A new twist on attacking the new, corrected translation.

Do you remember the “What If We Just Say Wait?” priest in Seattle?  Fr. Michael G. Ryan tried to rouse up a movement to block the process of the new, corrected English translation of the Missale Romanum.  He had a lot of help from the liberal camp and their megaphones such as The Tablet (aka The Bitter Pill).

The Bitter Pill is giving Fr. Ryan more space.   They do this on the eve of the implementation of the Order of Mass in the new translation in England.  And thus the editors of The Pill confirm their bitterness.  Why work so hard to turn people against the translation?  Cui bono?

In this week’s number of the Pill Ryan makes a case that priests should implement the new translation as it is rather than adjust it according to their own brilliant theological insights and English style.

Fr. Ryan is not, however, advocating acceptance of the new translation from – as far as I can tell – a positive  motive.  His basic premise is that if the new Roman Missal is read as is, without priests making changes to the text, then people will quickly see how bad it really is.

Here is the last part of Ryan’s piece with my emphases and comments.


I intend to implement the new Missal and not change a word, no matter how questionable or offensive I may personally find it. Why? Not because I am a legalist or a purist. No, I will make no changes because I am convinced that, after all the years of wrangling and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring (including the shelving of the elegant and accessible 1998 Icel translation), the only way the new Missal will have its full impact is if the People of God can judge it for themselves without edits of any kind. [Hasn’t that always been the case?]

This is another way of saying that the new Missal should be allowed to stand on its own and be judged for what it is, not for what we priests decide to make of it. I am of the opinion that the Missal will in time – I’m guessing not a long time – be judged deficient, but an informed judgement will never be made if we priests, even for the best of motives, give our people not the new Missal but our version of it. So we should do whatever is necessary to prepare our people for the new Missal but not take on the responsibility for making it work by doctoring or diluting it. [Say the Black – Do the Red?]

I will understand if our senior priest ­brothers, who offer their services to parishes that would otherwise not have a priest, want to avoid all this by staying with the present Sacramentary for the celebrant’s parts. (They could make a good case with their bishops [?] that there is already a precedent for doing so in the provision made for the use of the Tridentine Rite or in the liturgical accommodations being made for the new Anglican ordinariate.) [Ridiculous.  First, the Extraordinary Form and the Anglican Use aren’t translations.  Also, local bishops do not have the authority to allow priests to use books that are not approved for use.  When the new book comes into force, the former will no longer be approved for use.] The same might be true for some of our international priest brothers who have worked to master the current texts and who may find that the new ones are tantamount to learning a brand new language. [Does that strike anyone as convincing?]

But for the rest of us who are doing our best to face ever-increasing pastoral challenges amid the relentless, though rewarding, demands of parish life, and who still embrace the Second Vatican Council’s vision of a collegially governed Church [Oooo… a little dig there!] – and of a liturgy in which the people are able to participate fully [Perhaps Father has a limited view of what “active participation” is, but let that go.] – we will best serve our people if we give them the new Missal just as it is. I doubt they will be slow to let us know what they think.

He is probably right.  Some people will let us know, and quickly.  Most people won’t say anything.

I suspect that Fr. Ryan’s circle, which has undoubtedly been conditioned by relentless sour grapes, will echo back to him what he has said all along: “But Father! But Father!  This translation is sooooo baaaad.  Can’t we have the old book back?”  In another parish, where the priest has been more favorable and optimistic, people may have a more positive reaction.

We who live in echo chambers, and blogs, should have a care not to think we are being universally affirmed.

Fr. Ryan’s proposal reminds me of a story about a late Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  When, back in the day, the deacon put his miter on the archiepiscopal head, he put it on backwards so that the lappets, the attached ribbons, fell down over the archbishop’s face rather than down his back.  When the deacon reached to correct the mistake, the archbishop said, “Leave it.  That way people can see how stupid you are.”

One is left to wonder which of them looked stupider, the deacon who made the mistake or the guy with the lappets in front of his face.

