the awful truth” in making the church face up to clerical sex abuse.

“Trusting in God is not passive acquiescence,” Ryan said.

His homily was greeted by a strong ovation from worshipers at St. James. Ryan promptly shushed it. [Sooo… ]

The Seattle cathedral is known for traditional, and often beautiful liturgies[An odd phrase, no?] Ryan shared his reservations about awkward and arcane language at a service where selections from the Missa de angelis were sung, and Communion music was the Agnus Dei from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

And, unlike many cathedrals of Europe, St. James was packed for Sunday mass.

If Fr. Ryan is going to work to implement the new translation, without polemics, then he is to be applauded.  And yet, because his previous outcry was so public, I think his change of position should be similarly public.  Am I wrong?

Reserved WDTPRS kudos… or, to “latizinize” it, Kudos iuxta modum.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    A good turn to the correct direction.

    I’m wondering what my pastor will do with the new translation. He likes a folksy tone inserted into the rubric, by gosh, by golly.

  2. Tom in NY says:

    Etiam lucem vidit. Deo gratias.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  3. templariidvm says:

    I apologize – he is from my archdiocese. I was hoping our new archbishop might have a “discussion” with him. Even the pastor of my parish, who previously has spoken in less than favorable terms of the corrected translations has jumped in with both feet! The first class to cover the translations was yesterday, and targeted the lay ministers of the parish. More classes are to come!

    As to the wording of the prayers, I agree that some are a little awkward to speak – the first time. A touch more poetry MAY have helped some. On the other hand, should we praise God in the same words that we use talking to friends in the aisle of a Walmart? Higher language helps lead to higher thoughts, much as beautiful airy cathedrals, and appropriate liturgical music lead our thoughts heavenward and away from ourselves. I can’t speak of other countries, but America is using its use of English. When is the last time anyone has read a recent American novel and been impressed with the authors use of language? Any recent songs have beautiful touching lyrics? Society has dumbed itself down – let’s keep our worship intelligent, reverent and Christ-centered.

  4. templariidvm says:

    Correction to the above – it should say “America is LOSING its use of English”

  5. frjim4321 says:

    With templariidvm I suspect that Fr. Ryan was threatended with reprisals.

  6. Joseph says:

    According to what I have read in my local archdiocan paper, there is no date set yet even for the implementation of the revised translation here in Canada. That would not surprise me at all, with that kind of roster of bishops we have here north of the border.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    When I teach English Composition, one of the first things I tell my students is that we do not write like we speak. Colloquial English is not formal enough for writing. It is definitely not formal enough for Liturgical use. Liturgical language, by definition, includes poetry, with metaphor, allegory, and formulaic prayers which have been in the consciousness of humans since Old Testament times.

    Thank God for the new translation.This priest should write another article publicly recanting his other opinions as well. Sadly, he is just showing his ignorance concerning Liturgical language. As to his “threat” concerning the people’s response, I find that odd and provocative. Most people will either not hear the difference, or not care.

  8. Dave N. says:

    I’m left wondering what the larger-than-life-sized St. James processional puppets must be feeling right now. Have they been betrayed?

  9. Pledger says:

    It’s worth noting that the Archdiocese of Seattle recently received a new Archbishop….one wonders if he quietly put his foot down…

  10. jmcj says:

    According to the translation on the USCCB website, “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin” has been removed. I wish that it had been kept. It had a specific theological meaning!

  11. shane says:

    The new translation does have problems but it’s still vastly superior to the current ICEL paraphrase. One thing I would really love would be for the thees and thous to be brought back.

  12. ghp95134 says:

    frjim4321: “…With templariidvm I suspect that Fr. Ryan was threatended with reprisals.

    You mean he was read the “Riot Act” by his bishop? Good for his excellency! By way of analogy: the calling an errant captain upon the colonel’s carpet is not “threatening with reprisals” … rather, the captain is getting a course correction from his brigade commander — and lucky not to be charged with insubordination or cashiered.

    –Guy Power

  13. BobP says:

    They need to hold classes on translations? Sort of defeats the concept of having vernacular so one can understand better, doesn’t it?

  14. BobP says:

    >”According to the translation on the USCCB website, “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin” has been removed. I wish that it had been kept. It had a specific theological meaning!”<

    I think they just removed the word "virgin" from the new English Bible. Replaced it with "young woman" which really would have sounded weird in the Canon.

