QUAERITUR: What to do with Missals with the old translation? A burning question!

From a priest:

When the new missals wit the new translation go into force, what are we supposed to do with all these old missals?

A good question!

This touches on what we are to do with sacred things when they wear out and are no longer useful or worthy for liturgical use for whatever reason.  For example, what to do with altar linens and vestments which are worn beyond the point of being fit for use?

The classic solution is that they should be burned and, ideally, the ashes possibly afterward mixed with water and then the mixture put into the earth. They could also be simply buried.

I imagine that a group of priests could pool their old and now superseded editions of the Sacramentary with the superseded ICEL translation and have a discreet book burning.  It could be more efficient, and even cheery, to do a large number at once.

While we can happily say “good riddance” to old translation, and perhaps shed a little tear of joy at the reduction of these volumes to ashes, we shouldn’t dispose of them carelessly: they do, after all, contain the Word of God.  If the translations were not good, they nevertheless command some respect.

However, if a cold beer is involved as the flames rise higher, I wouldn’t necessarily think that out of place, provided that scandal was avoided.

As I think of it, I believe that it was the practice of the Jews, with their sacred scrolls of the Torah and also prayer shawls, etc., to store them away when they were too worn until such a time as they could be buried.  Anything which had more than a few words of Scripture was to be handled with great care, not just thrown into the garbage.   This went even for children’s homework

Consider this in regard to missalettes in the pews of parish churches.  They also have the Word of God in them.  I suspect many or most of them are just tossed.  I have never been comfortable with that.

That said, I recommend that if parishes or priests have more than one of these book with the old translation, then one should be preserved as a reference.

The solution of disposal is chiefly for books which are worn out.

In the final analysis, they should not simply be put in the dustbin.


The March-April Newsletter of the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship addresses the question.

Here is the text, with my emphases and comments:

How to Dispose of Old Copies of the Sacramentary

The Secretariat of Divine Worship has received a number of timely inquiries regarding the disposition of copies of the current Sacramentary once the new Roman Missal, Third Edition has been implemented.

There is relatively little written about exactly what to do with liturgical books which have been replaced by updated or revised editions, but some related writings, as well as some common sense, can provide some context. The Book of Blessings, no. 1343, indicates that the Sacramentary, the Lectionary, and other liturgical books are counted among those articles used in the Sacred Liturgy which ought to be blessed using the rite provided for that purpose, the Order for the Blessing of Articles for Liturgical Use (nos. 1341-1359). The Latin De Benedictionibus, editio typica, however, does not explicitly mention the Missale among the articles that are properly blessed. [Some of you know my opinion of De Benedictionibus.]

Whether or not the Sacramentary has been blessed by an official rite, it is appropriate to treat it with care as it has been admitted into liturgical use.  [And it contains the Word of God as well.] Its disposal should be handled with respect. The Secretariat recommends burying the Sacramentary in an appropriate location on church grounds, or perhaps in a parish cemetery if there is one. Some have even suggested following a custom used in various Eastern Churches whereby liturgical books or Bibles are placed in the coffin of the deceased as a sign of devotion and love for the Liturgy. In lieu of burying old liturgical books, they could be burned, and the ashes placed in the ground in an appropriate location on church grounds. It is advisable to retain a copy of the Sacramentary for parish archives or liturgical libraries[This sounds to be, in substance, very much like what I answered, other than the interesting point about Eastern practices.]

Looking ahead to the reception of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, the above-mentioned blessing from the Book of Blessings could be used to bless copies of the Missal before their first use on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011. [On the other hand, using the Rituale Romanum would actually bless the books, which is the whole point.] The blessing could take place during a Mass on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, at the last weekday Mass prior to the First Sunday of Advent, or outside Mass at a separate gathering of liturgical ministers or other parish leaders.

Many parishes will also replace hymnals and other participation aids (such as hand missals) in light of updated editions corresponding to the new Roman Missal. While the Blessing of Articles for Liturgical Use also mentions hymnals, it might be difficult to appropriately dispose of a large number of copies of such books. After setting aside an appropriate number of copies for archives and libraries, other copies could be stored for use by prayer or study groups in the parish, offered to parishioners for their own private devotional use, or donated to other small communities that could effectively make use of them. Due to copyright agreements, annual hymnals and participation aids should be discarded after their prescribed period of use and cannot be retained for other uses in parishes.  [That “discarded” leaves me a little uncomfortable, for reasons explained above.]