I grant that the analogy limps, since the implementation of the new translation is a done deal, and in no way do I mean to imply that Fr. Ryan is intellectually challenged.  The deacon wasn’t stupid, he just made a mistake.  By his writings you can tell that Fr. Ryan is an erudite fellow.  But his recommendation to leave the translation be so that people can see how bad it is doesn’t leave me edified.  It grieves me that a priest would hope the Church will look bad in the eyes of the people in the pews.  Isn’t that, in effect, what he is promoting?

The new translation is not perfect.  I show that in my own comparisons of the Latin and the new, corrected translation week in and week out… but I don’t harp on it.  I don’t think the translation is as bad as Fr. Ryan suggests, but – yes – it could have been better.

Also, if the way Rome dealt with the production of the translation wasn’t always flawless, those involved nevertheless overcame the institutionalized lethargy imposed in the name of “collegiality” by liberal enemies of greater fidelity to the Latin original (and therefore clearer theology), and got the job done.  It may be that Fr. Ryan was really concerned mostly about style.  Most people who don’t like the new translation don’t like that it reflects more clearly the content of the original.

Nevertheless, I embrace Fr. Ryan’s proposal: What If We Just Say The Black? Leave it as it it is.  His motive is different than mine, but the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” seems applicable.  Fr. Ryan is right, but for the wrong reason.  Priests should in fact just say what is printed on the page without imposing themselves on the text and on the people.

As a sincere gesture of good will, I have sent a Say The Black – Do The Red New Translation edition coffee mug to Fr. Ryan.

And to Latin Church priests who, for whatever reason, don’t like the new translation of the Roman Missal:

Say Mass in Latin.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, Our Catholic Identity, SESSIUNCULA, The Drill and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. frjim4321 says:

    I just attended a very large funeral in southern region of the diocese and was amazed by the number and poor quality of excursions on the part of the presider from ICEL1974. This was at a very large suburban parish where the presider is highly respected and involved in numerous diocesan committees as well as seminary formation. Thus it is not a small fringe group that engages in textual excursions. Thus I hold to my prediction that many if not most presiders will be attempting to “smooth out” the VC2010 on the fly, which I do not support, endorse or agree with. Fr. Ryan’s idea is clever, but much more polemical than practical. It is just not going to happen the way he suggests that it will.

    (I won’t even bring up the idea that reverting to ICEL1998 and doing it “straight” is a better alternative than spinning VC2010 on the fly.)

    To be clear, I don’t approve of extemporaneous “improvements” in liturgical texts and recognize that probably 95% of presiders have no advance training in the development of liturgical texts.

  2. Apparently, an ICEL process that stretches over years, contacts tens of thousands of priests and bishops, and utilizes the skills of many many people over time, isn’t collegiate. But some priest in Minneapolis I don’t know, and his elitist likeminded buddy priests, are collegiate. Yeppers, I’m sure that’s exactly what the Council Fathers had in mind — a Minneapolitan hegemony of properly snooty people who went to the properly snooty seminaries and share the properly snooty theology of all the really important and all-knowing priests. Speaking as one of the people of God, I think I trust the folks in Rome a bit more to be my representatives. Especially that little Bavarian dude, who certainly thinks more like a regular Catholic guy than most of them do. :)

    I applaud the guy’s decision to just read what it says on the page, though.

  3. Oh, and no offense to people in or from Minneapolis. Considering where I am writing. :)

  4. Oh, man, he’s from Seattle? Oops. Well, I guess there’s a lot of similarity between the people I know from Seattle and from Minneapolis… but not that much. Wow, do I need more caffeiiiiiine.

    [That can be arranged.]

    Buy Mystic Monk Coffee

  5. Alice says:

    Father Z, can you please give yourself a gold star for your edit to Banshee’s post. ;)

  6. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Father says the new translation is “offensive”. Exactly how? Too expressive of Catholic theology? I fear that we do not share the same faith.