  15. RichR says:

    The “Spirit” blows wherever “it” wills.

  16. JKnott says:

    Some good news.
    Friends in the Seattle area have commented to me that their new Archbishop Sartain would possibly be supportive of the FSSP.

  17. TNCath says:

    I daresay that Fr. Ryan’s new boss, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, has, in his quiet, unassuming way, clearly let Fr. Ryan know that he needed to cease and desist his campaign. Regardless of what Archbishop Sartain may think about the new translations, I can assure you from personal experience that he is a company man who is not going to tolerate a movement like “What if we just said, ‘wait'” on his beat.

  18. CharlesG says:

    “The texts will have Catholics using such phrases as… “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin,”…”

    This was changed to “Joseph, her spouse” in the 2010 text. The article is incorrect.

  19. sejoga says:

    What was wrong with “spouse of the same virgin”? That’s not going to be in it now? That was one of the “new” phrases I was most looking forward to hearing!

  20. benedictgal says:

    All we need now is for Fr. Ruff to quit his ranting and issue a recant. Sadly, he’s the one who has been really stirring the pot against the translations. I have clashed with him a few times.

  21. tzard says:

    I wonder how one works for the “harmonious introduction of the new language”, while still preaching against it during Mass? And the hints (if I read it right) of a revolt by the laity? I don’t think his position has changed, as he’s getting in his last shots.

    It may be the best we can hope for – I’m sure he’ll get used to it, just as he got used to the new lectionary in 2002. But I wonder about his flock….

    On a aside – this is one place where the misuse of the word “felt” instead of “thought” may be closer to the truth.

  22. Johnsum says:

    IMHO, the problem for those objecting is not really linguistic inelegance but the more accurate theological teachings in the new Mass texts. The dissent is about the faith. However, because the dissenters do not believe what the newly translated prayers say, the first visceral reaction is to attack the words and refuse to say the prayers. (One can almost detect Screwtape’s hand in this debate.) The ambiguities embedded in the V-2 council documents and the present language of the Mass were not accidental but a deliberate reformation of the Church. Words do have the power to reform understanding. Now that the jig is up, of course, the focus of the debate is linguistic. The language is bad! the Spirit of the Council is trespassed upon! We heard the last argument too many times in the last 40 + years and finally most of the faithful know what it really means.

  23. rfox2 says:

    Regarding this priest’s citation of the Vatican 2 documents in order to support his claim that the revised translation of the English Roman Missal isn’t consistent with the aims of the Council: we in the Church spend an enormous amount of time doing hand wringing over the proper interpretation of the documents, both on the right and the left. Ive had several unfortunate conversations with priests and deacons about the kegitimacy of their latest liturgical innovation and its relevance to Vatican 2. When are we going to start asking the questions about why the Second Vatican Council necessitates such extensive hermeneutics? What is inherent to the documents that elicits all of this hand wringing and contention?

  24. Henry Edwards says:

    Johnsum: MHO, the problem for those objecting is not really linguistic inelegance but the more accurate theological teachings in the new Mass texts. The dissent is about the faith. However, because the dissenters do not believe what the newly translated prayers say, the first visceral reaction is to attack the words and refuse to say the prayers.

    Your have it right. Their criticism of language and style, surely the least of their concerns, is hypocritical. I wonder why they don’t just come out–so to speak–and say forthrightly what they do and don’t believe.

  25. Legisperitus says:

    I’m quite looking forward to the language not sounding like “the way people speak,” but in particular I’m not going to miss “Bless and approve our offering.” It sounds like a CEO telling somebody in middle management to use his rubber stamp: “When this comes across your desk, bless and approve it so we can get it outta here.”

  26. Torkay says:

    I applaud Johnsum’s post, along with Henry Edwards. Nail hit on head and crushed. Perhaps the “new springtime” will now be taken off its life support, which is dissent, rebellion and pride.

  27. pyrosapien says:

    I have to believe that this (Fr. Ryan’s about face) is from our new Archbishop, J. Peter Sartain’s influence.

