QUAERITUR: New translation and inclusive language

From a reader:

What is and is not currently allowed to be used at Mass? What will and won’t be allowed after November? What falls into the “bad but nothing to be done about it” category and what can be taken to the bishop or beyond if it occurs?

Most of our liturgy refers to God and Christ as male, but there are frequent hymns that use inclusive language for the people in general, even when quoting scripture (yesterday we had “I am the Bread of Life, you who come to me shall not hunger, you who believe in me shall not thirst; no one can come to me, unless the Father beckons”; the Gloria is often said as “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to God’s people on earth” with language about God being the King remaining — that sort of “soft” inclusiveness, which I believe is an attempt to appease all sides).

First, what is permitted to be used at Mass is what is published in the official books to be used at Mass, that is the Latin edition of the Missale Romanum and/or an approved translation of the Ordinary Form Missale Romanum and its Lectionarium.  Approved books with chants for the Mass can be used, for example, the Graduale Romanum.

In these approved liturgical books you say or sing what is in black print.  Easy.

Second, this may sound a little hard or unrealistic, but those “hymns” to which you refer are not really part of the official liturgical texts of Mass.  See my comment above, about the Graduale Romanum.

If there is some problem with the text of a hymn, just get rid of the hymn.  Don’t sing it in church.

Just say “NO” to bad hymns.

If people don’t like some aspect of the new, corrected translation we will begin to use in November, then it is always possible to opt for Latin.  Latin eliminates the problems of a) bad theology, b) illicit texts, c) inadequate translations, b) excluding anyone of a different sex or species or astrological sign.

The basic solution to all of this is summed up in

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. FrCharles says:

    The other day I happened to see one of the evaluation forms given to the supervisors of our friars in formation. One of the options read, “Did the friar extended himself/herself beyond the terms of the agreement.” How about that for being inclusive!

  2. benedetta says:

    Yes. No bad hymns. Go with Latin if in doubt. And always, Say the Black and Do the Red. Please. If you love God’s people, please do these small things. And God’s people will be grateful to you for the chance to pray to God with others in the church, with dignity intact. In addition we will be encouraged and refreshed by this care shown to us. What Fr. Z outlines is good, for excellent, solid reasons. We can trust these sources. They want, the good for us, to live and to flourish. We do not need to fight or second-guess or undermine. And fear is useless. It’s ok to let it all go, to turn and believe in the Good News.

    “I am the bread of life” has been sung, and it’s had it’s day. You can still listen to it in the car or at home if you wish to keep listening to it or the other ten or so on the playlist every week. Perhaps some of us have grown weary of it after twenty to thirty years of mostly just that. Nice though how the antiphons and the like do change constantly, you have built-in novelty just on the Church’s calendar of readings alone. But I think overall that yes it’s a bad hymn. I am just opting to not sing a hymn with fellow worshippers as if I am the Lord Himself. I am not He. Though I certainly don’t doubt that He has sent the Comforter to be with us. But no, I personally will not “raise you up on the last day.” That would only be through Him, and through His Power and His Mercy.

    All I can say is, as a former college radio dj, that look. In the 70s and the 80s and 90s and continuing on, not all of the songs that were on heavy rotation, whether commercial radio or mtv, were also best loved or in demand. If you know anything about the music industry in our times then you realize that certain individuals made choices about what would get the most play, and that these in turn got the most play, and then for lack of any other choices to hum along to, they gained popularity and people went out and bought the…vinyl…or 8 track…It’s an analogy. Sometimes what you hear isn’t even popular, or singable, and you look around and, people aren’t singing it. So maybe a little freshening up would not be a terrible thing. There are choices.

    Yes there are different hymnals. There are options. They don’t all have the same hymns in them, that’s all. There is often a wider selection than meets the ear in a given rotation of Sundays at the average parish. But even the average missalette reflects a greater diversity than can be discovered.

    Try it out for a few months. If all your weekly attendees leave then write back Fr. Z and let him know and ask what can be done. I’m guessing, your weekly attendees are going to keep on coming. People have a way of continuing to attend Mass even if their presence doesn’t seem particularly appreciated or always welcomed or even if nothing is as they might have hoped. This can be, for decades, apparently.

  3. skull kid says:

    Father, in my parish, the Creed is altered by the priests so it goes like this: ”For us and for our salvation…”

    What can be done? I believe the new translation won’t make any difference, they will continue as before. I’m fed up and considering leaving my parish.

  4. skull: I think you should ask the parish priest to explain why he does that.

  5. skull kid says:

    I will Father. I’m wondering if now is the time to do it, or would it be better to wait until the new translation comes in.

    I should add that there are other issues that would contribute towards my leaving the parish, not just the Creed thing.

  6. Maltese says:

    Well I guess a New Order mass in Latin is better than a Novus Ordo mass in English or Sanskrit; at least they don’t have a side-by-side missal for the NO (that I know of) so most people won’t understand it, and therefore realize how banal it is!