I thank the priest commentator who alerted me to the USCCB answer to this burning question.

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, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr Martin Fox says:

    (attempting to keep a straight face)…

    Er, Father, would such a, um, bonfire, be a fit occasion for a suitable, shall we say, “liturgical dance”?

    (Runs away quickly)…

  2. Father G says:

    The March-April 2011 newsletter of the USCCB Committee of Divine Worship has an article on this topic: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/innews/newsletter-2011-03-04.pdf (scroll down to page 14)

  3. Fr. Fox: You left me with a sort of… Lord of the Flies image there for a moment.

    One would have to be very careful that none of the dancers stumbled and went into the fire with all that gauzy stuff. The fire is meant, after all, for sacred things.

  4. Father G: Thanks for that! I will update the top entry.

  5. Maltese says:

    In a similar vein, re: the particles of hosts (say those remaining in a paten), a beautiful tradition (long since discarded after the Church’s 1960’s Revolution) were put in a special drain that fed the gardens of churches monasteries…

  6. Rob Cartusciello says:

    If any parish/family members bury me with a bad ICEL translation of the Missal, I will do everything in my power to haunt them in the afterlife.

    I have assured them that the same will happen if “Eagles Wings” or “Jesus, I Know You Are Here” is sung at any time during my requiem Mass.

  7. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    Could one make the case that it is appropriate to store books to be burned until one is making ashes for Ash Wednesday? In that way, they could serve several specific purposes: they could save the cost of acquiring those ashes by other means; they could remind us “memento homo qui cinis es,….” and could show us that these things can, when used properly, leave a smudge on our foreheads.

    God bless,


  8. Maltese says:

    On another note, why not trash-can the NO, and retain the Traditional Latin Mass, and thereby forego the need to throw away our missals? [That isn’t going to happen, though. Not anytime soon.] Although the EF has changed over the years, it is by a slow, organic, process, not by radical imposition.

    Msgr. Gherardini has something appurtenant on this point:

    “There will soon be available a new translation of the various texts [of the Mass], 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….”

  9. jasoncpetty says:

    The old translation must decrease, the new must increase.

  10. Laura R. says:

    This touches on what we are to do with sacred things when they wear out and are no longer useful or worthy for liturgical use for whatever reason. For example, what to do with altar linens and vestments which are worn beyond the point of being fit for use?

    At the Episcopal parish to which I used to belong, worn out purificators were sewn together to make bags in which to bury “cremains” in the churchyard. I thought this was a rather good way to dispose of items set aside for sacred use, and it has some similarity with the practice of the Eastern Churches mentioned above.

    As to ICEL translations of the Missal and “Eagles’ Wings,” however, I am entirely in agreement with Rob Cartusciello.

  11. Jack Hughes says:

    At the bottom of the order of service for my Requium will be a note “Dear Reverend Fathers” ON no condition whatsoever are you to offer a Requim Mass for me using white Vestments, If you do so I will haunt your sacristry until the day you die, You can white if and when the Holy Father declares me among the Blessed.

    As for the burning of old missels………. not a bad idea, the reducing of potetial to act by the flames could serve as a useful way to illistrate the first proof for the existence of God AND get rid of a bad translation at the same time in a manner fitting for consecrated objects.

  12. Charivari Rob says:

    The talk of bonfire does give rise to some thought to St. Patrick at the hill of Slane.

    So far as I know, seasonal missalettes are usually part of the recycled paper stream.

  13. benedetta says:

    At this point, exclusively for the edification of other pop enthusiasts such as amenamen and sonofmonica, I could post video of Burn Baby Burn Disco Inferno. As the lawyers would say introduction of such material would be for the sole purpose of inflaming the jury…

  14. frjim4321 says:

    PLEASE! This is excessive. We have a parish library and all of the retired liturgical books are treated with respect and cataloged appropriately and stored in an humidity/temperature controlled environment. Here I’m memorizing the ICEL1998 EP’s and before you complain it’s because the ’98 product was the result of an academically pristine process. Thousands (yes, “thousands”) of presiders will be “winging” excursions from the VC2010 which I refuse to do. Spontaneous excursions from the VC2010 will be, for lack of a better word, c##p. I am not a Latinist and I will not do violence even to a questionable transliteration. But you know it is going to happen EVERYWHERE. I will memorize the ICEL1998 EP’s and use those – which I see as a far preferable alternate than smoothing out the VC2010 on the fly.