    Fr. Z is right, of course, it could have been better. One heretic hack under Henry VIII did far better translations than a constellation of committees of experts and bishops have done (perhaps that is the reason!), but it’s the best we can expect considering that the 1960s is not yet far-enough in the rear-view mirror to return to properly hieratic language.

    Of course many of the same rebellious priests will continue to ad-lib to their hearts’ content, but at least we can rejoice in a translation that doesn’t further water down the Mass texts.

    But Latin, yes. Message to Fr. Ryan: Giving Latin “pride of place” is the vision of Vatican II.

  7. irishgirl says:

    ‘That little Bavarian dude’….Suburbanbanshee, I love that! Good one! And we all know who he is…..!
    ; )
    Our ‘Bavarian dude’ has more sense in his fingertips than some ‘snooty’ priests have in their whole bodies!
    Long live our Papa Benedict XVI! Ad Multos Annos!

  8. Pachomius says:

    Goodness, what saintly obedience. Fr Ryan’s like a modern-day martyr. And so humble, to boot.

    If there is a criticism of the new Missal to be made, it’s that it seems (from what I’ve seen so far) rather difficult on the tongue: it doesn’t really match the cadences of English. In short, as English prose it’s pretty ugly. A good example is: “and on earth, peace, to people of good will. Granted, 1974 ICEL was clunky, badly translated and often nauseatingly… well, 1970s, but it did sound like English rather than translation-ese.

    (It would be rather nice if we could have an accurate and natural-sounding (or more natural-sounding) translation at some point, but after reading the English versions of Fulgens corona and Ineffabilis Deus on the Vatican website, I’ve pretty much given up all hope of Rome producing sound English prose.)

    This clunkiness isn’t a great surprise, given what the new translation is (and the difficulty in getting it at all), but nevertheless I can see a lot of people – priests and laity – tripping up, getting tongue-tied, and slipping back into the old translation for a good long while. This is not going to be an easy transition.

  9. Perhaps we ought to commend Fr. Ryan for reminding fellow priests–in his evident loyalty and laudible fidelity to the universal discipline of the Church–that in any event they have no choice but to read the words of the missal just as they see them, and that any change by a priest is not merely censured but reprobated: [Yah… that’ll work.]

    The Holy See’s 2004 disciplinary document, Redemptionis Sacramentum, states:

    59. The reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease.

    The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) says:

    Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass. [GIRM§ 24]

    The GIRM is here quoting the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22.3:

    Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.

  10. anilwang says:

    Hmmmm. I remember hearing about a newspaper that attempted to smear, I believe FDR by publishing interviews and press conferences with him with complete accuracy….every single pause, uhhhh, or other nuance of his speach made it to copy and all unflattering photos of him made it also to copy. The coverage was accurate but it made him look like an coarse dunce when compared with minority leader party leader (which got the usual clean up that all honest journalists do, since the point is the substance not style).

    I suspect that this is what he’s planning. I have already heard of the chest beating in the revised confiteor being done in Shakespearean style and people laughing at it on the praytellblog.com (liberal) blog as well as homilies where the priest apologies for the new translation and the “heavy handed way the bureaucracy ignored the people, as the pharisees did”.

    Fortunately, the average parishioner will tire of these rants, even if he agrees with them (through lack of education), and eventually the liberal priest will be forced to the final stage of grief…acceptance.

  11. mike cliffson says:

    I am used to distinguishing: Vat 2, as in vat II documents. Debateable perhaps as to shades of meaning, but the goalposts are at least fixed
    “spirit of vat 2” as leading to…..ANY thing
    vat 69 ( a drink)
    Here we have “vision”
    “Second Vatican Council’s vision of…….. here, Collegiality,no less( which we rudely sang about on pilgrimages to walsingham in ´68)
    is this as in “envsisioned/did not envision, envisage /did not envisage”
    Are there any more, before we achieve nirvarna?