    He recently celebrated Mass at my parish as part of his tour of the archdiocese (he’s traveling to every Deanery). For three hours after Mass he greeted all comers who would brave the reception line. A friend of mine asked the Archbishop to pray for her mother who is sick with cancer. THREE DAYS LATER HER MOTHER GETS A LETTER IN THE MAIL PERSONALLY SIGNED BY THE ARCHBISHOP ASSURING HER OF HIS DAILY PRAYERS AND EXPRESSING HIS SOLIDARITY WITH HER.
    +Sartain’s homily at Mass was very nice and talked about the dangers of taking too seriously the false hope of the modern culture and to look to Christ. I think he’s the real deal. There is much water to bail out of Seattle’s boat, but I’m certain (Sartain) that our new Archbishop will do significant dewatering.

  28. Frank H says:

    Interesting, isn’t it, that Fr. Ruff’s blog briefly posted an item on Fr. Ryan’s “letting go” of the WIWJSW campaign, and then removed it. Must be embarrassing that their hero has backed down.

  29. Acolythus says:

    I agree with pyrosapien (awesome name by the way…) and all the others who have said it is due to our Archbishop’s influence.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    “Threatened with reprisals” is an odd way to put it. Perhaps he should threaten not to collect his pay at the end of the month?

    Look, a priest’s pay and benefits come from the diocese, as do the basic directions on what his assignment is, and what he is supposed to do in his assignment. There is nothing wrong with this. Unless, of course, one is a loose cannon and thinks that they are absolutely such a gift to the world that they should be paid just for existing. [In which case, call the men in the white coats.]

  31. It’s simpler than all this.

    When the bishop is Sartain in his faith, so are his priests. :)

  32. AnAmericanMother says:

    “threatened with reprisals”? What an odd way of putting it.

    If you work for Coca-Cola and you trash your employer in public and sing the praises of Pepsi, when your boss calls you on the carpet, is that “reprisals”?

    If you are a platoon sergeant and you kinda run off the rails, if the captain gives you a talking-to, is that “reprisals”?

    Only if you believe that this priest is a completely free agent and can believe and say whatever he likes — even if it is contrary (or in violent opposition) to what his bishop and the Holy Father have set out — without any consequences whatever, could you possibly imagine this is “reprisals”. That sort of thinking has resulted in these ‘loose canons’ (sp. intentional) who have become so set in their ways and have developed such a coterie that many bishops are afraid to exercise any leadership or (oh, horrors!) discipline.

    Even the Anglicans have limits. See the Apostate Bishop in Lewis’s The Great Divorce. It’s just not right to take the name and place and honor (and pay) of a priest of the Church while at the same time decrying what She is teaching.

  33. roberto says:

    send down your spirit like the dewfall.”
    I take is from the second Eucharistic prayer for reconciliation.
    que santifiques con el rocío de tu Espiritu estos dones
    I don’t have the Latin text. But what other translation could there be:
    “Sanctify with the dew of your Spirit these gifts”?
    The “rocío ” of the Holy Spirit is a powerful image. Nuestra Señora del Rocío is an advocation of the Virgin popular in Andalucia. Her feast is the 1st Saturday after Pentecost. It celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary as part of the history of Salvation.

    Can we just say it: English is just a poor liturgical language.

  34. BenedictXVIFan says:

    Fr. Ryan should say it thusly: “As the saying goeth, they art to cometh soon to a church near thou.” After all, I do not believe he ever led a campaign against

    Our Father who ART in Heaven
    HALLOWED be THY name
    THY kingdom come
    THY will be done
    On earth as it is in Heaven
    Give us this day our daily bread
    And forgive us our TRESPASSES
    As we forgive those who TRESPASS against us
    And LEAD US NOT into temptation
    But DELIVER us from evil. AMEN.

    We all know unpopular the wording of the Lord’s Prayer has been for the last 40+ years.

  35. frjim4321 says:

    CMW, actually diocesan priests do not receive compensation for “work done,” or for “towing the line” as you suggest. Priests are owed a minimal, meager subsistence. Bishops are required to provide it. This is Canon Law 101. Bishops cannot arbirarily punish priests by revoking their subsistence. Bishops can transfer a priest from a desireable assignment to an undesirable assignement, although pastors are more difficult to move. I see Father Ryan listed as “pastor” of the cathedral. That is unusual, because cathedrals usually have rectors and the bishop is really the pastor of his cathedral. I would guess rectors are easier to move than pastors. So, Father Ryan may have been threatened with a change of assignment. Father Ruff, on the other hand, is a member of a religious community with a particular charism for safeguarding the liturgy of the church. Thus, he was not likely to be punished for his courageous and forthright exposition of the difficulties with the troubled new attempt at a translation of the Roman Missal. With respect to the removal of the post on Father Ryan on PTB it is possible that the comments were generating more heat than light, which in the past has caused certain strings to be removed.