    The new translation is going to soon require a new new translation, as the great theologian Msgr. Gherardini so aptly puts it:

    “[T]here will soon [this was written in 2009] be available a new translation of the various texts, certainly improved regarding some verses, but I will not marvel at all if for other passages there will be more problems than in the first edition resulting from certain exegetical or historical-theological eccentricities which I myself have already pointed out…the liturgical reform inserted into the latreutic and theocentric perspective that of the anthropocentric, and this for man’s sake…From this comes the constant need of revisions, adaptations, and new translations.”


    “[T]he Liturgy which systematically boycotted the versus Domino orientation, the sacredness of the rite, the sense of latria, the irreplaceable beauty of Gregorian chant, the solemnity of gestures and vestments, and kneeling…[was committed in a] boundless cult of man…”


    “And if someone passed through that door to introduce into the Church a Liturgy subversive to the very nature and primary end of the Sacred Liturgy…the responsibility for this, in the final analysis, is none other than the conciliar text itself.”

    Thank you, your Holiness, for Summorum Pontificum!

  7. skull kid says:

    One thing just occurred to me, concerning my local situation. I am training to be a catechist. If I raise issues concerning the liturgy, I risk making enemies with liberal clergy who still control the diocese and can put a discreet stop to the aspirations of any budding catechist.

  8. EXCHIEF says:

    When (some) Bishops–like the temporary one in my Diocese–do their best to deter Massess in Latin a “little thing” like inappropriate and unapproved inclusive language won’t get in the way of them doing it their way.

  9. benedetta says:

    skull kid, I’d go with the catechist work, first and foremost. Eventually you can circle back. You have to figure that a priest who does that has made a calculation. They have the power to do that I suppose. I myself am not convinced that by doing that they are conveying to the people what they think they are conveying. Sometimes I wonder if that sort of thing as a matter of fact generates more resentment than can ever be accounted for — needlessly.

  10. SemiSpook says:

    @Skull Kid: I feel your pain. The parish I spent most of my formative years in also did some toying with the Creed, only they went (and continue to do so) full PC and changed a somewhat important line:

    “and became man” –> “and shared human life with us”

    It makes me shudder to think that at one time I was okay with this. Of course, there’s that whole thing with the “Spirit of Vatican II” going on in that church (as well as in that particular Diocese).

    I will take some solace in this (and please forgive the language): at least we’ll hopefully not have to deal with that damned Gather hymnal anymore. As my biology teacher said about our textbook years ago (which can equally apply to that Gather abomination), it’s only good for two things: a source of insulation and a source of heat. 32 weeks and counting (but who’s REALLY counting, anyways?)!

  11. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Re: “inclusive language”…

    This whole subject is almost entirely bogus for a variety of reasons which I will leave it to our genial host to address whenever seems best–as I think he has previously.

    All that said…if there is someone who has a bee in his–or her!–bonnet about this issue, and is also nervous about the improved translation…then here is some cheering news you can share as you may wish:

    The new translation–by virtue of being more faithful to the Latin, actually is more “inclusive”!

    Many of the prayers where it says “Deus” were rendered “Father” in the outgoing translation; the new translation, more properly, renders that “God”; and so it goes.

    Of course, many folks will say, they don’t care about this particular hobby-horse; even so, it may amuse you to point this out at some point.

  12. Maltese says:

    When one prays the Sacrifice in Latin, one is praying with Catholics a thousand years ago, and a thousand years hence, as Lefebvre writes:

    “Latin is a universal language. In using it, the liturgy forms us into a universal, i.e., Catholic, communion. By contrast, localizing and individualizing the liturgy robs it of this dimension which can make such a deep impression on souls.” [Open Letter to Confused Catholics]

  13. jflare says:

    Well, I imagine a few folks here won’t like this, but I’d offer a different solution:
    Ask around regarding the original lyrics and request that the musicians use the older lyrics in Mass.
    I know, I know, a whole bunch of people would prefer that some of this music didn’t exist. I’m sorry, but I’m not one of them. I’ve never had a problem understanding the idea behind several compositions; I think they’re quite beautiful. (Some of the stuff from the 90’s even works quite well so long as it’s a slightly creative instrumental piece….)

    So anyway, if you’re interested, you can always ask some “older” folk about what the music said originally…..

  14. Gail F says:

    Skull Kid: Get your catechist certification, or whatever you have in your area, before you do anything else. That’s what I did — under the assumption that if I wasn’t willing to be trained in something, I had no right to complain about it. Guess what? It didn’t really make any difference, except that — yes — no one can say that I wouldn’t get the training or give the classes a chance. Some of the classes were really good, and all of them had some good material in them. But I am not a critic from “outside.” My pastor uses the sort of weenie inclusive language (not full-bore, but enough that it often actually changes the theology), skips parts of mass (most often the Creed), and changes the words of the liturgy all the time. Some of it, I think, is that he doesn’t have the sort of personality that would naturally read things as written, and some of it is deliberate. You have to pick your battles or you will be considered one of “those” people who aren’t happy with anything and who can and should be ignored. There are lots of things I’ve learned to overlook, and there are far worse places to be than the parish I’m in.