  12. tzard says:

    You sent him a mug? @_@

    Maybe you can arrange an associate program for him to resell the mugs to his followers.

    [Of course! He is now an ally. Right?]

  13. Re: Cranmer, he was leaning on hundreds of years of English Catholic translations of the Mass prayers, books of the Bible, and so on. The few books from the days before, that managed to survive the bonfires of radical Protestants, sound very familiar to those who know Cranmer. He was raised and schooled as an English Catholic, after all.

  14. Kevin B. says:

    Father Ryan wishes to expose what he feels are the deficiencies of the new Missal by… saying the black and doing the red? My first reaction to his proposal was, “Oh please don’t toss me in that briar patch B’rer Fox!”

  15. QMJ says:

    Well, I had a little chuckle. Yes, his motive is very sad, but there is also the possibility that this is the door opening for Fr. Ryan to begin his journey to what he probably considers at this time to be the darkside.

  16. FrSam says:

    Just a question: I have an elderly priest friend who is nearly blind. A kind deacon prints large (read: one word per page) versions of the Collect, etc for him, which he reads with a magnifying glass, and Father recites the Eucharistic Prayer from memory. I do not know if Father has made any requests of any sort, but are accommodations made for priests in his circumstance to continue celebrating Mass according to the soon-to-be old book? I recall that St. Pio of Piertrecina never celebrated Mass in Italian, but continued only in Latin, as more elderly priests were granted that accommodation. Any news of one on the horizon for English-speaking priests in situations such as my friend’s?

  17. Warren says:

    Rhetorical question of the day: Who does this Fr. Ryan think he is?

    A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    and drinking largely sobers us again.

    – from “An Essay on Criticism” (1711) by Alexander Pope.

    Message to Fr. Ryan (and dissenters lay and ordained) – drink deeper and sober up! Or, at least shut up.

  18. Singing Mum says:

    Am I the only one who is embarrassed at a priest (or any man, but especially a priest) being so publicly pissy? The cattiness displayed by so many faux liturgical know-betters is becoming a sad pattern. I wish they would handle things more… like men.

  19. BaedaBenedictus says:

    Fr. Sam,

    St. Pio did not need “accommodation” to celebrate Mass in Latin. That’s the language of the Mass.

  20. KAS says:

    The new translation is an improvement over the 1973 version so I am more than content with it.

    I would love to have seen it even better, but improvements are improvements!

    I just hope it actually gets implemented.

  21. medievalist says:

    Liberals Saying the Black and Doing the Red. Did the temperature of hell just drop at little bit?

  22. FrSam says:


    Apologies for my inaccurate phrasing and/or poor biography – in a bio of Saint Pio I read, it states that he received an accommodation to use the 1962 Missal, as opposed to the Novus Ordo. I must be more careful in my word choices. You are correct to state that there is no need for an accommodation to celebrate in Latin.

  23. Volanges says:

    I found this interesting in the FAQ section of the CCCB Roman Missal site:

    Do we have to use the new translations?
    This kind of question is always hard to answer! A hard-line answer would simply be: “Of course we have to!” However, we are invited to enter into the spirit of the law and not only its letter.
    The changes being brought to the Mass apply to Roman Catholics around the world. Although the number and the nature of the changes will differ from one language to another, in all of this we need to be aware that the intention stems from a constant concern to maintain the unity of our faith and worship within the whole Church. Yet, there remains a provision for creativity and adaptations which require a spirit that respects the whole celebration and the universality of the Church. Unity doesn’t always involve uniformity, but does require concerted effort and a common heart.

  24. Singing Mum,

    The liturgical impact of clerical narcissism of the sort you mention was explored in a recent Catholic News Agency article.

  25. JonPatrick says:

    For those that won’t use the new translation we need to apply Capt Aubrey’s solution. From Post Captain where he was planning a sermon to give to the ship’s company about authority:

    “[The text] is the one about I say come and he cometh; for I am a centurion. I want them to understand it is God’s will, and it must be so – there must be discipline – ’tis in the Book – any any infernal b___ that disobeys is therefore a blasphemer too, and will certainly be damned”.