  36. AnAmericanMother says:

    Ah, “courageous and forthright exposition . . . ” where have we heard that before?

    I meant what I said. You have been in
    Hell: though if you don’t go back you may call it Purgatory.”

    “Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you’ll
    tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I’m not angry.”

    “But don’t you know? You went there because you are an apostate.”

    “Are you serious, Dick?”


    “This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are
    penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of
    argument, that those opinions were mistaken.”

    “Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?”

    “There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and
    intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest
    opinions fearlessly followed-they are not sins.”

    “I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my
    life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are
    honest opinions.”

    “Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I
    asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased
    to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I
    openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole
    chapter. I took every risk.”

    “What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what
    actually came-popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and
    finally a bishopric?”

    “Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?”

    “Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now.”

    The Great Divorce

  37. We are off topic. I am going to delete comments.

  38. asophist says:

    “Such language, Ryan told his congregation Sunday, he felt to be “a step away from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council…” – Fr. Ryan

    I am beginning to wonder how it is that so much balderdash and claptrap is “justified” in the name of the “Spirit” of the Second Vatican Council. Makes me want to ask, a la the SSPX, whether a truly good council could spawn such a bad “Spirit?” If the “Spirit” of Vatican II is not the Holy Spirit, then what is it? Why did it come from this council?

  39. Martial Artist says:

    Intending nothing negative about his predecessor Archbishop emeritus, his Excellency Alexander Brunett, I was initially cheered by one of the first public statements of his successor, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, following the announcement of the latter’s appointment to the See of Seattle (specifically, “To be Catholic is to be pro-life.”). That sort of straightforward and honest speech doesn’t leave the faithful hearer any significant “manœuvering room.”

    Thus my almost instantaneous reaction to the article was, similarly to those of templariidvm, frjim4321, , and Acolythus, that Archbishop had likely Sartain “counseled” Fr. Ryan. Whether or not that is the case, and the report that Fr. Ryan maintains his personal reservations would seem to support that it was, it is assuredly long overdue, at least with regard to this issue, if not to any others. As parishioners at the Archdiocese’s sole Dominican parish, my wife and I have been spared, Deo gratias, the sorts of horrors and liturgical abuses that are reported on this blog with some regularity.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  40. Brad says:

    Roberto, my brother, no we just can’t say it. That’s quite insulting, actually. Modern English is a hybrid language, as you know, that is not truly a romance language, as you know. Lots of Germanic etc mixed in. As such is has a lot of hybrid vigor and sometimes 10 words for every one in Spanish, for example. The skill comes in choosing from among the 10. If linguists can’t work with the etymological bounty that is English, that is their shortcoming, not the shortcoming of the language.

    I actually think “send down your spirit like the dewfall” sounds quite pretty in an Anglican, Thomas Hardy, rural charm sort of way. There are several ways this phrase could be reworked in English. Some even better!

  41. jt83 says:

    In my limited interactions with Fr. Ryan, I’ve known him to be a kind and gentle man who truly strives to be a good pastor to his flock. However, I do believe he was wrong in his attempts to impede the corrected translation of the Roman Missal. I hope that he is sincere in his pledge to promote a “harmonious transition”.

    As an aside, I can say that the reception of His Excellency, Peter Sartain as Archbishop of Seattle has been TREMENDOUS. The local church there is blessed to have such a holy pastor.

  42. JuliB says:

    Ah yes, Archbishop Sartain…. recently ripped from the loving arms of the Joliet Diocese, leaving us Bishop-less.

    He’s awful, and you should just send him back!

    (That didn’t convince you? I can try a few more comments… oh never mind…)

    He did give support (I don’t know the whole story) for the EF in the diocese. There’s a daily EF mass given by Fr. Valentine (I love the name!), FSSP, in Naperville. On Sundays, he travels to a Church in Joliet to give a second EF mass. Due to my work schedule, I can only rarely attend (I travel on Sunday afternoons for work), but I enjoy it.

    He did away with our icky, unread diocesan newspaper and had it replaced with a jazzy small magazine that is in color and actually educates and informs people.

    Joliet’s loss is Seattle’s gain. May the angels help him!

  43. cmm says:

    Fr Ryan’s homily is now visible in its entirety on the home page of Seattle’s St James cathedral.

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