    The idea of burning a liturgical book – ANY liturgical book is obscene!!!

  15. frjim4321: I will dispute a premise. I don’t think it is proper to assume that priests EVERYWHERE are going to screw around with the new translation. I think most EVERYWHERE are going to be faithful.

    The question at the top concerns also – mostly – books which are no longer useful. Some can argue that every books is always useful. I don’t think that is necessarily the case. In any event, someone asked how to dispose of old books, and I gave the answer about how to dispose of the books…. and other sacred objects as well. Sometimes you do have to get rid of things.

    And no one is saying that one must dispose of their liturgical books. The answer addressed how one would.

  16. eulogos says:

    Are you saying you are not going to use the new texts? I believe they will be required. You are boasting of your disobedience? Why will anybody be “smoothing out” the new translation? Just read it, and get used to it.
    Maybe I misunderstand you.
    Susan Peterson

  17. Great picture, Fr. Z!

  18. frjim4321 says:

    Fr. Z., I guess I see what you are saying in that if you are NOT going to keep a legacy book what do you do with it (for example we have three 1974 Sacramentaries and one is very worn) but keeping one in posterity would seem appropriate.

    On the other hand here in the Midwest the excursions I hear from the ICEL 1974 are excruciating:

    “The Lord be with you.”


    “Good Morning!”

    GAG ME!!!!!!

    I honor your opinion that “everywhere” presiders will track word-f0r-word on the VC2010, but it’s just not my experience that presiders do that.

    So, my theory is that if presiders are riffing on the ICEL 1974 (which is arguably more colloquial than the VC2010) now, when the VC2010 is imposed we are in for trouble . . . which is why I argue that using ICEL 1998 straight is better than doing VC2010 riffing on the fly. That’s all I meant to say.

  19. bourgja says:

    Let’s not forget that the older liturgical books were treated with similar contempt during the “changes” of Vatican II. Before the motu proprio, I saw piles of “old” breviaries, missals, and prayer books just sitting on basement library shelves in an archives, because they were “outdated.” It is important to keep a sense of liturgical history and that means preserving the books of each stage of it, regardless of one’s opinion of their merits.

  20. chloesmom says:

    Since our pastor has said he ignores everything coming from Rome (“we close our eyes”), I don’t think the new translation will be implemented at all come November. I have heard nothing about it, either from our bishop (Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada) or in the Catholic Times from the Archdiocese of Montreal. Too bad – it would have been a nice birthday present (November 27). does anyone know if any Canadian bishops have said anything at all about the new translation? If so, I’d like to hear about it. Nothing whatsoever has been said about it here.

  21. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Fr. Z this is a great Idea! I’d love to throw in some Gather hymanls too while we’re at it and sing “Send down the fire (of your Spirit)”

  22. frjim4321 says:

    eulogos / S.P. – – –

    No, my point was I think that many presiders will be making excursions from the VC2010 and that my opinion is that it would be better to follow the ICEL1998 straight that extemporaneously modify the VC2010. I hate mindless riffs on the Sacramentary.

    As you say the V.C. 2010 will be “required” in the same sense that ICEL1974 is currently “required,” but we know in which that results. My example above: “The Lord Be with You . . . GOOD MORNING.” Gross!

    Many have argued for the superiority of the 1998 translation over the 2010 transliteration, but that is water over the dam. My only point is that when you compare on-the-fly excursions (which we will be hearing) to a straight execution of the 1998 product, I would favor the latter.

  23. jflare says:

    Perhaps I spent too much time in the military dealing with Classified info that wasn’t worth anything anymore, but…
    …why not rent a paper shredder designed for large volumes of paper?