  26. amenamen says:

    @ Volanges.
    If the hard-line answer is “yes,” it seems that the CCCB answer is “no.”

  27. Martial Artist says:

    Dear Father Z.,

    You write

    By his writings you can tell that Fr. Ryan is an erudite fellow.

    Perhaps, but given the meaning and etymological roots of the term erudite, I think it might more accurately be stated that he is a lettered fellow. His suggestion strikes me as being at least somewhat rude, both to those of us whose faith is enriched by more hieratic language and more accurate translations, and even to those who may not have that experience. (As an aside, I note that the new, corrected English translation of the Missale Romanum generally returns to language that is richer in meaning than that in the prior edition.) His earlier (referenced) article carried more than a whiff of condescension towards his, and others’, parishioners. It stopped just short of the explicit suggestion that understanding the added connotational meaning present in the corrected English was somehow beyond the comprehension of more than a few of those in the pews. Had I been a parishioner at St. James Cathedral, rather than at the Dominican parish in Seattle, I would have been sorely tempted to take umbrage at the implications of his earlier article.

    By writing yet again on the topic, Fr. Ryan may well find that he has misjudged those of us not in what you refer to as “his circle,” and may be very surprised at the acceptance of the corrections—I will certainly be praying for such a result, albeit not from any desire to embarass him personally. I fear that Fr. Ryan would have been better served had he observed Lincoln’s enjoinder concerning speaking out and removing all doubt about one’s wisdom, or rather lack thereof.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  28. RichR says:

    And to Latin Church priests who, for whatever reason, don’t like the new translation of the Roman Missal:

    Say Mass in Latin.

    It needs to be said again and again. These next few years are a prime opportunity for this.

  29. Bob says:

    Can’t decide if this priest is being a petulant spoiled brat or thinks he is a martyr.

  30. Stu says:

    But for the rest of us who are doing our best to face ever-increasing pastoral challenges amid the relentless, though rewarding, demands of parish life…

    That’s just a bit too dramatic for me. One wonders if we can chew gum as well. I would respect Father Ryan’s position more if he simply stated that he doesn’t like the new translation.

  31. BobP says:

    Call me a spoil sport but I wonder how Cranmer would have translated this: “36. § 1. Linguae latinae usus, salvo particulari iure, in Ritibus latinis servetur.”

    Translations are fine for personal and private use but why mandate them the same way Henry VIII did? Now we’re fighting over translations. Veterum Sapientia had it right.

  32. Panterina says:

    The same might be true for some of our international priest brothers who have worked to master the current texts and who may find that the new ones are tantamount to learning a brand new language.

    I suspect that our international priests would find the new translation much easier to learn because it’s closer to the Latin. The old ICEL version, on the other hand, was truly a “brand new language.”

  33. templariidvm says:

    I was hoping that Archbishop Sartain would “encourage” Fr Ryan to set aside his own ego. Guess I was wrong! As a member of the Archdiocese of Seattle, I long for the day when our Archdiocese makes the religious news for something positive!

  34. Pachomius says:

    I think one of the points we have to get clear is that the correct liturgical context for the Roman Rite is not the protestant liturgies we find around us, but the Eastern liturgies; obviously they are not entirely analogous, but when there is doubt about how we should understand some facet of the liturgy which is not clear, they should be our next port of call, not the local empowerment association’s weekly sharing festival.

  35. benedetta says:

    Who still “embrace the vision…” sounds kind of way out there. Not interested in embracing a vision. I am for embracing the real.

  36. benedetta says:

    I would say to him, respectfully, good to advise refraining from doctoring and diluting it and for advocating solid preparation. But there’s no way for any of us, with priest celebrant first and foremost, getting around taking responsibility.