    That said… I have come to really hate hymns. There are some good contemporary hymns, and I do like some that many people love to hate, but on the whole music at mass is such a mess that I can hardly stand it. Songs people can’t sing, songs with heretical words, songs that are just plain annoying, performances at mass — !!!!!! I really would like to wash my hands of the songs. PLEASE, music directors, understand that many people feel this way!

  15. Gaz says:

    The great thing about singing the chant at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is that you don’t have to worry too much about what to sing . It’s not a question of “Father, will we sing Here I am or Beagle’s wings (sorry)” at the beginning of Mass; one sings the Introit! What has been lost in the 4-hymn and bits approach is that the choir is there to sing the parts of the Mass. In Ordinary-Form-land, it’s a case of trying to ensure that the chosen hymns gel with the theme of the Mass (whatever that is!). What is lost, ironically, is a breadth of psalmody and scripture contained in Introit, Offertory and Communio only so that it can be replaced with a couple of hymns that are very same-ish because the same ones get dragged out over and over again in the course of the Liturgical year.

  16. LisaP. says:

    Thank you, Father, for your answer to my question.
    I do know it’s a poor hymn made worse, I wondered if there were anything I could do about it. I’m guessing from the answers here that there really isn’t.

  17. skull kid says:

    Thanks for the advice everyone. One little thing occurred to me just now. It may seem obvious to all. If only there were enough EF Masses, or OF Masses offered conservatively, then we people would have a choice. We could vote with our feet. But it is in the liberals interest to see to it that there is a shortage of conservative Masses. They know that if we had a choice, we would abandon the centres of dissent and flock to the holy alternatives.

  18. jaykay says:

    skull kid: you asked about the “”For us and for our salvation…” thing in the Creed.

    I can only answer for Ireland, but they do that here as well and have done for some years. I believe – but may be wrong – that it was actually on an instruction from the Bishops’ Conference to do so. I still say the proper words… never got any funny looks.

    For the same reason they changed the original words of the Institution narrative (… the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for all men”) to “for you and for all…”.

    The good news of course is that the consecration will change in November when we revert to the proper translation of “for you and for many”. There has been so much comment over this that I doubt that many of them – prominent “look at me” dissenters excepted – would actually dare to stray from the proper text.

    The Creed remains “for us men…” but I have no doubt that our inclusive-minded clergy will continue to use the improper version, instructions from Bishops, Cardinals and Uncle Tom Cobbley notwithstanding, just because they think they’ll get away with it. The rot has gone deep over here.

    I will continue to use the proper version :)

  19. albinus1 says:

    That said… I have come to really hate hymns. There are some good contemporary hymns, and I do like some that many people love to hate, but on the whole music at mass is such a mess that I can hardly stand it. Songs people can’t sing, songs with heretical words, songs that are just plain annoying, performances at mass — !!!!!! I really would like to wash my hands of the songs. PLEASE, music directors, understand that many people feel this way!

    I sometimes wish that it were permitted to satisfy one’s Sunday Mass obligation with two weekday Masses instead. Then I would go to daily Mass twice a week just to miss the awful excuse for music on Sundays.

    I was one of those song leaders until I started going to the EF Mass (when I could) and started singing in the choir and Gregorian schola, so I have had to sing some really atrocious music in my liturgical life. What’s oddly amusing is that many “music ministry” people really do know how awful the music is and make fun of it.

  20. Most people don’t know that there are propers for the OF that are supposed to be used.

  21. Brad says:

    Do the myn and women who take issue with the creed’s “for us men” also have a problem with reading about man-eating tigers?

  22. jaykay says:

    Oops… shouldn’t be “Institution narrative” in post above – just “Institution”.

    albinus1: “What’s oddly amusing is that many “music ministry” people really do know how awful the music is and make fun of it”

    Our choirmaster is an odd mix of spirit of V2 and traditional – with the former tending to predominate slightly, such that he is of the opinion that we have two separate liturgies viz. “today’s liturgy” and “way back then”. Nevertheless he enthusiastically embraces polyphonic motets, plainchant, Mozart, Elgar etc. and is a very talented musician.

    However, far from making fun of some of the awful stuff, he often enough introduces some horror like the Haas “You will be my witnesses” or “We give you thanks”

    They’re not quite as bad as “Eagle’s Wings”; thankfully we haven’t looked at that for a few years now, but I’m never free of the awful suspicion that it will rise from its tomb some day…

  23. APX says:

    I just heard one of the new Glorias and I don’t know how they’re going to sing it. Even when I was growing up in the early 90s, the parts of the Mass that were sung, were simple, melodic and easy to sing. They also weren’t drawn out with added dribble. The Lamb of God, Holy Holy holy, and Lord Have Mercy were the same words as the English translation from Latin. It’s weird to listen to what I grew up with to what they use now. They’re not the same.

Comments are closed.