    Have the shredded paper sent to an appropriate recycling center, so the paper can be re-used for new missals.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    Burning such books is the only honorable way of destroying these. I remember, sadly, when the PP in my home parish burned hundreds of the old Requiem Chant books, both for funerals and memorial Masses. Also, I know that the Jesuits, when they had the now Oratorian parish in Oxford, burned old pre-1962 Missals, Mass books and even old vestments. Sadly, some Catholics have finished the job of what the Protestants were doing in the Reformation/Revolt. If someone is of a historical, liturgical bent, keeping these in a library for study may be useful. But, few people would truly be interested in that course of action. I kept transitions Missals for years, from the 1970s and finally passed them on to someone interested in such. Burning is allowed for even the Protestant versions of the Bible, by the way, as indicated in Church documents.

  25. catholicmidwest says:

    frjim4321, you said, “Many have argued for the superiority of the 1998 translation over the 2010 transliteration, but that is water over the dam.”

    It isn’t even “water over the dam.” That was never a viable translation in the first place, but only a draft that made it nowhere because it was SOOOOOO bad. Harping on it doesn’t make it any better. Thank the Great Almighty that the Holy See prevented that from being our text!

    I don’t think that you have the licit option of using that horrible draft (1998) instead of the translation in force, BTW. And just because it sounds like you might consider winging it doesn’t mean everyone will. I really think the entire English-speaking church is going to transition over pretty much faithfully to the new translation and a new norm will be set. We are going to a new baseline whether some people like it or not.

  26. oh no! you can’t burn them! just think of the effect on global warming! You see the libs are consistent!

  27. frjim4321: In areas I’m familiar with, virtually all celebrants have followed the 1973 ICEL faithfully, though I know many of them have disliked it for years, felt it was a penance and mortification suffered daily.

    I’m confident that most of them will follow the new translation faithfully, whether they like it or not; some may not, but most will, if only as a change from the flat and bland.

    But here’s a conjecture. Most of those priests who are not faithful to the new translation will call themselves “presiders” rather than celebrants of the liturgy.

  28. Southern Baron says:

    As an historian, whose work often depends on documents that could just as easily have been tossed as saved, the idea of burning books, liturgical or otherwise, gives me chills. Obviously there are more than would be required for matters of record, but remember to keep a couple handy in, oh, diocesan libraries, or something. They may not be used again, but they hold value for liturgical history. While the circumstances are different, I am reminded that many people, including my mother, were told in the 60s that their missals were no longer needed; now when she goes to Mass in the Extraordinary Form she has to use one she found in a used book store, rather than the one from her First Communion. How people pray is one of the most important parts of the history of Christianity, and whether we like changes or not, each change is crucial to understanding the full shape of our faith. So bottom line: discard with respect, and don’t destroy all.

  29. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Jim: I don’t understand why the “academically pristine process” behind the ICEL 1998 translation would lead you to disobey the instruction of our national conference. We did not get ordained, and we certainly didn’t take a promise of obedience, in order to sift and judge which “process” behind which decision merits our compliance or disobedience. This Missal is not about us; it is not about the clergy and what we want. Very little in the Church comes down to what we like or want.

    We are ordained for others, not ourselves, brother. The faithful have a right to pray in communion with the rest of the Church; they should be able to attend the Mass of the Roman Rite and hear the translation being prayed throughout the country, and not be forced to attend “Fr. Jim’s Mass” and hear whatever “Fr. Jim wants” because he approves of the “academically pristine process.” The 1998 translation is so close to the present translation that you would basically be using ICEL as an excuse for not changing.

    If that is the case, please be honest with yourself and the faithful under your pastoral care. Just admit, “I can’t handle this change. It is rattling my cage. I need to stay with what is safe or convenient to me. If I can’t own the process, then I won’t collaborate with the outcome. Sorry. That is just the way I feel. I will continue to use the present translation, with the very slight changes made by ICEL in 1998. That will at least give the appearance that I am moving on; it will at least give me some comfort to know that, while I am fossilized, I am not beyond hope.”

    I usually find you to be a very insightful and reflective poster, even when I disagree with you. Honestly, this decision to not use the translation mandated by the bishops for the 1st Sunday of Advent is disappointing to me, as a fellow priest.

  30. BobP says:

    You could kill two birds on Guy Fawkes’ Day. :)

Comments are closed.