  37. Singing Mum says:

    Henry, I read the article. Verrechio points out real problems. While it makes me sad, I’m also relieved that we’re moving past the denial stage and talking about homosexuality in the priesthood and it’s negative consequences.
    Of course the distinction needs to be made between actual liturgical narcissism that plays out in a performance mentality and genuine, manly piety that values fine vestments, sacred music, etc.

    I’ll come out and say that my first impression upon hearing this priest’s rhetoric was to guess that he made it through seminary as part of the in crowd back in the day. And now that crowd is out of fashion and bitter. This underscores how important it is to pray for our priests, the good the bad and the narcissist.

  38. ncstevem says:

    @the first post in this thread.
    presiderJim is at it again. Hey Jim were you ordained a presider or a priest?

    [I will let this stand, but keep it civil. It’s “Father Jim” to you when on this blog. Okay?]

  39. ncstevem says:

    Mea Culpa Fr. Zuhlsdorf. I should have addressed the Father as ‘Fr.’ and not ‘Jim’.

  40. Legisperitus says:

    I hope when Fr. Ryan “says the black” it will not be accompanied by a lot of sarcastic eye-rolling and head-shaking. That would just be pathetic.

    [I am sure he has more class than that.]

  41. BLB Oregon says:

    “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen will be provided. A mask like this will fall from the panel above. Pull it to your face. By doing so, the oxygen supply will be activated. Secure your mask before helping others with theirs….”

    However hard it is to implement this second translation, whatever obstacles have to be overcome, I can’t see how it will be harder than the first time around. It will happen, it will work, and the Mass will continue to shout the mercy and the glory of God to anyone willing to hear it. That will be our daily bread, just like always, come what may. The rest is like the details at a wedding: important, yes, but in the end not something that will change what God is going to accomplish.

    Pray, take a deep breath of joy, and accept the fact that some people will take a little while longer to adjust to this particular change than you will. God’s the pilot, though, so it’s gonna work out.

  42. AnAmericanMother says:

    Cranmer would have nodded and gone on to Sec. 2.
    We could do a good deal worse than going back to the 1662 BCP, with suitable emendations for where Edward and Elizabeth ran the Eucharistic Prayer off the rails.
    Those English Renaissance Johnnies spoke Latin as easily as breathing, and their English has not been equalled before or since.
    It would have been far more difficult to leave the ECUSA, but for the fact that they had jettisoned the old BCP (in our case 1928 but essentially identical to 1662) for something suspiciously like the Lame Duck Version.
    My recommendation is to pick it up from where they abandoned it by the roadside, and cherish it.

  43. BobP says:

    @AAM, everyone goes to Sec 2 when they don’t like Sec 1, especially a bishop who has the green light to determine to what extent to drop the Latin. As far as using any English in the liturgy, St. Thomas More must still be stirring in his grave. It’s most unfortunate when a heretic comes out of all this looking better than a great saint.

  44. By analogy, I have often said that I would sooner vote for a politician who was personally in favor of abortion but consistently voted against it than I would vote for one who claimed to be personally opposed to it but consistently voted in favor of it. If this priest says the black and does the red, let’s just rejoice that he is doing that when so many do not. In life, many things are acquired tastes, or as I also say, if one acts long enough, eventually it isn’t an act any more.

  45. AnAmericanMother says:

    All I’m sayin’ is, that’s what Cranmer would do. He always had an eye for a loophole. But . . . as my dad says, “He died game.”
    I don’t think St. Thomas More was necessarily opposed to an English Bible or liturgy, but he was opposed to Tyndale because his translation did a great deal of fudging, all of course in the direction of a protestant interpretation. More predated the English liturgy entirely, he had been dead for a decade by the time Edward VI came to the throne.
    But the only way anybody is going to be able to edit the Eucharistic Prayer to fit seamlessly with Cranmer’s elevated, musical, manly prose, is to get a convocation of good Latin scholars and 16th c. English Lit. men together. And pray over them. Fervently.

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